Pho and more as new Vietnamese eateries open

Think of Vietnamese cuisine, and pho - the humble beef noodle soup - will probably be one of the first things that come to mind.

It is on the menus of a new wave of Vietnamese restaurants that have opened in the past five months.

Some of these new places also have the word "pho" in their names, such as Pho Pho Vietnamese Cuisine in Telok Ayer Street, Mrs Pho in Beach Road and Pho Hanh Delights in Joo Chiat.

But just because they leverage on the recognisable dish does not mean that pho is the only thing they serve. In fact, the restaurant owners are quick to highlight that there is a lot more to Vietnamese cuisine than rice noodles in beef broth, and they are banking on diners who are game to try something different.

Chef-owner Jeff Koh, 28, of 2 1/2-month-old Moc Quan in UE Square, says: "There's more to Vietnamese food than pho. We want diners to be open to trying other dishes that they may end up liking too. If Vietnamese diners here request dishes from their hometown that are not on the menu, I'll be happy to cook it for them."

He runs the restaurant with his 24-year-old Vietnamese wife Nga Nguyen, having spent three years in Ho Chi Minh City learning the ropes from street vendors.

Ingredients for the dishes, as well as the vintage furniture in the restaurant, come from Vietnam. To make the baguettes for his banh mi, he shipped in special ovens that spritz water during the baking process, to ensure the baguettes are moist and soft, while maintaining a crispy crust.

Mrs Pho's owners also hope to bring Vietnam closer to Singaporeans. The cosy restaurant interiors are reminiscent of eating in the streets of Vietnam, complete with industrial lamps and cables criss-crossing the ceiling. The signature conical Vietnamese hat and motorcycle helmets adorn the shelves, along with packets of food products that owners Darien Tan, 37, and Australian-Vietnamese Hoang Ha, 35, hope to retail soon.

Mr Ha says: "We wanted the place to reflect Vietnam as much as possible. We considered doing just pho, but in Singapore, people want to try many different things. So we offer monthly specials to introduce new dishes. If the dishes are well-received, we can include them in the menu."

Ms Nguyen Thi Hanh, 33, who used to run a hawker stall called Vietnam Food Hanh Delights at Telok Blangah Food Centre, now has an expanded menu in her restaurant, Pho Hanh Delights.

Her husband Leong Neo, 44, says: "At the stall, we could sell only about eight dishes. Now we can do about 60 dishes and are continuing to add more."

He notes that 75 per cent of the restaurant's customers are Singaporeans and wants more diners to appreciate the cuisine's robust flavours.

The recent slew of openings add to the Vietnamese restaurants which opened just over a year ago, including Tam Anh at Chinatown Point, Pho 4 All and Hanoi Restaurant in 100AM mall.

After opening Hanoi Restaurant in May last year, owner Jenny Mac now has four Little Hanoi outlets in foodcourts at Shaw Centre and Westgate.

Vietnamese franchise Wrap & Roll, which serves various types of spring rolls, started without pho on the menu but manager Jacinta Lee added the dish three months ago in response to diner request.

The Les Amis Group's NamNam Noodle Bar, which paved the way for trendy pho shops two years ago, is also still expanding. Its fifth outlet opens at Resorts World Sentosa tomorrow. The group also opened a new Vietnamese restaurant called Comnam last month at Raffles City Shopping Centre, a nod to a growing appreciation for other Vietnamese dishes such as broken rice.

Diners such as social media coordinator Apurva Prasanna, 25, says she is game to break her habit of eating pho fortnightly.

She says: "I usually stick to beef or chicken pho because I like it, along with an appetiser of spring rolls. But I enjoy the flavours and spices used in Vietnamese food, so I am open to trying more. Once, on a whim, I tried a seafood noodle soup with a rich seafood broth, loads of beansprouts, coriander and vegetables. It was awesome and there's so much more to try."

euniceq@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on September 14, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

Moc Quan

What: Tuck into homey Vietnamese food at Moc Quan (say "kuan"), which means simple restaurant in Vietnamese. The 2 1/2-month-old eatery is run by local chef-owner Jeff Koh, who lived in Ho Chi Minh City for three years and learnt to cook from street vendors. Besides the familiar pho (from $8.50), the menu features dishes such as Ngheu Chem Chep Hap Xa ($12), which are clams and mussels cooked in a sweet and spicy lemongrass broth; banh canh cua ($9.90), thick rice noodles in crab and pork broth served with fresh crab meat; and canh cha ca thi la, homemade fish glue cooked in starfruit and dill broth ($7). The baguettes for the banh mi (from $5.50) are baked fresh daily and chef Koh hopes to start a banh mi cart to sell the sandwiches for takeaway soon. The restaurant closes occasionally, when he goes to Vietnam to source for ingredients. Customers can check the restaurant's Facebook page for updates.

Where: UE Square Shopping Mall, 81 Clemenceau Avenue, 01-23, open: 10am to 9pm daily

Info: Go to www.facebook.com/pages/Moc-Quan/650215378386398

Pho 4 All

What: For halal Vietnamese food, head to the 50-seat Pho 4 All. The restaurant's simple menu features dishes such as Pho Bo Tai Nam ($8), beef noodle soup with half-cooked steak and beef brisket; and Pho Ga ($7.50), which is chicken pho.

Side dishes include grilled chicken on lemongrass skewers ($7 for three pieces) and spring rolls with minced chicken and mixed vegetables ($7 for five pieces).

Where: 7 Jalan Pisang, open: 11am to 7.30pm, Monday to Saturday, closed on Sunday

Info: Call 6294-0703

Pho Hanh Delights

What: Previously a hawker stall at Telok Blangah Food Centre called Vietnam Food Hanh Delights and selling about eight items, it is now a restaurant with a menu of 60 dishes.

Seafood items include grilled scallops with onion ($8 or $10), fried cockles with tamarind ($6) and sweet sour fish hotpot ($22 or $34).

Noodle dishes include rice noodles with prawn roll and grilled pork ($7), crab rice noodle soup ($10) and pho ($6).

Where: 189 Joo Chiat Road, open: 11 to 2am daily

Info: Call 9118-8752

Mrs Pho

What: Mrs Pho features comfort Vietnamese cuisine. The five-month-old outlet's menu features appetisers such as Hanoi meat balls ($3), cockles stir-fried with garlic and lard ($6.50), and fried pork spring roll ($3). Mains include pho ($7.90), assam seafood noodles ($8.90) and rice with pork chop, Vietnamese ham and fried egg ($7).

For drinks, try the Saigon salty lemonade ($2), herbal tea ($2) and Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk ($3).

The shelves are stocked with traditional Vietnamese hats, as well as boxes of prawn crackers and noodles - all of which will be available for sale soon.

Where: 349 Beach Road, open: 11am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday, closed on Sunday

Info: Call 6292-0018 or go to www.mrspho.com

Pho Pho Vietnamese Cuisine

What: This modern Vietnamese restaurant has an extensive menu, with dishes such as cold vermicelli with deep fried prawn rolls ($14); spicy pork and prawns ($12) served with pickles and white rice; and Pho Beef Combination ($14.90), with slices of beef and beef balls, plus offal such as tendon and tripe.

Where: 123 Telok Ayer Street, open: 11am to 10pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday

Info: Call 6534-9741

Pho Pho Vietnamese Cuisine

What: This modern Vietnamese restaurant has an extensive menu, with dishes such as cold vermicelli with deep fried prawn rolls ($14); spicy pork and prawns ($12) served with pickles and white rice; and Pho Beef Combination ($14.90), with slices of beef and beef balls, plus offal such as tendon and tripe.

Where: 123 Telok Ayer Street, open: 11am to 10pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday

Info: Call 6534-9741

Tam Anh

What: Pick from a selection of noodle dishes ranging from pho (from $8.90) to crab cake vermicelli ($12.90) to dry beef noodles ($10.90) with prawns and a spicy sauce.

Other highlights include BBQ chicken broken rice ($7.90) and desserts such as milk pudding with lychee syrup and almonds ($3.90) and mashed green bean with coconut milk ($3.90).

Where: Chinatown Point, 133 New Bridge Road, B1-33, open: 10am to 10pm (Monday to Saturday), 10am to 9.30pm (Sunday)

Info: Call 6444-3579 or go to www.tamanhnoodleshouse.sg

SERVICES