Image description: Two bowls of food: the left is a bowl of spicy red noodle soup, the right a green pandan waffle and ice-cream.
Located on the top floor of the Westgate, Pho Café is the perfect place to go for dinner if you want to feel like you’ve slightly left the beaten track, without actually doing so. With only a smattering of other Oxford students, and (remarkably) only one other person wearing the same college puffer as me, the restaurant was full of small groups of friends having a relaxed evening meal. Pho Café would be a great place to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while, with all the tables a fair distance apart, making it easy to hear what everyone is saying.
To start with, three of us shared a Vietnamese pancake stuffed with fried beansprouts and tofu, served with a tangy sweet chili dipping sauce and rice paper sheets. Initially we were unsure what to do with the rice paper, but we ended up cutting off pieces of the pancake and its filling and wrapping them in the sheets. The rice paper softens to encase the filling, making it easier to dip the pancake in the sauce (and more finger-food friendly if, like me, you have an embarrassing inability to use chopsticks). The combination of the crisp, salty tofu and the sweet sauce was very enjoyable, and I would certainly have this again if I were to go back. It was a very generous portion for a starter as well, certainly enough for a meal in itself if you were looking for a lighter lunchtime snack.
I then had the classic King Prawn Pho in chicken broth, and again I was amazed by how generous the portion was. Normally, I find ordering prawns out at a restaurant is a recipe for disappointment, as some restaurants are quite stingy with how many they give you. This was not the case at Pho Café: the pho was served in a large bowl, crammed with thick rice noodles, prawns and herbs swimming in a clear broth. Everything from the prawns to the herbs was very fresh and crisp, with the herbs cutting a fragrant note into the sweet crunch of the prawns.
The menu was also packed full of vegetarian options. My friend had the Hot and Spicy not-chicken soup, which she said was just the right amount of spicy: hot, without overpowering the fragrance of the herbs. Pho Café’s ‘not-chicken’ was reminiscent of the Quorn chicken alternative, but in slightly larger, heartier chunks. There were also plenty of tofu and mushroom options on the menu for anyone not keen on meat substitutes.
We were so full at this point that we almost couldn’t manage desert, but eventually decided we would share one in the name of doing a thorough review! Everything on the menu looked delicious, so we asked the waiter for his recommendation. He suggested Pandan waffles, which turned out to be a great choice. Pandan waffles are a bright green colour due to the pandan leaves they are flavoured with, although to me they tasted fairly similar to an American waffle, if perhaps a bit crispier. Ours came served with a honey and ginger ice cream, which was a refreshing way to end what had been a heavy meal!
All in all, there is not a huge amount to fault at Pho Café. The staff were very attentive and considerate, the menu was broad, the food was tasty, and the portion sizes were very generous. As the nights draw in and the weather gets colder, returning for another hearty bowl of pho looks very appealing.
From 21st September – 28th October, students will be able to get 25% off food when they dine in between Monday – Wednesday. To access this amazing offer, all they have to do is head to www.phocafe.co.uk/students and register their email address to redeem their discount code to use in the restaurant.
Image credit: Sophie Smith