Wednesday 3 February 2016

For the love of Pho: Vietnamese chain has gone gluten free!

Let's face it - Asian cuisines can be tricky for coeliacs at the best of times. Not only is there often a language barrier, but all of the bottles of sauce seem sinister and there's the risk of the dreaded soy sauce lurking around every corner.

So many choices, what to have? 
Vietnamese has been a safe as a bet as Thai as it is largely a rice based culture. But it's still hard to communicate and be certain that dishes are 100% gluten free. 

For a few years now I have enjoyed eating the broth based rice noodle soups at the small chain restaurant "Pho", as the staff were well trained and it was gluten free if you had it without the crispy shallots. Equally the chicken salad could be altered to be gluten free. I never ventured into the fried section until it was pointed out to me that the crispy squid was indeed gluten free, but I worried about cross contamination with other glutenous fried items.

Lest we not forget the original and
eponymous Pho
Imagine my sheer joy then at the fact that this week Pho’s entire savoury menu has gone gluten free! With a few small changes and help from Coeliac UK they have ditched the regular soy sauce for a gluten version, making all of the Wok dishes okay for cross contamination. They made all of their desserts gluten free, apart from one, the chocolate slab, which is prepared in a separate section to ensure no cross-contamination issues. They took the hoisin sauce off of the tables with the other sauces, as it is the only one with gluten in it (you now have to specifically ask for it if you want it, and staff are advised to mention that it is not gluten free.)

What joys come of these small changes to us coeliacs! All of a sudden there are no questions to ask staff, no amends to orders that you have to double check got through to the kitchen, no fraction of worry. Order whatever you like! Fried pork spring rolls? YES PLEASE. Crispy squid? Oh hello calamari’s asian cousin, nice to meet you.

Crispy pork spring rolls,
drool inducingly delicious
This fried squid kicks
calamari's ass
If you want to talk about health, the food is really light and you can even see all of the calories online, should you wish to. So what I’m saying is, it’s diet friendly yeah? So NO EXCUSES. Wonderful! The prices are really reasonable too, with all of the dishes under £10.

I thoroughly enjoyed delving into parts of the menu where I had never dared to go before - wok fried noodles for one, curry for the other. I must say Vietnamese prawn curry = my new favourite curry (though I still have love for you dear Thai and Indian). It is a delicious subtle peanut-ty affair, delicately spiced and fragrant.

Prawn summer rolls, classic and healthy

Wok fried noodles and the
awesome prawn curry
And for the many who also suffer from dairy intolerance - you are well served here too. The majority of the food is naturally dairy free. Hell, there are even dairy-free-gluten-free-vegetarian options for when you want to eat out with the dairy-free-gluten-free-vegetarian in your life. Really, everyone is a winner, but not more so than your taste buds, which will be delighted by the fresh and zingy flavours of southeast asia’s finest foods.

Currently Pho's 18 restaurants are in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cambridge and 
Brighton. But with food this fantastic and such a relaxed and fun but grown up atmosphere, I have a sneaking suspicion there will be one near you soon!

Gluten Free Knowledge: ★★★★
Gluten Free Range: ★★★
Taste: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★

Verdict: I now have no excuse not to eat delicious crispy squid at least once a week. This will be your new favourite go-to place.

Banana fritters! With honey
and ginger ice cream.