Thursday, 13 February 2014

Review: Pho Cafe, Trinity Kitchen

Last week's Trinity Kitchen round up focussed on the food vans which embrace us in a brief, adrenaline fuelled fling before leaving us again - exotic sailors on shore leave; rock stars swaggering into town for one night of their world tour; Danny Zucho at the beach at the start of Grease.

As exciting and brilliant as they are, and I must stress that the current crop are fantastic - to pretend Trinity Kitchen lives and dies by the appeal of these mysterious strangers would be unfair on the restaurants who are there all the time; consistent, reliable, and there for us when the cowboys ride their converted School-buses and Transit vans into the sunset, back to that London or wherever they're from.

Today I'll be reviewing Pho.

Likely to be the first thing you notice as you enter Trinity Kitchen is Pho - an island consisting of little more but a large, open plan kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work.  The menu specialises in Vietnamese street food such as soups, salads and noodles, and the fact that Pho's de facto seating area consists of cantina-style long benches and bar stools suggests you're here for a good time, not a long time.  We pitched up at one of the benches, and went to enquire about some of the menu items.

At the counter we got a briefing of the menu from Justina, who was very thorough, despite the jarring distraction of a DJ/Drummer ensemble not too far from the counter.  Being big fans of Thai food we had a pretty decent point of reference for most of the dishes, and went for a combination of the familiar, and things that we wouldn't feel guilty about eating during our week of repenting for the weekends multitude of sins.

Noticing one of the workers throwing fruit into a juicing machine we decided to try a couple of fresh juices as well, to really trick ourselves into thinking we were detoxing: Super Green Juice (£2.95) containing Kale, Pineapple, Apple and (I think) Mint, and Apple, Beetroot & Carrot (£2.95) - No prizes for working out what went into them.  The super juice was the winner of the two, it somehow tasted really creamy, and not at all like cooked kale.

After just a few minutes our buzzer started jittering around the table and I went to retrieve them.  For starter we shared Vegetable Spring Rolls (£4.75) and Pork and Lemongrass Meatballs (£4.95).  The spring rolls were bigger than expected which seemed a bit daunting if you're used to takeaway spring rolls filled with anonymous stodge, but these were really pleasantly light; wrapped in rice paper rather than pastry (So gluten free as well as lower in calories) they contained a mix of vegetables, glass noodles and herbs.
The meatballs were rich and well seasoned; each one a couple of mouthfuls in size, they were lightly crispy on the outside with a firm texture inside, similar to a Thai fish-cake.  Four spring rolls and five meatballs were 274 calories and 323 calories, respectively (Although these figures don't include the incredible peanut dipping sauce that accompanied them)
For the main course I went for the Pho Xao, or Wok Fried Noodles with Tender Beef (£6.95).  The noodles were cooked perfectly with a nice bite to them, and the generous amount of beef which really was tender flavourful - it could have easily taken center stage in a roast dinner, never mind being hidden away among a forest of noodles.  I checked the nutritional info because I'm like that, and was impressed to see it just shy of 400 calories.
The other half had Ca-ri: Vietnamese Curry with Tiger Prawn (£8.95) which was similar to a Thai curry in the sense that it had a fragrant balance of herbs to compliment the heat of the chilli, but thicker and it seemed richer.  It was served with a dome of rice on the side so you could add as much or as little as you liked, with the whole dish amounting to just over 700 calories.
As well as our mains, we shared a Goi ngo sen, which I would never attempt to pronounce, preferring to pussy out and use the menu number "8", or the informal Tangy Lotus Stem Salad (£4.95).
This was pure vegetables and protein, with shredded chicken and butterflied tiger prawns strewn over a bed of Green beans, carrots, and the titular lotus stems.  The salad provided a nice fresh palate-cleanser between chopstick-fuls of our mains, with a faint peppery taste similar to raw celery.  Being nothing but vegetables and white meat, the whole dish only added just under 200 calories to our grand total.
Overall we were both really impressed with the meal, we knew we would be as we'd been a few times before and loved it, but I had no idea that it was all so healthy.  Definitely a place I'll be going back to.

Pho on Urbanspoon