Eating something unpronounceable
The latest new restaurant offering in Leicester is Pho, an eagerly anticipated chain restaurant arrival offering Vietnamese cuisine – the eponymous Pho is a bowl of noodle soup -with other dishes giving you an interesting and helpful insight into the food of Vietnam. I assume anyway, I’ve never been so I have to guess that their authenticity is on point!!
Pho invited us along to road test their new High Street restaurant, which is well located on the corner opposite The Cookie and Lumbers, some great Leicester institutions. The decor is dark and ambient – lots of stained wood and mood lighting – I really quite liked it. It’s cosy but cool at the same time. On to the menu, and they have a selection of Vietnamese inspired cocktails on offer, so I opted for a Rose Apple Bellini, made with Tao Meo liquor. I’ve not had anything rose apple flavoured before and it was an interesting taste – apple notes, with a slight sourness and more indecipherable herbaceous qualities. I’m glad I’ve had one, but I would want to try something different next time.
The menu has the original Vietnamese name with an easy to follow English description underneath. I have no idea how to even go about pronouncing all the various accents that the English transliteration has, but its good fun giving it a go! It speaks of my own ignorance more than anything. Our starters came out after a short wait – service is bustling and quick here and of course many dishes are very quick to cook. The Boy opted for the chicken wings, Canh ga (I haven’t got time to find all the accents!!) while I enjoyed the fried baby squid – Muc chien gion.
The chicken wings take a little longer to cook than other starters and I was impressed that we were warned about this, but it was still barely a moment before the dish was brought out. Although a little on the small side, the wings were good and crispy with a flavourful sriracha dipping sauce. There is also a choice of sauces and homemade pickles available on the table so you can flavour up each dish as you choose. Don’t forget to read the ‘key’ to these sauces before your menu is whipped away after you have ordered!
I was a little trepidatious about the squid as the batter looked very anaemic, but I think it was the tempura-like nature of the batter itself rather than a problem in the cooking, as it was absolutely perfect in texture – light and crisp with the squid tender and yielding in the centre. Pretty heavenly. My dish came with a little saucer for the dipping sauce, which our server explained contained salt, pepper and chilli with a lime half on the side for me to squeeze in myself. It’s nice to put such a simple, fresh dip together yourself and I really enjoyed how the spice level increased as I ate while the chilli marinaded in the lime. It was zingy and lively, but its simplicity meant the flavour of the squid was not overpowered. Pretty top notch stuff.
On to the mains and of course I had to try the Pho. I opted for the Chef’s Special, served with brisket, enoki and button mushrooms and an egg yolk in the centre. Each Pho comes with a side plate of assorted herbs to help you to season the dish to your own liking. I enjoyed adding some crunchy beansprouts, thai basil, coriander and even a dash of mint to my dish, although I found the spicing was fine so I didn’t go for the chilli. I did find the soup base a little underseasoned though but a little fish sauce from the table soon resolved this.
The customisable element and the fresh ingredients really appeal to me, but I can’t help but wonder how much waste of fresh produce this creates. However, the pho is good, all a bit of an experience to eat balancing chopsticks and your little wooden ladle. The brisket was tender and although the enoki mushrooms were a little thin on the ground the overall combination of flavours was enjoyable. With a mass of flat rice noodles nestling in the bottom of the sizable bowl this was really quite a meal! It doesn’t leave you uncomfortably full though, which I appreciated.
The Boy chose the rice bowl, topped with a rainbow of veggies and served with the beef in a betel leaf option. All the elements were great, except perhaps surprisingly the beef which tasted a little bit like a mediocre hamburger patty, slightly dry and wrapped in a leaf. The peanut sprinkle over the top added texture and it being a drier dish overall gave him the chance to really go to town on the pickles and sauces on the table, so another relative success here.
To finish I was interested to try the Vietnamese coffee. I have always enjoyed coffee served with condensed milk in Spain so it was exciting to see what the Vietnamese equivalent was like. Served in its own mini percolator is always a good sign as you know your coffee has been made fresh and the layer of condensed milk added a sweet creaminess which I really enjoyed, although perhaps the coffee needed to be a little stronger to stand up to this bold competition.
All in all, I was surprised at how impressed I was. I really enjoyed the food and the pricing is good compared to some of the other chain restaurants in the area. It’s a little bit different, there’s a little bit of theatre, although the slurping and noodle flicking might not make it an ideal first date restaurant! Definitely a comfortable place for relaxed dining with friends and family. Thanks to Pho for inviting me along and I am already looking forward to coming back to sample more things that I cannot pronounce!