Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pho Express: A Fabulous Vietnamese Spot Strikes Back

Name Pho Express 
Address 149 Upper Street, Unit B, London N1 1RA 
Phone none 
Web site none
Main dish price range £4.5
Rating 4 Stars.  The best place we know to nurse a pho addiction.  

Recommended dishes: 
Someone's studying up on one of London's best banh mi places.

When we last checked in with Pho Express, this tiny, Islington outpost serving Vietnamese food and crispy banh mi was still finding its footing, experimenting with some new ingredients and tweaking the menu and sandwich seasonings with every visit.  Now, several months in, we feel the need to give our loyal and faithful readers an update.  Why?  This place has gone from being good to simply amazing.

One of the first things I feel the need to address is the actual pho itself, which last time, as you may all remember, Nick and I had yet to try. Now, it's worth noting that I have always not been the world's biggest pho fan. I'm never sure what to do when I get the varietals that have hoisin sauce and radishes in little containers on the side, and I've worried in the past that I've taken versions of the soup and either overly seasoned it or kept it so simple I was missing some of the key allure. So it's much to my relief that at Pho Express, the four types of pho on hand (£5-6 each) are made entirely by you for the staff-- and are unlike any I've had before with their amazingly delicate flavorings and quality ingredients. Here, the broth is a light, beef broth, loaded high with large pieces of meat (your choice of chicken, beef, prawn or chicken plus beef), tons of fresh cilantro, and bits of lime that give it a refreshing citrus finish.

Pho shizzle: The amazing beef pho (Pho Bo) at Pho Express. 
Adding to the giant bowl of goodness the staff will readily add fresh, green chilies-- a favorite of Nick's, but perhaps not recommended for the less tough among us. A thick glob of egg noodles sop up the broth inside. Not only have I come to appreciate this pho, I crave it-- and eat it-- on a multi-times a week basis. The staff tells me it's North Vietnamese, different from the kind you'd typically find restaurants. Whatever it is, it's delicious.
Pho fan, pho-ever. 
And the banh mi served these days is now an almost equally palette-pleasing treat. As I mentioned last time around, the best banh mi is a study in opposites-- the crispy, flaky toasted bun and the well-sauced filling and pate inside balancing it out with warm, gooey goodness. The team at Pho Express has always nailed the baguette, offering up the perfectly crisp type of bread product you'd expect to find at a French corner shop. After experimenting with different dry herbs and flakes, however, the team seems to have decided to stick with the more classic iterations of the dish that they do best. My favorite is the barbecue pork (£4), which has cucumbers and sweet, pickled kohlrabi and carrots on top, along with fresh green chilies, which must be asked for as an extra topping. The Special banh mi (£5) is also the perfect balance of tastes and textures with its thick pieces of barbecue pork, homemade pate, and dried pork floss. They even have a Thap Cam banh mi (the most expensive banh mi at £5.5), which is billed as an "all in one option"-- presumably with grilled chicken and pork as well as pate and floss. I've been so hung up on my current favorites, I haven't yet ventured to try it.

Taking in the local Angel scene, and the yummy banh mi.
Pho Express is certainly rapidly turning into a neighborhood star here in Islington, and certainly my favorite go-to lunch place.  In addition to the sandwiches and pho, the little spot also serves up Vietnamese rice bowls, including a Belly Pork and Spare Ribs in Caramel Sauce (£6). It's still short on seating space though-- besides a couple seats right in the window, they have a very low table with two seats sort of crammed haphazardly in front of the ordering counter, as well as a few seats outside-- relevant if spring would ever grace us with her presence. For now, I'm happy to slurp my soup and wash it down with a pitch-perfect, super sweet Vietnamese Iced Coffee (£2.50).  A nice bit of perfection.   
Believe the hype.

Pho Express on Urbanspoon


Sydney Krueger said...

Like it! Can't wait to try some of these ethnic spots on my next trip to London where I'll hopefully see you guys!!


Unknown said...

Thanks for knowledge sharing,

Marcus White Lisdoonvarna

Gulshan Iqbal said...

I've been craving a really authentic and satisfying PHO ever since I returned from Vietnam and with London days getting greyer and chillier I think this could be just the fix I've been looking for! Thanks for keeping us in the loop.

Great Vietnam Holiday said...

Looks great! Vietnamese food is lovely

Rose said...

Hope this place can give special discount for students or those who buy vouchers vouchers london