Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Bubble Cafe

Address: 72 Portland Street, Manchester M1 4GU
Tel: 0161 244 5755
Pho: £6
Bubble Tea/Slushy/Milkshake etc: £2.50

Has pho hit Manchester? This tasty Vietnamese noodle soup, chock full of coriander, chilli and lime with a delicately flavoured broth, took America (or at least its culturally literate urban areas on the East and West coasts) by storm.  But when I returned to Britain, nobody had heard of it. Then, as I was obsessively trawling through restaurant reviews online, I came across one for Bubble Cafe, a new place on the edge of Chinatown that "specialises" in bubble tea (tea, smoothies, slushes or milkshakes with jelly pieces or fat tapioca balls) but also serves Vietnamese dishes such as pho, bun bo and hu tieu noodle soups, banh mi (baguettes stuffed with pork, pickled vegetables and pate), spring rolls, and salads.

Pho is the perfect lunch - a light broth, al dente rice noodles, paper thin slices of beef, crunchy bean sprouts, shredded coriander (stalks and all), circles of mouth-burning chilli, and a couple of limes split into quarters. Sadly, Bubble Cafe provided none of these pleasures.

The first indicator that something was wrong was when the woman behind the counter told me that they only have chicken pho. I asked if they had any beef but was met with a shake of the head. Soldiering on, I also ordered a passionfruit slush bubble tea and sat at one of the tables to wait.  

What was delivered to me was not pho. The broth tasted like instant chicken soup, the noodles were mushy, the only evidence of the coriander was a few straggly pieces, and a single quarter of lime adorned my plate. But the worst thing was the chicken. The pho soup is meant to be so hot that it cooks whatever ingredients are thrown into it, resulting in tender slivers of beef and fragrant spices and herbs. The chicken in Bubble Cafe's pho had been pre-cooked and was torn into chunks, making cold and fatty islands scattered across the bowl. A disappointment in every respect.

The bubble slushy provided a stark contrast to the so-called pho. Flavourful (no doubt provided by chemicals - as in all bubble teas) with succulent tapioca pearl, it provided a tasty and moreish counterpoint that would make me return, but only for drinks. I should have taken my cue from the East Asian students sitting around the cafe, all slurping on bubble teas but none eating any food.  

My hunt for pho in Manchester continues apace.

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