Pho, Vietnamese Street Food, 163-165 Wardour Street, London, W1F 8WN
For my second experience of Vietnamese food I went along to Pho on Wardour Street with my little sister Jess. I immediately liked it more than the other Vietnamese restaurant I visited, more cosy and intimate, less noise and lots of character. As we walked through to the waiting area at the bar, my sister leaned over and said ‘It’s like being in the Wicker Man’. It was meant to be a good thing, my sister has her own unique way of wording things. I think she just means there is lots of wicker… Pho is owned by an English husband and wife team Stephen and Juliette Wall, they opened the first Pho in June 2005, incredibly just a year after they got back from their inspiring trip to Vietnam, they now have six restaurants, including one in Brighton.
It was a busy Friday night so we had to wait for a table (no reservations), we ordered a couple of Sôn Tinh rice liquors at the bar – Chanh Leo (passion fruit) for me and Man Do (plum) for Jess £4.25 50cl, and mulled over the menu. They also do the full menu as takeaway options, and on the back of the menu is some background information on the history of Pho, and crucially how to pronounce it! We thought it was ‘po‘ but it’s actually ‘fuh’ although most people outside of Vietnam pronounce it ‘foe‘. Confusing!
The liquors were so strong (27%), I found it difficult to taste the passion fruit in mine, the plum however was a stronger flavour, any more than two and I think I’d have to be carried out of there. Pho import their wines direct from Highway 4, Hanoi, Vietnam, a bar that Stephen and Juliette fell in love with on their travels, the liquor is distilled from the finest un-husked sticky rice in the rice cradle of the Red River delta. What makes them special is that Pho have become the first place in the UK to serve these rice wines and fruit liquors.
Before we knew it, we were led to our table, which pleasingly was by the window, but also half covering the fire exit and I had a fire alarm in my face throughout the meal. My sister who was facing the window excitedly spotted a man walking past dressed as a polar bear, she doesn’t come to London much so thinks these things are an everyday occurrence. I don’t like to shatter her illusions.
Jess ordered the Rau Muong Xao Lai – stir-fried Morning Glory with garlic (purely for the name I suspect from her giggles) £5.75. I’d never tried Morning Glory before, it’s similar to spinach with longer stalks, really tasty soaked in garlic and what tasted like soy. I ordered the squishy Goi Cuon Ga - Summer rolls with chicken breast and fresh herbs £4.25. There was a choice of either Nuoc Charm or Peanut sauce, I went for the former – more traditional and spicy. We shared both dishes, I loved hers a bit more than mine, it was a bit too filling as a starter for me, would be great for lunch though, and I do love the texture of the rice paper, might try to make these one day.
Next was a bowl of warming, aromatic Pho Tai Chin – steak and brisket £7.95, with herbs on the side to mix my own flavours. The steak was slightly tough but the brisket was a lot more tender, I appreciated the delicate beefy flavours of the soup more than the last bowl of Pho I had, although still found myself adding a touch of chilli sauce. I didn’t find that adding any of the herbs made any difference to the flavour though, it just made it look pretty. This is the kind of food you need when you’re ill, it is proper comfort food that you feel is doing you good, and I suspect it is. The bowl was ginormous, this picture doesn’t do it justice, such a bargain.
Jess ordered a cold dish from the Bun section (Vermicelli rice noodles with stir fried toppings, fresh herbs, veggie spring roll and peanuts) Her dish was wrong, she ordered the Bun Cha Gio Nem Nuong pork and lemongrass meatballs but instead got Bun Cha Gio Bo Xao Sa - lemongrass and beef £8.45 instead. I didn’t realise until about ten minutes into eating, we didn’t mention it to the waitress as were in a bit of a hurry, table booked at the beautiful Bob Bob Ricard for drinks, luckily Jess didn’t seem too disappointed, and said she was really impressed with it, I knew there was no way she would finish the massive bowl though, big enough for two! We would have asked for a doggie bag had we not been going out after.
We unfortunately didn’t have time for dessert, the options were minimal though, Pandan Pancake with roasted coconut, served with ice cream would’ve been right up Ade’s street. As were leaving, I noticed a big bowl of food waste by the food lift area, not something that should be in sight! If I went back I’d like to try the Vietnamese curry (Cari) as I’ve never had a Vietnamese curry before, in fact there are still a lot of dishes I’ve not tried… Overall we both really enjoyed Pho, despite the wrong order, fire exit table and the bowl of waste. The service was friendly and helpful and with such reasonable prices, especially for somewhere in Soho. Please come to Kent Pho!
163-165 Wardour Street,
London, W1F 8WN
020 7434 3938
Monday to Saturday: 12 – 11pm
Sunday: 12pm – 10pm
Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus