A Beautiful Bun Bounty at Pho Spitalfields

This past Wednesday I was a guest of Pho‘s most recently opened location in Spitalfields, whereupon I ate everything, including a tiny mushroom that was in my massive bowl of bun.

Although I’ve eaten in quite a few Vietnamese restaurants in my day, with Orlando having a vibrant Vietnamese food scene and having a Vietnamese friend with whom I ate at a few eateries with (hello, Hao!), along with being a familiar face at Banh Mi Bay, I actually hadn’t eaten at any of Pho’s locations. Their Spitalfields spot is their seventh location, with their restaurant in Clerkenwell being the first one opened in 2005.

My dining companion and I arrived at Pho Spitalfields a tiny bit late, but we were greeted warmly and allowed to pick a table. The place wasn’t very busy–in fact while we were there I think the fullest it got was about two-thirds full. However, it was a Wednesday, and because of its location, it seems to do a lot more trade during the day with all the offices around the area. Spitalfields itself can be quite an odd area. On one hand, you’ve got nearby Brick Lane, which can be quite active in the evening, as can nearby Shoreditch, which is where Mr Tom and I walked from, taking about ten minutes from Shoreditch Church, if not a bit less. But the area around Liverpool Street can be a dead zone in the evenings, which is a shame, because actually restaurants like Pho and a few other places I spotted that were open on or just off Brushfield Street would be quite handy to keep on the radar when coming out of Liverpool Street station, or if you need to get away from the bustle of nearby Brick Lane or Shoreditch.

This branch of Pho was actually a bit like an oasis of urban living, actually, after a hectic commute from Victoria station, which wound up being comprised of two bus journeys because attempting to get onto the Victoria line from Victoria Station at 6:00 pm on a Wednesday was an absolute fail. Being able to sit in the relative calm space of Pho listening to a tuneful mix of Steely Dan, Metronomy and Fleetwood Mac while poring over a menu of delicious food was absolute bliss in comparison to the hell of getting from one side of London to the other in the post-work rush.

We settled in, perused the menu and ordered our drinks and meal. We both opted for two variants of green tea: the Monkey King, which is green tea with jasmine, and the Kingdom of Heaven, which is the gunpowder green. Pho stocks Numi brand tea, which is a familiar brand from when I lived back in Florida, as I’m a fan of their aged Earl Grey. Numi teas are fairtrade and organic, and I’m pleased to see that they’re available here in the UK and that Pho stocks them. In fact, I’ll have to go on a hunt for a tin of their loose leaf Earl Grey now that I know I can get it here.

Pho also serves beer from Vietnam and Laos, and an interesting array of Vietnamese rice wines, which is on my list of things to try on my next visit to one of Pho’s London outlets, or their one in Brighton. For those of you who have done any travelling in Southeast Asia, Beerlao should be a familiar friend, and Pho actually sells bottles of it, both in small and big sizes.

Relive your gap year, people, through the magical medium of beer!

We shared a starter of vegetarian spring rolls, which were deep fried super-crispy. Spring rolls are quite varied across the East and Southeast Asian communities, so I can be a little picky with spring rolls. Although tasty, I think the way Pho’s spring rolls are prepared are a bit too oily for me, although I have a very high standard as far as what a spring roll should be and taste like: my mother’s. Next time I eat at Pho, I think I’ll have a taste of their veggie summer rolls, although we’re no longer in our “summer.” There’s also a Vietnamese crêpe starter, which sounds intriguing.

My bowl of bun noodles arrived absolutely heaving with an array of delectable components: fried tofu, cilantro (coriander), mushrooms, shredded carrots and chopped lettuce atop a pile of cold noodles, along with a bonus spring roll. I’ve gotten bun from other restaurants before, but I can honestly say this is the most bountiful bowl of bun I’ve ever received. With the bun, I only poured about two-thirds of the ginger and soy sauce that came with it, and that was more than enough sauce to mix in with the dish. Bun is fabulous, especially for warmer months, but I still enjoyed my gigantic bowl from Pho even though many of us have already broken out the woollen coats this year. The flavours were fabulous, and the bonus spring roll was enjoyed, despite my divisive views on spring rolls.

No complaints were heard on the other side of the table with regards to the pho xao ga tom, which was fried noodles with chicken and prawn. There was a veggie option for the pho xao, which will be tried at some point, I’m sure.

Despite being stuffed absolutely stupid full of fantastic food, we both opted to go for a dessert. Tom opted to go for a lighter option of pear sorbet, while I, not having had enough deep-fried food for one evening, went for the banana fritters topped with Macapuno coconut ice cream.

I ate it all. I think I even ate a mint leaf.

The really wonderful thing is that Macapuno coconut is a familiar taste to me, as I grew up periodically enjoying Magnolia brand’s Macapuno coconut ice cream. Macapuno is a type of coconut that has extra coconut meat in it, and it’s really popular in the Philippines. The taste was almost poignant, in a way, as it made me think of my mother and how we would sometimes be able to get Magnolia’s Macapuno coconut ice cream from Filipino stores if we were lucky that the damn thing wouldn’t melt on the drive home.

For more on Macapuno and its role in the Filipino food psyche, read this post on Burnt Lumpia’s blog. There’s even a recipe for Macapuno coconut ice cream. If you make it, let me know so I can show up to your house with a spoon.

We left Pho entirely stuffed and thoroughly satisfied. Many thanks to the staff for the friendly service and ensuring we were exceedingly well-fed. I’m already thinking about my next meal at Pho, either at their Spitalfields spot or in one of their other London outlets; a bowl of their namesake dish would be ace for the colder weather we’re starting to get here in the city, especially for the cold I’m sure to get sometime this winter.

Pho’s location in Spitalfields is located at 48 Brushfield Street, nearly equidistant between Bishopsgate and Commercial Street, and about a 5 minute walk from Liverpool Street station, and within about a 10 minute walk from Shoreditch High Street, Aldgate East and Aldgate stations. Impressively, they’re open until 11 pm Thursday through Saturday, which is good to keep in mind if you’re having a few post-work pints nearby and need a solid meal before you set off home. All other days, they’re open from 11:30 am until 10 pm for eat-in or take-away. An eat-in main will set you back £5.45 for the green mango salad with pork and dried shrimp, £9.75 for the tiger prawn Vietnamese curry, or anywhere in-between, so expect to pay about £13~15 for a main dish and drink for one.

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