Review – Pho, Brighton
Pho (pronounced fu-h) is quickly starting to become one of the bigger, more recognisable chain restaurants. Sharing its vicinity in Brighton with Zizzi and Jamie Oliver’s Italian on Black Lion Street, I was intrigued to find that although a chain, it has its roots firmly set in traditional Vietnamese cooking.
Pho is atmospherically low-lit and very welcoming. Diners can choose to sit either at a high table with bar stools or a more traditional, low-down table.
The menu, to some, may seem quite daunting at first as every dish has a Vietnamese name and there is a wide variety to choose from. But our attentive server, the lovely James, quickly suggested what’s new and what he would recommend. Needless to say we opted for his enthusiastic choices.
We had both starters that were new to the menu. First up was Mực chiên giòn, a crispy perfectly cooked large portion of sliced squid with a lime and chilli sauce. The sauce you make yourself by combining fresh lime, freshly sliced chilli and white pepper in a small dipping pot. This hands-on approach is something of a recurring theme at Pho…
Then came our second starter: Nem hải sản, a large spring roll filled with tiger prawn, crab and pork. The waiter recommended wrapping a lettuce leaf and mint around each roll. The mint added such a lift to the stuffing, enhancing each of the delicate flavours and adding its own earthy taste.
For mains, we had to try their most popular dish, pho (vietnamese soup bowl). We opted for the Phở bò combo, which includes all their beef choices: brisket balls and steak with fresh veg and vermicelli noodles. The soup is accompanied by a side plate of beansprouts, fresh coriander, mint and sawtooth (an aniseed flavoured coriander) that you add yourself depending on personal taste. The soup is a treasure trove of deliciousness with every mouthful containing something different, depending on what you added. The bowls are very good value starting at £7.95 and won’t leave you feeling empty.
The second main was a broken rice Xào – a sticky textured rice dish accompanied by pickles, salad and shredded chicken. Some Xào dishes can be notoriously hot, but the accompanying sauce had a comfortable heat which allowed you to taste the chilli flavour. Although famous for the aforementioned soup dish, this was our favourite of the night as it was so different and refreshing from anything we’d usually eat.
For dessert we opted for the Banh lá dứa – a thin traditional pancake made with pandan, which turned them a bright green. They are stuffed with a sweet dried coconut and served with a very creamy, smooth honey and ginger ice cream. All these components married together beautifully creating lots of texture within each bite.
Finally our server recommended the Vietnamese coffee, Cà phê, as it would be unlike any other coffee we would have tried. He was right. Combining a shot of espresso and condensed milk, this little coffee has a very creamy sweetness unlike any western coffee. The flavour is rich so you don’t need much and was a perfect end to the meal.
Pho is a hidden gem in the world of the more major restaurants, keeping that fine balance of high-street eatery and traditional ethics. For anyone who is looking to expand their culinary repertoire but is afraid of not knowing what to order, Pho is the perfect place to eat, with an abundance of helpful staff who really know the dishes inside out.
Words and photographs by Rob Ling.