First look: Cebu's Phat Pho comes to Manila
MANILA – Expect to see long lines at Serendra in Taguig starting on Wednesday night as Cebu’s well-loved Vietnamese noodle shop opens.
Phat Pho of the Abaca Group in Cebu has been brought to Manila by The Moment Group, the same company behind restaurants such as ‘Cue, BurgerBar, 8Cuts and Namnam.
Abba Napa, co-founder of The Moment Group, described Phat Pho as “the one we want to bring in to our own backyard.”
“We walked in at Phat Pho and we fell in love with it. It kind of reminded us of the establishments that we want to do,” Napa told ABS-CBNnews.com during the “sneak slurp” of Phat Pho on Tuesday.
“It’s a cool little spot. It’s a cool little noodle joint,” she added. “The food is tasty. It’s real food and the prices are… you can come in here and you won’t break the bank.”
Phat Pho has a very casual feel – inside the restaurant are red bar stools and long narrow wooden tables with chopsticks, soup spoons and a selection of condiments. Diners can have a glimpse of how their food is prepared, with the bar and kitchen just three to five steps away. Some walls and pillars were coated with chalkboard paint, allowing the staff to write menu items, promotions and contact details (“pho-llow us on Facebook,” for instance).
Outside Phat Pho are a few round tables surrounded by red chairs, with the area targeted at those who want more breathing space.
“I think that a noodle shop should be cozy. We like our establishments to have a bit of a vibe. I think that the size of the space really affects the concept, so a noodle shop shouldn’t be bigger than this,” she said, noting that the original Phat Pho restaurant in Banilad, Cebu is even smaller.
The man behind Phat Pho is American chef Jason Hyatt, who has worked in Paris, Mexico, the United States and Hong Kong before moving to Cebu.
“I felt Cebu was lacking a dedicated Vietnamese restaurant and there was a market for what we wanted to do. Easy, fast and clean food served at a counter,” said Hyatt, who has worked for celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.
“Our philosophy is pretty simple. We’re not trying to impress you, and everyone is a VIP regardless of last name. It all comes down to food that is prepared with a bit of love,” he added.
Top notch pho
The menu of Phat Pho may be small and tight like its interiors, but the items here definitely deliver big flavors.
The stars of the show, of course, are the Vietnamese noodle soups or pho, which are available in small and large portions. The pho here is top notch with its fresh ingredients and a very flavorful broth.
Here, diners may choose from five types of pho. The classic Pho Bo is the simplest with only shaved US Angus beef. The Pho Bo Vien has beef broth with Vietnamese meatballs, while Pho Special gets an upgrade with the addition of braised beef and tendon.
The Pho Special is ideal for first-timers who are not into spicy food. The broth is rich but not overpowering, making it light and satisfying.
Those who do not like beef can have the Pho Ga, the restaurant’s take on Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. While all the pho variants are worth a try, the best in my opinion is the spicy Bun Bo Hue with pork knuckle, braised beef and tendon in a pork- and beef-based broth.
Phat Pho’s Bun Bo Hue is a bit on the mild side – the chefs probably considered the fact that most Filipinos are not into spicy food – but the flavors are definitely there. Those who want to add a bit of heat can squirt a little Sriracha sauce on their pho.
“I think Phat Pho really is a nod to traditional Vietnamese cuisine, but it puts its own spin to it. Here, the flavors are brighter. They’re not as delicate, but they truly respect the cuisine,” Napa said.
The rest of the dishes served at Phat Pho also deserve some attention.
The humble satay gets a lift with the use of tender and juicy Angus beef, with the dish generously topped with garlic and shallots. There is also the chicken satay with the same toppings, but are also flavored with five-spice.
The egg rolls are filled with generous amounts of pork and shrimp, noodles and wood ear mushrooms, while the rice paper hand rolls carry the clean flavors of fresh herbs, vegetables, peanuts and meat.
Those who want something sweet and savory may get the Thit Kho Nuoc Dua, or braised pork belly and eggs in coconut milk. The dish is seasoned with black pepper, coriander and fish sauce.
A good pick-me-up is the Saigon Baguette Banh Mi, which has pate, pickled carrots and daikon, shaved cucumber, coriander and shaved ham.
“I think the basic premise of Phat Pho is that it’s a noodle joint where you can have a quick meal. I think the menu is going to stay small and tight but well-balanced,” Napa said.
While it does well on the appetizers and mains, Phat Pho needs to work on its dessert menu, which only has Coconut Cream Puff and Vietnamese coffee. This may be addressed by the restaurant’s “specials,” which Napa said will change regularly depending on customer feedback.
That aside, Phat Pho is a must-visit, pho lover or not.