Restaurant review: Pho Vietnam House, Edinburgh

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It's true what they say about doctors and policemen looking younger, as one gets older.

In fact, I don't think I'd be able to take an operation or arrest as seriously as I'd like, as official types all seem to resemble Justin Bieber to me.

However, the same might also be said about restaurateurs, if new place Pho Vietnam House is anything to go by.

The owner, Jodie Nguyen, looks barely out of her tweenage years. So, she deserves kudos for setting up this eatery.

It's compact, with just five tables, and serves a small (and thus manageable, as it's only her and a chef running the kitchen and front of house) selection of Vietnamese street food.

She's also created a simple layout, with botanical artworks, her own portrait (sporting a snazzy blue tabard), colourful woven placemats, and Justin Timberlake on the stereo (she's young, cut her some slack).

We'd heard that it's tricky to get a table here on Fridays, possibly because the so-called Financial Exchange District is nearby, as well as on Saturday evenings.

So my boyfriend, Rolf, and I paid a visit on a relatively quiet Monday at noon-ish.

The lunchtime menu is only 4.90, which includes a main course, tea and a soft drink (they don't do pud).

We treated ourselves to a couple of cans of pop and a half serving of Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, and another of fried ones (6.20 for two of each), as a makeshift starter.

The former offering consisted of a pretty little pair of parcels, which were wrapped in rice paper jackets that were as transparent as chiffon.

Their visible contents included pure white vermicelli strands, a single sprig of mint and a couple of dinky prawns, which made for a delicately flavoured option that contrasted nicely with a blob of the savoury crunchy peanut sauce.

Rolf, however, preferred the fried, hot version of these spring rolls. He monopolised the two crunchy cylinders, with their rust-brown surface, and dense filling of minced crab meat and pork, chopped vermicelli, and mushroom nibs. On the side, was a bowl containing a clear and sweet dipping sauce, with ingredients including lime, sugar and a dash of fish sauce, and chilli seeds at the bottom of the pool. Lovely.

These offerings fairly took the edge off our hunger, so I felt a bit scunnered when I saw my main course - the Vietnamese chicken curry. I'd been presented with two bowls, one of which was filled with fluffy rice, while the other was overflowing with chubby poultry thighs in a lemongrass and chilli-spiked, coconuty pool of canary-yellow sauce. I managed about half of this giant protein fix.

Rolf had opted for the braised fish, which also came with a big bowl of rice. This was another mammoth helping, with three cross sections of oily, smoky-tasting kingfish. These hunky chunks were bathing in a sweet and brothy brown stock, which tasted mainly of fish sauce, ginger and chilli. Just like my chicken option, this was a homely, Vietnamese mummy of a dish.

This was a great meal on the cheap, although, I fear that Jodie will be a victim of her own success, and will never have time to go to a pop concert ever again.

An addendum: since Pho Vietnam House doesn't serve desserts, we trundled up the road to the new cafe, Loudons (Lochrin Square, 94b Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, 0131-228 9774, www.loudons-cafe.co.uk) for afters.

It's owned by the former manager of Swedish cafe extraordinaire, Peter's Yard, and features an airy, sound-proofed (huge trucks pass by, silently) and wi-fied-up space, with a shop selling produce and gifts.

They also do one of the best flat whites (2.35) in town, as well as a huge selection of gateaux, which are usually pretty impressive. Sadly, I managed to choose the only dud, when it came to my chocolate and raspberry torte (3.20).

It tasted bitter and bland, but I noticed on my exit that it was labelled "also gluten free", which may explain something. Thankfully, my other half wasn't too possessive about his ricotta, vanilla and lemon cheesecake (1.95), which was a fluffy and citrusy treat. I ate it all. Thanks Rolf.

3 Grove Street, Edinburgh (0131-228 3383, www.vietnam housescotland.com)

How much? Lunch for two, excluding drinks, 16

This article was first published in The Scotsman, 5 March, 2011