image I tried Vietnamese food [Pho Cafe restaurant review]

As my allergies seem to get better lately, I am also more eager to try new food.
This time I tried Vietnamese food for the first time in my life. I’ve been at Pho Cafe in Reading.

vietnamese food, phocafe reading, pho soup

The place – Pho Cafe

Pho Cafe is a popular restaurant chain here in the UK; they serve Vietnamese food only. They are also renown for being gluten and vegan friendly, and I have to say they were more than accommodating with my food allergies. In fact, since all the food is freshly made at the moment, anyone can ask for a bespoke dish with no problems at all.

Franz and I went there at lunch time on Good Friday; there were lots of families with newborns and toddlers, and the staff was ready with kids menu, crayons and drawings to keep the kids entertained.

I can’t believe I tried Vietnamese food for real!

Since it was the first time that I tried Vietnamese food, I thoroughly went through the entire food menu beforehand. Pho cafe provides it online along with the nutritional information – you can find it on a PDF here.

As far as I understood, the Vietnamese cuisine is mainly vegetable and rice based; the proteins are provided by soy (yay tofu!) and all the main types of meat – chicken, pork, beef. I didn’t see any lamb.

Pho offers a wide variety of mains – from Phở Xào stir fries (with Bún noodle or rice) to Phở soups, Cơm Tấm “broken” rice, and Gỏi salads. Phở, in fact, means soup in Vietnamese. [EDIT: my colleague and friend Dat told me that as a matter of fact Phở means soup, and it can also be pronounced ‘fur‘]’

I decided to pick a starter and a main dish: I was just off from the gym and I was really hungry. The waitress brought us both the starters and the mains all together, which is weird to me as normally starters are served whilst the kitchen is prepping the mains. I later figured out why they served them both together: by the time I had the starters, the soup reached the right temperature, nice and warm but not too hot.

Gỏi cuốn, rice paper rolls with chicken, served with a ginger sauce
Gỏi cuốn for starters. Not impressed really – 4/10

The starter I chose is Gỏi cuốn, rice paper rolls with chicken, served with a ginger sauce (there was also fish sauce and peanuts sauce to choose from).
The starters didn’t impress me, I’m not going to lie. The rolls were three and had a good size, but the mint was too strong and covered all the other flavours. Luckily I love mint, so it was okay after all. The Sriracha sauce helped ease the mint power, but still – I didn’t taste the chicken or the other veggies.

The main was the Phở combo: the Vietnamese noodle soup with beef steak, brisket and meatballs. I’ve never been a soup person and I never liked eating anything that float in a plate. However, I decided to go for the soup as I saw it as the most genuine way to say aloud that I tried Vietnamese food :D

The noodles that were floating in my bowl are called Bánh Pho, and are flat rice noodles. The soup had lots of different tasty veggies and a strong taste of ginger.

Phở combo: the Vietnamese noodle soup with steak, brisket and meatballs
Phở combo with Bánh noodles, beef steak, brisket and meatballs. 7/10, the meatballs are 10/10!
On a side there were several add-ons I could use to enhance and customise my soup:
– Herbs: mint, sat tooth, coriander and basil. I’m not a fan of the coriander but I added all the others.
– Bean sprouts: I love bean sprouts, so I took also Franz’s.
– Sauces: garlic vinegar, Asian BBQ sauce, Sriracha, fish sauce, and chilli & garlic paste. I added the last one and it did give my soup a nice spicy kick. 
Even though I’m not a fan of soups, I enjoyed it very much. Probably I’d make it a bit less ginger-y but it was very tasty, and the size was okay as well. The meatballs were definitely the best elements of the soup. While the brisket and the steak didn’t stand out among all the other flavours, the meatballs kept their particular and refreshing taste.
Probably the next time I eat at Pho Cafe I’ll get a soup with meatballs only!

I tried Vietnamese food, but I also tried Vietnamese drinks

We didn’t go for any desserts, but I couldn’t miss to try the famous Vietnamese coffee. This coffee is served in a particular cup that’s got an iron steel tool on it. This “dripper” makes the coffee drip down on the cup, drop by drop.

Vietnamese coffee made with a dripper tool: glorious - 10/10
Vietnamese coffee made with a dripper tool: glorious – 10/10

In a nutshell, you have to exercise your patience and wait until the last drop is down before enjoying it. If you’re craving caffeine, that’s totally not the type of coffee you want to have. If you’re not in a rush, though, you’ve got to try it because it’s glorious, very rich and with a strong flavour that stays in your mouth for a while.

The coffee beans are imported from Vietnam, and are a particular type of beans that are used for this “dripped” coffee only. I wonder how they would taste if used to make an espresso.

My overall impression of Vietnamese food

First of all, I felt a pleasant sensation of freedom from my allergies after I tried Vietnamese food in full safety. A couple of years ago I’d never think of being so brave. Restaurateurs, generally speaking, are now also more attentive towards people like me, and that made my life way so easier.

My impression after I tried Vietnamese food is positive: if you don’t consider the fried food, the Vietnamese cuisine is very light and with a great balance between the three macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The massive presence of vegetables enriches the experience and provides the micronutrients and fibres.

I’m looking forward to try more Vietnamese food in the future – whether it’ll be at Pho cafe or elsewhere. If you know other good Vietnamese restaurants I can try that are allergies friendly, please share them with me in the comments below!

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