I’ve visited Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, Japanese and Thai restaurants, but never Vietnamese. So I did something about it, and after this recent visit to Pho & Bun on forever buzzing Shaftesbury Avenue, I’m already planning my next visit.
Bang in the middle of town with Soho on one side and Chinatown on the other, I waltzed in on my lonesome on a pretty wet and gloomy Friday night in need of some comfort ‘pick me up’ food. Immediately, I was greeted by a cheerful staff who guided me to my table in the basement dining area.
By dinner time, this popular place was alive with the sound of talkative tables
Looking around, I was glad I had a reservation. By dinner time, this popular place was alive with the sound of talkative tables celebrating the end of the day or theatre-goers getting some pre-show grub before at one of the nearby theatres. Space is a premium here and the low tables are so close you can find yourself rubbing shoulders with your neighbours. If you are lucky, you might be able to nab a table in the cosier basement dining area.
You’ve got to hand it to Vietnam for coming up with an array of vibrant and bold array of dishes and the menu reflects that. I gave up trying to decide what to have and asked for recommendation instead. It also saved me from the embarrassment of butchering the pronunciation the names of the Vietnamese dishes.
I went traditional as I could and ordered summer rolls with tigers prawns (Gỏi Cuốn Tôm), Pho with wok fried garlic beef (Bò Tái Lăn), and to satisfy any sweet cravings, deep fried bao buns with salted duck egg custard.
The four summer rolls were beautifully presented and bursting with fresh herbs, satisfyingly crunchy veggies, silky glass noodles, and fresh tiger prawns. I’d highly encourage anyone to liberally dunk them in the accompanying peanut sauce.
All this swims in a 24-hour cooked broth so rich, it might as well be a dish in its own right.
Pho is as quintessentially Vietnamese as fish & chips are here in the UK. As a superfan of garlic I was sold on the Bò Tái Lăn – pho with wok-fried garlic beef. The semi-wide rice noodles were soft and silky. The wok-fried tender strips of beef were flavourful with garlic but not so overpowering. All this swims in a 24-hour cooked broth so rich, it might as well be a dish in its own right. If that’s not fragrant enough already, crunchy veggies like beansprouts, herby coriander, fiery red chillis and lime juice are brought out as a side dish for me to freshen it up.
I was told the pho here is the best in town (their words not mine). After slurping every last drop of that fragrant broth, I’d say it’s right up there, for now.
Finally, onto dessert and it is here I should warn you not to let your curiosity get the better of you. The deep-fried bao bun with salted duck egg custard is unique, but it won’t satisfy the sweetest of tooth. Buns are, well, just deep-fried and the saltiness of the egg custard won’t be for everyone.
It’s the closest I felt to being in Vietnam without leaving London.
While I braced myself for the imminent food coma, I admired the decor around me. The distinctly Vietnamese features such as the low tables, fake graffiti on the walls, a flag of Vietnam, brick-and-mortar exposed walls and a tiki-themed bar provided a glimpse into what the streets of Hanoi must be like. It’s the closest I felt to being in Vietnam without leaving London.
It’s not just the food that impressed. The staff are stars too. Helpful with recommendations and well-up for a good chat if you’re willing to engage. Honestly, a good bunch of people.
I’ve long held the impression that Vietnamese was vibrant in colour, fresh in ingredients and bold in flavour. There was nothing to change my perception and why you’ll find me slurping pho again.
It’s a great choice if you’re before looking some pre-theatre food before a show, or simply catching up with pals in Soho.
All you need for a good dining experience is a delicious array of food delivered speedily, good company, and a relaxed, casual setting. You’ll get it here at Pho & Bun. It’s a great choice if you’re before looking some pre-theatre food before a show, or catching up with pals in Soho, or in need of some warming, comfort food. And if budget is tight, then Happy Hour will be able to help you out – it’s 20% off your total bill from 3-5pm and 9pm onwards. Sounds good to me.
✨ DECOR AMBIENCE: 3.8/5.
🤵🏻 SERVICE: 3.9/5
🍸 FOOD: 4.1/5
🌟 OVERALL: 3.9/5