Pho’s motto should be the Vietnamese equivalent of ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ (Language mangler Google Translate suggests ‘Giữ nó đơn giản gnu ngốc’). Pronounced ‘fuh’, the family-owned chain opened its first restaurant in 2005 and its seventh this July. Pho Spitalfields, like its predecessors, prides itself on a menu that focuses on delivering a few key dishes.
We kicked off a leisurely lunch with summer rolls, the healthy cousin of spring rolls. I plumped for Goi Cuon Ga (chicken breast and fresh herbs, £4.25) while my pal got the veggie equivalent, Goi Cuon (£3.75). We were both impressed by the outer rice paper coating, often thick and cloying, but in this case a discreet vessel for its spry innards. Three sauces were offered, sweet chilli, peanut and nuoc cham. The latter, a blend of tangy flavours with a gentle kick and a fish base (sorry vegetarians) proved the tastiest.
Next, but naturally, we had Pho, the classic noodle soup of Vietnam that varies in spiciness depending on where you are in the country. Pho (the restaurant, this could get confusing) sidesteps the issue of heat preference by providing a DIY kit of coriander, Thai basil, mint, chili, lime and an array of bottled spices for your customising pleasure.
I went for Pho Tom (juicy tiger prawns in veggie or chicken stock £8.95) – the prawns were as juicy as the menu promised and if the end product was too hot that was the fault of my own poor coordination. Learn from my error, grasshoppers. Tilt the bottles gently. Had this mishap not occurred the invigorating aromas and health-giving properties of a dish based around stock simmered for 12 hours would have left a smug aftertaste.
The best was yet to come. My pal and I both went for a sorbet dessert. Although each of our choices were devoured happily, the strawberry and basil went down smoother than the pear which had a slight, surprising edge. The biggest revelation was Chon Ca Phe (aka weasel coffee). At £5.75, it’s steeper than your average coffee but then your average coffee hasn’t been passed by a weasel. Nutty, strong and memorably accompanied by sweet condensed milk, you’ve got to have weasel coffee at least once in you life.
All told, my pal and I wiled away two hours, watching the lunch time rush transitioning into peace at around 2pm. Exposed brickwork and wicker lampshades telegraph that you’re somewhere trendy, as opposed to a no frills Vietnamese restaurant down the road in Shoreditch, but you don’t have to pay extra for the privilege so it doesn’t matter. For a healthy lunch stretched over however long you have, Pho is the simple solution.
48 Brushfield Street
Tel: 020 377 6436
You can phone ahead to place an order from Pho’s takeaway menu.
Image courtesy of Pho