What better time for Pho Manchester to launch their new summer food and drink menus?
An alfresco lunch in Manchester usually turns into drowning your sorrows at the bar when the heavens open just as your starter is being served. For Pho sake.
Last week, however, a heatwave saw five sizzling days of summer with temperatures regularly topping 30C and humidity approaching sauna levels.
Focusing on a Vietnamese summer, it’s all about healthy and refreshing drinks made with coconut water, homemade cordials and fresh herbs to match the fragrant food, with summer rolls, spicy salads and broken rice bowls top of our list to try out in this heat.
This Vietnamese restaurant in Manchester’s Corn Exchange boasts three floors of cool and airy relaxed dining space, with areas to suit all needs in terms of customers and weather. Just take your pick.
On the ground floor you can eat in the vast indoor atrium of the stunning Exchange, with more cosy intimacy offered on the mezzanine overlooking this area, or downstairs on the lower ground level with its own bar and outside seating facing Manchester Cathedral.
We have our fair share of mixed Asian restaurants in the city, but not many which serve Vietnamese food. Stephen and Juliette Wall opened their first Pho in London in 2005 after visiting and falling in love with this stunning south east Asian country.
They now have restaurants in eight cities across the country. Pho Manchester opened in 2015 in the newly revamped Corn Exchange.
Although a chain, it’s still family run and very much focuses on authentically prepared fresh ingredients arriving daily to each site. And Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, packed with vitamins and minerals, low in fat and high in protein, nearly all of which is gluten-free.
The minimal use of dairy also means most veggie dishes on the menu are also vegan, making it the perfect choice for lunch especially, eliminating tiredness and fatigue and avoiding the early afternoon energy slump.
We began our lunch with some soft summer drinks to quench our thirst. Coconut water with fresh pineapple juice (£2.95) is actually quite subtle and the fruit doesn’t overpower the natural sweetness of the coconut.
Even better is the Chilli & Lime Spritzer (£2.75) made with fresh herbs and sparkling water, as this really set the mood for the meal and perfectly accompanied all the dishes.
The starters section is perfect for sharing, rolling and dipping, as each dish arrives with its own specific sauce.
Veggie Goi Cuon (£4.50) are fresh rice paper summer rolls packed with herbs, vermicelli, pickles, carrot and lettuce. Served cold they are summer on a plate, and delicious dipped in peanut sauce (I’ve never tasted one so peanutty).
Muc Chien Gion (£6.95) is fried baby squid, a much lighter version than your usual Spanish calamari tapas as they are rolled in potato starch instead of batter which absorbs much less of the oil they are fried in. There is a lovely bit of theatre and participation as they arrive when you are instructed to make you own dipping sauce from the salt, pepper, small chillies, and fresh lime. We got thoroughly stuck in, the resulting paste tangy and fantastic with the light squid.
You’d be hard pressed to find many salads as tasty as the Vietnamese Goi they serve here, and on a sweltering day like the day we visited they are spot on.
Goi Chay (£6.95) is an ample tower of shredded salad comprising of carrots, green cabbage, onions, basil, mint, coriander, and a chilli ginger dressing made with rice vinegar and lime juice, the whole plate offering some medium heat but not too spicy.
We also tried one of the new dishes – Com Tam (broken rice) with Crispy Beef in Betal Leaf (£9.25) which is a one-stop bowl of rice with wok-fried Chinese leaf, radish, cucumber, and pickled mooli finished with peanuts, herbs and fresh chillies. The beef is unusual, served like a rolled dried kebab and delicately spiced, again lean and healthy. Definitely worth a try.
And we couldn’t have visited without ordering the Vietnamese national dish from which the restaurant takes its name – Pho, Vietnamese noodle soup.
With nearly twenty to choose from, each has its own distinctive broth that differ greatly from each other. They also differ from Thai noodle soups as they are cooked for longer (they take at least 12 hours to prepare) allowing the tastes and aromas to really come through. With more fish sauce and fewer chillies used, they tend to be more pungent and less spicy.
Served with a big wooden paddle spoon, mint, basil, coriander, lime and beansprouts are served on the side allowing you to tailor your soup to your own personal taste; along with the sauces on the table of chilli paste for a bigger kick, fish sauce for extra saltiness, and garlic vinegar for sourness.
We opted for Spicy Green (£9.75) with chicken breast which packs a mean punch, and Pho Nam Rom (£8.75) with enoki and shitake mushrooms which is more delicate and fragrant. These steaming lip-smacking dishes are the perfect comfort food and an amazing hangover cure, should you ever need one.
After the refreshing soft drinks we started with, we continued along the herby route with a minty Phojito (£6.95) and a Lemon & Basil Martini (£7.25) both of which are made with Nep Phu Loc clear rice spirit, and both of which are very strong. We recommend just the one if you’re heading back to work.
Lunch drew to a close with a palate-cleansing Kem Sorbet made with over 55% fresh strawberries and basil. Beautifully fruity. And summery. As was our entire lunch.
This menu definitely does what it says on the tin. Try Pho Manchester this summer.