It might seem that there’s a theme going on with the second review of a Vietnamese restaurant in 5 days, but just as the visit to Viet Pho on Saturday was completely spontaneous, so was last night’s meal at Pho & Bun – I hadn’t even particularly had a Vietnamese meal in mind.
I was on my way to join my friends Lucia and David. We were to see the much acclaimed Oslo at the Harold Pinter Theatre, just off Haymarket. Lucia had suggested we meet at Pompi in Shaftesbury Avenue for tiramisu first and some time to chat and catch up before the play. Well if you read my review of the Richmond branch of Pompi (click here) you’ll know that their tiramisu is reckoned to be some of the best in the world. But it’s not a meal; it’s not supper. So I decided to find some kind of snack first and then have tiramisu for dessert. I did consider pizza, which of course would have been a great prelude to tiramisu, but I didn’t fancy that. Instead I decided to go into Pho & Bun in Shaftesbury Avenue, which happened to be directly opposite Pompi. Rather a clash of cuisines, perhaps, but even food bloggers can sometimes go completely off piste with their choice of food.
The weather outside was horrendous: heavy rain, a bitter cold wind. I was so tempted to a bowl of steaming pho again. But Pho & Bun are known for their buns, steamed bao buns, and since I hadn’t yet tried a bao bun, despite their crazy popularity in London over the last year or two, it seemed an opportunity not to be missed.
It was very early, just after 5, so I had no problem getting a table, although there were a few other people already sitting at tables and as the restaurant filled up, everyone who came in had booked. So I think booking for a later time would be essential.
It’s a small place … though there’s some additional seating downstairs … with very simple decor and bare wood tables packed close together. The sense of Vietnam is brought via paintings on the bare brick wall as well as, of course, the menu.
I chose their ‘signature Bao Burger’, which, they tell us, ‘is freshly made in house everyday and served with salad, house pickle, fresh herb, homemade mayonnaise sauce and choices of free range organic meat’. I chose ’28 Days Dry aged beef’ (£6.95) but there was also BBQ honey belly pork, a confit of belly pork, crispy tiger prawns or lemon grass tofu. The waiter asked if I also wanted sweet potato chips which come with chilli mayonnaise (£3.50) and I ordered those too, as well as a glass of Merlot (5.95).
My glass of wine and some tap water came quickly, and I didn’t have too long to wait until my burger arrived. All the way through the service was friendly and efficient.
When one is used to burgers in (the now popular) brioche buns, it does look quite strange, this white, almost translucent bun. The sweet potato chips, however, looked fabulous. And indeed, they were: gorgeously crispy on the outside and fluffy in the centre, with a little bowl of chilli mayonnaise on the side to dip them in.
The burger turned out to be delicious; really good. I tasted a little of the bun on its own and despite its bland appearance it definitely had a good taste all of its own. The beef burger was very good and very tasty; perhaps a little overdone – more medium than rare – for my ideal preference, but I enjoyed it a lot.
It was a perfect supper to enjoy before meeting up with my friends. I wandered around a little once I came out and then went into Pompi for Tiramisu Classico (Lucia chose pistachio) and an excellent macchiato. It really is the most amazing tiramisu.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Shaftesbury Avenue and head off to the theatre.
Sadly, I found the play Oslo, about the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the PLO in 1993, disappointing, despite the great reviews, and most people I know who’ve seen it think it’s brilliant. I found the humour overplayed, falling too often into farce; the rather old-fashioned male humour of pranks and jokes at odds with the serious subject; the female lead put almost into a clichéd school teacher role of having the bring the mostly male cast into order. There’s nothing wrong with humour in a serious play, as Shakespeare so well demonstrated, but the balance needs to be right for it to work. However, it was good to see it and very good indeed to see my friends and eat bao buns and tiramisu!