• Pho Cafe: A Very Tasty Bite of London

    May 20th, 2010quarrygirllondon, more restaurants (not LA)

    hey everyone, time for another field report from our qg correspondent across the pond! check out dadatamonkey’s review of pho cafe in london. enjoy!

    Phở Cafe opened in Clerkenwell in June 2005, and was London’s first Vietnamese “street food” restaurant, and has since grown to three cafes around London. The number of places selling Phở has since rocketed in London, however very few are truly suitable for vegans. Phở Cafe is different. They fully understand. I visited the Titchfield St branch, slap bang in the middle of ad agency land dahling.

    Not surprisingly, given the name, they specialise in serving Phở (plus Goi & Bun), and very little else. Despite the short menu there is enough selection to keep you coming back for more, time after time. Well, actually I eat the same things every time after working through the entire menu over time!

    The cooks are mainly Vietnamese ladies, and the ingredients are really fresh and authentic. One thing to note is that in common with many Asian restaurants in London, service can be a little bit of a shock initially for some i.e take it or leave it.. This branch is largely staffed, front of house, by mainland Europeans (aka students), so you may expect a more western service. Sorry. Wrong. Don’t be offended, it’s just that it’s a rapid place, so you don’t get the niceties of some places, instead you get the true flavours at very, very reasonable prices. But as I’ll explain later you can change this.

    A good mixed crowd as always. Importantly, Vietnamese people also eat here regularly.

    It’s basis is a simple, clean and cool cafe serving noodle soups that are widely eaten throughout Vietnam. Normally served by cart vendors on every street, in London we just don’t do that much, yet, sadly. Not surprisingly given the location the clientele is a very mixed bunch. Literally. It seems to be a fave for lesbian couples, and that is pretty damn cool. If that offends don’t bother going.

    Laos Beer (£5-80 750ml). Tasty!

    They serve great freshly squeezed juices if that’s your thing, or popular beers such as Laos brand (my thing). They don’t serve wine as it really doesn’t suit the food (the acids in wine react badly with e.g. star anise). As with most Asian beers, Laos is a rice beer based on the German Reinheitsgebot laws (literally “purity order”), and a completely vegan beer list is on offer (4 in total). After ordering a beer, and while I decided on what to eat (no idea why, I knew what to eat), the server asked if I would like a bib to stop the soup getting on my top (yup, you gotta slurp these soups), again this indicates the nature of the place. She was taking the micky. If you go with the flow the staff will open up very quickly and you will enjoy it way more. I replied no thanks, but free beer would be good. The server laughed and relaxed. Sorted.

    Goi Cuon: Summer Rolls. (£3-65 normally, was actually £1-62 with toptable 50% off deal.) So fresh tasting.

    The menu is split into appitisers, mains etc, however me, being me, I have it as one course.. Of course! I ordered the Goi Cuon – Summer Vegetable Rolls – really fresh raw salad & herb leaves with very finely grated carrot, mooli, coriander (cilantro), vietnamese basil and mint, wrapped in very fine rice skins (which have been previously cooked, not raw). Served with a chilli dip that is slightly sweet/sour and not too hot; this lovely, refreshing dish brings your taste buds back to life, and that is needed if you are walking around London for a while. Wakey wakey tasty buds! Mmm so nice and fresh!

    Bún Chay noodle soup with sides. (£6-25 normally, £3-62 paid)

    Along with the Goi I had Bún Chay. A really spicey soup broth containing a great veg stock formed of some my fave seven deadly sins: star anise, chilli, lemongrass, coriander roots, onion, garlic and tomatoes. The additions are bean curd (a lovely squidgy, soak ‘em up type), English mushrooms (still bloody good though) and, of course, thick, soft and well separated rice noodles. This is topped off with nicely chunky spring onions (scallions for those of a US of A leaning – Hành in Vietnamese).

    A side dish of beansprouts (Giá), fresh Vietnamese mint (Kinh Gioi) & basil (Quế), lime (Chanh), sawgrass (Ngò gai) and chillies (Ớt) is there for you to add as you wish, then squeeze the fresh lime over the top of the lot. A tip if you use limes at home – roll them with force on your kitchen worktop in the palm of your hand (use those muscles!!) before cutting and you’ll get 10x more juice out!

    Check out that beancurd. Sooo good. Munch time!

    When you are ready to munch, having added the whole side plate if you have any sense, mix it up!! As is traditional you get a wooden soup ladle and chopsticks. The method is to use the ladle in the hand you normally hold your knife, and the chopstick in the other. Don’t feel embarrassed if you spill things, just relax and let the staff & regular’s enjoy watching you try to work out how to use them. 😉 Seriously though, the idea is to pick up some noodles/tofu etc with the chopsticks, place in the ladle and with some broth. Then get it in your mouth ASAP! Top tip: to save splish splash splosh, the head goes to the bowl, not the ladle to the head. Then SLURP SLURP SLURP!! Don’t cut the noodles if you can help it, as it’s bad luck (they represent your lifeline, the longer the better). Just keep sucking.

    In summary, a great find. Not high end, gourmet vegan food, but you really sould try it. Great atmosphere, lovely staff and clientelle, and superb cheap. At £11.04 for a feast and lots of beer, superb value! 10/10 for me. You should go there, asap.

    Phở Cafe
    3 Great Titchfield Street
    W1W 8AX
    Tel +44 (0)207 436 0111
    Open 12-10pm Monday – Saturday

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