Vietnamese cooking has yet to hit the big time in London. This is still mainly a world of ‘ethnic’ East End cafés. There is a ‘smart’ Vietnamese – Fitzrovia’s Bam Bou – but it’s very much ‘evolved’, offering a cuisine reflecting colonial French influences. It’s no criticism to say it’s probably as known for its seductive cocktail bar as it is for its food.
Perhaps rarity – and the fact that Pho cafés are quite popular in the US – is why this unassuming Clerkenwell newcomer has made a bit of a splash in the media. This is one of the first straight-down-the-line Vietnamese restaurants to open in an established restaurant area. In fact, you don’t get much more established than its near neighbour: the famous St John. Though Pho is much smaller, the two restaurants are alike in two ways: the décor is on the basic side; and staff seem to have a passion for what they do.
‘Pho’ (pronounced like the French ‘feu’) is the national dish of Vietnam. It’s a steaming bowl of soupy noodles, offset with a lump of protein. It is perhaps an acquired taste. My dish didn’t in fact have much taste, but I may have made a mistake by pushing the boat out (£7.45) and having the prawn option. Perhaps if I had chosen the more traditional beef brisket (£6.45) I would have done better. Whatever your choice, you get to jazz things up with your own selection of chillies (beware) and herbs.
Don’t let our only reasonably satisfactory visit put you off visiting this thoroughly convivial place. At these prices, you really do have nothing to lose by trying it for yourself.