The fashion for all things Vietnamese leaves Paul Critcher feeling part of the in crowd
Over the last 20 years there has been an explosion in the number of south east Asian eateries in the UK. No doubt the result of the backpacking generations of the 80s, 90s and beyond, returning with educated palates. As a result, over the years Brits have developed a taste for all things spicy and aromatic – from chilli and ginger to fish sauce and exotic mushrooms. In the case of Thai food, it got to a point where you couldn’t move for fish cakes and green curries, and almost every pub you entered had a Thai chef in the kitchen.
Fashions change, of course, and as a nation we began to look for new destinations and flavours, although always retaining a love of all things south east Asian. Enter this month’s restaurant of choice, Pho, part of a group of restaurants specialising in Vietnamese street food that has just opened a new branch in Kingston.
Located in the centre of town, a short hop from the marketplace, it’s a decent-sized restaurant smartly decorated with exposed walls and Asian-style wicker lampshades covering modern industrial-sized trendy lightbulbs. Young, trendy and attentive staff provide unfussy yet friendly service, which sits well with the equally unfussy yet tasty range of dishes.
For starters we felt spoiled for choice – there was simply too much we wanted to try. The crispy spring rolls were as good as I’ve tasted anywhere and the chicken and prawn Bánh xèo savoury crêpes were mouth-wateringly wonderful. When it came to main courses, we couldn’t visit without trying a bowl of ‘Pho’ itself. Vietnam’s national dish Pho (pronounced ‘fuh’) is a delicately-flavoured rice noodle soup served with fresh herbs and a choice of sauces. I went for the Pho Bo Combo, which included steak, brisket and meatballs – tasty and, unsurprisingly, very filling. My dining partner, meanwhile, went for a king prawn Ca-ri – a deep-flavoured curry served with vegetables and topped with rice.
Suitably full, we decided to go without a dessert, but the prospect of a banana fritter and ice cream couldn’t be resisted, so with two spoons (and thus half the calories) we finished off the evening in decadent style.
6 Eden Street, Kingston Upon Thames, KT1 1BB.
020 3883 9695. www.phocafe.co.uk