So Pho So Good!

By Aghna Javed
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So Pho So Good!

So Pho is not only about Pho, the popular Vietnamese street food of noodle soup. As limiting as its name may sound, this casual restaurant in the basement of Paragon Mall on Orchard Road offers a variety of Vietnamese dishes, wide enough to immerse you in a culinary visit to the country. Best of all – it’s a Halal-certified establishment!

The café-style restaurant is a bustling, brightly-lit affair, with somewhat tight seating arrangement. It is rather packed at meal times and even otherwise, hence it is advisable to go early to avoid queuing. Staged in neutral colors of white and black with oak-colored furnishing, it is livened up with splashes of color. Casual writing on the walls bring character to the restaurant, and celebrate the fresh ingredients used in the preparation of its dishes. White lanterns adorn the ceilings, providing a bright ambience in which active friendly staff rushes about with orders for their waiting tables. The clatter of dishes and authentic aroma of Asian spices add to the already lively atmosphere.

It is worth a mention that the food came rather quickly after ordering. We started our meal with 2 appetizers: Gỏi xoài trớn Bò nướng (Beef Mango Salad) and Khai vị tổng hợp (Rolls Platter). The Gỏi xoài is a grilled beef and mango salad. Delectable indeed, with none of the red meat smell or after-taste that many of us dread. The spicy tender grilled beef pair up nicely with the soft sweet mango chunks, with a beautiful garnish of coriander leaves and crunchy peanuts. You simply cannot get enough of the sweet and spicy blend of the mixture of juices expelled from the beef and mango with red chili flakes heightening its irresistibility. This dish is worth visiting the restaurant again for.

The Khai vi is a platter of rolls, sampling two of each: Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Spring Rolls, and Prawn Cakes. The Summer rolls, which look like sushi rolls, were scrumptious. These are essentially soft, pliable rice paper sheets wrapped around fresh herbs and vegetables (lettuce, cilantro, cucumber, celery, carrots) and further plumped up with rice and meat (lemon-grass chicken and prawn). A big bite of one of these leaves you with a mouthful of goodness, your tongue rolls with the various textures in the filling.

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The Spring Rolls are your regular crispy fried rolls with tightly-packed minced chicken and julienne veggie stuffing. These were good, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The Prawn Cakes were average, a little dense and cakey for my liking. The doughy-ness, sadly, took some magic out of the distinct shrimp-and-herb flavour. Interestingly, they were speared onto sugar cane sticks, which we only discovered upon re-reading the menu. If you give these a try, do chew into the sticks as well which we ignorantly left aside and let us know how it goes with the prawn cake ball.

Moving on to mains … the Phở Bò, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, a few herbs, and beef (Bò) slices wasn’t as promising as we had expected. This staple food of the Vietnamese is normally consumed at any mealtime and is a relatively simple comfort dish. Disappointingly, the beef slices were chewy and not well done at all. It may be a light, healthy dish but not really an enticing one. It is also available with other options like beef meatballs or chicken.

The Bún Chả Giò Gà Nướng is grilled lemongrass chicken on a bed of vermicelli noodles, served with fried spring rolls and a salad. The spring rolls are the same as the ones that came in the appetizer platter and go well with the Bún Chả. The chicken was flavorful with the zesty aroma of lemongrass. The noodles were tossed with a lively sauce giving the dish a robust taste. The fresh salad of lettuce, carrots, cabbage, cucumber and the fistful of ground peanuts sprinkled on top as garnish added a good crunch. The Bún Chả is a definite thumbs-up, and it was super filling as well.

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Cơm Chiên Chay is vegetarian fried rice served with lotus leaves that impart a wonderfully fresh fragrance, heightening the taste. It is also available in beef and seafood options; our vegetarian choice was delicious with fresh herbs, tofu and colorful vegetables like carrots, cabbage and bell pepper. The rice was bright yellow, well done and aromatic, sprinkled with sesame seeds. Overall it both looked and tasted beautiful.

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So Pho’s menu also hosts a wide range of beverages, all whisked up out of fresh ingredients that are perfect for the tropical climate of Singapore. We tried the Tamarind Cooler and the Lychee Mint Freeze. Aren’t their names just enough to get you excited?

The Tamarind Cooler was rather intriguing. The first sip sends your taste buds into a frenzy; the sweet and the sour fighting with each other until they settle to leave a lingering flavour in your mouth. As you have more, you acquire its taste. There are bits of crushed peanuts floating in the vintage glass mug it is served in, which work perfectly to subdue the piquant tamarind flavor as you bite into them with every sip.

The Lychee Mint Freeze is equally invigorating and an absolute thirst-quencher. It’s sweet from the Lychee, aromatic from the Mint and super cool thanks to the Artic freezing temperature it is served in. All in all, another big thumbs-up.

The dessert menu is rather limited, with just 2 options. We wouldn’t recommend the Mango Rice Pudding, which was presented nicely as white, yellow and green layers showing through the glass cup, but which didn’t satisfy us much. The rice was soft and sticky, flavored with gula melaka and coconut milk and topped with sesame seeds. But the entire dish was a bit too glutinous so we picked on the mangoes to satisfy our sweet tooth. We might have rated this better if the rice had been warm, perhaps.

Verdict

So Pho is your typical in-mall restaurant that offers authentic Vietnamese food made from fresh ingredients. The food is good, colorful and wholesome; the décor simple and the atmosphere lively; it’s like having hawker style food in an air-conditioned mall environment. If you are looking for quiet privacy, you won’t have it here. If you are craving vibrant Asian spices and flavors, you will. So Pho also has decent customer service, and quick serving time. Though our dishes were served up a bit haphazardly with the mains arriving before the appetizers, we found it reasonable to give them the benefit of doubt as we may have caught them on an exceptionally busy day, and this may not be the norm. Enjoy all of the above, but head off to neighbouring eateries for dessert.

We recommend the Gỏi xoài trớn Bò nướng (beef mango salad), Summer Rolls, Bún Chả Giò Gà Nướng (lemongrass chicken with noodles), and Cơm Chiên Chay (vegetarian fried rice).

We visited the Paragon branch, but So Pho has outlets in Jem (Jurong), NEX (Serangoon), and Tampines Mall (Tampines).

Address: Paragon, 290 Orchard Road #B1-20, Singapore 238859, (Multiple Branches)

Opening Hours: Daily 11:00 am to 10:00 pm

Phone: +65 62350414

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About Aghna Javed

Aghna Javed is a proud product of a simple gadget-free bachpan, mum's food, places she travelled to, the three boys in her life (yes, counting her hubby in too), books she has read, and everything else that life throws at her. Previously having worked at P&G, she is now a budding entrepreneur bringing interactive marketing campaigns to life in Singapore. Amongst her many aspirations in life, Aghna indulges in her childhood hobby of writing through FUCHSIA, volunteers with Singapore Red Cross, and simultaneously works on improving her Mandarin-speaking skills. Read more about Aghna in contributing writers.