Restaurant Review: Pho in Spitalfields

After a long afternoon walking around central London in the cold with Jorge yesterday searching for the perfect Christmas jumpers, not much sounded better than thawing our hands in a warm restaurant and settling in to a big bowl of steaming pho. We had been invited to visit the newest branch of Vietnamese street food restaurant Pho which opened in July this year – on the seventh anniversary of the first branch on St. John Street. Healthy, warm and something different.

Pho Spitalfields @ Brushfield Street
Photo: Pho Spitalfields by everdaylife.style

We were welcomed by friendly staff who showed us to a seat by the window. The atmosphere was set by giant woven ball-shaped lights that cast concentric circle shadows on the ceiling. They reminded me of relaxing, natural disco balls, if you can imagine that!

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The music was uplifting and could be controlled by a secret DJ. Anyone could download their app and tend to the “jukebox” from their phone. The small space was packed full of people enjoying a taste of Southeast Asia.

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Recommended by a waitress, we tried the Banh Xeo Tom Ga, a traditional Vietnamese crepe filled with prawns, chicken and beansprouts. This was our favourite, even better than the main dishes. The crepe is not what you think of when you think of, say, a French crepe. It looks more like a fried version of an open taco, filled up with beansprouts, chicken and prawn. The waitress explained how to eat it which was to break off parts of the crepe  and wrap it in pieces of lettuce, stick in some herbs before dipping the whole parcel of yumminess into the sauce on the side. It was definitely messy, but we’d both go back just for that. Trust me, the iPhone pictures don’t do it justice.

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For the main dish, Jorge ordered the Pho Xao Thit Ga, wok fried flat rice noodles with lemongrass chili and onion, served with peanuts and the nuoc cham sauce. It had a bit of a kick to it which he enjoyed.

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I was originally going to choose that big steaming bowl of pho that I had been thinking about earlier, but I can’t resist a good noodle dish so, at the recommendation of the waitress again, I went for the Bun Cha Gio Tom with juicy tiger prawns. The vermicelli rice noodles (served cold like they are in Vietnam) with stir fried topping, fresh herbs, peanuts and a veggie spring roll came in a gigantic bowl. I poured over my nuoc cham sauce and dug in. Though all off the food was delicious, my main dish didn’t necessarily have a particular wow factor  and I did leave wondering what I missed by not ordering their famous pho. But that will make deciding what to order next time easier.

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To drink, we had refreshing glasses of freshly squeezed apple, mint & lime juice and topped off the evening with some creamy honey and ginger ice cream.

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Quick fact: Pho is correctly pronounced “fuh” although most people outside of Vietnam tend to pronounce it “foe”.

Check the Pho website for all of of their seven locations: http://www.phocafe.co.uk

 

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Listen to a Londoner: Kirsty Allison

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Kirsty Allison
Image by Kelli Ali

Novelist, film producer, fashionista, rock n’ roll queen, journalist, Ibiza party girl, teacher, DJ, editor, stylist, poet, traveller and, most importantly, born and bred Londoner, this is Kirsty Allison…

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years? Anything in particular you miss?
KA: I used to frequent a goth club called the William Morris in Wimbledon, I drank snakebite and black, and pretended to be an art student before I became one.  I was thirteen or fourteen.  I’d like to take a time machine back to those times, and have a talk with myself.  London will always have speakeasys and people trying to fight the powers that they think restrict them, it’s the nature of British culture, thankfully, like the city itself, it’s all about contrasts.  The best advice I got at primary school was being told to look up – at buildings…there’s more sky around London than there used to be – rooftop bars, penthouses, I like feeling elevated, rather than suppressed by the towering infernos of our city, although they inspire me.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: Which area of London are you most familiar with? Write us a mini-poem about why it rocks.
KA: Shoreditch, is my bitch, She’s the devil to my itch, Roaming there, my artistic lair, Makes my teenage dreams fall fair.  The seen it all before they were twelve year olds, or the enthusiastic old boys and girls, We’re hunting for where we lost our souls, and this is where I like to roll.

LLO: You’ve challenged yourself to wear a different outfit every day for a year. If you were to do it again next year, which five London shops would you hit first to build up your wardrobe?
KA: I’d drop by Fiona Doran’s (aka Mrs Jones) Emporium on St John’s Street. She’s an alma mater who’s guided me like a lady with a lamp in her dress for years.  Beatrix Ong has recently opened a shop in Sloane Street, she knocks class and sex into heels.  I collect Alexander McQueen, so it’s hard to think of a wardrobe without some of his original pieces.  The Vivienne Westwood shop at World’s End features clothes she’s sewn herself.  The Shop below Maison Bertaux in Soho is great, and I love Kokon Tozai.  Off Broadway rocks, set up by the divine Donna Kernan.  Concept stores like http://www.ln-cc.com and Dover Street Market…I could go on…Liberty’s is a pleasure to shop in…whoops, how many was that?!

Image by Gaynor Perry

LLO: Ambit just featured an excerpt from your first novel Medicine and you made the cover! You’ve got three sentences to sell your book. Ready, go…
KA: So tough to compress a work into a small space, but, it’s set in 90’s Shoreditch in an exclusive scene where fashion and music industry myths are accepted as truth.  It’s rock n roll to the max, following the downward social adventures of a fashion designer who starts managing a band, Chernobyl, fronted by a male model.  As their fate becomes stardom, she travels from Ibiza to Paris and a world tour, letting her fashion designs become increasingly bonkers.  It’s a funny tale which makes people cry.  I’ve been working on it for 15 years…

LLO: You’ve been a celebrity stylist and a model, coming across some influential names in the fashion industry. Which up-and-coming London-based designers should we keep an eye on?
KA: Louise Amstrup. Holly Fulton. Elliot Atkinson. James Long. SD Yohans.

LO: Best London discovery?
KA: Churches and graveyards are always good value.

LLO: I’m in London for one night and want to veer off the tourist trail for some food and drink. Any fabulous recommendations?
KA: I like La Trompette in Chiswick, I’ve taken my mum there.  The Seven Stars, off Fleet Street behind the law courts is entertaining, it’s proper characterful landlady stuff.  If you want to keep it cheap, C&R on Rupert Court does a good Singapore Laksa, and follow it with a few drinks at The Coach & Horses in Soho, where every table has served me as an office.  Cay Tre on Old Street is always busy, but if you like Vietnamese it never disappoints.  Lemonia on Regents Park Road.  Wholefoods Market is a palace.  Cecconi’s is proper Jackie Collins territory.  A curry in Southall. There are always new places everywhere.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: In the late 90s, you were DJ-ing internationally with the likes of Kris Needs, Irvine Welsh and Howard Marks including a residency at Manumission Motel in Ibiza. Where’s your favourite place in London to party the weekend away?
KA: The party is where you’re at.  Aside from that, The Sanctum Hotel in Soho is cool.  Quintessentially is fun.  The lure of a private member’s bar is something I fall victim to but I love a decent bass, and there are so many warehouse parties going on again, it’s easy to get lost partying.

LLO: Tantric Tourists is one of your latest creative projects. Tell is a bit about what inspired it. Any London screenings or events scheduled?
KA: Tantric Tourists follows a self-proclaimed guru as she escorts 10 American students on a quest for enlightenment across India.  It’s a comedy road movie.  The director, Alexander Snelling, and I first met the guru, Laurie Handlers, in India where she was “whirling on the beach”.  We did a test shoot at a workshop she was hosting in Primrose Hill and cracked up at the rushes.  It was too good a story to turn down.

It goes on limited release from Valentine’s Day.  The DVD is available with a discount by becoming a fan on Facebook.  More info: www.tantrictourists.com

LLO: Do you have a favourite London-based book or a great bookshop to recommend – one of those cosy ones with the slightly musty basement smell or great in-house coffee shop?
KA: This is mainstream but I used to like Borders, they had chairs, it was an easy place to get lost in. Waterstones in Piccadilly does a good job, as does Foyles (if only the Westfield rates weren’t so high they’d still have a second floor).  There are many indie shops doing a great job. Broadway Books is hitting the mark. And my local library has a cafe in it, long may it last.  The Daunts in Marylebone is great because it has all these wonderful wooden bannisters, and they are so excellent at travel books.  Judd Street Books is lovely for art books and oddities, towards Bloomsbury from Kings Cross.  The Oxfam bookshops are always great.  The customer service in Hatchards is good. I love a good bookshop, I clear my head by walking through them, flicking through those who manage to hold their fort on the shelves.  The Espresso Machine is a concept I’m excited about – it’s so called because in the time of a coffee you can order whatever book you desire in whatever paper you choose – so if I wanted Lolita in baby pink, Bob the Paedo is my uncle…(almost) any bookshop or library is serving the future of England a favour.

Image by Laurence Tarquin Von Thomas

Thanks Kirsty!

For more on Kirsty’s fascinating life, lookie here: www.kirstyallison.com

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Gail Haslam

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Gail Haslam

Gail Haslam is a writer, editor and blogger who also tries to fit in crafty endeavours when she has time, or the supplies threaten to take over the house again. At the moment she’s a social media consultant for a chocolate company, and does realise how lucky she is.

LLO: How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
GH: I’m originally from Ireland. Almost straight after university I travelled around Australia for a year and then thought I’d spend six weeks in London, until Christmas. That was thirteen years ago, almost to the day.

LLO: One of the main topics on your blog, One Million Gold Stars, is food. Where are a few good places in London to pick up ingredients if you’re looking for something unusual?
GH: I’ve been cooking a lot of Mexican food lately and I’ve been buying all my dried chipotles and ancho chiles from Casa Mexico in Bethnal Green.  They also do a fine line in Mexican pottery and Day of the Dead dolls, if you’re so inclined.
I’m a bit intimidated by the packed-to-the-rafters Vietnamese supermarkets on Mare St but Uyen from Fernandez and Leluu has volunteered to take me shopping and show me what’s what.

My boyfriend and I share the cooking in our house, but my favourite hobby is baking. I’m always on the lookout for supplies and tools. The Make Lounge, a creative workshop centre in Islington, carries ‘essentials’ like edible glitter and good quality paste food colourings.

LLO: I’m in London for one night only and need a good food and drink recommendation away from the tourist trail. Where would you send me?
GH: If you can get a table, I’d try Namo on Victoria Park Road and try the Ga hap la chanh – steamed chicken in lime leaves with ginger and lemon. So simple yet so good.  Then on to Hemingway, further up Victoria Park Road towards Mare St.  Enjoy a tipple while marvelling at the taxidermy.

LLO: If you’re out and about on a rainy winter day, where’s your favourite place to pop in and cosy up with a warm drink?
GH: I’ve a long standing affection for the the Cafe in Foyles on Charing Cross Road and fond memories of their hot chocolate. I’m lucky to have a great selection of cafes locally – the Pavilion in Victoria Park and a new addition, Amandine. Not only do they source ingredients like eggs from the Deli Downstairs, a few doors down, they even grow some of their own ingredients.

LLO: When you’re looking for a bit of Irish food or culture in London, where do you go?
GH: Ah – I’d have to admit that it’s not something I’ve ever looked for – too many other cuisines to explore here. I did have excellent soda bread at Corrigan’s recently (laced with molasses for a very defined sweetness) and it’s one of the things I do miss from home.

LLO: If you’ve had a long day so you’re not in the mood to bake, but you’re craving something sweet, where’s your favourite London bakery?
GH: Arianna Halshaw is probably my favourite baker.  I’ve always ordered cupcakes and her infamous Rice Krispies marshmallow directly from her but I understand she’s now supplying cupcakes to The Espresso Room.  Otherwise I’m rather partial to a cupcake from Ella’s Bakehouse in Covent Garden. Peanut Butter please.

LLO: What has been your most unusual eating experience in London?
GH: The ‘March Madness, April Fools’ themed night at Trail Of Our Bread, a local supperclub.  It involved rabbit, absinthe jelly and the best surprise birthday cake I’ve ever had. It was shaped like a flowerpot, complete with crumbled Oreo “soil”. 

LLO:Which area of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best part about it?
GH: East London, I’ve lived around here for ten years, gradually drifting from Shoreditch to Bow to Victoria Park. I love the park itself, and the fact that you can head out one gate and make your way to the Counter Cafe after a wander around Hackney Wick, or head around the perimeter and down the canal to visit Broadway market. Or venture right into the east side of the park and go and visit the deer. (Yes, really).

LLO: Tell us about a memorable moment that could only have happened in London.
GH: On Millennium Eve, we stood on Victoria Embankment, directly opposite the Oxo Tower and watched fireworks going off over three bridges, up and down the river. It was beautiful.

LLO: Best London discovery you think other people should know about?
GH: Wilton’s Music Hall.  It’s the oldest operating music hall in the world, and it’s run by a very small but incredibly dedicated team who are determined to preserve this atmospheric, magical building for generations to come. As well as reviving old style vaudeville, it also stages productions for other larger theatres as well as live music and also acts as a film location.  Visit for one of their monthly free cinema nights, to see archive footage of London through the ages.

Thanks Gail!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Luiz Hara

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Luiz Hara

Luiz’s London Foodie blog is a well known resource for Londoners looking for a range of delicious meal options, light snacks or unbeatable cocktails. He shares some of his favourites for different occasions for this week’s Listen to a Londoner.

LLO: How long have you lived in London? 
LH:
Since 1992, so 18 very happy years!

LLO: Tell us a bit about your blog – The London Foodie. 
LH:
I started ‘The London Foodie’ in 2009 as a platform to express my gastronomic creativity (much suppressed in my current investment banking role) and my opinions on the London restaurants I visit, but most importantly to get to know and meet other London foodies out there.

It’s been a most rewarding project. Through The London Foodie I learnt about some amazing restaurants and supper clubs I wouldn’t otherwise have visited, met some like-minded people, and started The London Cooking Club at my home.

I eat out a lot and write about these experiences at The London Foodie. Readers can find my reviews by the restaurant index, or by cuisine or location.

My aim is to find restaurants serving outstanding food that will not break the bank, exploiting the full range of nationalities and cooking styles on offer in London.

LLO: How did you become so obsessed with food? 
LH:
Food was always part of our family – my parents were restaurateurs for a while, and my mother had her own Italian restaurant for many years in Brazil after their divorce.

My dad was also an accomplished cook, and would rustle up some fine meals for my three siblings and me when he wasn’t taking us out to some of his favourite restaurants in Sao Paulo. Through my dad I learnt a great deal about Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Syrian and other cuisines from a very early age.

My Japanese grandmother was also a great influence – she lived with us and wound spend her whole day finding the best fish, meat and vegetables in the street markets of Sao Paulo, and cooking the most delicious Japanese-Brazilian meals. When I think of fusion style cuisines I always recall my grandmother.

LLO: You were born in Brazil to Japanese and Italian parents. Where can we find the best Brazilian, Japanese and Italian food in London?
LH: Italian cooking, like Japanese, is all about top quality ingredients and these do not come cheaply. It is impossible to replicate these cuisines in the UK on the cheap, apart from pizza and certain types of pasta. For the best and most affordable pizze in London I would recommend Franco Manca, Rosso Pomodoro and Pizza East. The Riverside Cafe is undoubtedly one of the best Italian restaurants in London but also one of the most expensive.

Other than outstanding Japanese fine dining joints like Nobu and Zuma, an affordable and very authentic Japanese restaurant I love is Asakusa in Mornington Crescent. For top quality sushi without the price tag, Atariya Fishmongers and their small sushi outlet on James Street by Selfridges is also a must.

I have yet to find a good Brazilian restaurant in London. I am however very excited to hear that Jose Barattino of Hotel Emiliano in Sao Paulo will be cooking at Skylon on the Southbank for the Brazilian Festival throughout the summer 2010. The well thought out menu and his cooking showcase the best that Brazil can offer.

LLO: If I only had one night in London and wanted to go off the beaten track, where would you send me to eat and drink?
LH:
There is nothing further from the beaten track than spending an evening eating at one of London’s supper clubs. The opportunity to go into someone’s home, share your table with some interesting Londoners for a fixed donation and bring your own wine is one not to be missed.

There are some amazing supper clubs I would very highly recommend like Fernandez and Leluu in Hackney for great atmosphere and food, Friday Food Club in Blackheath for the best British food in London, Cucina Cinzia in Fulham for really authentic and delicious Tuscan food outside Italy and LexEat! in Shoreditch for their sensational and no-fuss cooking.

LLO: I’m skint, but hungry for something tasty and don’t feel like cooking at home and don’t like chain restaurants. Where should I go?
LH:
There is a misconception that London restaurants are expensive, but due to intense competition and the multitude of cuisines found here, there are some great deals to be had.

I would head to Kingsland Road for some amazing and very affordable Vietnamese food, Song Que and Viet Grill being my favourites.

Along St Giles Street by Centre Point at a place now known as Little Seoul, there is a cluster of excellent value Korean restaurants that will not break the bank. Assa is one of these restaurants, and their lunch special with appetisers, main course and unlimited tea is priced at £5.

For European alternatives, Franco Manca, and its wonderful sourdough base pizza, is also very good value. Also worth a look are the many Turkish and Greek restaurants along Green Lanes with Antepliler being one of the best.

LLO: You just came back from a trip to Vietnam. Where can we get a taste of Vietnamese food in London?
LH:
Kingsland Road, also known as the Pho Mile, would be a good place to start. The best Vietnamese food in London however is not to be found at a restaurant – for a taste of authentic, fine dining Vietnamese cuisine, I would try and secure a space at Fernandez and Leluu for one of their Vietnamese evenings. At £35 for a six-course dinner and BYO, it is also excellent value.

LLO: Best restaurant for vegetarian options in London? 
LH:
My favourite vegetarian restaurant in London is Mildreds on Lexington Street. The quality of ingredients used is always high, it is reasonably priced and with a casual and cosy feel about it which I like very much.

LLO: My boyfriend and I want to go out for a romantic dinner followed by drinks. Where would you send us?
LH:
Skylon, on the first floor of The Royal Festival Hall, is one of the most romantic and glamorous restaurants in London. Chef Jose Barattino is serving 2 & 3 course menus priced at £22 & £25 respectively. The views of the Thames are fantastic and the cocktails second to none.

I would then go for a leisurely stroll along the Southbank towards the Oxo Tower, and up to the top floor for a glass of Champagne at the Oxo Tower Bar.

LLO: What’s the best restaurant in your postcode?
LH:
I live in Islington N1. My favourite restaurant in this neighbourhood is Ottolenghi on Upper Street. I love the style of cooking, a mix of Italian and Palestinian – it is packed with exotic flavours and made from the freshest, best quality ingredients. I also love the big, beautiful platters of food on display, the concept of sharing tables and the opportunity to eat and share many small dishes.

Thanks Luiz!

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