Anthea Gerrie visits Delicious Pho in London’s Spitalfields and finds it exactly as the name suggests.
As storm Dudley was blowing out and Eunice was roaring in, there was only one thing for it on the windy streets of London E1 – a big bowl of pho, that comforting concoction of meaty broth served with plentiful fresh greenery to up the immune response. Make that Delicious Pho, the latest London restaurant to dispense Vietnam’s answer to chicken soup at its first UK branch in Spitalfields, where Shoreditch meets the City.
This bright, deceptively simple-looking eatery has arrived in the UK from Canada, where female chef Chau Tran established her first Delicious Pho in 2003, a decade after emigrating to the country. A 120-cover flagship restaurant there feeds more than three times the capacity of the current London operation and is intended to expand to a dozen branches like its Canadian parent.
The fact the food is higher-quality and more sophisticated than the plain interior suggests is hinted at by a fabulous display of fresh orchids and a shrine just inside the bright shopfront, a former Byron site. It’s helpful the restaurant name is spelt out in big letters atop a big, acid-yellow frontage, given Spitalfields is a warren of narrow streets, many unnamed.
Inside, the restaurant is sparse, with a few tables plus booths for larger parties, spaced out on three sides of the room beyond the long counter and open kitchen. Mark, the very helpful manager, is in attendance to explain the menu for those new to Vietnamese food in general and pho in particular. The former is closer to Thai than Chinese with its reverence for aromatic fresh herbs and inherently milder, as customers get to add their own comfort level of spice quotient at the table with condiments including hot sriracha, sweet and sticky Hoisin and salty soy sauce on every table.
Pho being the main event, there are many options for both broth and contents, all but the one vegan version based on beef stock simmered for 12 hours. Not quite as dark or rich as some sampled elsewhere, the broth is nevertheless extremely tasty, and whether you choose one, two or three types of protein it’s the same £13 for a heaping bowl, an extra £2 to upsize.
I enjoyed a combination of fatty brisket and slightly less tasty lean flank; steak is also listed as an alternative, though the cut is not specified, while for the intrepid there are also tripe and tendon to choose from, plus arguably less authentic variations featuring meatballs, chicken and tiger prawns. Vegans get a mix of vegetables and tofu simmered in veggie broth, but to this diner the meatiness seems an essential component of pho.
What really makes the dish is not so much the heap of rice noodles in the bowl with the meat but the side plate of enticingly fresh accompaniments to add at will – whole sprigs of mint, coriander and holy basil, plus a pile of crunchy beansprouts. The coriander, along with the chopped fresh red chilli and sections of fresh lime on the plate, brought to mind caldo de pollo, the chicken soup pho equivalent enjoyed spiced up at will on the street food counters of Mexican food markets.
A highlight of Delicious Pho was the high-quality starters which made for a meal of great variety. We enjoyed excellent, juicy prawns breaded in panko and served with sweet chilli sauce, battered salt and pepper squid – both £7.50 for a portion serving two or three – and a very fine fresh mango salad with lettuce, mint, roasted peppers and a piquant fish sauce dressing. Usually served with a choice of protein, we asked for ours plain – another great option for vegans; there were spring rolls, too, but we opted for summer rolls, a fresher but somewhat less tasty alternative wrapped in soft rice paper.
While Delicious Pho seems made for soup lovers, those who are not partial to a bowl of broth are well catered for with a large range of noodle and rice dishes and a Vietnamese-Canadian take on curry.
No one needs dessert after all this, and at Delicious Pho, the dessert course comes as a sweet drink, based on exotic ingredients like longan, lychee and fresh coconut, smoothies including a debatable avocado and coffee combination, bubble teas, chais, fruit and conventional tea. To wash the actual meal down it’s hard to beat Vietnamese beer(£5 per 350ml bottle); I preferred the surprisingly delicate and fragrant Hanoi version to the Saigon.
Overall verdict: pho is addictive, and I can’t wait to get back to this welcoming dispensary of comfort food.
Tell me more about Delicious Pho
Delicious Pho, 3-6 Steward Street, London E1 6FQ
Opening hours 11am-9pm