Pho, specialising in simple, freshly-made and tasty Vietnamese food, can be found in Black Lion Street in the lively Lanes – just a stone’s throw from the seafront, with a terrace of tables outside for al fresco dining. Although, this being Brighton (rather than Ho Chi Minh) on a breezy evening in May, our party opts for the warmth and comfort of the restaurant’s spacious interior.
The Brighton branch is the biggest of Pho’s nine outlets – and on the Friday night that Absolute Magazine visits, is pretty full, with a lively buzzy atmosphere helped along by a soundtrack of timeless classics (Saint Etienne, Stevie Wonder). A counter runs the length of the place, with stools on either side for diners who don’t mind perching. For those who prefer a more relaxed dining experience, there are tables to the front and booths to the rear.
And so to the food. The tasty starters are almost a meal in themselves. We ask for a selection of anything and everything and first out come various takes on the spring roll. Forget the greasy abomination that you get in your local Chinese take-away: these are all made in-house and are as fresh as fresh could be. The Goi Cuon rice-paper summer rolls have an unusual texture, soft and delicate.
The Cha Gio Chay are crisply fried vegetarian spring rolls bursting with flavour. Table favourite is the Nem Hai San, a large crispy spring roll of tiger prawn, crab and pork. Next, the New Nuong grilled pork and lemongrass meatballs, and the Muc Chien Gion tender fried baby squid with a salt, pepper and lime dip – all snaffled up pretty quickly. All these tasty treats are served with a selection of dipping sauces.
After these filling starters and a fair few glasses of wine (a limited but perfectly adequate list) or Saigon beer, there’s hardly room for the main courses but we struggle on bravely. The Com Tam Kari (curry) features tiger prawns, mushrooms and mixed vegetables and gets wolfed down eagerly. The Com Tam Rang is wok-fried ‘broken rice’ with chicken and shrimp, and the Pho Xao; a tasty noodle stir-fry with beef strips.
Ironically – as it is the signature dish of the restaurant – the Pho Vietnamese soup is the only main course that doesn’t get a 100% thumbs-up, deemed a little bit too watery. Perhaps the stock on this particular evening needed a little more oomph. Pho’s is a limited menu but most dishes can be served with beef, chicken, prawn or tofu, broadening the options. The company also prides itself on catering for vegetarians and those avoiding gluten.
Our stomachs are full but here comes the dessert menu – we dive in and don’t regret it, as there are some taste-bud tingling options: honey and ginger ice-cream (real pieces of ginger!); freshly fried banana fritters; Pandan pancake with roasted coconut.
Good value, freshly-cooked food that tickles the taste buds; cheery service that is on-hand when you need it but never pushy; and a bright and breezy atmosphere – Pho is a great choice for people who want a lively dining experience: a little hint of Hanoi street life in the heart of the historic Lanes.