Centre:MK’s new opening – an un’pho’gettable experience!

Posted 28th July 2023

Early on this month, Pulse Magazine’s food writer Emma-Rose was invited down to try out the offerings at The Centre:MK’s new opening – ‘Pho.’

The group of restaurants was founded in 2005 after Stephen and Juliette Wall had travelled to Vietnam and fell in love with the food. They made the decision to open a restaurant serving phở while sat on high stools, slurping pho bo, in Ho Chi Minh City. Now, 18 years later, Pho is small group of restaurants dotted around the country, serving great value, healthy and fresh Vietnamese food. In fact, every product in every dish they serve is made right there on site from ingredients delivered daily. There is no central kitchen – just real cooking, with each dish cooked to order.

If you’re not already aware, phở (pronounced fuh) is a Vietnamese soup that’s made with all of the good stuff: broth, noodles, protein and a variety of mix-and-match toppings. Although nobody is completely sure on the exact origins of the dish, it first became popular in North Vietnam and migrated to the South when the country was divided in 1954.

Phở is somehow both savoury and rich, while still feeling clean and refreshing. In fact, in Vietnam, phở is a popular breakfast, and for good reason: it’s incredibly satisfying and restorative. In Pho restaurants, their namesake soup is famous for its nutritional properties –  the bone broth is simmered for a minimum of 12 hours, extracting all of the goodness and maximising flavour and the fresh herbs and chillies you can add to the bowl yourself bring, not only tonnes of flavour, but their own unique health benefits too. Pho’s main menu is also pretty ethical, with over 40% of their dishes being deliciously plant-based, as well as having an (almost) gluten-free approach, as accredited by Coeliac UK.

The Milton Keynes branch of Pho is situated within a 4,133 square foot space, is able to seat roughly 100 customers and there is plenty of room to sit comfortably. The seating area is very much unlike another popular chain of Asian restaurants in that you don’t have to share a canteen-like table with a plethora of strangers (thankfully, in my opinion!) When I visited, on a seemingly random lunchtime not long after its opening, it was absolutely packed; I was certainly very pleased to have booked.

Our server, Pacey, was instantly attentive and consistently kind and polite throughout our entire visit. I feel like it’s important to note here, that he was unaware that this was a gifted invite, thus we knew his impeccable customer service was the same for all. Our drinks arrived quickly and, although it was a weekday lunchtime, we realised it was 5 o’clock somewhere (!) and opted for two delicious cocktails: a Spicy Lychee Margarita, made with Tequila, fresh lime juice, lychee syrup and Thai chillies (which instantly got a 10/10 from both myself and my Mum!) and a Lemon & Basil Martini, made with traditional Hà Nội vodka, homemade lemonade & Thai basil which was strong, sweet and refreshing.

To begin with, for our món khai vị (starters) we opted for a crowd-pleasing favourite – prawn crackers with sweet chilli – as well as a dish I had already seen plastered on social media that I knew I just had to try – the Gỏi cuốn or Summer rolls with chicken. These fresh rice paper rolls were packed with herbs, vermicelli noodles and pickle and they were just as delicious as they appeared, especially dipped in the nước chấm – a delightfully sweet yet savoury sauce made from a blend of fish sauce, water, sugar, and citrus.

For our mains, we had to go for the national dish of Vietnam and the restaurant’s namesake noodle soup: Phở. Every version of their aromatic, healthy & delicious rice noodle soup is served with either: bun noodles – thin and round vermicelli noodles, or pho noodles – their flatter and wider counterpart, as well as a side plate of fresh herbs and spices to add as you please. The addition of these, alongside the table condiments is an essential part of eating phở & adds another dimension to each dish.

With such a vast selection, it was incredibly hard to choose, but we ultimately decided upon the vegan 3-mushroom curry noodle soup – a marriage of their classic Vietnamese curry & a steaming bowl of noodle soup, which was topped with a fresh herb salad & slices of red chilli. We also opted for one of their hot and spicy soups – the hot and spicy beef brisket (or Bún bò Huế) which was served with a chilli shrimp paste. I would deem both varieties absolute must-tries – which will certainly be hard to sway from on my next visit which will – pho sure! – be soon.

Although we were lucky enough to have our meal gifted, it all would’ve only come to just over £50 for 2, including cocktails – an absolute steal and exceptionally well-priced, considering the freshness and quality of the food. There is no doubt that Pho serves food fast, but it is absolutely not fast food – it’s done right and is a far cry away from other fast-food chain establishments. It’s fair to say I am now a phở ‘pho’natic!

Follow Emma on Instagram: @emmaroseeats