“I have been to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on numerous occasions and I can confidently say the best pho in the world is not in Vietnam but right here in Sydney, Australia.”
What’s the magic in a bowl of piping hot pho?
Sydneysiders and Melbournites are spoilt for choice when it comes to hunting down good Vietnamese pho (pronounced “fur’). The raging debate among pho lovers in Sydney and Melbourne continues about which restaurant serves the best in each city. After sampling so many notable restaurants in Sydney, one place still stands out to me whenever I think about that bowl of heart-warming goodness. And despite its distance from where we live, Mysaucepan and I have been regulars to this pho institution for many years.
An Restaurant (previously known as Pho An) is a Bankstown stalwart that means business when it comes to pho. On the menu are nine and five choices for various combinations of beef and chicken pho respectively and nothing else.
A constant stream of people walk through the automated doors every minute. As soon as we walk in, we are ushered to our table and this is where clockwork efficiency begins.
We take our seats and a waiter magically appears with an electronic ordering pad in hand, ready to punch in our orders.
Most diners are regulars who have already made up their minds on what to order. No sooner than your food order is taken, a platter of fresh Vietnamese basil leaves, beansprouts and lemon arrives.
You have a choice of either fresh or blanched beansprouts, the latter taking away the raw taste that some may dislike. Personally, I prefer blanched beansprouts as the taste is gentler though still having a slight crunch and when added to the broth, it helps to keep it piping hot.
True to the spirit of most Vietnamese restaurants, every table has a condiment and chopsticks station where you prepare your dipping sauce of choice.
Chilli sauce, hoisin sauce, fish sauce and soy sauce are all at your disposal.
My favourite is combining loads of fresh red chillies, light soy sauce and fresh lemon juice to a signature chilli oil.
Once I’ve prepared my dipping sauce, it’s a wait of approximately 45 seconds before a bowl of pho appears.
Here it is dear readers … this is what we came here for and you are looking at the best bowl of Vietnamese pho in Sydney and quite possibly in Australia.
I have never ordered the chicken pho here and probably never will. To me, eating chicken pho is akin to eating turkey bacon because there is just no substitute for beef pho just as there is no substitute for the taste of bacon made from pork belly.
The spirit of authentic Vietnamese pho is all about beef bones being simmered for hours with a blend of star anise, cinnamon, cloves and other herbs and spices to create a flavoursome broth. It’s comfort food at its best ~ wholesome goodness that I think about on cold winter evenings. It’s the best hangover cure on a Sunday morning. It’s also one of my favourite recipes at home because it’s decidedly simple and tasty.
There are various combinations that you can have with this beef pho ~ rare beef so red and fresh, it slowly cooks in the piping hot broth. Other choices are cooked beef, brisket, tendon, cartilage, tripe and beef meatballs. The pho comes in two sizes – small for $13 and large for $14, a pricing strategy that is screaming out for you to opt for the large.
In my entire history of eating here, I have never ordered a small size. Regardless of appetite and stomach capacity, it’s a no-brainer the large size is far better value because it’s a much larger serving compared to the small size. But don’t even think about sharing the large size among two people because it will cost you an extra $3.50 for an empty bowl to share unless you are happy for two people to eat off the same bowl.
Having been a regular here for so many years, I have narrowed it down to the combination that I like best. I generally prefer my beef steaks medium rare but when it comes to pho, I like a combination of cooked beef brisket, beef tripe and tendon.
But if you like rare beef, this place beats any other restaurant hands down. The high volume of customers each day means the beef arrives completely rare and super fresh, gently cooking away in the hot broth.
I prefer cooked beef brisket because it comes in paper thin slices of succulent and stringy lean meat with a beautiful ribbon of fat. The beef tripe adds a crunchy texture while pieces of tendon have been simmered to a gelatinous soft. The rice noodles are always smooth and easy to eat but the hero is the stock which always arrives piping hot with all its herb and spice nuances, delicate yet deceptively complex flavours from hours of slow simmer.
So there you have it ~ the combination of all these elements coming together is really the magic of Vietnamese style pho.
Turnover of customers in this restaurant is fast and furious because time is money. Wait staff and the kitchen brigade are trained to work fast because An Restaurant is the McDonalds and fast food replica of Vietnamese restaurants. It has a clockwork system designed to dish out awesome pho at competitive prices within a minute after you take your seat.
It’s approximately thirty minutes from the time we arrive to the moment we are stuffed and ready to head home. Another group of diners take our place as we leave the table. Now this is efficiency and after all these years, An Restaurant is still the most consistent for a hearty bowl of pho in Sydney.
Food is exceptionally good and service is snappy to robotic efficiency. Even the toilet doors and taps have automatic sensors.
At An Restaurant, it’s always a satisfying meal and I doubt this will ever change.
So dear readers, which is your favourite pho restaurant in Sydney?
In Sydney, I only eat pho at two restaurants which I believe to be the best among so many – at An Restaurant and Old Thanh Huong in Marrickville. I highly recommend this restaurant and you can read about my review here.
27, Greenfield Parade
Bankstown, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9796 7826
Opening hours: 7 days a week from 7am – 9pm