My dinner companion and I venture to Southsea on a warm Sunday evening. He has already been a customer at Bubble and Pho and is excited to introduce me to it.
I am a little sceptical at first. From the outside the eatery is unassuming, with a simple orange and white colour scheme that does not scream fine dining or traditional Vietnamese fare.
But upon entering I can tell this is a popular place as most of the tables are occupied. We show ourselves to a table because it’s an order-at-the-till situation. My friend instantly goes for a menu, explaining what the different dishes are.
Unlike him I have never been to Vietnam or tried any of the food. However, I have travelled across other parts of Asia and the set-up at Bubble and Pho reminds me of some of the street stalls and cafes I experienced along the way – with simple plastic tables and chairs, laminated menus and cheap prices.
My companion advises me that I must try the pho – pronounced ‘fuh’ – a type of noodle broth, which is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine.
It comes in small and large but he recommends I go small. I order tofu pho, which I cannot believe is only £5.50.
It arrives quickly and I am grateful I didn’t opt for large.
The broth is piping hot and there is a generous helping of fried tofu as well as vegetables and rice noodles inside. I am given fresh lemon and chillies to add if I want, which I do. The pho is very tasty with strong, clear flavours and really refreshing.
My companion has chosen something similar – the spicy bun hue (pronounced without the ‘h’). This is also a broth but, as the name suggests, it is spicier. Although he is not vegetarian he opts for the tofu version (£5.50) but there are also beef, chicken, pork and seafood varieties. He comments that it is the best hue he has had outside of its homeland – surely there can be no better review?
Impressed by the value for money we order two side dishes, despite the fact the mains are enough to fill us up. Again I let my friend take the lead based on his experience and he selects vegetarian spring rolls (£4 for three) and vegetarian summer rolls (£3.80 for four).
The spring rolls are similar to what you might get in a Thai or Chinese restaurant, although I would argue that they are less oily and the vegetables on the inside are crispier. They come with sweet chilli sauce for dipping.
For me the star of the show is the summer rolls. They are wrapped in see-through rice paper with tofu, rice noodles, carrot, lettuce and fresh mint inside. The mint gives it a unique taste.
There are no desserts on the menu. Instead you are encouraged to try bubble tea (£3.30) to accompany your meal. This is the fun part of the evening. You choose either a milk tea or fruit flavour as your base – I go for lemon – and either black or green tea leaves.
Then you pick the flavour of the bubbles, which are fruity. Also known as pearls, they are little pockets of flavour that you drink up through your straw and they burst in your mouth.
There are also several other meals on the menu to choose from.
Bubble and Pho offers rice dishes, salads, stir fried noodles and baguettes. Even though I didn’t try these, I can vouch that they are almost certainly delicious and made with fresh ingredients.
All this and you walk away with plenty of change in your pocket.
Bubble and Pho – (023) 9229 1749
Ratings (out of five)