It’s long been believed that there’s restorative properties in chicken soup; indeed it’s true, recent scientific research has validated what mothers have known for centuries. Whenever I’m cold, fluey or just a bit run down, the first thing I want to pick me up is a hot, steaming bowl of stock, with soft meat and crisp veg to hug me and sort me out.
Unfortunately central Manchester’s not blessed with the type of small Jewish deli where chicken noodle soup is dolled out to deal with everything from a broken heart to a bad case of man flu; but what we do have is I Am Pho, a Vietnamese restuarant/cafe repleat with large bowls of savoury warming soup noodles. And believe me Pho is as good of a cure as chicken soup for anything, even hangovers!
I Am Pho is the only Vietnamese place in Manchester’s bustling and vibrant Chinatown; as you have guessed from the name they do a roaring trade in Pho (pronounced fuh), the traditional Vietnamese soup noodle dish. They also crack out a good deal of other Vietnamese specialities including those beautifully translucent summer rolls, the French colonial mishmash sandwich Ban Mi and plenty of other noodle and rice concoctions.
But we were there for the Pho. On a drizzly, wintery Manchester night, three of us walked down the steps to the stark white, but surprisingly warm and full, basement unit that is I Am Pho. The clientele a mix of large groups and couples all chattering away avidly over steaming dishes, vividly lit up with mounds of angry red chillies and bright green herbs.
We all wanted a warm hug to compensate for the weather outside (and my streaming cold) and ten minutes later ours arrived. Three large bowls (one beef, one chicken, one tofu) accompanied by a dish piled high with beansprouts, coriander, mint, chillies and lime were placed in front of us and for a barely perceivable second we all paused, lost in the aromatic fug that had encircled our table.
I’d gone for classic beef pho with beef stock – the stock itself was lighter than that found at Café Vnam (the other place to go in Manchester if you’re a fan of traditional and very well executed Vietnamese cuisine); not as richly dense or savoury, but still with a good deep saltiness, the warmth of the star anise and cinnamon adding sweetness and rounding the layers of the dish out. Whereas the broth at I Am Pho isn’t as decadently rich as that at Café Vnam, the beef they serve on top is definitely better. Rarer and softer than Vnam’s, it’s obvious this is better quality meat and the portion size is much more decent.
I Am Pho is tiled white, with silver accents from the tables and chairs – sounds pretty stark, but the rich fog of scented steam that surrounds each table, coupled with the chattering customers and the fact you’re safely ensconced in a basement, makes I Am Pho a great place to shelter from the Manchester weather. Put that together with really friendly service, great food and the fact that it’s smack bang in the centre of town, makes it my go-to place for cold curing/heart fixing respite.
Ps I Am Pho is equally as great for meat eaters as well as veggies/vegans – we went with a vegan (yeah I know, what was I thinking?) and as long as you make them aware, they will use a vegetable based stock with no fish sauce added. Bonus.
Price for three mains – £23.85
Food – 8/10
Atmosphere – 9/10
Service – 9/10
Value for money – 8/10
Total – 34/40
Go again – Yes!! Instead of demanding my mother travels up from Wales with a batch of homemade chicken noodle soup, I can now pop along here before the sniffles have even started to come on. Plus it’s even good when I’m not ill!