Spurred on by last week’s successful meander down vegetarian alley and with the collective feeling that the further west down Victoria street we ventured, the better the food would get, the Phuc buddies eagerly looked forward to trying the so called ‘Mcdonalds’ of Pho restaurants, I Love Pho.
While Dizz and Marge went to fill up their wallets, Yask was given the responsibility of cajoling the wait staff for a table. Ordinarily the smooth talking renegade, would have no trouble finding a table (usually by means of forceful negotiation), but at I Love Pho this proved to be no easy pho-eat. The line out the door was reminiscent of those who queue for the in-vogue, reservation-proof restaurants, such as Chin Chin or the uber-trendy Radio Mexico.
Within seconds of sitting down together, a mousey, glasses wearing waitress immediately asked us for our order. It seems to be an unwritten law in Pho restaurants that time is of the essence. Time is money, and money is what I love pho stands for. After hastily deciding on our orders, Dizz and Marge both opting for chicken, and Yask flying the beef flag, we finally had a moment to take in the surprisingly fashionable decor.
While waiting for our soups, we quickly ordered two serves of prawn spring rolls to share. Forgoing our usual three serves between three strategy, after Marge wisely reminded us that summer is just around the corner. As the minutes passed, and the soup remained sightless, we began eying off the lucky patrons who were having theirs delivered to them on cafeteria trays with the trained waiters sliding around on the slippery soup covered floor. It was almost like the American diners where your burgers are brought out to you by roller skate wearing beauties….almost, but at the same time, not at all. Seeing the table next to us scoff down a serve of rice paper rolls, we called over the nearest waiter and ordered a serve for ourselves.
Within seconds, the delicately rolled, prawn and pork filled, translucent rice paper encased wonders arrived at our table. Perhaps it was our hunger, but we all agreed that these were some of the finest rolls we had tasted. The filling was fresh, exciting and, with the addition of mint, aromatic. With the accompaniment of a spicy peanut sauce, combined with a hint of lime, our stomachs and minds quickly forgot about the hunger of minutes passed. There is little doubt that given the choice, Ho Chi Minh would have chosen to be entombed in rice paper rather than embalmed in his mausoleum, of course only if the gifted cigar quality rollers of I love Pho were doing the mummifying.
The three steaming bathtubs of soup arrived shortly after, along with the customary selection of garnishes. While we were slightly concerned about the amount of beanshoots and basil on offer, the soups arrival curtailed anymore waitress interaction. As time wore on it was clear the soups were lacking that certain x factor that separates the best from the rest. While Yask barely added any of the available condiments, Dizz and Marge were seen to be frantically adding fish sauce, hoi sin, and chilli at will. They were trying to salvage a bland and uninteresting broth. A battle they would unfortunately lose. The beef on the other hand was quite good without being spectacular. The broth both fragrant and tasty.
I know you’re all hoping that the broth would be the worst part, but the quality of meat also let the restaurant down. About half of the chicken pieces were inedible, unless of course you enjoy gristly, fatty pieces of chicken that get stuck in the back of your throat. The beef started off tender and juicy, but the longer it cooked in the broth, the chewier and more rubber like it became.
Uninspired and wanting to leave to catch the 9:00pm session of Lawless, we were delayed further with the late arrival of the spring rolls, which we ordered a good forty minutes prior. Hoping that they had been forgotten we eventually started eating them, praying that they would be enough to counteract the pho. Unfortunately the springers were lukewarm and far from fresh. They were more like prawn-flavoured chips rather than the legitimate prawn taste we were looking for.
Far from loving our experience we were left to wonder where it all went wrong. Not only did the restaurant produce sub par pho, they also effectively spit in the face of the Communist ideology that Vietnam fought so hard for. I love Pho has sold out, and sold out hard. The owners are far more concerned about feeding their cash-cow than making good, wholesome, tasty soup. They whisk you in as quick as they can, and the second your spoon has hit the table, they whisk you out again.
Ho Chi Minh would turn over in his rice paper enveloped tomb if he was alive today to witness the goings on at I Love Pho.
Chicken broth 4/10
Beef broth 7/10
Meat quality 6/10
Spring/rice paper rolls 7/10
Lawless 4.25/5 They fought the law and the… they won