There’s a popular saying in Vietnam that goes ‘Chở củi về rừng’ which has the same idiomatic meaning as ‘Don’t carry coals to Newcastle’ – or ‘Don't do things in a needlessly laborious way.’ Hence, my short and sweet post about Manchester Chinatown’s only Vietnamese restaurant (café), I Am Pho.
What and where? From its subterranean setting on George Street, I am Pho serves a simple menu of Vietnamese ‘street food’ favourites including Phở, Bánh Cuốn, Bún, Hủ Tiếu, Nộm, Gỏi and Bánh mì – basically all that is good!
What I ate: I’ve been on a few occasions and have sampled:
Nem Cuốn Tôm – Summer rolls with prawns: beautifully made, fresh, crisp and not served too chilled.
Nộm Gòi – Vietnamese Salad with Prawns: the chilli sauce was a little sweet and sticky for my taste but it’s a decent potion and the ingredients are fresh, generous and assembled with care.
Phớ Bò Tái – thinly sliced beef cooked in a deep bowl of clear broth (I asked for mushrooms to be added to mine). The Phớ is very good and comes with a side of spring onions, coriander, bean sprouts, herbs, fresh chilli and lime for flavouring and seasoning. Add Beef Paste for a more robust / ‘beefier’ flavour, Hoisin for sweetness and Nước Mắm to adjust ‘tanginess’ and of course Chilli for heat.
Bánh Mì - Vietnamese baguette (French stick) with pickled carrots and fresh coriander with Sliced Pork. They also do Pate, Beef, Pork Sausage and Chicken - I have since been advised to order the Pate and add 'meat/s of choice' as extra fillings for 50p. (My next order will be a pork feast of pate plus, sliced Pork and pork
Nem Chua – fermented pork: a wonderfully simple dish with an amazing sharp, sour flavour that is lifted by the fresh, crisp cucumber and coriander.
Food high points: my favourite dishes are the Nem Chua and Nem Cuốn Tôm – I’ll always order some of these with whatever main I am having.
Food low points: Not really a low point because the Bánh Mì (at £2.99) is still very good and excellent value but in Vietnam they traditionally add rice powder to the dough that results in a lighter, more airy bake with a thinner crust. Chilli was also noticeably absent from the fillings but a thin smear of the oil or sauce provided soon rectifies this or (as I will next time) you could ask for some chilli to be added when ordering - the staff are friendly and I'm sure they would be happy to accommodate such a request.
Décor / ambience: very much on the café / school canteen style with the expected clichéd touches from the nón lá (leaf hats) and pictures of rice paddies adorning the walls. It's a great lunchtime place (I am yet to visit in the evening).
Service: swift, efficient and friendly. Decent chopsticks are provided – not the cheap things that give you splinters.
Verdict (Would I return?): Love it! I would, have and will again (several times). I am tempted to say it’s pho-nomenal, but I daren’t be that corny.