Update - Pho Bac has closed down. It has been replaced by Kimchi, Korean restaurant.
When I heard a Vietnamese restaurant was opening in Cardiff, I was able to cross off one of the entries on my rather short Cardiff food wish list (Remaining priorities include a proper BBQ joint, a Burger place in the style of In-N-Out and an authentic Mexican restaurant).
I’ve eaten plenty of Vietnamese food in my time from some of their best exponents in the East end of London including Cay Tre and VietGrill. In spite of this, with great food consumption doesn’t come great food knowledge. I know the things I love about Vietnamese food; the light, herby, fragrant flavour combinations. But equally I’m not entirely sure what a definitive version of Pho or Banh mi should taste like. So you’ll have to bear with me.
The rather pleasant downstairs dining room of Pho Bac was rammed at 9pm on Saturday evening so we were shown to the slightly more cramped, cobbled together upstairs dining room. Slightly rubbish Asian Karaoke muzak played softly in the background and I remember humming along to Lionel Richie’s Hello whilst waiting for the bill. It was fine but basic. Downstairs is definitely the better room.
|The nicer downstairs dining room|
Thankfully the menus and Hanoi beers were brought quickly and the fun process of choosing food could begin. For those who are pretty clueless about the intricacies of Vietnamese food (that includes me) the menu rather helpfully includes a photo along with a description of each dish. I persuaded Mrs G that 3 starters would have to be ordered so that there would be sufficient food to review.
Summer Rolls (£5.00) - I’ve eaten my fair share of summer rolls and if I was ever to go on a diet (unlikely) I think this is the kind of thing I’d live on. Rice noodle rolls were packed with vermicelli, roast pork, prawns, coriander and mint. Served with a peanut dipping sauce, they were very good but the outer casing was a little chewier than some of the best I’ve eaten.
Ribs with Tamarind sauce (£5.00) - A mound of ribs served in a sweet, sticky and spicy tamarind sauce. The ribs were darn fine; the meat was crisp and tender. My only issue was the ribs were light on meat and I had to be careful to not bite through the rather soft bone with each meat-searching mouthful.
Deep fried dumplings (£5.00) – Did exactly what they said on the tin. Crisp little parcels of pork and prawn mince served with a fruity dipping sauce; very moreish and very enjoyable but nothing out of the ordinary.
Chicken with ginger and lemongrass (£7.50) – Mrs G won on the main course front. Tender chicken thigh and leg fell of the bone into an intensely chickeny gravy fragranced perfectly with ginger and lemongrass. I could have licked the bowl clean. It was served with perfectly cooked rice and lightly pickled vegetables.
Bun thit nuong with grilled beef (£8.50) - Spicy, citrusy, nutty grilled beef was accompanied by vermicelli noodles, a salad of lettuce and cucumber and a bowl of light sauce to pour over everything. The contrast of textures, flavours and temperatures was lovely. I could imagine this would be the perfect food to eat for lunch on an oppressively humid day in Vietnam. However on a frosty winter’s evening I think I could have chosen better.
With the bill of £35 paid we headed off to town for a few drinks. Pho Bac is a very, very welcome addition to Cardiff’s rapidly improving bevy of dining out options. If you’re reading this review a few years down the line hopefully my eating out wish list will be complete and you’re munching on a taco or pulled pork sandwich.
Pho Bac, 72 Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff
Telephone 029 2034 4320