Wary of stepping foot in the kitchen and “accidentally” staying in there for three hours (seriously: it happens… being a bit cooking obsessed means entering the kitchen is a bit like entering the tardis… I can go on forever), I decided to grab some noodles on the way home. I remembered a post from one of my favourite London food bloggers (oh, now ex-London, sniff sniff), on Pho Express Islington… and off I set up upper street.
I didn’t let the rather shabby exterior put me off, I used to regularly frequent Happy Chef in Sydney. This is where the “sticky tables make for a good Chinese restaurant” rule was written. Forget aesthetics if you want cheap, good asian food, I say.
Two Australian ladies sat in the window. So far, it felt very keeping with my Sydney reference point. I asked if there was a vegetarian option, a brief look of inexplicable confusion from the 20 something waiter/chef/cashier and… I was told the Pork Buns sold out this morning. Good enough response, I guess.
I spied the menu, saw that the chicken breast looked relatively well refrigerated, and I settled on that. Pho with Chicken. And off my waiter/chef/cashier went. Boiling kettles, assembling ingredients… all without taking his eye off his eye off his iPad which was streaming something Vietnamese alongside the counter.
Now I’m always sceptical of stock in a budget price range east-asian eatery. But I’d never, ever, seen it be made from either a) three types of powder, one of which may well have been MSG, OR b) boiled IN a kettle. I almost aborted when I saw this happen. But I was reminded, again, of Happy Chef. They had the dodgiest looking stock, but it was always, delightful.
They only have two seats, so I “decided” to take away.
I have to say, despite the rather cynical tone of this review, I really enjoyed the Pho. There was a certain salty acidity to the stock that made me wonder if it really was MSG. But it was hot, tasty, filled to the brim with stock and really well seasoned with pepper and chilli. Oodles of noodles. Lashings of greenery made it fresh and zingy. And a bit of floating lemon was fun.
It might not be an AA Gill award winning Ramen sensation, but it filled a hole and cost me the grand total of £5.50. At that price point, Pho Express are competing with the likes of the EAT’s and Itsu’s of the high street. And while they may be a little more unorthodox in their service method, decor and certain ingredients, at least they are, what they are, and don’t try to hide it.
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Pho Express – Angel/Islington
149 Upper Street
London N1 1RA
Reviewer: Jared -
June 10, 2013