Last Thursday evening I enjoyed dining at Pho, a Vietnamese restaurant in central London. My friend and I chose Pho because of a mutual interest in Vietnamese cuisine and their current offer, via Toptable, of 50% off the food bill. The pre-discount prices are very reasonable and the food and service excellent; I’ll certainly be going back, discount or not.
We arrived 20 minutes before our reservation. The restaurant was packed and buzzing, with a queue squeezed in to the small space inside the door. Most didn’t have reservations so were given a time estimate and asked for their mobile numbers so they could be called when a table was available. We gave our name to the staff, who said our table should be ready within a few minutes of our reservation time, and popped outside to wait. They do have a bar downstairs (as well as more tables) but advised it was busy and standing room only. I believe they don’t normally take reservations other than via Toptable.
We were seated within 10 minutes of our reservation time at a table for two in the small upstairs dining area. The tables are really closely packed, which isn’t ideal as one feels a bit squashed in. We were both tucked right up to the table and couldn’t’ move it out further from the wall without blocking the narrow path through the tables. The décor is modern, light and colourful.
My friend ordered jasmine flower tea served in a clear glass mug so that we could watch the tightly budded flower unfurl and sink to the bottom. Staff were not only happy to bring more hot water, they actively suggested it when they noticed the mug was empty. I first had a pineapple, apple and mint juice which was freshly made when ordered, followed by a homemade lemonade. Both were very refreshing.
Goi Cuon Tom: freshly made summer rolls with prawns
The summer rolls were very light and fresh, with the flavours of fresh herbs, especially mint, bringing all the other ingredients to life. One portion consisted of two rolls each cut into two portions and was served with a nuoc cham dipping sauce (which consists of chilli, garlic, sugar & fish sauce).
Cha Gio: homemade fried pork spring rolls
These rolls were deliciously savoury, with a very distinctive flavour that was so familiar and yet which I couldn’t identify. The wrap was crunchy and the filling soft. One portion consisted of three rolls each cut into two portions and was served with a nuoc cham dipping sauce.
Pork and lemongrass balls
This was definitely my favourite of the starters, though I loved all three. The pork filling was a smooth paste of pork with wonderful zingy lemongrass kick, coated in fine breadcrumbs before being lightly fried to pale golden brown. The balls were served on small wooden skewers. One portion consisted of two skewers with three meatballs each, and sufficient crispy lettuce leaves to wrap each ball before dipping into the accompanying nuoc cham sauce.
The menu listed several pho dishes and encouraged the customer to create their own combination from the list, if preferred. All phos contained either vegetarian, chicken or beef stock, a portion of flat, white rice noodles and the chosen main ingredients, ranging from beef and meatballs to tiger prawns to tofu and vegetables. A side plate was also provided containing beansprouts, fresh coriander plus another large single leaf that we were advised tasted like strong coriander and a segment of lime to squeeze in too. The leaf was too tough for me, but I used all my beansprouts and coriander, and the wee Scotsman happily gave me additional coriander on request. What I particularly liked was the lack of chilli added to the phos. Instead chilli and fish sauces were provided on the table. Despite the bibs provided, I still managed to spill some of my pho down my front, though I’m going to blame the difficulties of eating noodle soup with chopsticks and the very shallow wooden ladels provided.
The honey and ginger ice-cream my friend has was much nicer than the banana fritters I opted for, which were made from bananas not yet ripe enough to provide much flavour.
We both had a coffee, served in a metal filter pot that dripped through into the small coffee cup below. I went for weasel coffee, more just to try something new than with any expectation of better taste, with condensed milk. As the coffee was quite strong, the wee Scotsman kindly gave me an extra portion of condensed milk in a dipping sauce dish. I really liked the flavour it added to the coffee, alongside the sweetness.
As we’d booked on the toptable 50% offer, the bill came to a ridiculously low £28.23 with the discount applied not only to the food, as expected, but also to the drinks. The service added to that was just £3.53! I was surprised that they calculated service on the discounted amount, as most restaurants offering 50% discounts through Toptable calculate service on the original total. I spoke to the wee Scotsman about it, and he explained that their computer system didn’t give them any other option, so once I’d paid the discounted bill (and discounted service) on my credit card, I gave him an extra £4 explaining that I felt they deserved a tip based on the original bill value.
So, the total paid, including service charge and extra tip came to just £35.76!
I enjoyed the meal and would definitely go again and would like to try one of the non-soup noodle dishes next time.
I should point out that the menu is limited and may not suit vegetarians, though pescetarians should be fine. I don’t mind short menus as I like the idea of a restaurant focusing on doing a few dishes really well rather than many dishes to a more mediocre level!
Location, so near to Oxford Circus is very handy for meeting up with friends, or for those of you still brave enough to shop on Oxford Street.