Pho in many ways is responsible for making Vietnamese a mainstream staple in London. Previously, if you were looking for good Vietnamese you had to venture out to Kingsland Road. But even then lets face it, its not always easy to find a Vietnamese restaurant that cater to both carnivores and veggies.That’s why I was excited to learn that Pho’s interpretation of authentic dishes like pho noodle soup are available in both the traditional meat broths, and veggie stock.
The menu specialises in pho noodle soup complemented by other authentically prepared Vietnamese foods including goi (salads), bun vermicelli noodles and side dishes such as goi cuon and cha gio (summer and spring rolls).
Pho was founded in 2005 by entrepreneurial husband & wife team Stephen and Juliette Wall, who fell in love with the Vietnamese food and culture while backpacking in Southeast Asia. When they arrived back in London, they decided to take the plunge, quit their office jobs, and put everything they had into opening London’s first specialist Vietnamese street food restaurant.
Before opening the first Pho restaurant, Stephen took trips to California to witness the Vietnamese food culture there and combine it with what they had learned and tasted across the different cities in Vietnam. Juliette used what she knew from her experience in food science and marketing to work on the business plan. After finding the ideal site on St. John Street and developing the business plan, they were ready to open their first site, but not before first getting married!
Since 2005 they have opened seven locations, the newest of which is located in Spitalfields, which we were invited to come check out. The branch is quite small and can pack out quickly, but that said we never felt it was too loud or quiet. With big windows peering out into the street, it is great for watching the hipsters and bankers of Spitalfields.
I started out with the Goi Cuon, absolutely delicious fresh summer rolls with tofu and fresh herbs. It’s a great way to start your meal as its refreshing and light with a delicious hint of mint flavour. My dining partner had the Banh Xeo Chay, a traditional Vietnamese crepe filled with tofu and beansprouts. While this was delicious, it is huge! I definitely wouldn’t suggest tackling this alone, as you won’t have any room for your main.
For my main I had the Bun Chay Hue – a hot and spicy tofu and mushroom soup in a veggie base stock. This veggie friendly take on the traditional Pho noodle soup has quickly become a favourite (and have since been back twice to order it…definitely recommend wearing the bib. It can get pretty messy). The tofu has been flash fried adding a nice meaty texture to soup. The noodles also come with fresh beansprouts, herbs, and chillies that you can add to your broth as you wish. Personally, as it is already fairly spicy, I like to take it easy with the chillies. My dining partner quickly forgot she was already full when she saw her main, the Com Ga Cari, or Chicken curry. Mildly spicy, the curry had a smooth coconut flavour and was packed with veggies and mushrooms, laid over a bed of rice. Both entrees were watered down with a Beer Lao (not Vietnamese, but a light and refreshing Asian beer none the less)!
At this point we should have been stopped, but the temptation of the dessert menu that was sneakily placed in front of us was too much. I had the Strawberry and fresh basil sorbet while my friend had the Chuoi Chien, the banana fritter with honey ice cream. Walking out (with unbuttoned trousers!) we couldn’t have been more satisfied.