In case you didn’t know, November plays host to World Vegan Month, recognised annually by vegan groups, brands and people worldwide, supported by Animal Aid and The Vegan Society. If you’re not vegan already, this is an ideal opportunity to give this lifestyle a go – whether eating out, cooking or trying out alternative products.
I’ll point out that I am not vegan myself; I was a full vegetarian for seven years throughout my teens but found that my body was craving lean meat, fish and dairy to support my super active lifestyle. Although I like having this flexibility and choice, I still lead a plant-based diet based on plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds. You may have seen vegan-friendly recipes I have created for my blog, plus joint creations with my vegan blogger friend, The Healthy Beard.
Keen to take on a challenge, it was perfect timing to be invited by the Corn Exchange in Manchester to try out vegan offerings at various restaurants housed in the stunning venue. With plenty to get my teeth stuck into, let’s start with the first review.
PHO – VIETNAMESE STREET FOOD
Pho prides itself on offering fresh, healthy, gluten-free food thanks to being inspired by founders Stephen and Juliette Wall’s travels to Vietnam. After opening opening their first street food restaurant in London in 2005, Pho is still a family-run business which has expanded to Brighton, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester, specialising in the Vietnamese national dish as well as other authentic dishes and drinks.
I love the restaurant’s dedication to adapting the food to your personal taste and dietary requirements, particularly its focus on gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan offerings:
Hard to believe we know, but practically every dish* at Pho is accredited by Coeliac UK as gluten free. There’s no food trends here – it’s just the way it is. Wholesome, nutritious, healthy Vietnamese food served up daily across the UK. So if you’re a coeliac you can relax and don’t hold back – it’s gluten-free and good for you.
Plus everything is made fresh on the day and nothing is bought in or pre-packaged which is an extra bonus. For the purpose of this review, James and I had plenty to choose from!
Many of our dishes are low in calories – even the fried ones – and are suitable for vegetarians and those who can’t eat dairy, eggs or gluten.
My favourite option to start with, Gỏi cuốn (Veggie option) are fresh rice paper summer rolls generously stuffed with herbs, vermicelli and colourful, crunchy vegetables served alongside your choice of dipping sauce. James enjoyed the Chả giò crispy spring rolls accompanied by lettuce and herbs to wrap and dip into the deliciously creamy peanut sauce. We both agreed that each was packed with flavour and just the right portion size to whet the appetite ready for the next course.
With many dishes offering meat, fish or vegetarian options (the majority of these suitable for vegans) it was a tough choice but I finally settled on the Tofu & Mushroom Bun Noodles: ‘A fantastically light and healthy way to enjoy noodles; an attack on the senses with contrasting textures, temperatures, colours and flavours’.
I couldn’t have said this better myself; a huge bowl piled high with soft vermicelli noodles (served at room temperature), crispy lettuce, an abundance of fresh herbs, bountiful beansprouts, peanuts and my chosen vegan addition of tofu and mushrooms awaited me. It is recommended to mix everything together to enjoy the full impact of sensory experiences, which together with a drizzle of Sriracha, well and truly brought everything to life. This dish certainly satisfied my comfort food cravings on a chilly night without being uncomfortably filling or stodgy.
Also opting for a vegan meal, James’ choice of Phở nấm rơm, a steaming bowl of rice noodle soup with Enoki, shiitake and button mushrooms, was a bit of a surprise gamechanger. As someone who goes for a meat option 95% of the time and has previously enjoyed the beef brisket Pho, James couldn’t quite believe admitting that he preferred this meat-free option! It was all down to the mushrooms, providing texture and depth but complementing the flavours better. Sadly unable to finish the whole thing, who says you need meat to ‘make’ a meal and feel full?
On the staff’s suggestion we also ordered a salad to share between us; my usual main meal favourite (with chicken – Gỏi gà) but without the meat (Gỏi chay) was just as enjoyable, a crispy and colourful concoction of Asian herbs, peppers and fresh veggies smothered in a chilli ginger dressing. Refreshing, light and with just the right amount of zing to go alongside our meals.
Although both feeling comfortably full (but without the usual bloat or packing in too many calories), our waitress persuaded us to squeeze in dessert; well, it would be rude not to. The vegan-friendly Kem sorbets from La Maison des Sorbets caught our eye, made with over 55% fruit. While James demolished the refreshing, tropical Mango variety I was taking in the incredible flavours of the Strawberry & Fresh Basil variety; closing my eyes and taking me back to summer. James wasn’t keen but I would give this bold combo a definite thumbs up!
A final note on my fragrant Jasmine Flower tea as a final addition to this wonderful evening. Recommended by general manager Rich, as a herbal tea lover I have never experienced watching a flower opening up in hot water to infuse into a strong yet delicate tea – mind blown!
Full, satisfied and embracing our food babies, it’s fair to say Pho really do cater for all tastes and dietary requirements. If you’re a meat lover, why not go for something different and try a meatless dish – you never know, you might almost be a convert.
A huge thank you to the wonderful, attentive and informative staff at Pho for looking after us, offering a fun and relaxed environment to dine in and also Corn Exchange to inviting me to be part of this campaign. Look out for my other posts!