Pho & Bun, London – Restaurant Review
Pho and Bun, London
by Jen Grimble
2015 has seen some weird and wonderful food mash-ups make their way on to our social media feeds, and into our favourite eateries (people are still talking about the Cronut). These contemporary food partnerships bring their eclectic flavours to the forefront of culinary experimentations, often causing media frenzies and inciting avid discussion amongst friends. The latest ingredient-romance to sweep Central London comes in the form of the Vietnamese Burger; imagine a tender patty of meat garnished with Asian flavours majestically sandwiched between traditional steamed buns. Well imagine no more, because this is exactly what the chefs at Pho & Bun are releasing from their kitchen.
The restaurant, a fledging at four weeks old, finds itself not in a bustling street market in Hanoi, but almost 6,000 miles west, on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. In a cosy eatery, just steps from Leicester Square, the fare of Vietnam is playfully re-imagined. The restaurant is the brain child of Andy Le, the proud founder of Holborn’s popular Viet Eat. The idea was to create the perfect foodie hybrid in the heart of London; a place where classic western street food met the iconic culinary flavours of Vietnam.
Stepping off the busy street you’re welcomed indoors by a calm and intimate interior, as the noise of the theatre district falls away. As you take a seat on a low-rise stool, note the exposed bricks that are softened by low lighting from quaint wicker lamp shades, dainty wooden tables and hand painted wall art. A miniature Buddha shrine looks down upon diners from the top of the industrial pipe work that hangs from the ceiling, while downstairs harbours a second eating area with a cosy alcove for quiet conversations or romantic meals for two.
Scouring the menu, decipher between wine, Vietnamese beer or a selection of quirky soft drinks. The Italian Galassia Garganega Pinot Grigio (£4.95/£18.50) is a clean choice, with a crisp start and a speedy finish, the ideal accompaniment for shellfish. More authentic additions include Grass Jelly (£2.50) and Pho & Bun’s homemade Roasted Corn Milk (£2.50); a creamy, nutty drink with just the right amount of sweetness.
Then the difficulty increases, with a strikingly seductive starter selection. Opt for Fresh Summer Rolls with tofu (Gỏi Cuốn Đậu Phụ, £2.35) or Tiger Prawns (Gỏi Cuốn Tôm, £2.50). These beautiful wraps are light in every sense, delicately filled with clear noodles, lettuce and julienne vegetables. The Crispy Spring Rolls with Pork & Crab (Nem Cua Bể, £2.95) are another highlight. Richer than the Summer Rolls, these parcels feature a tender meaty interior and a crispy outer shell.
The Rainbow Mango Salad with Tiger Prawns (Gỏi Xoài Tôm, £6.95) is a power-house of chili, coriander and shredded mango, topped with flawlessly cooked shellfish; a healthy and fragrant option. Yet the showstopper has to be the Wokked Chilli Salt & Pepper Squid (Mực Rang Muối, £6.95). Faultlessly prepared and seasoned to perfection, this dish evokes the flavours of Asia with immaculate precision. Thankfully, the above dishes will soon be available on one neat platter, making choosing between them a thing of the murky past.
To follow, try Rice and Vermicelli, Pho Noodle Soup, or the true King of the menu, Steamed Milky Bun Burgers. Spicy Imperial Vermicelli with Tender Beef (Bún Thịt bò Huế, £7.95) is an unforgettable dish consisting of mouth-watering beef strips in a full bodied broth. Slow cooked for 18-hours this soup features chilli, coriander and spring onions for a spicy and nourishing option.
Now, to focus on the main attraction. At £7.95 the intriguing Vietnamese Burger is hard to explain. They’re spicy yet sweet, delicate yet hearty. There are three options; the 28 day dry aged beef (Bánh Bao Kẹp Thịt Bò Nướng), the Tiger Prawn Patty (Bánh Bao Kẹp Chả Tôm), or the BBQ Honey Pork Burger (Bánh Bao Kẹp Thịt Lợn Nướng). All three are served between two steamed buns. They’re layered with an assortment of Asian accompaniments. The latter features lettuce, coriander, apple and chilli mayonnaise on top of succulent pork strips.
The zingy apple cuts through the spice before sweetness arrives from the soft, sugary, dumpling-like bun. Together the flavours are mind-bendingly exciting. A side of Salted Sweet Potato Chips with Chilli Mayonnaise (£2.50) is an ideal accompaniment. Unlike any burger you’ve ever tried, these inviting handfuls are a culinary experience and every bit as delicious as they sound.
If you can squeeze dessert in, opt for the Flan Caramel with Vietnamese Iced Coffee (£3.50), a perfectly sized pannacotta inspired creation sat in cold, creamy and sweet coffee. This could just be the best Vietnamese pudding you’ll ever taste.
From Sơn La to Shaftsbury Avenue, Pho & Bun blend the best of the West with the traditions of the East, to create food that nourishes on an affordable level, while remaining inspiringly delicious. Sometimes the best restaurants are those that don’t try too hard. Pho & Bun do just what they know best; traditional Vietnamese fare with flavour, heart and one sweet little kick. I shouldn’t have to tell you twice, just book yourself a table.
PHO & BUN, 76 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6ND
Monday – Thursday 12 – 22:30
Friday – Saturday 12 – 23:00
Sunday 12 – 22:00
Tel: 020 7287 3528