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Tuesday 6 April 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Pho Café

London Restaurant Reviews – Pho Café

After my recent visit to Vietnam, where I consumed copious amounts of Pho and other delicious local dishes, I was thrilled to be invited by the gorgeous Rachelle of Qype to visit Pho Café in London’s Great Titchfield Street.

I was also intrigued by this invitation as, in London, I admit never venturing outside Kingsland Road for my regular fix of Vietnam’s national dish.

Pho Café is one of those restaurants I was ready to dislike. Owned by an English couple and with three branches in London (Clerkenwell, Oxford Circus and Westfield), the cafes have a trendy decor and cater for a mostly Western clientele – I feared it would lack authenticity.

Having dreamt about opening my own restaurant for the last 20 years, I feel inspired whenever I meet people like Stephen and Juliette Wall. They were clearly passionate about Vietnamese cooking and the quality of the food served at their restaurants. They gave a touching account of their trials and tribulations starting Pho 5 years ago (and getting married in the process).

We were then shown how to prepare “goi cuon tom” (fresh rice paper rolls filled with vermicelli noodles, prawns, salad and herbs) by one of their chefs (all their kitchen staff are Vietnamese).

These were fresh and delicious and similar to the ones I’d just eaten in Vietnam. At £3.75, I felt that they were also well priced.

This was followed by two other delicious starters/sides – “Cha Gio” – fried pork spring rolls @ £3.95 and “Nem nuong” – grilled pork and lemongrass meatballs @ £4.50.

These are the simplest of starters, but good quality versions are very hard to find, hence I never order them in Vietnamese restaurants in London. Pho’s versions were delicious, fresh and obviously made on the premises.

We were also served “Goi du du” – a salad of shredded green papaya with prawns and herbs topped with peanuts @ £5.95. Again the most popular of Vietnamese salads, this was a perfect example of Goi Du Du - very aromatic and ultra fresh.

The “Goi ga” – chicken salad with peppers, mixed herbs with chilli and ginger dressing @ £5.45 was also excellent. I loved the combination of shredded chicken, peppers and finely sliced shallots, with the chilli and ginger dressing giving it a zingy lift.

Juliette took us to visit the kitchen where we saw their large vat of pho stock simmering away. It looked fantastic, and the kitchen was filled with the most delicious aromas of beef, star anise, cinnamon and other spices.

I had a lot of trouble deciding which of their 11 different types of Pho I would have, but opted for “Pho bo dac biet” – rice noodle soup with steak, brisket and meatballs served with fresh herbs @ £7.95. This was much anticipated, and I have to admit it was extremely good. The stock was concentrated but still with a sophisticated flavour – the meats were also delicious, as were the noodles which had been cooked perfectly.

For dessert, I had a “Chuoi Chien” – banana fritters with honey and ginger ice cream @ £4. I loved the flavours of this dessert – the deep fried bananas were covered with a deliciously crispy batter and went very well with the honey and ginger ice cream.

In Vietnam, beer is traditionally drunk with food at restaurants and on special occasions. Pho serves all major Vietnamese beers like Halida, Hue and Saigon for £3.25 as well as Beer Laos at £3.45.

I was also impressed by how well priced their wine list is. Bottles start at £13.95 for a delicious French Viognier (which I tasted) and go up to £16.25 for an Australian Riesling or £17.95 for a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. I find that for Oriental food in general, Gewürztraminer, Viognier and Riesling are nearly always the best matches.

Stephen and Juliette have made Vietnamese food accessible to Londoners – there are no plastic lobsters hanging on the walls, the menus are well explained, and the serving staff are friendly and articulate. In May, they will be opening a branch in Brighton, and another in Soho is also scheduled to open later in 2010.

Cost: this was a complementary meal, but I have quoted the prices of all the dishes I tried. I estimate that a meal for one would cost in the region of £15 including a starter, pho and dessert but excluding drinks.

Likes: probably the most delicious bowl of pho outside the ‘pho mile’ (Kingsland Road or thereabouts), excellent value for money and fantastic banana fritter with honey and ginger ice cream. The wine list is also well priced and includes some attractive choices.

Dislikes: despite the simple but well thought out menu (40 items only), I missed some old favourites like “chargrilled beef and lemongrass wrapped in betel leaves” and “fried soft shell crab”.

Verdict: Simple but well executed menu just off Oxford Street at very affordable prices. An excellent choice for Vietnamese food outside Kingsland Road. Recommended.

Pho on Urbanspoon


  1. It all sounds so delicious, now I have a whole list of things to try when I go to Vietnam later this month :)

  2. Good write up this. I have heard mixed things about Pho, but i think you've identified one of their big plus points. They do make Vietnamese food accessible and will hopefully encourage more people to explore the cuisine.

    One question about preparing the spring rolls, was there anything different in the preparation of those for frying? Whenever I've tried doing this at home, they always disintegrate in the oil. I do wonder if maybe I am over-filling those ones.

  3. Great post - and your photos are so much better than mine! I agree that if you're outside the beloved "Kingsland mile" Pho is a really good option. And how good was that fritter!

  4. Great photo of the 'making of the summer rolls'. Whilst there are a few faves missing, its perhaps no bad thing as given the size of the kitchen, they might be stretched if called on to make too many different dishes.

  5. I went to Pho twice, once at Westfield and the other was this Oxford Circus one, to have pho... and was utterly disappointed by the quality of pho they served there.

    However, the papaya salad is good. I am glad that you enjoyed your meal :)

  6. I always mean to try Pho at Westfield but not managed it yet. I keep hearing about a Vietnamese place on Mare St which is more my direction so might end up in there first.

  7. Sounds like a great evening. I am happy that there is a chain out there like Pho which offers quick and healthy fast food.

  8. @ Anonymous - thanks for the kind words, drop me a line if you need a few more suggestions, have fun in Vietnam!

    @ The Grubworm - this is exactly my point - Pho is hardly the best Vietnamese restaurant in town but I feel that they have made Vietnamese food accessible to people who wouldn't have normally tried it. We didn't get to make the fried spring roll unfortunately, but over-filling the rolls is probably the issue there. Whenever I get a little carried away when making summer rolls at home, I cannot close them properly, and they come apart whenever I bite into them.

    @ Greedy Diva - the fritter was one of the best dishes of the evening in my opinion, and it was lovely to see you there too.

    @ Mr Noodles - I didn't think their kitchen was that small, I have seen smaller kitchens dishing out many more dishes. I actually appreciate when a restaurant concentrates on a few good dishes... but the beef wrapped up in betel leaves would still be a good addition to the menu!

    @ Hoa - interesting comments, I will go back there to check their pho again sometime soon, and will report back. A BIG THANK YOU to you for your help at our Vietnamese evening at the London Cooking Club last month. The evening wouldn't have been the same without you.

    @ Sarah - hmmmm, very interesting, let me know the name of this restaurant, maybe we should try it together sometime?!

    @ Gourmet Chick - I know, I am quite pleased with it too, it is nice to have some affordable and interesting food to go for around the dreadful Oxford Street.

  9. @Sarah @thelondonfoodie - is it Tre Viet or Green Papaya on Mare Street? I've been to the former and had great Ban Lac Luc (or is it Luc Lac?) spicy beef and some pretty fine Banh Xeo too. Definitely worth a trip.

  10. I should get down there sometime, I normally go to Kingsland Rd, Song Que being a favourite. Thanks for the recommendations.

  11. I went to Pho recently the one in Wardour St and I must say they got the Nem Nuong completely wrong. It was the same as the meatballs in the Pho Dac Biet but fried. I would rather go Kingsland Rd.

  12. Just tried out this place today, it's a nice atmosphere, the food was average because it's prepared like factory style by western people, I can't find any Vietnamese people working in the restaurant. The Beef in the Pho noodle are very chunky not like traditional vietnamese beef Pho which are thinny sliced so it comes fleshly raw and you can cook it by pushing them into the hot soup with your chopstick, The broth seems to be very tasty with lots of flavour but has lots of msg as it's made from instant soup powders, this is keeping me up whole night very thirsty. Their fish sauce taste like thai sweet chilli sauce, I would rather go to Kingland rd for real vietnamese food made by real vietnamese people.

  13. If only the quality on visits by normal customers, not critics, would be that good. Overcooked meat, blend broth... that was my experience.

  14. Came first time with two friends to the branch at Islington. I'm passionate about Vietnamese food I've been in Vietnam and have eaten in various restaurants in London. Food in this place is horrible - vermicelli noodles don't look like typical vermicelli noodles and they overcooked, food is bland and typical for chain restaurants probably they have prepared portions ready to warm up. We tried three different main dishes and one starter and we did not enjoy none of then not mentioning I had black hair in my food so it did put me off and I come out hungry. When we put money on the table for a bill it was almost snatched from my hand like we were ready to run away taking money with us. We didn't even hear thank you, goodbye or anything like that, staff just blanked us on a way out not a best customer service you would think at least they will try to make good impression after failure with hair in a food. Never ever again!!!!


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