When Liz suggested meeting up this evening and asked me to decide where we ate, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to try out Pho Saigon in Twickenham. We’d talked about it before. She’d heard from other foodie friends that it was good; I, too, had heard good reports and have been saying for ages that I must visit, but just hadn’t got round to it. On the 15-minute walk from my home, as I was blown around by the tail end of Hurricane Gonzaio that has hit UK today, it seemed a perfect time to be trying out some spicy soup.
I’ve only eaten Vietnamese food a few times before and don’t know a lot about it. Liz – who has been to Vietnam – said she thought pho came from North Vietnam (Hanoi), not the southern Saigon area, so I did a bit of research earlier in the day. Vietnam’s most famous food – pho – a noodle soup, did indeed originate in the north but after the partition in 1954 a slightly different version emerged in the south – Saigon. In North Vietnam you’ll find Pho Bac, in South Vietnam there is Pho Nam. The northern version is more spicy and salty; the southern sweeter. In Hanoi only beef bones are used to make the soup – the broth – while in the south they also add chicken bones and sometimes dried squid (I suppose a bit like adding fish sauce), which gives a deeper flavour. In the south they use more vegetables, especially bean sprouts, which you won’t find in the north, and they also add hoisin sauce (hence the sweetness) whereas in Hanoi they add more spice, particularly chilli.
Pho Saigon describes itself as a street cafe and thus it’s not a surprise that inside it’s fairly basic. It has a bring-your-own policy (so I’d taken along a bottle of chilled white wine). I had booked though. It’s always busy when I pass by and this evening – a cold and blowy Tuesday night, it wasn’t full but it was more than half full. The service was friendly; a friendly welcome and the menus brought quickly with glasses for our wine and an offer to open the bottle and pour for us. Of course, I had to have pho. What else could I choose! But I suggested we share a couple of small dishes first. There weren’t really ‘starters’ as such but some small dishes so we chose some vegetable mini spring rolls with dipping sauce. The menu had said 3 but they brought 4 – presumably since there were two of us. I’m not sure if they charged extra (I’m guessing possibly not) as Liz kindly said she’d pay for the food as I’d brought the wine, and I didn’t see the bill.
These were good and we had ‘special roast duck with five spices and honey’ to go with it.
This was a kind of salad; the duck just lukewarm on a bed of salad-y strips, with the rich sweet sauce on top. It was tasty; a little like having Chinese crispy duck without the pancakes. Then came our pho’s. Liz had chosen chicken while I went for ‘traditional’ beef strips.
It was a delicious dish. Very different from the spicy Thai food I eat quite often, or Laksa, that spicy noodle soup from Malaysia (which I love). It was very delicate in flavour. A lovely broth base with noodles, bean sprouts, coriander; fresh chilli and lemon to add yourself. It was very fragrant but with a softness, a gentleness, to the flavour. Not only was it delicious – it felt very healthy too!
I really enjoyed my meal and would like to go back and try some of their other dishes. It’s very reasonably priced – the pho just £7.95 – so could be a great place to just pop into on the spur of the moment … assuming you can get a table, of course!