My score: 3.5 or 4/5
TripAdvisor review: here.
Last week Anthony Bourdain's 'No Reservations' was on the tv and he made a return trip to Vietnam, and instantly I was craving the fresh tastes of Vietnam.
Vietnam being somewhat far away, I had to settle for Pho Vietnam House on Grove St. I've actually visited this restaurant before, but it was four years ago just after the place had opened. I didn't know anything about the flavours of Vietnam, and if I'm honest I don't really know now, but I've cooked a few Vietnamese dishes before so I like to think I have a general idea of the flavours I'm looking for. At the very least, I expect fresh flavours!
The place is a little out of the way unless you know where you're going (it's on a side road of Morrison Street) and is a fairly small restaurant. I guess it fits about 30 people maximum. I gather that it's fairly popular so I would recommend booking if you intend to head there on a weekend. The decor is nice enough (a homely feel) and the staff are attentive. It's BYOB.
The starter and dessert menu is fairly limited, but there's a nice selection of mains and about four different choices of pho to chose from. I ordered the prawns salad for my starter and the raw beef pho for my main.
As I was the only person in the restaurant at the time, my starter arrived fairly promptly. It was a nice size for one person, but at £6.95 a little overpriced! My decent sized bowl of pho was only £7.95. If I'm honest, all the starters are over priced. The salad came with four large prawn crackers which was a pleasant surprise. Guilty pleasure, hello! The salad was a mix of cabbage, onions and carrots and was covered in crushed peanuts and crispy shallots. The sauce was slightly sweet, with hints of mint that I appreciated. The texture was the right blend between soft and crunchy. The prawns themselves were a let down, however, as I'm pretty sure they're the sub standards frozen prawns you'd get in a prawn and mayo sandwich. If you order the salad I recommend to get it with chicken. Prawns aside, I certainly enjoyed my salad. Salads don't have to be boring!
So, as I said, I've visited this restaurant once before and at that time I also had the pho. I don't remember very much about it which in retrospect was perhaps a sign. My bowl arrived shortly after I finished my starter. The pho came with the usual accompaniments (mint, a quarter of a lime and cabbage) and siracha was available on the table for those who need a hit of spice. The beef was nice and pink when it arrived and the broth was clear, a good sign. Before I added my condiments I gave the broth a sip. Mellow flavour with a hit of chilli; nothing too overwhelming. I did notice straight away however that it was missing any star anise/cinnamon flavour. Afterwards I piled in all the mint and lime that was available to me. A hint of siracha and it was time to eat. The noodles were well cooked, just tender but not too soft. Nicely done. The beef was soft but seemed to be lacking any beef flavour. It was more texture than flavour. The soup was at a good temperature; hot enough to enjoy without burning your tongue! I enjoyed my first few slurps but the more I ate, the more I began to realise that the broth was just lacking any oomph. No amount of extra mint or lime would help, I just couldn't get the taste out of the broth that I wanted. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad broth, but it wasn't making my tongue dance with delight. I expect a pho to be fresh and zingy; alive with flavours! For me, this somehow fell short. It has all the makings to be a good pho, but the flavour of the broth just seems to be a little lacking. It's a shame.
It's hard for me to rate this restaurant because while the food didn't blow me away, there was nothing wrong with it specifically. I feel that this could be a great restaurant, but at the moment I feel that the owners are content with having a good restaurant. If I do return it will be to try something other than the pho, but if the rest of the main dishes are of the same caliber I won't be returning. This restaurant is so close to being an amazing taste of Vietnam in Edinburgh, but just seems to fall short.
(Bad quality phone photos coming soon. Yay.)