When you think of a Christmas feast, you probably think of a plate loaded with meat as the star of the show, surrounded by mash, roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnips, spouts, stuffing and gravy. Pretty stereotypical, right? Well let me tell you about my latest [gifted, complimentary] trip to Pho in Manchester’s stunning Corn Exchange, where I was invited to try out their not only festive, but VEGAN set menu with my videographer friend, Tori.
Arriving at a table set with crackers, the menu was clearly laid out and showcased some of their most popular vegan dishes from the main menu, with a few extras thrown in. From curries to hearty rice bowls and pho noodle soups, what I was especially pleased to see is that the menu is nearly entirely gluten-free so there really is something for everyone (a separate meat Christmas menu is also available).
If you’re expecting to see some kind of festive fusion on the menu with hints of cranberries, sprouts, orange or whatever else you typically associate with Christmas, then you will be disappointed. Rather, this menu is great for those planning a big work bash or a celebration with friends – Pho style, with dishes to enjoy, share and dig into to make it more of a social thing.
The veggie rice crackers to nibble on were out of stock so instead we jumped straight into our starters: Fresh rice paper rolls with veggies, herbs, vermicelli & pickles for me with peanut sauce, crispy spring rolls for Tori. I’ve had these countless times here and as always, they hit the spot – perfectly wrapped stuffed with a generous amount of filling, and the sauce always has me pretty much licking the bowl clean (sorry!). Tori went ahead with our waiter’s recommendation of eating each roll wrapped up in the lettuce leaf before dipping which although she thought was weird, actually worked well and offered extra texture and taste.
I must admit I was envious when her Vietnamese curry with tofu, mushrooms and nuts served with broken rice arrived; although I was craving a noodle soup, the smells escaping the bowl as it arrived were mindblowing; hints of coconut, spices, garlic, lemongrass wafted around and the bold, vibrant colour looked so appetising and warming. Indeed, Tori nodded in appreciation while digging in, leaving my tofu and button mushroom veggie broth Pho a little to be desired. As much as I love and regularly crave Pho and usually go for the Super or Spicy Green, I felt this was lacking a bit in flavour and taste. Yes, it was warming for a cold day and packed with noodles and chunks of tofu, but there wasn’t much else to it.
This theme was followed across the sharing side dishes – although the garlic was apparent in the stir fried morning glory dish and likewise, the peanut dressing covering the green beans and sugar snaps, they still felt under seasoned and like something was missing. Fresh grated ginger, chopped spring onions, a dash of diced chilli or even a sprinkling of fresh herbs wouldn’t have gone amiss to lift them. I usually love seeing loads of vegetables alongside a main meal and happily tuck in, but in this case they weren’t the most imaginative or tasteful!
Nevertheless, Tori and I both left feeling full (no room for dessert!) and warmed up from the cold outside. It was a nice occasion and great to be back at Pho – the staff are always so friendly and attentive – but it didn’t really blow our socks off to be honest. A good option if there are lots of people who need different dietary requirements in a great venue. The Christmas menu will be available from 25th November – 24th December.