The space may be small but the interior is a style triumph. Pillar box reds, graphic monochrome flooring, THAT Hague Blue hue, neon signage and an entire wall of waving lucky cats create a quirky, fun and stylish setting. I love it. The branding has also been invested in which really adds to the visual experience (I would say that as a branding designer, but it's true). They also talk the talk with the ingredients and sourcing too. Attention to detail? Ten points and a gold star.
We started with the "Better Than Squid" dish which was slices of meaty oyster mushrooms marinated in turmeric and garlic, given a crisp coating then deep fried. I get where they were going with this - the texture was quite like very tender squid strips but I couldn't help but think it would have been glorious with the real deal in there. Still, it was different and happily eaten, dipped in the chilli sauce.
Now, you can't go to a place called Holy Phok and not have the pho can you? Plus I love the stuff, and what's not to like? Rich, deep stock filled with vibrant, fresh flavours. Bring on the cold snap because a bowl of this will fend it all off along with any ailment. Sadly though I have had much better, and dare I say it, even in our favourite Vietnamese chain restaurant too. The pho here—I opted for the chicken (£9.25)—lacked the depth and seasoning that pho lives or dies by. The chicken was tender and there was enough texture from the spring onions, fresh herbs and bean sprouts. Thin slices of chilli brought plenty of heat but this was a perfect level for me. Although pleasant and certainly filling, the "life-enhancing" billing was probably a little strong. I also like to interact with my pho, adding herbs, heat and lime to my taste rather than it to be already included in he dish.
The ginger beer chicken salad also promised a lot but failed to deliver on expectations a little. Although the flavours were almost there, it was just very cold and very wet. I'm not sure I could detect the ginger beer marinade in the chicken but the nuoc cham dressing had the sweet/sour balance right with sugar, fish sauce and lime. Plenty of Vietnamese herbs, toasted peanuts and sesame added the crunch and the glass noodles made it a substantial main.
Although I had hoped the food would be better, it was still a good level and I would return, particularly for those buns. I'm sure in time they will go from good to great as the foundations seem pretty solid.
52 Lansdowne Place, Hove (entrance Western Road side)