Monday, 29 October 2007

You say fo, I say fuh, let's call the whole thing off.

It seems you can get pretty much anything for lunch in London nowadays. A new wave of sleekly branded restaurants is popping up purveying everything from hummus to falafels to burritos to risotto. It's certainly a far cry from Spud-U-Like.

Faced with all this exciting choice, the humble sandwich seems a bit dull. When it turns up at the ACLS (Annual Congress of Lunchtime Solutions), Cheese Sandwich has an early night while Hummus, Falafel, and Well Dressed Salad go partying in Brighton.

"He ain't hanging with us, he ain't got no trendily designed logo, dope colour palette, or disarmingly conversational tone of voice."

"Yeah, and David Schwimmer don't like him either!"

For some reason, and don't ask me what it is, lunchtime comestibles have terrible grammar.

Rightly or wrongly, sandwiches just seem so outdated. I mean why put filling between two slices of Sunpride when you can wrap it in a tortilla? Sliced white is soooooo last century.

Why buy a tray of sushi when you can pick-and-mix what you want and select individual portions which have been wrapped in their own cellophane by a japanese robot? That's so, er, wasteful! But hey, it's done by a FRIGGIN' ROBOT and that's just cool AS...

When I was working at Naked on St John St, a new Vietnamese joint opened up down the road specialising in their national soup dish, Pho. Cunningly named Pho and with, yes, a sleek logo and trendy interior, it lured me in on a wintery lunchtime when my buddy Mat was visiting from Sydney. Since forever I have been a guzzler of won ton noodle soup but the steaming bowl of Pho I tasted that day made every won ton soup I had eaten taste like dishwater. The depth of flavour in the stock was unbelievable, and enhanced by the herbs I added along the way. It was rich, hearty, aromatic and meaty. It was the beginning of a love affair.

The love affair continued when I went to work in Shoreditch, a stone's throw away from Old Street and Kingsland Road's authentic Vietnamese restaurants. My colleagues Dermot and Paul were true aficionados of Vietnamese cuisine and took me to try out different restaurants in the area. They opened my eyes to Banh Xeo at Song Que, the most delicate crispy pancakes filled with chicken, beansprouts and shrimp. And at Cay Tre I found a Chicken Pho that matched the one I first sampled in Clerkenwell. For the next year it would be my weekly lunchtime treat.

Last week I decided on an experiment to see how many lunches I could make out of a medium sized chicken (answer=9). I naturally had to have a crack at making an authentic Pho from the stock and it turned out pretty fine. The mere addition of some ginger, star anise and cinnamon took a basic chicken stock to another level, and after adding mint,coriander, chilli, noodles, chicken and a splash of hoisin sauce to finish the dish, I could have been back in Shoreditch again. And if you're wondering about the title of this post, Pho is pronounced "fuh" not "fo".

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