Stacey Black enjoys delicious and nutritious Vietnamese food at Pho, Clare Street
Almost five years after opening, the street food restaurant is going strong. Built on the idea that Vietnamese street food should be nutritious and great value, Pho promises to be a dining experience that is nourishing as well as easy on the wallet.
Perched on the corner of Clare Street, Pho’s imposing stature is both impressive and inviting. Step inside, and this cavernous restaurant is kitted out with beautiful illustrations and neon signs depicting steaming bowls of soup. Huge wicker lanterns hang above, giving a nice soft glow to slurp down your pho under. A mix of long tables, booths and tall breakfast-nook-style counters offer plenty of seating, so whatever the circumstance of your visit, you can be sure to be catered for. We arrived on a Monday night, and the whole place was already heaving. There was a queue out the door and it wasn’t even 7pm.
Menu-wise, pho – Vietnamese noodle soup – is undoubtedly the star of the show. The main section of the menu is devoted to this aromatic and delicious dish. Broth (veggie/beef/chicken) is simmered for 12 hours before topping with rice noodles and then served with a side plate of salad and herbs to customise your soup. You can choose from Classics such as beef brisket, or chicken, Hot and Spicy which offer king prawn or THIS isn’t chicken, and House Specials like super greens or crab.
Starters and sides offer spring rolls, chicken wings, pork and lemongrass meatballs, and lotus stems, and with the most expensive coming in at less than £9, they are pretty reasonable. There are also Vietnamese salads, curries and rice bowls to cast your eye over.
There is a really great drinks menu on offer, and there are plenty of classic cocktails with a Vietnamese twist. There was no way I wasn’t having the lemon and basil Martini, and I enjoyed every sip of this tart little delight! Even though spring hadn’t quite sprung, you could be fooled into thinking it had by this treat.
My friend and I tucked into a plate of vegan prawn crackers with sweet chilli dip while we decided what to eat. She chose the baby squid to start, and a plate of tender fried squid with a salt, pepper and lime dip soon arrived. The portions here are pretty decent, and we both appreciated the theatre of the little side dish of accompaniments that are there for you to customise your dish. These were fresh and deliciously crunchy, and certainly hit the spot. Feeling like I wanted something green, my starter was a massive platter of stir fried Chinese leaf. Garlicky and smothered in soy sauce, it was mouth-watering but I did have to leave a chunk of it because I needed room for my noodles.
Making her choice form the classics menu, my friend opted for the brisket and mushroom pho. Served in a vast bowl, huge slivers of just-pink beef and enoki and button mushrooms were bobbing around a very bold beef broth. Finished off with rice noodles and creamy egg yolk, this was bursting with flavour. My friend went at it with her chopsticks before scooping up the broth with the ladle on the side.
I was very tempted by the spicy green pho, but ultimately the tofu and mushroom wok-fried noodles won out. When I saw the sheer size of the bowl, I knew I’d struggle to finish it. Seemingly never-ending flat noodles were piled high on a platter, shot through with lemongrass, chilli and Asian greens. To my delight, there was plenty of fried tofu. It’s my absolute favourite and I loved how it soaked up all the garlic and soy sauces. Topped with crunchy beansprouts, peanuts and nuoc cham chay (a sweet, sour and salty dipping sauce), this is as close to perfect eating as it gets. I actually ate way more of it than I thought, and I have no regrets.
We did have to shun the dessert menu, however, since my waistband was already groaning at the seams. With such a breadth of options and the choice to customise your food, this is the kind of place you could visit time and time again and never eat the same thing twice. Boasting a menu that is exciting, healthful and offering great value, Pho offers plenty of dishes that will appeal to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike; all will leave feeling nourished.