Pho Ta menu is picture perfect

You can choose mouth-numbing heat or a milder version of Vietnamese noodle soup in Temple Bar

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Pho Ta

  • 6 Cope St, Temple Bar
  • (01) 6718671
  • Thai/South-East Asian

It’s ironic when we reach for phones before forks these days that menus with pictures of the food are still deemed slightly naff. They smack of tourist restaurants and grunting “gimme that” toddler-style while pointing. “So unsophisticated,” we sniff, uploading another snap of the soup.

The menu in Pho Ta in Dublin’s Temple Bar is a wipe-clean spiral-bound Argos catalogue production with pictures of everything including some fluorescent ice creams and a full-page tribute to the creme caramel. So far so dated. But bear with me.

This small Vietnamese restaurant sits in the shadow of the Central Bank in one of the older buildings in Temple Bar. It opened in February and has large windows through which you can watch the tourists and teenagers who make up the bulk of the passers-by.

There are just 14 chairs in the ground-floor space which is as wipe-clean as the menu with dark floor, timber furniture and an entrance way with bamboo cane etching on the glass. They can seat a further 40 people upstairs, the lovely waiter has told my friends, who’ve already ordered a couple of starters and a bottle of wine.

One of them has noticed the tiny writing in the side of the pictures that states (in legal disclaimer style) that the pictures are merely representative of the food. This is true. Because the food is like a beautiful friend who never takes a good photograph: much more appealing in the flesh.

Outside it’s another typical day in our stop-start spring, sunny but with a wind that could skin an eel. So it’s nice to feel some heat even if it’s just the mouth-scorching kind from a Vietnamese chilli sauce. The version here looks like a watery tomato sauce but is, Jeanne assures us, as effective as a dentist’s anaesthetic.

You can chose numb gums or experience nothing hotter than the hand drier here as it’s all up to the diner. The volcanic chilli sauce is in a china pot on the table and dishes come with side plates of freshly-chopped chillis so you can set the temperature anywhere from gentle to ferocious.

The other themes in the meal are clean raw or lightly cooked vegetables. There’s a plate of sweetly crisp Banh Tom, patties of deep-fried king prawn pancake with prawns studded into the mix and shredded beef rolled with spring onions and basil into glutinous white rice pastry in a dish called Pho Cuon Bo. The finishing flourish of toasted peanuts scattered over these rolls adds a lovely warm crunch to the dish. Both starter plates come with a fish sauce (“it’s not fishy,” the waiter reassures) with floating red chillis, ginger and carrot slices.

We try two of the Phos, the traditional noodle soup thought to have been named after the French pot-au-feu. I feel that familiar feeling of my last pho experience: eating a bowl that never empties. I’ve ordered the chicken, which I fear isn’t as good as the beef.

The white chicken meat is a little too industrially-sliced for my liking. But the noodles and spring onions and the broth itself are tasty. The better rice noodles come with stewed beef, thick chunks of tasty meat. The third main is Pho Xao Tom, a sauteed noodle and king prawn dish. It comes as a huge plate of clumps of noodles cooked rosti-potato style with fried crunch added to the soft noodles. There’s a separate plate of sweet broccoli chunks and king prawns. We get large clumps of large almost-leathery coriander leaves and fiery Thai basil that add another note of freshness to the pho. There are clumps of bean sprouts and as many red chillis as we dare.

My dessert maintains my unbroken record of bad desserts in ethnic restaurants. It’s a glass of thick yellow sweet bean curd, jelly strips the colour of crème de menthe, and coconut milk. But across the table a yoghurt coffee is delicious, like an Italian affogato only healthier. They also offer house yoghurt which sounds appealing. Another odd experience is a glass of Aloe Vera juice which tastes like liquid Haribo jellies.

So ignore the pho-tas (sorry) Pho Ta serves good hearty food, making it worth a visit, if not a snap.

Lunch for three with a bottle of wine and a coffee came to €83.99.

THE VERDICT: 7/10 Great Vietnamese food in a friendly place
Pho Ta, 6 Cope St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, tel: 01-671 8671
Facilities: Downstairs in a musty basement
Music: Best described as elevator or 1970s porn,d depending on your viewpoint
Food provenance: None
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: Good

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