Pho – Making Waves in London, Brighton and Leeds
Chain restaurants: friend or Pho?
There has been a change on the high street: where once we looked at the bleak and hollow void left by Woolworths, Blockbuster and Threshers, grimly thinking that we could never be happy again, a beautiful thing descended upon us from the ether that healed all of our bitter sorrows- and that thing is the swanky restaurant chain. Perhaps a sign of economic recovery, and certainly one of the better symptoms of globalization, increasingly exotic street foods have found themselves given a brush-down and successfully launched onto the high street. In any case, it is evident that the average consumer’s taste buds have evolved, and the typical chain restaurant has matured along with it. Pho is just one example of the radical shift of interests from greasy, un-spiced and brashly colourful eateries, to those which use fresh, healthy ingredients and have buzzing, trendy interiors. Following the explosion of Vietnamese food in the US in the early 2000s, this elegantly fragrant cuisine has finally been embraced by the UK.
Having only been launched in 2005, Pho has already found itself generously sprinkled around London. With two more locations in Brighton and Leeds, it is set to expand to Manchester and Birmingham well in time for the colder months when hot soup will certainly be at the top of everyone’s list of demands. Not to be knocked for its ‘chain status’, Pho consistently provides high quality food at reasonable prices in a sleek yet eclectic environment.
Pho delivers a mouth-watering selection of soups, noodles and curries to please everyone.
Without a doubt, the house special Pho Bo Nam Trung is the most impressive dish on the extensive menu. It is an absolute delight to be presented with a huge, smouldering bowl of rice noodles, brisket, enoki and button mushrooms, and creamy egg yolk in a beef broth accompanied by a mound of sprightly green mixed herbs for personalised seasoning. A large part of the Pho experience is the fun of adjusting the flavours with the collection of potions resting on each table. Compared to ramen where table alterations tend to be limited to soy sauce, chili flakes and the occasional ginger stem, almost every aspect of its flavour may be manipulated at the table. With this being an alien notion to western diners, it is one of Pho’s biggest selling points. From the vibrant bed of raw coriander, mint, saw tooth and Thai basil offered, to the siracha, hoisin, home-made chili and garlic paste, and more exotic garlic vinegar awaiting the taste adventurer, the experience of eating at Pho has a distinctly playful quality to it. For those not in the mood for a broth-based main dish, there is also a medley of noodle dishes, curries and salads up for grabs. In particular, the Goi (Vietnamese salad) offers a much more exciting alternative to the expected lettuce-based salad which has become a staple of western dining. For fans of Thai cuisine, the Pho Xao is a must-try and provides a lighter twist on the Pad Thai. In terms of starters, anything that features their unique creamy peanut dipping sauce is sure to please the palate.
Finally, one of the nicer more subtle touches about Pho is that their menu does change from restaurant to restaurant which further diffuses any previous misgivings about the monotony of this new breed of chains. With the death of kitsch family-friendly eateries such as Wimpy Burger now a certainty rather than a possibility, it is entirely possible that more taste-oriented but still child-friendly restaurants like Pho could take their place. Further to this point is their competitive pricing, with a filling Pho costing around £6.75 and a meal at Wimpy or an equivalent coming to just under £10 per person. The positive implication of this is that the next generation raised with this sort of regular restaurant experience will not only have a more well-versed palate and appreciation of food than previous youthful purveyors of fast-food establishments, but will also have a more international world view entrenched in them from early experiences of fun food from different cultures.