Friday, 24 September 2010
Considering the depths of despair I plumbed following my last foray into pho, I considered consigning my love for this Vietnamese super-dish to memory only. I could stick to my South Asian and British favourites and forget the love affair my taste buds have with Vietnam. But, while trying to find Bubble Café's address for the last post, I stumbled upon a glowing review for a small café straddling the cultural divide between the Northern Quarter and Ancoats.
Opposite Wing Yip's cash-n-carry megastore and the Royal Mail sorting office is a curious string of shops. In between signs only in Chinese, hairdressers, salt-of-the-earth sandwich shops, and windows filled with electronic goods, is Vnam Cafe. Its small sign gives little away, "Authentic Vietnamese and English Food," but the menu in the window hints at the extent of the chefs' culinary prowess. Ignore the prosaic lunchtime sandwich offerings geared towards those whose jobs don't allow them to luxuriate in a bowlful of just-right noodle soup for lunch. Due to my pho fixation, I did not venture to try any of the large number of barbecue dishes on the menu, but I will absolutely be returning to eat my way through the listings.
I ordered the pho bo (beef pho) for a very reasonable £5.50. What arrived fifteen minutes later perked my spirits up no end. It was the pho I had wanted when I made my ill-fated trip to Bubble Café. Crunchy noodles covered with coriander, onion and bean sprouts, with a plateful of coriander, bean sprouts and sliced hot chilli on the side. The beef was sliced thin and was tender from the burningly hot soup. Although the beef seemed to have been cut roughly, it added a great meaty flavour to the spiced broth. The noodles were al dente and did not descend into a mush at the bottom of the bowl, and I made sure to eat every single one. Rather than lime, a single wedge of lemon came with the dish, which was a drawback in some respects (as I like pho with a citrusy tang), but the piles of coriander, chilli and onion that were available meant that little other flavouring was necessary.
As a future lunchtime haunt, Vnam Café checks every box. Cheap, clean, friendly and delicious, with an extensive menu that demands I return, I certainly will be venturing down the unfashionable end of Oldham Street again soon.