Bite-sized Summary: Vietnamese food holds a very special place in my heart. From bánh xèo to Bún bò Huế and Vietnamese iced coffee that gives me the caffeine jitters (worth it!), to me, this is comfort food at its finest. I Love Pho is an excellent option in the lower North Shore of Sydney, and if you’re not from this side of town? They cater too!
The interior of I Love Pho is more refined and elegant than your run of the mill Vietnamese restaurant — likely to appeal to its lower North Shore locality. With dim lighting throughout, the walls are decorated with bamboo poles, traditional Vietnamese nón lá (conical farmer’s hats) and artistic black and white photos of rice paddy fields. We are greeted by the restaurant manager Khanh, who is extremely friendly and welcoming.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee ($5.50)
I’m not a coffee drinker at all…unless it’s the Vietnamese kind, in that case, I’ll have it strong. Traditionally made using medium-coarsely ground coffee beans with a metal drip filter, I Love Pho’s version was robust in flavour with a frothy top and a delicious sweetness from the condensed milk.
Steamed Bao Bun with Crispy Eggplant ($11 for 2 pcs)
To start, steamed bao buns stuffed with a choice of crispy pork or eggplant, with black pepper sauce and pickled vegetables. The battered and fried eggplant was delicious and crispy together with the salty, rich black pepper sauce, however, the bao bun was unfortunately not fluffy and pillow-soft as I expected. A tasty starter, which would have been elevated tenfold with a freshly steamed bao bun.
Bánh Xèo ($16.60)
Bánh xèo is a Vietnamese dish which I don’t eat very often these days but reminds me a lot of my childhood! Perhaps I’ve had one too many that were bland in flavour or floury with a thick batter that I tend not to order it. Literally translating to ‘sizzling pancake’, bánh xèo is a savoury Vietnamese crepe made from rice flour, water or coconut milk and tumeric, which gives it it’s signature bright yellow colour. Typically stuffed with bean sprouts, pork and prawns, we opt for these more traditional fillings as opposed to the tofu and vegetables or BBQ duck options available at I Love Pho.
The best way to eat this dish is by rolling it up in lettuce or mustard greens (like a spring roll) and dipping it into the fish sauce based nước chấm. At I Love Pho, the greens that came alongside the bánh xèo were a little too small for this purpose, and the pancake itself was very crispy throughout, which also made it difficult to roll up. In spite of this, it had a delicious, aromatic flavour, which when eaten together with the juicy, plump prawns and slivers of finely cut pork definitely brought back some childhood memories of this dish.
Vegetarian Spring Roll & Tofu Vermicelli Salad ($16.90)
Today, we opted for a vegetarian option with spring rolls and crispy tofu on top of warm vermicelli noodles with Vietnamese mint, shredded lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, crushed roasted peanuts, crispy shallots and fish sauce. Fresh, flavoursome and filling but never heavy, this is one of the reasons why a vermicelli bowl (bún) is one of my go-to meals. As a simple dish, it’s often the ratios of ingredients and most importantly the dressing/sauce that really takes it to the next level — I Love Pho’s version was a delicious balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
Bún bò Huế ($14.90)
Finally, one of my all-time favourite Vietnamese dishes — Bún bò Huế, i.e. Pho’s hotter (spicier) cousin, let’s call her BBH. Nowhere near as mainstream as pho, I always jump to order BBH whenever I see it on the menu. So, what’s the difference? The two are intrinsically similar, however, BBH is made with both beef and pork bones, whereas pho is made with only beef. While pho broth is seasoned with spices like star anise and cinnamon, BBH is full of lemongrass, annatto, shrimp paste and of course, fiery red chilli oil. Finally, pho is loaded with flat, rice noodles, whereas BBH noodles are round, similar to spaghetti. Both are finished slices of beef (amongst other bits and pieces if you’re in the right place) and lots of fresh herbs.
I guess what I’m trying to convey is that BBH should not taste like pho! Unfortunately, I’ve tried lots of BBH in Sydney, which think they can get away with putting some chilli oil on pho and call it BBH. I can honestly say, however, that I Love Pho does a great BBH — Piping hot broth full of bright, lemongrass flavour and a good kick of chilli = happy me!
An excellent little Vietnamese restaurant in Sydney’s lower north shore, which I can imagine is the perfect go-to for many locals in the area. Their knowledge and understanding of balanced flavours as the cornerstone of Vietnamese cuisine was excellent, as was their kind and friendly service. The highlight for me was definitely the Bún bò Huế, which I would not hesitate to return for when next in the area!
Thank you Khanh & I Love Pho! Eats with Marie dined as a guest of I Love Pho and Ompty Media. All opinions, comments and photos are 100% honest and my own.
I Love Pho Restaurant
47 Willoughby Rd, Crows Nest NSW 2065
(02) 8065 1129
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