The Spot: Located on one of Hanoi's shadiest streets, at 37c Phan Dinh Phung, Pho 24 is one branch of a fast growing chain of noodle soup franchises. In Saigon, the distinctive green signage denotes a total of 21 branches, a presence which surely compares with McDonalds' in cities in the States or Downunder. This spot in Vietnam's capital is in amongst some quite chic cafes and boutiques but the real Hanoi is close at hand, in the form of monstrously noisy construction sites all around, a dinky one man photo-copy shop nearby and the archetypal ground level tea and fag seller at the front door.
Space and Atmosphere: Classy, almost minimalist, a far cry from the cluttered detritus of the average family pho show in Hanoi. The front area is partitioned glass serving station, adjacent to which is a counter for five or six punters not unlike a Japanese ramen bar. It's a step through a waste of space courtyard to the main dining area, which seats about 30. Lots of door opening and swishing of hands by the waiting staff, who outnumber the customers, lead me to my table. Shiny, simply designed square black timber tables and stools, white walls, red lanterns, nice paintings of herbs and kitchen utensils.
Shopfront Style: Glassy and green, with a touch of neon.
Sticks, Condiments and Crockery: All white, including the plastic chopsticks. Even the toothpicks are wrapped in trademark stamped white paper. Individual square platters of herbs (Asian basil, saw-leaf coriander), chili, lime, beanshoots and thinly sliced onion make this set up more like southern-style pho than Hanoi pho. One thing that really got my goat was the bloody trademark stamped paper placemat foisted upon me as I sat down. With nothing to weigh it down and half a dozen overhead fans buzzing about the ceiling, I spent my 'order to delivery gap' chasing the friggin' thing around the restaurant.
Serving Station: The cone-of-silence style, the chefs and their preps and pots like monkeys at the zoo.
Meat Generosity: The menu reads like an anatomical run down on the bovine; flanks, brisket, muscle, tendon, fat and tripe all hanging out. In my bowl, there's carefully weighed portions of beef and brisket, probably equivalent to the recommended daily intake for both protein and fat. Pho 24 servings are a precise science, as expected in such a franchise.
Order to Delivery Gap: Enough time for me to run a marathon after my recalcitrant placemat. A tad longer than the industry average.
Stock Factor: When the plate of herbery arrived at the table and armed with the knowledge that Pho 24 started as a Saigon outfit, I was expecting a slightly sweet stock. Not so. I wonder if the ingredients are altered to cater for more purist Hanoi tastes?
Cost: Not surprisingly, the most expensive pho outing in the swoop, ranging between 24,000 and 35,000VND a bowl (USD$1.50 - 2.15, AUD$1.90 - 2.80).
Rank: Four of