This Vietnamese street food restaurant started by Stephen and Juliette Wall claims to be the London’s first Vietnamese street food restaurant and has over 12 branches in London itself. The first outlet of Pho opened in Clerkenwell in June 2005 after Stephen and Juliette travelled to Vietnam and fell in love with the food. They made the decision to start a restaurant serving pho while sat on high stools, slurping pho bo, around the shopfront of Pho Quynh in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ten years later, Pho is still a family-run business serving great value, authentically prepared Vietnamese street food, with restaurants in London, Brighton, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Cambridge and Bristol. This restaurant specialises in pho, an amazingly tasty and nutritious noodle soup, as well as other authentic Vietnamese dishes, coffees, beers, cocktails and fresh juices.
Pho, pronounced ‘fuh,’ is the national dish of Vietnam. It’s a fantastic steaming bowl of rice noodle soup served with a side plate of fresh herbs. The herbs which are normally served with pho are Ngo (cilantro), Ngo gai (culantro), Hung (mint) or Hung cay (spicy mint), Hung que (Thai basil), red chilli slices and lime wedges. The addition of these herbs and table condiments are an essential part of eating pho and adds another dimension to the dish – their chilli paste for a kick, fish sauce for extra saltiness, garlic vinegar for sourness are all intended to create a riot on your palette. One can also find fresh bean sprouts to add the crunch or bite in the soup.
Thankfully, eating pho is not like eating Western food or Japanese food. There is no unspoken etiquette that one has to observe. Pho is meant to be enjoyed with some noise and a lot of slurping is just fine. So here’s the process in a nutshell. The best way to attack a steaming bowl of pho is to have chopsticks in one hand and a soupspoon (a bamboo one) in the other. Take in a little broth with your spoon, slurp in some to get a taste of it. The soul of the pho is in the broth and the scent and taste of the broth are extremely important. Follow it up with the rice noodles using your chopsticks. Then select pieces of ingredients from the bowl and enjoy them individually or together with the broth and noodle.
The restaurant had a special for the day – Spicy Chicken Pho – and I decided to go with their recommendation. The pho came in large bowl and all the herbs and bamboo spoon on a side plate. Since, this was my first encounter with Vietnamese cuisine, I had no standards or benchmarks to compare. I loved this pho and it was so filling. Probably, it’s a tad overpriced. But the experience was wonderful.