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Pho restaurant review

Wandering around Soho the other day, I was hankering after something South-East Asian, but everywhere we tried to get into - Koya, Tonkotsu to name a couple - were busy. I ended up in Pho, halfway down Wardour Street.

Pho, as the name suggests, mainly sells large bowls of Vietnamese noodle soup. It's a chain, apparently, and we'd stumbled into one of several branches it has around London.

Like everywhere else at 1pm in the west end, Pho was heaving with people, but we still ventured inside to see if we could find a seat.

Early signs weren't promising - the woman at the door greeted us with all the enthusiasm of someone who's discovered a nasty wart - but things picked up from there (not least because she disappeared to be replaced by a perky French geezer).

The menu has a smattering of vegan options (everything that's veggie is vegan too, I was told, although that presumably doesn't apply to the desserts including dairy ice cream) and we started with the veggie summer rolls, below.

To be clear, I've never been to Vietnam and don't have much experience of Vietnamese food or not, I don't know if these are in any way authentic or not but, while the rice noodles had the right amount of gelatinous feel and raw veg were suitably crunchy, it just felt like the whole thing was crying out for some protein - tofu, tempeh, what have you.

The peanut sauce that came with the rolls could have filled the gap if it had been thick and full of peanuts, but what came with it was not noticeably peanutty, and seemed to have more in common with HP sauce than Vietnamese peanut sauce.

Next up, I opted for a bowl of bun chay hue, below.

According to the menu, bun chay hue is a tofu and spicy soup with tofu and mushrooms. If it's not spicy enough, you get a few chillis on the side to amp up the warmth.

At this point the French waiter appeared and offered, of all things, a bib. Yep, a bib. Or rather, a sheet of plastic that looked a bit like a stray bit of bin bag. I must have looked askance at it. "It's not sexy, darling, but it is necessary," he said. Not if you've got a black top on, I thought, but slapped the bin bag on anyway.

The soup does what it says on the tin - a spicy broth with all the usual suspect (moah lemongrass MOAH) along with tofu and mushrooms. While I reiterate my lack of knowledge of Vietnamese food, I was rather disappointed to see that the mushrooms were the common or garden white kind, not some interesting Asian variety. 

I was also a bit disappointed to see that when the menu said 'soup with mushrooms and tofu', it wasn't kidding - there was no veg in the soup, bar the mushrooms. With an iceberg's worth of rice noodles in the bowl - you can't see the half of them when you begin - and a handful of tofu and shrooms floating on top,  bun chay hue was crying out for some extra veggies to break up the monotony.

'But what about the herbs and stuff I see on that side plate above?' you might ask. A fair point. But see the iceberg comment above - there was enough rice noodles in that bowl to take out the Titanic. A pinch of mint and slice of lime is a bit like taking a knife to a culinary gunfight.

While I laboured to make a dent in the noodles, my other half tackled another noodly mountain in the form of bun chay. As the name suggested, it was like my soup, only without the soup, and it suffered from the  same monotony - it's a veggie dish, people, stick some veggies in it!

163-165 Wardour Street
0207 434 3938

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  1. Hmm, what a disappointment. I have myself had that kind of disappointment before with dishes that sound attractive but aren't really. Oh well, at least now you know what not to order again! :) Great post, I'll remember not to order this if I'm ever visiting this place! :D

  2. Oh, that's a shame about the food. I almost always find myself wishing for more vegetables, ha.

  3. Ba ha ha, another entertaining review. That's super disappointing about the soup - that would get hella boring. My preference is always for more vegetables...or, you know, any vegetables. Yeesh.

  4. Nice review. That's disappointing about the lack of vegetables! Good to know. Pho are opening a branch near where I work and I want to try it (also good to know all the veggie stuff is vegan!) but I'll be sure to avoid those dishes and try something else...hopefully with vegetables in...

  5. I ended up going to Pho tonight and without intending to ordered the exact same dishes you had! haha. I did think the soup was nice (flavour-wise) but the lack of veg really was disappointing! The people who I was with got the non-veggie version and theirs was just noodles and meatballs. Theirs could have benefited from some vegetables too, noodles + meatballs or tofu = not that exciting! I'm not sure what's traditional in Vietnam though. I used to have summer rolls prepared by a Vietnamese friend pretty frequently and she never used tofu, so maybe they just don't usually include tofu in summer rolls.

  6. Ha - great minds think alike! It seemed it could have also done with a few veggies in the soup for colour as well as flavour.

    And I didn't know that about the tofu and summer rolls - what did your friend use? Veggies and noodles?


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