When I quit my job to travel southeast Asia and concentrate on my blog Sophie’s Scran, Vietnam was one of the places I was most excited about. There’s a visitors’ visa, which allows you to enter the country for 15 days free of charge, but I thought, hang on: Two weeks is not going to be nearly enough. So I bit the bullet and purchased a 30-day visa instead. I was ready for a full-on foodie adventure!
It’s safe to say, it was worth the extra spend on my already tight budget. When I touched down in Hanoi, I arrived amidst the absolute chaos that is a Saturday night in this crazy city. I knew almost instantly I’d made the right decision. This place was noisy, electric with energy and absolutely full of food. Within the first hour, I’d been offered (on the streets alone) homemade pastries, soft pork scratchings, crispy chicken feet and home-brewed beer. I knew I was in foran absolute feast in this vibrant country.
Warming up in the Corn Exchange
Which brings me to today’s review on the Bookatable blog; Pho in Manchester’s Corn Exchange. Pho is Vietnam’s version of noodle soups; authentic, healthy versions of which are served up here. If you’ve not yet been to the Corn Exchange, it’s a stunning, newly refurbished food hub in the centre of Manchester, just one minute’s walk from the Arndale Centre. It’s home to a handful of restaurants, but only a few are worth shouting about, and Pho is one of them.
To ease us in (and warm us up) we started with hot drinks, as in typical Manchester style, the weather was rainy and cold. Longing for the luscious, indulgent cups of coffee I would devour in the hidden rooftop coffee shops of Hanoi, I went for the traditional Vietnamese coffee with evaporated milk. And Pamela went for the fresh mint tea. Both stunning, but the coffee really did take me back, and the subtle sweetness of the Evap is just divine!
Healthy, Vietnamese food in Manchester
First off, the menu sets out options that range from starters, Vietnamese salads, Pho (noodle soups), noodle dishes, ‘broken rice’ dishes and sides. Every table is also equipped with its own condiment caddy. They’re there to encourage you to taste and adjust the seasoning of the dish you choose to your own taste. And those who don’t take advantage of them are missing out! I’m not saying you should use them all, but, just a little tweak here and there can really bring the flavours up to a whole new level. And that’s what they’re there for! The garlic vinegar and chilli and garlic pastes are homemade, too!
It’s easy to order at Pho because everything (whilst displayed on the menu in its traditional Vietnamese name) is described in English too. To start, I went for the Cha gio (crispy spring rolls with lettuce and herbs) and my friend and fellow blogger Pamela had the Goi cuon; fresh rice paper summer rolls with herbs, vermicelli and pickle. Each set of rolls comes with a choice of nuoc cham (chilli sauce) or peanut sauce, and let me tell you now; both are incredible, so if you can’t decide then ask for both. The peanut one is so silky and smooth you could just lick it off the plate. And the chilli one is spicy, sweet and tart all at the same time.
The summer rolls are a favourite I order again and again, they’re so fresh, light and a great way to stock up on veggies and crunchy goodness. The crispy rolls are a little more indulgent but still light, and not at all greasy. Two fantastic starters which got us more than ready for the next course.
Vegan or meaty, there’s one pho everyone!
My friend isn’t vegan but eats a lot of vegan food, so opted for the ‘Super Green’ pho. It has morning glory (a very popular green vegetable in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand), green beans, pak choi and fresh lime in a veggie broth with garlic. To make it a little more substantial she added tofu. She loved the dish; the light broth had a depth of flavour from the garlic and a zing from the lime which she confirmed was delicious. A great new edition to the ‘house specials’ pho, but if you like it a little spicier I’d recommend the ‘Spicy Green’ version which is the same, except the broth is spicy.
Feeling adventurous, I was ready to reminisce about my time in Vietnam, where I feasted on spicy noodle broths, slow-cooked beef, chicken on the bone and all sorts of seafood dishes. I chose the Bun bo Hue (hot and spicy beef brisket served with a chilli and shrimp paste). It comes with an option of flat or round noodles. I chose round as they were the ones I remember eating in Hue (a city in central Vietnam) most. A stunning, delicious bowl of goodness, the brisket was so tender, and the broth was so rich. The side plate of extra seasonings means you can also add flavours and textures to the bowl as you go along. Another element of Vietnamese cuisine that I adore, and one that Pho capture so, so well.
On the side, we had extra morning glory (as you can never have too much of a good thing, right?!) and the sugar snap peas; mainly because they come doused in that peanut dipping sauce, too!
Room for a little one?
The best thing about Pho is that it fills you up but doesn’t leave you feeling overfull. Most pho broths are light and not overly rich. Ramens or coconut milk laksas, on the other hand, can be heavy. I’ve had ramens before that have left me wanting to curl up and nap right there in the restaurant. But not Pho! So the great news was, I had room for dessert…
I really wanted to try the Vietnamese pancakes, but they weren’t available, so I went for the passion fruit cheesecake. It was divine. Pamela has an exceptionally well-tuned sweet tooth (being a healthy baking blogger) and she gave it the nod of approval too; sweet, tangy, light and delicious. A great way to end yet another fab meal at Pho. Authentic, healthy and delicious!
Pho – Manchester Corn Exchange
Unit 15, Corn Exchange, 37 Hanging Ditch, Manchester, M4 3TR