With travel to Vietnam and the infamous Halong Bay becoming more and more frequent, it’s no surprise that the returning travelers may find themselves craving for some authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Thankfully, Pho 101 has emerged to provide a solution. This Vietnamese restaurant serves authentic Vietnamese and Japanese food with one focus – to ensure that diners have an excellent time, whilst indulging in healthy, mouth-watering cuisine.
Having visited on a Friday afternoon, we were fortunate enough to find availability in their cozy courtyard. We indulged in some freshly made Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad, which gave us a chance to relax and peruse the menu, whilst taking in our cozy surroundings. This exquisite dish was the perfect palate cleanser – a refreshing mixture of shredded green papaya, carrot and apple, combined with fresh mint and basil leaf, further topped with crispy fried shallots and roasted peanuts, and served with a sweet and tangy dressing.
This Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad was the perfect companion to accompany the Vietnamese Prawn Cake. As an avid admirer of shrimp, this is one of my favorite dishes of all time and I was stoked when this beauty arrived at our table. Accompanied with a spicy chili relish, each of these prawn cakes were crispy on the outside, whilst maintaining the softness and the succulence on the inside. I have always been a big fan of sugarcane as well, so it was a lovely surprise to discover that the shrimp mixture was wrapped around a sugarcane stick, prior to the final cooking. The crispy and spicy flavors of the shrimp, coriander and green onions merged excellently with the sweet taste of the sugarcane.
At this point, our starters started arriving. First up was the conventional Vietnamese Fresh Spring Roll. This dish needs no introduction – this is a classic Vietnamese favorite. In my humble opinion, fresh Vietnamese spring rolls can be ranked based on three things: their softness, freshness and flavor. This dish had all three elements present and ticked off all the right boxes. The flavorful combination of rice noodles, green onion and coriander, coupled with the scrumptious taste of fresh tiger shrimp rolled within the soft rice wrappers, is tasty as well as healthy. It was also served on a bed of lettuce and accompanied by a gorgeous peanut dipping sauce. These rolls disappeared within minutes!
We had also decided to try another popular Vietnamese delicacy – the traditional Vietnamese Steamed Roll with Mushroom and Shrimp. This is different from the fresh Vietnamese, making more use of cooked ingredients encased in softer and thicker rice flour rolls. The first bite yielded a wonderful surprise of the exquisite filling – the earthy and satisfying taste of minced black mushroom and shrimp. It was, furthermore, served on a bed of fried shallots, which added a satisfying crunch and brought about an interesting taste element.
These rolls disappeared from the table in minutes! Apart from the taste and flavor, I could also happily devour them whilst being secure in the knowledge that I was consuming healthy food which would actually have a positive effect on my body. Mushrooms are richly infused with inherent vitamins and minerals, and the rolls were nutritious, as opposed to being unhealthy, because they were steamed instead of being deep fried.
We were now ready for our main courses. First up was the tantalizing Octopus and Squid Sizzler. This peaked my curiosity as soon as I was hit with the sizzling fumes as the sauce was poured over the red hot plate, and the accompanying crisp, searing sounds as the octopus and squid were rolled in the hot plate with the accompanying sauce. The octopus and squid had already been marinated and prepared, but the final product emerges once the sauce hits the sizzling plate. The taste of seared and roasted squid is something of a delight – and this was made even better with the red sauce immersed with notes of chili oil and soy. Va va boom!
Pho101’s menu also had a tantalizing array of Japanese cuisine, and we were excited to try out what they had to offer. The next couple of items on the tasting menu was the gorgeous Dragon Maki and the superbly scrumptious Ebiko Tempura Maki. The Dragon Maki has always been on the top of my list every time I visit a Japanese joint for one particular reason – the abundance of the avocado topping!
The dragon maki here did not fail to disappoint either. With generous fillings of crabstick, cheese, cucumber and salmon inside, the outside of the roll also added the further delight of generous amounts of mayo and avocado layered toppings. A dollop of sweet salmon roe on each slice of the roll completed the masterpiece.
Each slice of the roll melted as an explosion of flavors on my tongue: the creaminess of the cheese, mayo and avocado, the sweetness of the salmon and salmon roe, the filler of crabstick and sticky rice, and lastly the crunch of the fresh cucumber!
The Ebiko Tempura Maki was a delightful contrast to the Dragon Roll. An inside-out Maki roll covered with salmon roe, and with fillings of deep fried crisp tiger shrimp, avocado and cheese, this Maki roll is a safe bet for anyone who may be trying sushi for the first time.
With no raw ingredients, this is a family friendly favorite – suitable for children, as well as grandparents, who may be shying away from raw ingredients usually found within sushi. The secret of this roll is best expressed through the crunchiness of the crispy tiger tempura prawn which is deep fried, prior to being used as one of the fillings.
Continuing on with our Japanese sushi theme, the next item we tried was the Rainbow Maki. As the name suggests, the colors of this Maki roll are a delight to behold. I simply loved the orangey-pink hue of the fresh salmon, the deep pink shade of the tuna and the gorgeous green tint brought to the dish by the avocado. As you probably guessed correctly, it is called “Rainbow Maki” for a reason! The fillings inside consisted of a mouth watering combination of crabstick and avocado, mixed generously with creamy mayo.
The good thing about the Rainbow Maki Roll is that it doesn’t just rely on its looks alone – it also scores points in terms of substance as well! With each of the slices having a different topping, each slice ends up with a different taste – keeping the entire experience fresh and enticing.
Next up were the fantabulous Spicy Salmon Temaki. In its very basic form, a Temaki is a sushi hand roll, a single large, cone shaped piece of seaweed serves as the binder, holding within it the generous filling – in this case the filling of finely cubed fresh salmon mixed liberally with the chef’s secret spicy sauce. The sweet taste of the salmon and the spiciness of the sauce are also well complemented with the crispiness of the Nori sheets.
One thing you simply must know about Temaki – this has to be consumed immediately after is it made. The main reason for this is to ensure that the crispy sheet of Nori does not lose its starchiness and crispiness – leaving it for too long may result in the Nori becoming soggy and consequently the Temaki falling apart in your hands. This is a good bit of information to know!
One next item on the list was the Special Mixed Bento Box. Bento boxes are an idea choice for people like me, mainly because I get tempted with the variety of choices on the menu and the Bento Box allows the flexibility and freedom to partake in an array of delights. The bento box at Pho 101 was an absolute delight – each of the items being simply divine! Adorned with salmon and tuna nigiri, fresh salmon sashimi, perfectly prepared California Maki, crispy tiger prawn tempura, tantalizing chicken teriyaki with fried rice – I couldn’t ask for a better combination! It’s hard to pick a favorite from this assortment but if I had to pick just one item I would say it was the tempura. The crunchy taste of the fried tempura batter went excellently with the mixed friend rice, and the sashimi and nigiri components of the Bento box ensured that the healthiness aspect of this dish was preserved.
I was starting to feel a little full at this point, but I simply couldn’t resist when the star of the meal was brought over to our table next – the Vietnamese Noodle Soup with Beef or more easily recognized as the Beef Pho. After all, this was what had enticed me to make it to Pho101 in the very first place! Although Pho101 has opened up relatively recently in Dhaka, its focus of Vietnamese cuisine and more precise focus on the traditional “Pho” has already marked itself as a engaging choice amongst Dhaka diners.
Pho is a traditional Vietnamese dish and extremely popular in Vietnam – both as low-key street food, and also widely available at the upscale dining joints and restaurants in Vietnam. To put it simply, Pho is a Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, fresh herbs and meat, typically slices of beef or chicken. The Pho usually comes with additional servings of fresh bean sprouts, basil, mint, lemon, freshly sliced red chillies and a spicy sauce which we could adjust, based on spiciness preferences.
Our beef pho also had generous slices of marbled beef. To ensure that the flavors of the meat prevail, the beef is steam cooked overnight to drain the juices into the broth, whilst also ensuring that the tenderness of the beef is not compromised. The portion was extremely generous – in fact, it’s enough to fully be considered as a meal for one, or even enough for two people to share.
It was at this point that our crème de la crème arrived at the table: the gorgeously aesthetic Mixed Sushi and Sashimi Combo Platter. This beautiful platter was not just an artistic work of delight, the fresh ingredients also ensured that we could enjoy it peacefully without any haunting thoughts of excessive calories.
The combo platter consisted of generous amounts of salmon and tuna sashimi slices, fresh and thickly cut. We were also delighted with the nigiri assortment: comprising of salmon, tuna, cuttlefish and shrimp.
We decided to end our meal with a trademark Vietnamese dish – whole, hearty and filling: the Vietnamese Style Braised Fish with Steamed Rice. The red snapper used in this dish was slowly cooked and braised with Vietnamese herbs and spices, bringing a very earthy flavor to the dish.
The benefits of braising or slow cooking meat are pretty common – but when the same techniques are applied to fish, the results are divine. I was delighted by how the fish simply melted in my mouth and how the sauce was bursting with flavors. The process of braising had ensured that the sauce has thickened sufficiently enough to be more packed and concentrated with the flavors. Combined with the sticky rice, this was a hearty and filling dish, and a superb way to polish off our culinary experience at Pho101.
It would be a crime if I did not take a moment to mention the beautiful courtyard, which was our choice of environment for enjoying our lovely lunch. The greenness and serenity brings forth a very cozy feeling and the natural light just makes the photographs look so much better!
CHECK OUT THE “Pho101” FACEBOOK PAGE HERE
Pho101 has also made allowances for friends, families or colleagues looking to have a fun dinner and wishing to have some privacy – there are several private rooms where you can actually not worry about enjoying your meal in peace, with your close circle of friends. Apart from that, the main restaurant is also very elegant and the servers are amongst the most patient and attentive ones that I have encountered till date. I was pretty surprised to see several familiar faces amongst the servers, and it is always great to come across a familiar face.
Pho101 is definitely a place to revisit over and over again if, like me, you love food and also don’t want to compromise on your health and fitness. Additionally, this is currently the only place in Dhaka which has such a specialized focus on Vietnamese cuisine. Do check them out in person and, when you do so, definitely don’t forget to let me know what your thoughts are.
Till next time, this is Jen signing off!