A year ago I went on a three week, whistle-stop tour of Vietnam. It’s a country that I quickly fell in love with, full of welcoming people, beautiful landscapes and unique heritage. I found the cuisine to be compelling, making extensive use of aromatics and heat to create exotic dishes that linger in the mouth and memory. I loved every second of it. Yet, it has become almost impossible to find Vietnamese food back in Blighty. EAT done there take on Banh Mi with predictably car crash results and now we have Pho, a small chain of London based restaurants, within the confides of Birmingham’s own Grand Central.
Pho, somewhat unsurprisingly given the name, focuses on its namesake dish, which is essentially a stock soup with noodles and meat. The best we tried in Vietnam had noodles with oodles of bounce (sorry), and a soup full of savoury meaty notes. You get a side dish from which to add fish sauce, chilli, coriander and lime to taste, which for me was an excess of everything. As my girlfriend pointed out in Hoi An; if the Pho tastes bad it is probably your fault for ruining it. The chicken version at Pho was good, though the stock soup was lacking in the depth of flavour which we became accustomed to. What was infinitely better was the meat, which had none of the chewiness from birds used of an older age in South East Asia.
There was a Pho Xao, a noodle stir fry not a million miles away from the more familiar Pad Thai, that was full of crunch and lemon grass notes. Again, as with the Pho itself, it felt like an anglicised version of what we were used to, lacking the fire of chilli and the extensive use of fresh herbs. Far better were deep fried vegetarian spring rolls with a brittle casing and vibrant filling. The thick peanut dipping sauce it came with was good enough to take home and meet the parents before settling down for a life of happiness.
They serve the wonderful Saigon beer which took us took us back to the sun and Vietnamese style coffee which did nothing of the sort. All this came to around thirty quid, which is seems fair for Birmingham and about six times too much from Vietnam. Still, at least here we have the exotic views of New Street Station. For what’s its worth I liked Pho, maybe not enough to be a regular, but certainly enough to swing by when I need my Vietnam fix.