Words by Sai
With the weather getting colder and finding the time to cook getting ever harder, there’s nothing better than a warm, sumptuous bowl of Pho (Vietnamese soup). Luckily, a new Pho restaurant opened in Cardiff centre last month! And I went to check it out pho Quench…
When walking down Church street where the quaint St John’s Church is situated, it was rather surprising to suddenly stumble across a set of seemingly out-of-place red plastic chairs. Little did I know, this bold aesthetic was in fact part of, what turned out to be, the best Pho restaurant I’ve ever visited.
Inside, Pho Cardiff looks like a fascinating mix between pub, restaurant and street vendor. Metal lanterns light up the room with a subdued warm and mellow light, and the stained wooden furniture adds to the cosy, somewhat old-timey feel. Unexpectedly, this is complemented perfectly by metal railing partitions, and Pho neon light decorations. On the tables themselves, there was also a big paper menu accompanied by a little leaflet explaining what Pho is; the different sauces and side herbs; and how to best eat your Pho.
As I have a low spice-tolerance, I brought my boyfriend along to be the designated spice taster. He took this role rather seriously by ordering a spicy lemonade with ginger and mint before we even got to the food! It was apparently sufficiently spicy and simultaneously gingery sweet, ‘it reminds me of a virgin mojito’ he said.
For starters, we ordered pork and lemongrass meatballs (Nem nướng) and fried baby squid (Mưc chiên giòn). The meatballs were delightfully sweet and came with an equally sweet fish-sauce (the traditional dip for this dish), as well as a slightly spicy peanut sauce, both of which enhanced the flavour of the meatballs. The baby squid was crispy and juicy at the same time, and complemented by a salty lemon sauce, this was definitely my favourite dish. If you’re not a fan of spice then I suggest removing the little chillies after a while, and watch out for the large red chilli (I may have mistaken it for a pepper and eaten the whole thing…)! Luckily, the attentive staff immediately came to my rescue with a glass of coconut milk which eventually cooled my red hot face…Moral of the story: Approach the chillies with caution….
Having just about recovered enough to tackle the main course, I dug into the king prawn, chicken and flash fried steak Pho (Phớ đăc biêt). The slow-cooked broth, for which we were provided with wooden spoons, was pure heaven and warmed me down to the bone. The meat was tremendously tasty, and the noodles the perfect texture – no complaints.
Meanwhile, my boyfriend opted for the spicy brisket beef pho (Bún bò Huê). Being bright red, it came with a bib as to not stain clothes red too (I made sure to photograph the fully grown bibbed-up man opposite me, don’t worry). According to him, the Pho was spicy but not overpoweringly so, meaning you could eat without having to pause to recover and still savour the other flavours and spices. It came with a slightly salty and satisfyingly crunchy anchovy cream to neutralise the fiery broth.
Both Phos came with a little plate of herbs, including parsley, coriander and wild basil. Contrary to its name and to my personal disappointment, wild basil doesn’t taste like basil, but actually more like liquorice.
Having been convinced by the staff to order a side, we decided to try the stir-fried Morning Glory with garlic (Rau muông xao). This dish exceeded my expectations with its sweet garlicy flavour and scrumptious crunchy texture – absolutely sublime.
To my tremendous sorrow, both my boyfriend and I were way too full to manage a dessert. Instead, we ordered a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (Cá phê) and a cup of lemongrass tea. We discovered that Vietnamese coffee is quite different to your average latte, allowing the coffee to drip from one glass to another before consumption. We welcomed this break in our meal and the sweet beverage was the perfect conclusion to a huge, hearty meal.
Overall, I can’t recommend Pho Cardiff enough. The atmosphere is enticing, exciting even at first, yet at the same time allows for a lovely, relaxed and fun meal. In terms of food, this pho topped any I’ve had before. Their webpage says that the broth is cooked for a minimum of 12 hours, and I believe that’s the distinguishing factor of Pho Cardiff. So whether you’re looking to eat out with friends or are an absolute pho connoisseur, Pho Cardiff won’t disappoint.