I cast my mind back to the opening of Pho in Leicester. A queue stretched as far back as the high street from Shires Lane with expectant diners eagerly anticipating free pho for the opening day. Since then, Pho (pronounced ‘fuh’ or ‘faaah’ if you’re Keith Floyd) has been busy near enough every time we have passed it.
So, the time came to try it out. After enjoying a screening of the latest Halloween movie at the nearby Showcase Cinema De Lux, we dropped by to try the Pho experience and discuss whether or not Michael Myers really was dead this time around.
The restaurant was busy on a Sunday night, always a good sign. The staff were friendly and busily going about their jobs as bowls of noodles passed us by on the way to our table. The menu is a double sided read featuring food on the front and drinks on the back. Very simple.
Note also the condiments on the table – a bottle of fish sauce, a bottle of spicy sriracha sauce, a small container of garlic and chilli vinegar and completing the set, a bowl of chilli oil. These are designed to allow the diner to alter the taste of their meal, particularly when ordering any of the soup dishes.
We went for the Pho Bo Combo at £9.95 and a Pho Chin at £9.25. Both bowls contained brisket with the combo adding in sliced steak and meatballs. Along with the soups we ordered up a couple of cocktails – a Phojito, a play on the classic Mojito, at £7.25 and a Ha Noi Mule at the same price.
One of my slight irks in a restaurant is the food arriving before the drinks, as was the case here. The food did however look tantalising to the tastebuds and the aromas coming from the bowl were certainly inviting.
As the friendly waiter explained the process of eating the Pho, by using the garnishes and the fresh herbs on the side to switch the flavour to your liking, the drinks arrived just moments after he left.
The selection of garnishes is relatively decent – basil leaves, bean sprouts, coriander and thai chilli are all present along with a wedge of lime. Interestingly there’s the notable absence of hoisin sauce which for me is a key player when it comes to Pho, although on reflection it’s listed on the menu ‘by request’ in very small writing.
Digging into the bowl is like a lucky dip – you just have no idea what your chopsticks are likely to drag up. Meatballs in the combo provided a succulent burst of flavour along with the soft pull apart brisket pieces, sadly there weren’t a great deal of them. The steak slices were wafer thin pieces of meat, again only a few in the bowl.
Pho pride themselves on healthy food, which this most definitely is. Every spoon of the broth seemed to come up green with either herbs, spring onions or both. The broth itself is alright but does benefit from a good whack of sour from either vinegar or lime plus a shot of fish sauce every now and again.
As we sipped on our cocktails the realisation sunk in that these weren’t particularly good. My Mule looked like it had begun life as a smoothie – a rather poorly mixed smoothie. The alcohol and lime had separated meaning any trace of the ginger or apple was lost.
The Phojito fared slightly better but the glass was packed with ice meaning the actual content of drink that you get for £7.25 isn’t actually all that much. A real disappointment. Still, we were having fun accessorising our soup and trying to hold a grip on those slippery noodles with our chopsticks.
We decided to get the bill and head off into the night. The staff did ask if everything was alright which was good of them. The final total, which will be no surprise if you have kept up with the maths in this article, came out at £33.70….that’s two bowls of soup and two cocktails – Are you Pho real?
For me, it was a disappointment. Pho originated in Clerkenwell, London and that’s where I believe that their prices still remain. £33.70 is a heck of a lot of money for what we received. I had no issue with the actual flavours but more the contents of the meal itself, does it justify the price tag? Not for me.
Pho is a popular chain sweeping the UK and has the appeal of genuine Vietnamese street food to many. I did feel that it was a conveyor belt at times, it’s not the kind of place to linger over the delights of The Orient. The background music is pumping and the surrounding conversation is also loud for the most part.
Overall, it’s a no to Pho from me. Far greater Asian cuisine exists in both Leicester and The Midlands at a far better price point. Its one to tick off the list but for me, I can’t quite fathom the popularity of Pho in Leicester. Maybe it’s just not Pho me…
Opening Times: Sunday – Wednesday 1130-2200
Thursday – Saturday 1130-2230
Nearest Train Station: Leicester