You're gathered outside the office at closing time with some work colleagues. The leader of the pack, thinking it's his social cue, addresses the group with, "So, what do you guys feel like having?" and, without thinking, the beta male promptly responds, "How about Vietnamese?". Silence ensues as beta male tries to recall the hard-to-pronounce names of random Vietnamese restaurants he drove past that morning.
When it comes to suggesting a Vietnamese restaurant, it's easy for anyone to mumble under their breath about knowing of one, considering it's not hard to look around the corner of any busy street, anywhere, and bob's-your-uncle, whoop, there it is! However, it's something else altogether, to name a really good Vietnamese restaurant that's tried and true.
Pho An is a busy hubbub of a dining venue that's regularly backed up to the door in customers and is quite famous within the Australian Vietnamese community and to those possessing of extremely discerning taste-buds for phở or pho (which is the quintessential, national Vietnamese beef noodle soup dish, pronounced 'fuh?', with a question mark).
The restaurant itself is a very large establishment, bright and orderly and attended by a loud and jostling atmosphere, while the décor spells minimalism and uniformity. The chairs are stiff-backed and some are fixed, which, for little people, can feel like a football yard away from the table.
Before you stroll into Pho An with the belief that "one of the best restaurant pho", a phrase universally bantered about when describing Pho An, somehow equates to the award-winning service of a cabin crew of Asiana Airlines, you may as well mentally send a 'cease and desist' order to your misplaced expectations.
Bowl of Vietnamese rare beef noodle soup (pho) at Pho An
Two words sum up the service of Pho An: 'clinical efficiency'. It's all about assisting the customer to eat, pay and get out, in quick succession. The wait staff carry about their roles with the military precision of army ants: as soon as you walk through the automatic doors, you're sized up and head-counted, given seating of the most practical and logistical arrangement and duly assigned a waiter to hover over you to take your orders, whether or not you're ready, with a digital menu device, holstered menacingly at the hip. For some, it's considered great, fast service but for others, it's pretty, well, disconcerting.
Pho An's menu is as succinct and to the point as its wait staff: it consists of just pho. You can have your pho in all manner of beef or chicken (they are both equally delicious with the chicken being a great adaptation of the usually beef pho variety), but at the end of the day, it has to be narrowed down to either a big bowl ($13) or a small bowl ($12). The one dollar separation makes for an incredible size difference, however.
Size matters: A large bowl of pho beef combination with tripe, tendon and brisket and a small bowl of rare beef pho
The soup is a clear, heady brown mass, with each spoonful bringing about a rich mouth feel to the taste, signalling a base of wholesome broth or stock that's full of body and flavour you're not likely to forget. Efficiency and precision do make for consistency, which is one of the reasons why you never feel disappointed by the quality of your meal as it tastes exactly as how you remember you had it last.
Next time you're put to the task of naming a good Vietnamese/pho joint in Sydney, Pho An is the safest bet: it's authentic food, large servings, fair prices and, a plus for many diners, notoriously efficient and light-year speed in service.
The moments before tucking into a heady bowl of pho