Pho Viet: Streets ahead in Dublin 1
You’ll get cheap-as-chips but very good Asian street food in this northside gem
T here’s a bonfire in my mouth. The flames are licking the sides and the roof and I’m dousing them with Chinese beer as my face turns beetroot and the tips of my ears start to sizzle. If volcanic chillies light your stove you’ll love Pho Viet. An innocuous-looking red slice of one in my salad has resulted in mouth meltdown. When the smouldering subsides I have the clearest sinuses in all of north Dublin.
The Vietnamese restaurant Pho Viet is at the O’Connell Street end of Parnell Street. It’s a small pleasant white space, a bit like a dentist’s waiting room. Our handsome waiter has a brilliant Asian-Dublin accent I could listen to all day. It’s bring-your-own bottle and you’d be hard-pressed to spend a lot of money before pushing back from the table sated and happy.
This will not be in the all-you-can-eat sugar- and MSG-laden buffet manner. The food here is substantial in a different way. Like the Vietnamese pancake I have to start. I assume this will be one of those pancakes like the facecloth-sized ones that come with duck. But no. The Banh Xeo is a hand towel proportion, yellow, eggy and crisp at the edges pancake. Beaten pork strips have been cooked into the pancake so there’s a layer of meat in every few mouthfuls. Tiger prawns are dotted through it along with the watery-crisp crunch of bean sprouts and scallions. There’s a clump of leathery fresh mint and coriander on the side that you can layer into every mouthful just to make you wonder why all salads don’t have these herbs in them as standard. It’s a meal in itself and it costs €7.50.
Liam’s gone for the Goi Cuon, two generous spring rolls of pretty much the same fresh ingredients only this time wrapped in smaller translucent rice pancakes. It’s hard to look at the two sausage-shaped rolls and not think “drug mule” but this is an excellent execution of it with spankingly fresh ingredients. And it costs €4.
You can’t come here and not have the pho, the Vietnamese staple street food, a broth that the French claim is named after their pot-de-feu. The house special Pho Viet Dac Biet (“it’s just like English” the waiter says encouragingly as we try to pronounce the names.) This is like a big bowl of Sunday roast in a soup, with steak, brisket and meatball elements along with noodles floating in the fragrant brown broth. The huge bowl arrives with a plate on top with two smaller containers of what look like ketchup in one and brown sauce in the other. They’re hoi sin and sweet chilli and the waiter encourages you to put them in the soup. The chillies are on the side so you can chose to chuck them in too, if you’re ready to eat fire.
Liam’s But Tom Bo Nuong is a rice noodle dish with nuggets of chewy beef that have had their beefiness ramped up with a soya marinating and good fresh tiger prawns cooked fluffy rather than rubbery.
In hope rather than expectation (after a long history of failing to nail a good one in an Asian restaurant) I order dessert, the Che Thai. It’s a glass of lychees in coconut milk which are nice but topped with green flavourless gelatin shapes, which are not.
But you don’t go to places like Pho Viet for dessert. You go to be bathed in the scented steam from a huge bowl of good broth and slurp down the warm flavours of simple, well-cooked food.
Dinner for two with a €3 corkage on BYOB came to €39.50.