Restaurant review: Pho, Corn Exchange, Manchester

Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe is an award-winning author, editor and publisher from Leeds, now based in Manchester. He runs Dog Horn Publishing and is Director and Writing Coordinator for Young Enigma, a writer development programme for LGBT young people.
Adam Lowe

Pho is a delicious, hearty Vietnamese restaurant based in Manchester’s historic Corn Exchange. It has a laidback cafe atmosphere, with elegant wood fixtures and warm colours.

Its new Christmas menu comes in both vegan and omnivorous versions. Using fresh ingredients and traditional recipes with a twist, this menu offers a tasty and cost effective option for groups curious to try authentic Vietnamese cuisine. A majority of options on the menu are also gluten-free, making this a good choice for a range of dietary restrictions.

We were greeted with a very warm welcome by knowledgeable and polite staff. The menu was explained, and we discussed heat levels. The great thing about Vietnamese cuisine is that the chillis come on the side – so you can make it as hot (or not) as you want. That makes it suitable even for those who don’t like spicy food.

We started off with prawn crackers and vegan rice crackers. These were great for nibbling on while looking over the menu, though do be warned that they’re more filling than they look! We had a slight preference for the vegan option, just because they were denser and had more bite.

We started off with some cocktails. We had a Phojito with Nếp Phú Lộc (clear rice spirit), mint, lime and soda. This was slightly tart, refreshing and not too sweet. It was delicious.

We also tried the rose apple bellini with prosecco and a splash of Táo Mèo (rose apple liquor). This was tasty and fabulous.

Other cocktails on the menu that caught our eye for next time were the Sriracha bloody Mary (with Hà Nội vodka) and the Hà Nội Mule (Hà Nội vodka, fresh apple, ginger, mint and lime).

For starters we had the mực chiên giòn: tender fried baby squid in a very light batter, salt, pepper and zingy lime. These had just the right amount of crispiness to pair with the succulent squid inside. We really enjoyed this started. It’s guaranteed to warm your cockles this Christmas.

We also had the nem nướng: deliciously fragrant pork and lemongrass meatballs, served up with a choice of peanut or nuoc cham dip. We went with the peanut butter sauce, which was velvelty rich and nutty. It complemented the lemongrass and pork flavours well, making this another strong starter.

For our main courses, we tried the phở tái lăn – flash fried steak with garlic, rice noodles and a side plate of fresh herbs to add as you please. This was great because my partner can’t really handle spice any more – so this let him make the soup as hot as he wanted. It was very wholesome and filling, despite being a soup, because of the thick, wobbly noodles.

I had the cà-ri: fragrant Vietnamese chicken curry with veggies and mushrooms, topped with nuts, and served with broken rice. It was creamy, not at all spicy, but packed full of flavour. The nuts gave it a nice crunch and the chicken was tender.

The Christmas menu comes with sides of wok-fried Chinese leaf in soy sauce, cold green beans and sugar snaps in peanut dressing, and a magnificent stir-fried morning glory in garlic. These are shared between the whole table, but there’s more than enough for everyone.

For dessert, we had green tea kem: rich, creamy ice cream. Fans of matcha will love this, although you could also try the honey and ginger (next on our list) or the macapuno coconut. All the ice creams are made with whole milk and double cream, making them really luxurious.

We also had kem sorbet (made with over 55% fruit): a scoop each of mango and strawberry with basil. The mango was really refreshing and makes a good palate cleanser. The strawberry with basil was the best, however – it was a really unique combination of flavours and stood out for its simplicity.

Pho stands out for its friendly atmosphere, excellent prices and high quality food – which feels fresh, light and healthy. Its location in the Corn Exchange is perfect – the light from the domed glass roof spills down and makes the whole place feel airy and fresh in the courtyard seating area, while the inside is cosier and warmer.

The Christmas menu is for bookings of five or more diners. Two courses is priced £14.95 and three courses is priced £18.95.

To make a booking, visit phocafe.co.uk / email: hellopho@phocafe.co.uk / telephone: 01614 649 779

Unit 15, The Corn Exchange, 37 Hanging Ditch, Manchester M4 3TR

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