“Back once again for the renegade master
D4 damager, with the ill behavior.
Back once again”
…or some such insightful lyric. As you can tell from the limitations of my current Old Skool Spotify playlist, I am evidently losing the plot, again!
It’s been a few months since I put finger to key, so naturally I thought I would defy Octopus Diaries convention, and temporarily desert my ‘independent’ cause with an all hail to the almighty chain restaurant. Don’t all gasp at once. To add insult to injury, it was also an invite; yes, I sold out for complimentary food. I am not going to apologise for my ‘ill’ behaviour on this occasion, aside from Hanoi 1991, who incidentally in the last week have started serving Phở, Vietnamese food has been a little more difficult to come by in the city.
Pho has never really been on my radar. You would think after 14 years and with 28 branches, I would have at least set foot in one of them, but alas no. So when the announcement was made that Cardiff would be getting its very own Pho, I was keen to find out what everyone had already been experiencing for almost a decade and a half.
It’s rare I take the gruesome twosome along with me on nights like this; adult company being more favourable to the constant necessity of having eyes in the back of my head, and frequency of little boys room visits outweighing the number of glasses of wine I am legally able to consume. However, with Pho being a family-run business, they’re big advocates of dining together, and on mentioning the upcoming visit, both seem eager. I mean, what can possibly go wrong with chopsticks on the table?
As it turns out chopsticks make for excellent improvised drumsticks; can be used to stir drinks; can necessitate a good 10 minute lesson in how to use them…incorrectly; reinforce that they do, in fact, make a good poking device, and most importantly can be rolled together rapidly to create fire. Ok, the last one was a slight exaggeration, but if he’d kept going, I am pretty sure I would have been able to send out smoke signals. “Help me!”
All this pales into insignificance though when the dishes arrive.
Pho pride themselves on ‘great value, healthy Vietnamese street food that is cooked fresh daily’. I can’t comment on authenticity, but in terms of value for money and taste, they certainly meet their objective.
Chả giò | Crispy spring rolls with lettuce, herbs and nuởc chấm (sweet chilli sauce)
Naturally I make my usual mistake of ordering far too many starters.
Mistake. Sorry I meant stroke of genius.
Two versions of crispy spring rolls both packed with pork and flavour, but with the addition of king prawn and crab in the Nem hải sản, are fried to a light crisp and come with a sweet chilli sauce for dipping. I debate ordering more, they’re that good, but instead opt to sneak the last before anyone cares to complain, or notices.
While the menu unveils a slight trend towards fried starters- albeit without anything being overly heavy; delicate nem nướng (home-made pork and lemongrass meatballs) is another dish that earns a big thumbs up alongside its accompanying peanut sauce.
Cánh gà (chicken wings) are possibly more for the adults with the chilli garnish and inclusion of sriracha. Not to be confused with tomato ketchup, as I look to my right and discover someone vigorously clawing their tongue, and consuming vast amounts of water. Fine by me. Salty and beautifully crispy, what’s not to like.
The final starter is bò lá lốt- essentially beef wrapped in betal leaves with rice vermicelli sheets and nuởc chấm. With almost a medicinal taste, these grilled wraps pack a lovely kick. Fragrantly seasoned, if you’ve never tried this dish, these are well worth ordering.
Cánh gà | Seasoned crispy chicken wings with sriracha
If you’re planning on dining out with small(er) people in tow, then aside from being prepared to lose a percentage of your starters, the kids menu is excellent value for money. Pho’s menu doesn’t specify the upper age limit, but at £5.50 for a meal and a drink, the portion sizes are generous- almost to the point of being small(er) adult-sized. Keep this in mind if you have a pre-teen that has a significant aversion to being given a pot of crayons and dot-the-dot, but whose satiety appears to dwindle after 30 seconds- he struggled to finish it.
Dishes can be ‘tailored to satisfy the pickiest of eaters’, although I’m going to say if your children struggle with vegetables and strong flavours, Pho is probably not quite right for them yet. While the mini phở comes packed with flat rice noodles and brisket in a beef broth, it’s still a little heavy on saltiness, and even has a very slight kick to it. In hindsight, my youngest would probably have benefited more from the pork meatballs or the obligatory battered chicken nuggets, which I am going to hazard a guess are as far from Captain Birdseye’s as you can possibly imagine, but I offer full credit for his adventurous nature on this occasion.
Mini phở | Brisket in beef broth
The grown up version, unfortunately sans colouring material, comes complete with the welcome additions of mushrooms and an egg yolk, with a side plate of fresh herbs to supplement the dish as you so wish. It’s a hearty bowl of beefy broth with rice noodles that quite frankly if you were trying to impress someone on a date, is either going to render them speechless (and running), or could appear to form some kind of seduction technique. Needless to say I’m not sure on noodle etiquette, but slurping and sucking seems to be the way forward.
The brisket is well cooked, perhaps edging on slightly dry in places, but its distinctive taste and the aroma from the herbs and fresh ingredients is addictive, and the perfect comfort food.
Phở bò-nấm trúng. | Brisket, enoki and button mushrooms, and creamy egg yolk in a beef broth
Rich and fragrant, if the noodle soup doesn’t get you, the cà-ri is sure to make a (lasting) impression. I opt for the king prawn; but between beef brisket, chicken and tofu, if you’re a #currylover there really isn’t any excuse not to order it. Not that you’d need one; as curries go Pho’s is impressive. Authenticity aside, although I am guessing, as with many Indian restaurants that it caters to a British palate- it is thick with coconut milk, vegetables, mushrooms and full of flavour. It packs a subtle punch that lingers, and leaves you debating whether anyone would mind if you, in fact, stuck your head in the bowl.
I made an exception for Pho; when it comes to writing about restaurants it’s rare you’ll find me going into renegade mode, albeit that I will never say never. It strikes me that if you can maintain this level of consistency throughout your 29 branches, you’re doing something right.
From my own perspective, it seems almost scandalous not to shout about a dining experience when you are presented with this standard and quality of dishes, and especially when, until recently, you weren’t able to experience anything like it closer to home. Pho Cardiff left an impression. And yes, ‘iIl behaviour’ or otherwise, I will head back…and soon. With kids? Well, that might be up for debate (purely from a smoke signal angle, you understand?).
Sunday – Thursday: 11.30am-10pm
Friday & Saturday: 11.30am-11pm
Address | 5-10 Church Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BG