Canberra’s recent string of sub-zero mornings and only slightly warmer days have made it perfect pho weather. A hot, lightly spiced bowl of steaming broth, beef, rice noodles, bean shoots and chilli can raise your core temperature in a way few other foods can.
There were several strong contenders for this week’s taste off, with Simply Pho in Gungahlin, iPho in Garema Place, My’s at Cooleman Court, Belconnen’s Can Tho, Miss Van’s Street Food at Westside and Pho Hub in Belconnen all receiving multiple votes in our earlier call out.
The top two contenders, however, were Tu Do Vietnamese Restaurant in O’Connor and Pho Phu Quoc in Dickson, which were ahead of the other nominations by a considerable margin.
First up was Tu Do at O’Connor shops. I hadn’t heard of the restaurant until readers suggested it last week, but I’ve since discovered that it has quite a loyal northside following.
For a little suburban restaurant, it was much busier than I had expected for Friday lunch. I ordered the classic rare beef pho to takeaway, which was $12 and came with the broth, rice noodles and fresh ingredients packaged in separate containers. The service was friendly, but most of all it was fast. I was in and out in five minutes, including a dash to the nearby IGA for cash as I didn’t meet the EFTPOS minimum of $25.
I drove to a nearby park, unpacked my ingredients (only burning myself on piping hot broth as I got out of the car once) and enjoyed a little feast for one on the grass. Tu Do’s pho broth was rich and had a depth of flavour that I haven’t encountered in pho before. It also includes whole fresh chilies and a lemon wedge alongside the bean shoots, Thai basil and hot sauce, and while I have no interest in fresh chilli or hot sauce, I know plenty of fire-loving pho fiends who would appreciate the gesture.
Straight afterwards, it was time to try the pho at Pho Phu Quoc, which is five minutes up the road from Tu Do on Cape Street in Dickson. For consistency, I also ordered the rare beef pho to takeaway, which was $11.90.
Pho Phu Quoc is a larger restaurant than Tu Do, but also quite full for a weekday lunchtime. It was clear that the women working in front of house knew several of the diners, which I always take as a good sign.
I placed my order and took a seat at a vacant table while I waited. Ten minutes later, my food arrived, with the broth, noodles and fresh ingredients packaged in separate containers in a similar format to Tu Do’s. No fresh chilli or lemon this time, but plenty of Thai basil, bean shoots and hot sauce.
Appearance-wise, it was almost impossible to tell the two pho dishes apart. Pho Phu Quoc was more liberal with the spices in the broth, so that the flavour of the broth was more fragrant and spice-laden compared to Tu Do’s meatier, richer version.
Both soups were delicious, and it’s easy to see why each restaurant received so many nominations. I don’t pretend to be an expert when it comes to pho – or most other foods – but I do know that the secret to a good pho is the broth.
For me, Tu Do’s meatier, more subtly spiced broth was the winner, but I encourage you to try both and make up your own mind. But before you do, note that Pho Phu Quoc is in the process of moving to new premises just around the corner (still on Cape Street), and will be closed from Tuesday 9 June to Sunday 14 June – so perhaps save that one for next week.