[Northenden, Manchester] Mi & Pho

This was something of a lucky find for us. We don’t often come through Northenden but my partner happened to be doing that and, stuck in traffic, glanced over and spotted this Vietnamese restaurant. It’s almost a new cuisine for us, although we’ve had a couple of lunches at the Vnam Café on Oldham Road. There’s a sort of similarity with the two places – very casual, very basic, a young and enthusiastic crew of servers. But I suppose one difference is that at both lunches at the Vnam we’ve been almost the only customers but, even on a cold, wet, midweek December night, Mi & Pho was packed. There’s reasons for that. There’s a decent menu, they serve up hefty portions of very well cooked food, priced very competitively and, with no booze licence, there’s only a small corkage charge if you bring your own.

Starters were absolute belters. Summer rolls looked and tasted like they’d been made to order, rather than sitting in the fridge for hours. There’s four of them - big hefty things, packed with noodles, lettuce, cucumber, herbs and a choice of protein (in this case, king prawns). And a peanut sauce to dip them in. A green papaya salad looked like a Thai Som Tum salad – shredded papaya, carrot, etc with the fragrance of herbs and the zing from lime juice. And whilst there’s a kick from chilli, it’s restrained in its use, unlike the numbing effect you get with the Thai version.

We both went with noodle dishes for main courses – Bun Hanoi is in the northern Vietnamese style whilst Bun Saigon is in the southern style. The latter was the more successful - the noodles topped with a stirfry of beef, onion and pepper, in a little clingy sauce with a background chilli heat. There’s a little salad on the side and another dipping sauce (rice wine vinegar?). The other plate came without any sauce so, apart from the salad and a soy and sesame based dipping sauce, was really just undressed noodles, topped with vegetable spring rolls. Just a boring plate of food, even though the rolls were very nice in themselves.

If I have one criticism it was the fact that every time anyone came in or out, a blast of freezing air came down the restaurant. It wasn’t just us that felt it. Another couple asked for a move. They could do with trying to find a solution.

We’ll be back, with every intention of working our way through the menu over time. The generously filled bowls of pho being carried past us will be high on the list of things to try and we’ll have to go back for lunch as that’s the only time they serve banh mi – the stuffed baguette that I understand is a carryover from the French colonial times.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold