Two years ago I started my current job at an advertising agency in Farringdon. When I told my old manager that I was moving, one of the things he said to me about was: "If you are in Farringdon, you must have lunch at Pho!".
So I discovered Pho, which is both the name of a Vietnamese dish and a restaurant. It opened in Farringdon in 2005 as the city's first Vietnamese street food restaurant and it has now grown into a small chain with six branches in London and one in Brighton.
The latest Pho branch opened last month in Spitalfields. Located on Brushfield Street, just across the street from the market, this is the restaurant I chose to visit when the Pho PR manager kindly invited me and a guest to sample their menu.
It was a beautiful summer night, one of the last warm and long days of August. We arrived early enough to bag the best table by the French windows, so we dined alfresco, looking at the sun setting behind Spitalfields Market.
We shared a few starters: Goi Cuon (veggie summer rolls) and Banh Xeo Tom Ga (traditional Vietnamese crepe filled with prawns, chicken and beansprouts). I chose the summer rolls to keep light and healthy, but I found the taste a bit bland - next time I will definitely try the fried version! The Vietnamese crepe was delicious, a crisp shell that would have been a dinner in itself.
As a main course, I ordered the Pho Bo Vien (Pho soup with homemade beef meatballs). In the past I had only tried Pho Tai (with thinly sliced steak) and Pho Chay (tofu and mushrooms in veggie stock). The version with sliced steak remains my favourite, as I found the homemade meatballs to be too heavy for me.
My husband ordered Bun Chay Noodles (with tofu and mushroom), which were lovely. I had them for lunch the next day, as the portions were so big that we had them wrapped in a box to take home.
Still, I couldn't leave without trying the dessert. I ordered Chuoi Chien (banana fritter with ice cream - honey and ginger or coconut): sweet, creamy, and very good. Healthy options are never my favourites! :)
I ended the meal with Ca Phe, a rich Vietnamese coffee served with condensed milk. Ca phe is made with finely ground Vietnamese-grown dark roast coffee, brewed with a small metal French drip filter into a cup. The coffee then gets stirred and is usually poured over ice to be drank cold.
It was very strong and bitter, so the addition of the condensed milk was very much needed. I liked it, but being Italian I find it hard to drink filter coffee at the end of a meal, preferring a short ristretto instead.
We had a very nice dinner and I will remain a regular customer of Pho. For me, it remains a great lunch alternative when I am at work, or a place to go for dinner with friends. My favourite discoveries of the night were the Vietnamese crepe and the banana fritters, while I also enjoyed trying the Ca Phe. Being a coffee lover, it is always exciting to taste different brews.
There are many Pho restaurants to choose from, but I definitely recommend the one in Spitalfields, as both ground and first floor rooms have lovely interiors and the atmosphere is very nice.
Disclosure: the dinner was kindly offered by the restaurant. All views are my own.