The Spot: Not far south of Hoan Kiem Lake, this is French Quarter pho in one of Hanoi's main gridlines, Hai Ba Trung St, almost opposite Tran Tien Plaza, a shopping centre which not so long ago was a place where the truly wealthy shopped and the rest came to marvel at the escalators and the airconditioning. Now, all around there are electrical goods outlets selling TVs bigger than drive-in movie screens and stereos which can be turned up loud enough to drown out Hanoi's ambient noise - no mean feat! The Spotted Cow (now Jo Jo's) used to be next door and Hanoi Cinematheque is up a lane over the road.
Space and Atmosphere: On a rainy day, it's all ramshackle plastic sheets, blue and orange tarps and corporate beach umbrellas strung over the pavement keeping the patrons dry. Everyone's thankful for the rain and there's definitely a smiley warm fuzzy interaction thing happening between the servers and the slurpers. Weird. Nice weird!
Shopfront Style: It's a typical rustic Hanoi street scene with the scratched up ochre walls and ancient green doorways leading away to dark mysterious places where scarey toothless grannies squat and even rats fear to tread.
Sticks, Condiments and Crockery: A touch of innovation is in evidence here in the form of large custom-made metal tubs holding the sticks, on the top rim of which a little baby tub has been welded to hold the toothpicks. I wonder if they've got a patent on that one? Standard on all other fronts, including the floral china from China.
Serving Station: Noodles are dunked and separated in the light of day before disappearing into the dimness of a dark corridor where all the prepping of meat and clipping of spring onions is done. Portions are arranged and the bowl re-appears for the final, vital step: a ladle and a bit of the stock floats the ingredients and delivery is imminent.
Meat Generosity: A flattened cake of cowflesh hit hard with a cleaver sits centre of my bowl slowly losing its rawness and pinkness with the heat of the soup. It's large.
Service to Delivery Gap: The rain has slowed trade and the staff are at their best. I'm still settling into a position on my stool under my beach umbrella pulling my feet out of the weather when the product is set down steaming in front of me. Prompt.
Stock Factor: It's a warming shot of comfort that matches the kind of day it is perfectly.
Cost: 50,000VND (USD$2.80, AUD$3.45) or so for two bowls with tea and quay donuts. Slightly on the high side of the average.
Rank: "For me, it is the best pho in Hanoi," said the comment from Chi, whom I must thank for the recommendation. More recommendations most welcome!