It’s been a movie weekend. I go to the cinema quite a bit, but rarely two nights in a row. However, I was meeting up with two friends over Friday and Saturday with whom I often see a film and there were two films on at Curzon which had received 5* in the Guardian. Curzon specialise in independent, art house films. They’re a small chain (12 cinemas), mainly in London but also Canterbury, Oxford and Ripon, and although we have one in my local Richmond, I’m more often found at either the Mayfair or Soho branches. On Friday I was at Mayfair where I saw Happy End, a Michael Haneke film, which was absolutely brilliant. If you’ve seen any Haneke films you’ll know that ‘happy’ has nothing to do with it! Afterwards, friend Nicola and I ate at Sofra, a good Turkish restaurant conveniently close to the cinema. Last night I was at Curzon Soho to see Call Me By Your Name, a film of first love and gay love. Despite the rave reviews everywhere, I found it a bit disappointing: too long and not totally convincing on a number of levels. However, that led to a great discussion over supper as Elsa as had enjoyed it more … and we even got talking about it to the friendly staff in Viet Pho!
It was 9pm by the time we emerged onto London’s Shaftesbury Avenue and Elsa said she knew a good Vietnamese restaurant just round the corner in Greek Street. Viet Pho is a simple place: small, no frills, more cafe than restaurant. It’s also BYO (bring your own) and as we hadn’t thought to bring a bottle of wine or beer in with us, we settled on an alcohol-free meal rather than venture back into the freezing weather outside.
Seeing some people with a pot of tea at the next table, I decided to order some jasmine tea. A warming drink seemed like a good idea!
The menu offers mainly Vietnamese food, but there are also Thai dishes, like Pad Thai. We both decided to order Pho though.
The ‘pho’ in the soup’s name refers to the rice noodles it contains – bánh phð – and isn’t just the name of the dish. It’s also thought that ‘pho’ refers back to when French traders started travelling regularly to Vietnam in the 18th century and perhaps brought their famous Pot au Feu dish. This French dish contains beef and vegetables boiled slowly for a stew; the broth is poured over sliced meat and vegetables at the end – in fact, very similar to the Vietnamese ‘pho’. ‘Feu’ is French for fire – the dish cooked in a pot over a fire – and the similarity to ‘pho’ is obvious. We tend to pronounce it ‘ph – oh’ here but the Vietnamese pronunciation is more like the French ‘feu’.
The menu told us that ‘All soups are meat based and are garnished with coriander and spring onions, served with a side dish of bean sprouts, chillies, sweet basil and a wedge of lime’.
I chose the basic ‘Pho’ made with ‘aromatic beef marrow’, which came with a choice of sliced sirloin beef, chicken, prawns, beef ball or fried tofu. I had prawn (£8.50).
Elsa chose Seafood Pho (£9) which had squid and mussels as well as prawns.
It seemed a perfect dish for late night (by my standards!) eating, as well as being a comforting dish on a freezing December night. I loved it. I’ve had pho before (click here) and I love its gentle fragrancy; it manages to be both light and fresh but also offers great depth of flavour. There were bottles of condiments to add (fish sauce and chilli sauce) as well as the plate of garnishes that came with it. I didn’t want to add too much – it was gorgeous as it was – so for me, just a few bean sprouts, a little of the basil torn on top and a squeeze of lime. Perfect!
It was all we had and it was enough. Service had been quick, but we’d taken our time and it was now 10pm and time to be heading home (about an hour’s journey for me). As we waited for the bill, the restaurant now empty, one of the staff sat down with a steaming bowl of soup for himself and smiled at us and started talking. We said we’d been to the Curzon and told him what film we’d seen. Then another staff member joined in, she’d seen the film too, and soon we were talking films. It was really nice. It’s a family run place and their friendliness was welcome; their food is great and a great price for central London. I’ll definitely be back … though maybe next time with a bottle in hand!