I have been meaning to call at Pho – pronounced Fuh – for quite some time now, but I always seem to get diverted.  

Because of other stuff I had to do in this part of Leeds, today seemed the perfect time to put on my blinkers and call in. I have eaten here before but it was in the dim and distant past before I began writing reviews so, as I had enjoyed my first visit, I hoped that it had not changed very much. I need not have worried; the place looked exactly the same right down to the broad smile which greets you when you order.  

Pho, the restaurant, is one of the original permanent occupants of Trinity Kitchen and has obviously got something right as it still attracts queues of people to sample its wares. Pho, the dish, is Vietnamese Noodle Soup and, as you would expect, is their speciality. There are lots of other South-East Asian street dishes on offer, such as Pho Xao, Com Tam and Bun, and don’t worry if you are not familiar with the names as the menu contains descriptions of what they are and the ingredients used. There is a selection of Starters and Small Plates should you fancy a tapas-style experience, and Vietnamese Salads by way of contrast.  

The idea, as with most of the other permanent eateries in Trinity Kitchen, is that you order at the counter where you are given a pager which illuminates and vibrates when your meal is ready to collect. I like this system as it suggests that the food is cooked to order and not ladled out of a bain-marie where it has lain for some time. Although you can take any meal from any outlet and eat it anywhere in the communal seating area, Pho is designed to suggest that the food be eaten in its confines and that is what seemed to happen, with everyone chomping on noodles and rice with only the odd burger or taco in evidence.  

I took my place in the queue and ordered a starter of Tender Fried Baby Squid with a salt, pepper and lime dip at £5.75, and a Pho from the House Specials section, the King Prawn and Steak Special containing king prawns, chicken and flash fried steak with garlic in beef broth for £8.95.  To save queuing twice I ordered them both at the same time, which was no problem as the Pho was very hot even by the time I got around to eating it, so it must have been nuclear when it was dished up. From the range of soft and alcoholic drinks, I chose a freshly squeezed Apple, mint and lime juice with the optional ginger (£2.95). Yes, you did read that correctly – there were beers and wines available but I had juice. I must go for a lie down later.  

As I have discovered in the past, dining alone at one of the communal tables can be a bit of a problem if they are busy as, when you get back from collecting your food, someone else has snaffled your seat, but fortunately it wasn’t too crowded when I went and a lovely couple seated nearby offered to keep my place for me. On my return, I set about eating my food.  

Both of the dishes I had ordered involved a bit of culinary effort on my part. The salt, pepper and lime dip for the squid needed to be mixed in a small plastic pot. This is a great idea as the pepper part was red chillies, so you can make it as hot or not as you like. I squeezed the lime over the salt and chillies and began to tuck in. There was also a sprig of coriander to take or leave as you wish. The squid was perfectly cooked and very tender, with its batter being crisp yet melting in the mouth. The added umph of the dip was not really needed but I had a few dunks amongst the ones I ate au naturel.  

The Pho itself, although clear, was bursting with flavour but even this could be enhanced by the addition of extra herbs provided in a paper tray to add, or not, as you like. There were the ubiquitous red chillies, lime, bamboo shoots, mint, coriander and galangal, all of which I ripped apart to release the flavours and added. The steak was superb, being tender but not so much so that it disintegrated when I tried to bite it, as were the prawns, which were huge and perfectly done. The chicken did fall apart on eating, but it was no bad thing. There is a danger in soups and stews containing different meats that they all take on the same taste when cooked together, but this was not the case here.  The prawns were as fishy as you would expect but that flavour had not permeated the meats, with the chicken especially tasting as it should and not being there as just another texture.

The juice was a perfect complement to the food, with the oriental hint of ginger and lime to link it to the dishes, whilst being supremely refreshing, thanks to the apple and lime again.  

It has to be said that this is not the cheapest two-course street food lunch in Leeds, but my goodness it was worth every penny, and far better than a conventional Vietnamese restaurant I recently reviewed, but the Pho was ample in itself without the starter. The setting of Trinity Kitchen also helps create the atmosphere of a busy street and long, communal dining tables make it easy to strike up a conversation with your fellow diners, although sometimes that might not always be an advantage.  Just ask the couple who saved my seat!

Article first published by Leeds Living on 26th April, 2019


Viet Guy

This is the first time I’ve ever written this in a review and I certainly hope that it’ll be the last:  I advise you either not to visit this restaurant, or to do so with caution.

It wasn’t so much the food which was responsible for the nasty taste in my mouth which accompanied me throughout the rest of the day, it was more the dubious way of doing business. I’ll come to that later but I’ll begin with the food.

I had an early afternoon appointment in Lower Briggate and so it seemed like a good time to try Viet Guy, a Vietnamese Street Food restaurant which I have been meaning to review for quite some time, having read decent things about it. There was a sign on the window advertising their ‘Lunch Special Menu – Set 1: (Starter and Main £9.50)  Set 2: Main Only £8.00. We do from Monday to Friday. Many thanks’ so in I went. I was shown to my table by a very pleasant young man and presented with a menu and another card, highlighting the week’s special. I asked if this was the appropriate menu for the lunch special and I was assured it was. The weekly special looked really good but I thought that it wasn’t appropriate to order it as it wouldn’t be available should you decide to go.

From the Starters section, I ordered Cha Nem – ‘Crispy spring rolls filled with mushrooms, carrots, onions and glass noodles. Served with lettuce, mint, coriander and Vietnamese dipping sauce. (3 Rolls)’. There were two choices of filling and I went for Crab and Chicken. For the main course I asked for Bun Sai Gon South Vietnamese Style which was described as ‘Stir fried marinated meat with onions, lemongrass, chilli and beansprouts served with vermicelli noodles, mixed salad, pickled vegetables, crispy shallots and crushed peanuts’. There were four options of ‘fillings’ and I chose the Roast Duck.

A waitress came and took my order which I again confirmed was part of the lunch deal. She asked if I would like the starter and main to be served at the same time or one after the other. I said I would have them in whichever way was traditional. I also asked for a Vietnamese lemonade with ice at £3.00. This was delivered and was excellent – it was nice and sharp tasting rather than being sweet, so just the thing to go with a meal.

A short time later the starter and main were delivered together. The spring rolls were absolutely delicious with a look and texture more reminiscent of fried bread rather than the smooth Chinese version. The filling was finely chopped and so there was no separation of individual flavours; just the overall melange. I tested the dipping sauce, which I found to be subtle bordering on bland but it was fine as the rolls were not strong of taste and could easily have been overpowered by something laden with chillies. The salad was similarly fragrant and subtle. I enjoyed them very much.

All photographs by Stan Graham

I must make mention of the condiments on offer because if you like a bit more of a kick, there was a range of options in Hoisin Sauce, Hot Chilli Sauce, Soy Sauce, a homemade mix of raw sliced garlic and fresh chillies and finally a jar containing what looked like chilli jam but was far more the former than the latter and had a heck of a belt.

Having munched my way through two of the rolls I decided to make a start on the main dish. Again the dipping sauce which came on the plate was very mild to complement the fresh taste of the salad and noodles. The few small pieces of duck had not been highly flavoured either, so again a good fit. One thing I did notice was that some of the noodles were stone cold, whereas others were red hot, a very strange sensation, and I wondered if there had been a topping up job done in the kitchen. After finishing the last roll I gave the noodles some spicy heat by adding some of the chilli jam and mixing it in well to disperse the effect.  This worked very well and improved the dish no end insofar as my palate was concerned. The taste of the pickles and salad did not suffer and I did like the addition of peanuts. They did suffer a little when I put a couple of slices of the garlic and chilli on my plate to try, as the aftertaste of the bulb remained with me for the rest of the day. At least it meant that no one sat next to me on the bus home.

I am not normally a dessert kind of chap but I do love ice cream when served with something hot. I even have a really good vanilla ice cream with my Christmas pudding reheated on Boxing Day. Not only was the ice cream on the menu served with something hot, it was also supposed to be hot itself, being Kem Chien/Fried Ice Cream ‘Vanilla flavour ice cream is carefully crafted inside around crushed cover with a sprinkled of condensed milk and sprinkled with peanut’ (sic) £3.00. I once had fried ice cream in that centre of epicurean excellence which is Dowagiac, Michigan, and it was great. Sadly, the concoction with which I was presented fell far short of my expectations. It was again stone cold. The thin coating was reminiscent of doughnut pastry and although not thick was very stodgy. I did bring up the temperature of the dessert when paying the bill and was told that it should indeed have been hot, or at least warm.

Speaking of paying the bill, this is where the problem lay. Despite asking three times about the lunch deal, I was presented with a bill for the full amount for the dishes on the menu. I was told by the waiter who originally gave me the menu that the duck dish was not part of the deal. I questioned this as neither he nor the waitress had told me of any exceptions.  He called the waitress over and she just stood there whilst I reiterated that she had not told me that the deal was limited to certain items. I would have been happy to believe that there may have been a problem with the language barrier but the waiter and waitress both spoke good English, the woman having what I detected to be a North American accent. Despite my protestations I was told that this was the bill and it must be paid. Instead of the anticipated total of £15.50 I had to cough up £20.00. A note on the bill said ‘Service Not Included’.  You can say that again!  Needless to say, it remained not included. I cannot emphasise enough that even after asking two people a total of three times, neither of them told me of any exceptions – and nowhere on either the notice on the window or the printed menu which I was given, was it stated that this was the case.  Here’s the menu.

When I reached home I consulted the on-line menu and there is no mention of any exception to the lunch deal. It does say that the restaurant is under new management. Might I suggest that there is an urgent training need to be addressed by the new boss because, aside from the overcharging, not once was the word ’Sorry’ used by either of the waiting staff.

I write my reviews to assist anyone working in Leeds or visiting our great City and I have made much of this incident so that none of the former group for whom money might be at a premium just now wastes any, and none of the second section goes back to their home town saying what rip-off merchants Leeds people are.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 16th February, 2019