Published on September 14th, 2015 | by Clarissa Waldron0
Caphe Pho, Smithfield
Summary: A standout eatery providing Clerkenwell with Vietnamese vittles and phenomenal Pho
The start of summer saw Bermondsey stalwart Caphe House say farewell to life south of the river after six years and make the journey to the dominion of suited city workers. On setting up in Farringdon’s Smithfield Street, the Vietnamese restaurant changed its name to Caphe Pho in a fitting tribute to its star dish.
And the folks at Caphe Pho are certainly proud purveyors of their homeland’s noodle soup, offering two variations, in an array of filling choices including Tofu and Shitake, and boasting a dedicated preparation time of 12 hours. A sense of pride in what they do is evident at Caphe Pho and at first entry we were impressed with the large, modern space, high ceiling, yellow walls, timber cladding and Vietnamese art.
We arrived while the city slickers were still socialising with gutso in the nearby pubs and were told that the restaurant usually fills up a little later. Our helpful waiter offered to teach us a little about Vietnamese cuisine but with some experience already we picked his brain for recommendations instead.
The Crispy Crepes sounded deliciously intriguing to start, but were beaten at the post by the Seafood Sharing Platter, which was described as “highly popular” with diners. Two variations of prawn cracker were brought to our table while we waited and they were happily munched on while we enjoyed our drinks. For beer, Caphe Pho offers three Vietnamese lagers, one of which, my guest drank effortlessly despite an aversion to lager.
Unusual cocktails are my first port of call and Caphe Pho lists two specialities made with homemade rice spirit. Caphe Spice benefited from Vietnamese mint, sweet basil, lime and cranberry juice. I was surprised and impressed by the mixology skills that were demonstrated here and it’s a shame they haven’t ventured further into the art with more options. The rice spirit does have quite a strong taste though so if you’re looking for something softer, wine, juices and smoothies are also available.
The platter of prawns, soft-shell crab and squid tempura arrived to widened eyes for its spectacular array and impressive presentation. For hungry diners or seafood fanatics its generous sizes makes it a great option. And the tempura is nothing other than perfect – no soggy, oily batter here, at Caphe Pho crispy and fluffy is all the range. The tempura even stays in tact after one bite and doesn’t disintegrate when dipped in the obligatory chilli or hoisin sauce that adorns each table.
The platter was really a high point and had us hankering for more immediately.
For Mains, diners can choose from a good range of options including Vietnamese Salads, Wok Fries and Meat, Fish or Tofu dishes. After much deliberation between the Phos we requested the Traditional Special Pho with Beef Stock and the Coconut Chicken with Jasmine Rice.
Throughout its six years in operation, Caphe Pho estimates that it has sold more than 130,000 bowls of Pho, so to supply demand they switched sites. The Pho that arrived proved that this estimate is probably not far wrong. Aside from my guest going heavy handed on the chillies which our waiter found amusing (fresh chopped chillies arrive with every dish at Caphe Pho – don’t get over excited like we did!), the Pho was a hit.
The portion size is generous while the glass noodles shimmer under the floating prawns tempting diners to dig for more. Chicken, beef and tofu are also found resting at the bottom – prawns are used to the water after all!
On my side of the table the Jasmine rice wasn’t particularly fragrant but still nicely assisted my Coconut Chicken. Admittedly I didn’t find the dish to be strongly impressive overall. It was satisfying but lacking the pizzazz and personality that may be found elsewhere on the menu.
The chicken is dressed in the sauce with some garnish and little else. For variety we were encouraged to order vegetable sides, which we had mistook for full-on Vegetarian dishes after a glance at the price – £8.50 for Choi Sum, Mixed with Tofu, Mushroom and Garlic while in contrast my Spicy Coconut Chicken main cost £7. And yet the main with rice is certainly filling, so extra vegetables are more of a gluttonous addition than a necessity.
As we left, I noted that Caphe Pho was filling up impressively on a Wednesday night in a part of town notoriously known for being quiet at that time. With Vietnamese cuisine considered one of the healthiest in the world, and equally as delicious, I know if I worked in these parts I’d certainly stick around.
Caphe Pho, 12 Smithfield St, EC1A 9LAShare This Post