Here’s a nice way to defrost from winter’s stubborn chill – head to the Bar Pho pop-up that’s currently on at Surry Hills.
Once you enter the courtyard hosting this street-stall eatery, your attention is vividly intercepted by a three-part harmony of spice, smoke and stock. There’s a pho station in one corner, with slithery rice noodles ready to be plunged into a broth that’s been simmering with bones, cassia bark, black cardamom and star anise for 18 hours. Further down is a simple charcoal grill, surrounded by brick and metal buckets, and home to a rotation of pork skewers that’s toasting the air with its ashy-sweet, rich fragrance. Nearby is a Bia Hoi keg of beer, a local brew created especially by Young Henrys.
The Bar Pho pop-up is the latest outpost for Tina Do, who very effectively makes us all feel like lazy-asses when looking at her back-to-back weekend schedule of market appearances. On Saturdays, her venture is serving Vietnamese noodle soup to stall visitors at both Bondi (where she originally started) and Eveleigh sites; her pop-up means she’s doing triple duty – in Surry Hills, Bar Pho is open from 4-8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and midday to 8pm on Sundays. She borrows the Foundry cafe’s outdoor setting, giving it a long-distance makeover, and turning into an Asian street stall with crates, make-shift tables, Vietnamese signage and a pho-customising station.
The menu is compact, with the signature Pho Bo ($8 for small, $12 for large), crafted from a recipe by Tina’s mother, and completed with rings of onion, strips of grass-fed beef, and a spiced stock that Will says is satisfyingly layered and flavour-laced, but surprisingly light, too. Vegetarians can rejoice, because there’s a Pho Chay ($8 for small, $12 for large), with an aromatic soup that draws its essence from the spice rack (star anise, cinnamon, etc), shiitake and other mushrooms, and a medley of seasonal vegetables. There may have been too much rejoicing on Sunday, because this vego option was sold out three hours after Bar Pho opened that day. As a consolation prize, Tina did kindly create a good back-up dish for me: a bowl of vermicelli noodles, enoki mushrooms, pickled vegetables, fresh mint, garnished with a crunchy jackpot of crushed nuts, dried fried garlic and onion, and all coated in a zingy, citrussy dressing. It was so lovely I went in for seconds and Tina’s even considering putting it on the menu.
You can also give in to that sweetly charred aroma that’s coaxing you to order the Thit Nuong – the barbecue sesame pork skewers that, once extracted from the smoky grill, are served with rice noodles and fresh mint ($15) or straight-down-to-business just plain and clustered in a bucket ($18). And as Will discovered, you will have no problem (gratefully) demolishing a whole bucket of these – so there’s no need to overanalyse whether you can handle the portion size. And there’s Com Tam, too ($15), that familiar Vietnamese staple of barbecue lemongrass pork chop, teamed with homemade pickles, broken rice and omelette.
Tina is a Surry Hills local and she started Bar Pho (at the Bondi Farmers Markets), because she thought there was a lack of good Vietnamese food in her area. The stalls and the pop-up are a testing ground for a restaurant and it would be brilliant for Bar Pho to score a permanent home one day. This pop-up is only around for the next five or so weekends, though, so relish the DIY fun of this street-food set-up while it’s here – especially the joy of plucking fresh herbs, squeezing lime, baptising with chilli sauce and tweezing the right amount of bean sprouts into your noodle soup. Steam clouds of pho are good company on a winter’s day.