Pho, Great Titchfield Street, London. Tel: 020 7436 0111 www.phocafe.co.uk
We brave the horrendous downpour of heavy rain on a grim Saturday afternoon to visit Pho, serving Vietnamese ‘street food’. First opened in Clerkenwell in 2005, Pho now has 3 branches in London including Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd’s Bush and Great Titchfield street, which makes it increasingly difficult to digest the perhaps once valid ‘Family run, small and informal” label on their website.
Soaking wet, we walk into a dining room no larger than my own living room, yet packed with tables every which way possible, ensuring the maximum number of diners can be accommodated. Given a not-so-warm and seemingly disinterested welcome, we were plonked down on the nearest table without any friendly banter or the customary welcoming smile when you go to a restaurant. Service is patchy and inconsistent and definitely slower than it should be, in lieu of the number of staff working. Luckily the food comes virtually ‘shooting’ out of the kitchen at lightning speed, which can only be a good thing. The menu here is simple and a few of the really interesting sounding dishes are only available in the evening, which is a bit of a drag.
We tackle a selection of starters including skewers of juicy minced pork and lemongrass meatballs, Vietnamese prawn summer rolls and a salad of unripe mango with minced pork. The meatballs are succulent and moreish and the mango salad is refreshing and crunchy but personally, I find the summer rolls to be a tad bland and the wrapping to be too thick for its scant prawn filling, which even with the dipping sauce (that seems to accompany everything) I could happily live without.
For our main courses, we decide to share a bowl of the spicy prawn Pho and a cold dish of ‘bun’ noodles, which are cold vermicelli noodles with chopped vegetables, served with a cold spring roll and a hot meat topping. Bizarre, but actually not so bad, although not making enough of an impact to warrant it becoming a new favourite for me. However, the Pho is really very good and comes like a much needed ray of sunshine through the meal. A wonderfully spicy and flavoursome broth brimming with noodles, prawns accompanied by a side plate of the traditional accoutrements of mixed herbs such as mint, holy basil and coriander with sliced red chillies and bean sprouts, which we tip straight into the bowl and with the help of a ladle, gorge enthusiastically.
Desserts are a rather limited and therefore less interesting affair, with just sorbet, ice cream and banana fritters available, which we pass on. However, I am excited and ready at the prospect of finally getting to try one of the most famed and rare coffees in the world, which in the UK is served exclusively at Pho. ‘Weasel Coffee’ might not be something that your average Joe can stomach. Why? Well, this is a hum-dinger of a story, if ever you heard one. This coffee is eaten, digested and then ‘passed’ (yes, as in pooped out) by Vietnamese weasels – a process that dramatically enhances the flavour of the roasted beans. It is very strong and is usually served with condensed milk. So, I’m ready for my special cuppa coffee. ‘What? What do you mean you don’t have any?” I’m devastated and with that, I think it’s time to go. Overall, our meal was pretty decent but some parts were more enjoyable than others. I was open to trying the Weasel coffee and happily risk any unpleasant bitter after-taste, but ironically, the only thing that DID actually leave me with bitter taste in my mouth, was the service.