Last night, I made my way over to Pho Restaurant’s Soho branch on Wardour St. As a lover of Pho’s food, and ample contributer to their monthly profit margins, they had very kindly invited me to join them for an (aptly named) #Phocus group evening. I, and some other very lovely food appreciators sat around a table with one of the founders and inspiration behind Pho, Jules, and sampled some of their latest menu developments/enhancements.
In 2005 Jules and her partner Stephen quit their jobs and headed off to travel the world. Now, this alone would normally have me seething with jealousy and determined to despise them on sight, however, during their travels they happened upon a noodle and broth dish called Pho (Pron: ‘Fuh’ – thankfully something I learnt last night also, I’d been pronouncing it wrong for all this time, oops!) in Vietnam, and decided that it was so delicious, nutritious and simple that it might just work back in the UK. So, as true aggregators of culture, they brought the idea back here and founded their first Pho restaurant in Clerkenwell. For this very reason I was unable to immediately despise them based on my overwhelming jealousy. Well, that and the fact that Jules is one of those people you’d find impossibly difficult to dislike at all.
Jules and Stephen, in the pursuit of authenticity and excellence in food, often return to Vietnam to check out the different dishes and ingredients being used. Like expert craftsmen they continue to strive to improve their art/product, and thankfully it really shows.
Jules kept us all captivated with her learnings and knowledge of the ingredients, food preparation and what it’s like to live and work with your partner. She did also ask us to be ‘brutally honest’ about what we thought of the developments they’d made with the dishes. For example they have added new herbs to their stocks, made them richer (and more delicious), begun to flash-fry their steak in their beef Pho in garlic first to seal it in flavour before letting it cook in the broth….the list of tweaks and improvements goes on. I always get nervous when people ask me to be ‘brutally honest’ because I’m one of those people who will always proffer constructive criticism when asked, and as the newbie to the group I didn’t want to be seen to be the ‘negative ninny’ in the corner. However, I really really struggled to find anything negative to say about the food. No, not ‘struggled’, just couldn’t.
For me Pho has always been a great concept. It’s about fresh, delicious food. Jules and Stephen’s passion to make their food even more fresh and delicious, using ingredients such as rauram herbs and types of nettles I’d not eaten before, just means their food is going to get better and better in my opinion.
With 5 restaurants now, I asked Jules as to whether further expansion is in their sights. She replied that they are soon to open their second Westfield site in the new Stratford development (the first being in West London’s centre) and that they’ve started to take themselves a little more seriously now, bringing in some expert people to help them run their project with continued excellence. They’d happily consider more restaurants in future, but their passion for the food is what got them into this in the first place. Therefore they would only consider expansion an option if they could retain the high standards they have benchmarked for themselves so far.
So, for the food….like I said, I couldn’t complain. Simply couldn’t. And if I could make some recommendations to you then I’d suggest you head down there, order a coconut, pineapple and apple juice, dive into the spicy green mango salad (which is just one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten), then ease into a bowl of the chicken Pho with a dash of their (new) garlic and chilli sauce. Take your time and make sure you save room for the pandan pancakes with a little bit of their sublime honey and ginger ice cream. You will not be disappointed.