Hidden bang in Central London between the lanterns of China Town and Shaftesbury Avenue’s chain restaurants teaming with pre-theatre goers, Pho & Bun is taking the bao bun to the next level with Vietnamese bao burgers (we’re betting that this is the next big food trend). Already a staple amongst Berlin’s hipsters, these revolutionary burgers are new to London, and an exciting addition to owner Andy Le’s new outpost of popular street food joint Viet Eat, Holborn.
The restaurant does as it says on the tin, and the menu is short and simple, split into starters, vermicelli, pho and buns. Start with rolls – minced crab and pork spring rolls are wrapped in a crispy crackly golden net, and fresh summer rolls encase meaty tiger prawns, Vietnamese leaves and herbs in rice paper. Impeccably sourced meat from butcher HG Walter is used in the pho and buns – 28-day, dry aged Aberdeen Angus beef is served rare in a big bowl of fragrant pho broth cooked for 18 hours with freshly chopped thick noodles. Beansprouts, chilli, coriander and mint come on the side so you can drop them in as you please.
The bao burger hybrid comes three ways – more of that awesome beef in a patty, with smoky mayo, salad and Vietnamese herbs, and a wedge of cheese for good measure; crisp tiger prawns or BBQ belly pork. The latter marinates free-range pork from Surrey farmers Plantation Pigs in garlic, shallots, lemongrass, fish sauce and caramelised onions that turn sticky and golden on the grill. The perfectly round milky steamed buns squish when you pick them up to create a contrasting pillowy texture to the crisp pork filling. Sweet potato fries have that crisp deep-fried outer layer and fluffy centre, perfect dippers for the creamy chilli mayo.
The short dessert menu is a Vietnamese/western fusion – greek yogurt, Vietnamese coffee and a few drops of sweet condensed milk is shaken with ice into a creamy liquid with a kick – think Vietnamese frappuccino. You can also have syrupy Vietnamese coffee in its original form, or pick Hanoi beer or a refreshing homemade lemonade or iced tea.
Interiors may be cliché but they work – chilli sauce, bowls of pho and pointy-hatted men on bicycles painted directly on to the brick walls provide a clear reminder of where you are, and bamboo lanterns hang from the ceiling, giving the tiny restaurant a soft, warm glow reminiscent of the magical lantern-lit Vietnamese town of Hoi An. Low wooden tables and stools are filled with crockery imported directly from Vietnam – sardine run pottery is embedded deep into Vietnamese tradition and is still sold across markets across the country.
Some of the friendliest staff around, who willingly recommend their favourites, provide the icing on the bao bun at this unpretentious street food restaurant.