The Spot: Not far from the 'horrorfare' Kim Ma St, where the road toll is on a giant scoreboard and there is traffic chaos all around. Juxtaposed in a quiet dead-end street (Van Phuc) behind the very secure Japanese Embassy and staff compound in amongst a row of cafes.
Space and Atmosphere: It's a long and narrow space with so many fans, industrial and household, that windy is the prevailing atmosphere - just not sure which direction it's coming from nor how I'll position myself for the eating of the noodles. A bit like the America's Cup! The staff are the most productive I've seen in a pho joint in Hanoi, actually looking for things to do: tables to wipe, bowls to clear, napkins to retrieve from the floor, even smiles to administer to patrons. No slackers or sour-pusses allowed on the payroll. Tables are numbered 1-20. I'm being blown about at table 3. Capacity to seat about 80. Paint is peeling of the walls in a kind of arty-farty abstract way.
Shopfront Style: The 'o' in pho has been fashioned into a steamy soup bowl for signage purposes, where red is the predominant colour. Shop frontage is standard for Hanoi with construction and/or renovation occurring on both sides. The backdrop is a functional Soviet-style apartment block with shonky illegal add-ons showcasing Saturday morning's washing and some dubious plumbing arrangements.
Serving Station: Set out front, up off the pavement, the stand-out features of this operation are the two enormous pots, big enough to simmer small children in. It's a logical assembly line starting inside with the dunking and separating of noodles, the portioning of bird flesh and herbs and then the flourish of the ladle in the sunlight at the end.
Sticks, Condiments and Crockery: My overwhelmingly favourite item on the table are the plastic spoons in the red sauce and garlic infused vinegar, like cocktail stirrers but with handles which terminate in the heads of cartoon pigs. Bowls are plain white, sticks straight, eating ends clearly denoted.
Meat Generosity: Large thick slices of countryside bird (ga ta) are plentiful on the surface and below. This place is used to foreigners: not a hint of skin, gristle, cartilage, bone nor beak or comb in my bowl.
Service to Delivery Gap: As 9am is like midday in Vietnam, the breakfast rush is well and truly over and the bowl is delivered pronto with a smile, by a boy wearing a black T-shirt coloured with androgynous Chinese pop-stars.
Stock Factor: The flavour is testament to the serious two-pot process going on out front. Tasty.
Cost: 18,000VND (USD94c, AUD$1.10)
Rank: I would like to remove this category from the Hanoi Pho Swoop...over time, the judge has been corrupted!