Pho is the new fast food but in many ways it is the antithesis of fast food. It is true that like fast food pho is pretty cheap with your meal unlikely to cost more than £7. It is also true that the original Clerkenwell restaurant named after its signature dish has spread to three stores in London which could be described as a (small) chain. Each restaurant is kitted out in the same way with bright cheery plastic orange chairs and practical sturdy tables. Like a fast food chain there are no bookings and it is unlikely that you will have to wait more than five minutes for your meal. But then you get to the meal itself and there is nothing fast about eating a bowl of pho soup.

The big bowls of broth are served piping hot so you can’t slurp it down in a hurry. Indeed the sheer size of the serving means that you have to take your time in eating. Then there is the matter of all the accompanying garnishes of bean shoots, chilli, mint, coriander and lime which you have to add to your soup as suits your taste. You also have to decide whether your soup needs an extra dash of plum sauce, fish sauce or bean paste all of which sit on each table. All in all this means that you are forced to think about your pho and to sit back and savour your meal rather than dash it down.


The ability to personalise your broth is a real plus at Pho and allows a feel of authenticity. However, this is clearly pho for Westernised palates and all the cuts of meat used are lean without any of the delicious fatty flavoursome bits that you find inside a bowl of pho in Vietnam. Of all the varieties on offer at Pho the standard Pho Chin containing beef brisket is the top pick. The meat could be more tender but it offers the crisp yet understated taste that is the hallmark of Vietnamese cuisine. The same can’t be said for the Pho Bo Vien which contains dull meatballs which lack flavour. Mushroom pho while steeply priced at the same cost as the meat versions contains a great variety of mushrooms and is so refreshingly light that you feel incredibly virtuous eating it. It seems that Pho may be the new fast but slow food.

Details: 86 St John Street, Clerkenwell EC1M 4EH (Ph 020 7253 7624)

Damage: Such a bargain even my mother would approve


If you liked reading this and you love your pho you can get it with a bit more Vietnamese attitude and flavour at Viet Grill on Kingsland road in Shoreditch. That said, I think for cheap, good food in London Pho is head and shoulders above a place like Alan Yau’s Cha Cha Moon.

Pho on Urbanspoon


  1. Ahh Pho…. Truely the breakfast of champions. I’ve yet to find a bowl in London that makes it up to to the standards in Vietnam, but your article is spot on – the branches of the Pho mini chain are perfect for a quick, tasty and healthy dinner. Whats not to love!

  2. Ive been past this place a few times, and even wondered in once – but was bemused on what to order, the concept being new to me – and wandered back out onto the street again confused….You’ve offered some clarity in your review….no booking, Pho Chin being the top banana and the condiments on the table. Now I’m better informed, I’ll have another crack at it…..if I can drag myself away from my current lunchtime favourite of flafel wraps in Whitecross St Market that is.

  3. I thought Pho was a bit dumbed down for Western palates too, but a passable bite to eat.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with your post. Right down to it not being as authentic as Viet Grill but a damn sight better than Cha Cha Moon.

  5. I went to the Oxford Circus one a couple of times and the service was consistently slow! One to avoid if you’re looking for a quick meal.

  6. A good Pho is a thing of beauty indeed! And yes a fantastic way to eat “fast” food! 🙂

  7. i love pho… i go there at least twice a month, luckily there’s a branch just round the corner from my university! i love how fresh their soups are, how satisfied I am after eating there and still have a head to study after 😉

  8. I haven’t experienced enough pho to know what the best is like having never been to Vietnam and only visited Kingsland Rd once though I had some fantastic pho at Oriental City once too.

    I liked Pho for it’s simple menu, extremely friendly and helpful service and I enjoyed my meal. I’d go again were I looking for a reasonably fast and inexpensive meal in that location.

  9. Ramsay – I agree what’s not to love

    Lizzie – I think I must like Pho more than you as I thought it was better than passable. Maybe my palate is too Westernised!

    Simon – In my view it is not hard to beat Cha Cha Moon – surprised Yau has opened another one in Bayswater – must be doing ok.

    Canelvr – that’s annoying – St John street one is very quick if you just order Pho

    Not Quite Nigella – I am sure you have some excellent pho places in Sydney

    The Passionate Cook – Much better for you than the usual study munchies

    Kavey – Oriental City for Pho? I will have to check it out.

  10. Dan -sorry I forgot to respond to you – hard to go past those falafel wraps I am also an addict!

  11. Good luck going to Oriental City as it closed last year! I tried Pho in Westfield yesterday and it’s really is just a passable bowl. The soup’s insipid and the meatballs were really awful – made from pureed beef. Still, if I’m stuck in a shopping mall, I’d eat it again (just no meatballs).

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