After eating our pie and mash we were still a little hungry. M was really starting to feel the jet lag since she didn't get to nap so I volunteered to find the next part of our meal. After walking around the entire food court, I decided on Pho Cafe. Both M and I felt like we needed something healthier, and this restaurant seemed like the best option. Pho Cafe is a chain in London advertising themselves as Vietnamese street food. We love the fresh, clean flavors of Vietnamese food so I figured that this would be exactly what we were looking for.
I ended up getting two dishes for us to share along with two drinks as well. The two dishes were both appetizers/salads so I made the guess that they wouldn't be too much food in our not 100% hungry, extremely exhausted state.
I had originally thought to get one of their homemade lemonades, but I saw a sign for a new special, spicy lemonade. It was their homemade lemonade with fresh ginger juice and mint. This was the perfect drink as M was starting to get to that point of pure exhaustion where the world starts to spin and rock a little, and her stomach was unsettled. The ginger not only gave the lemonade a mild sharp bite, but it was also a good stomach calming agent. The mint was a little less pronounced, but this was a very refreshing drink overall. Our other drink was a bottle of water, and it was just that.
The first dish we ate was the gỏi cuốn, or summer rolls with shrimp. Their menu describes it as "fresh rice paper summer rolls with herbs, vermicelli & pickle." The description is a bit of a misnomer as neither M or I remember any pickles in the roll, but there was definitely lettuce, mint, cilantro, and carrots going along with the shrimp. Overall they were pretty standard summer rolls and reminiscent of ones we could get back in NYC. The dipping sauce was a bit different, though, as it had much more kick than any sauces we'd had before. They added chili sauce to their fish sauce mixture which gave it a nice heat. I thought the rice wrapper was a little too sticky, and there seemed to be quite a bit of shredded lettuce in there used as a filler.
Our second dish was the gỏi bắp chuối, or fragrant banana blossom salad. The menu describes the dish as "fragrant banana blossom salad with tender beef, peanuts and star fruit." The "and star fruit" part made me laugh a bit as there were two very thin slices of star fruit, one of which you can see sadly fallen over to the side in the picture. There were a lot of other ingredients in there, though, so it ended up being okay. Along with the star fruit and beef there were carrots, onions, chilis, mint, peanuts, and a bunch of other ingredients. We have no clue what they all were, but they all tasted really fresh and clean. There was a bit of an odd funk to the salad, though, and neither of us had any clue what it was coming from. It wasn't a bad funk, just an odd one. The flavor of the beef was really nicely balanced, and the texture was perfect. The beef, plus the funk, made this salad taste really good. The only problem is that once you ran out of beef, the rest of the salad didn't hold its own. Thankfully, there was plenty of beef to go around.
On the whole, Pho Cafe was a clean, fresh, and tasty meal for us. While the flavors didn't blow us away because of past experiences with Vietnamese food in the US, it was the perfect set of dishes for a post-flight refresher. The spicy lemonade is something that we would definitely get again as is the banana blossom salad. The summer roll we'd consider, but it's not a definite. For a quick and healthy meal, we would certainly recommend stopping off at one of their several locations for a bite.
This location of Pho Cafe is located in the Westfield Mall in White City, London.