Pho Queue is the latest of the gradually expanding ventures of the people behind Cafe O-Mai and Red Lotus. Cafe O-Mai itself has spilled over into an additional banh mi takeaway store next door, and Pho Queue occupies the lot next to that. They have clearly thought about the double entendre for their name, it being either a line for their pho, or something..a little less civil. (“Pho” is pronounced like “fur”. Now read that out loud. Or quietly in your head if you’re in polite company.)
We walked past the queue for Cafe O-Mai, and were surprised to find no queue for Pho Queue. The name in art deco font in gold on the glass front of the eatery was a hint that this was going to be a little bit fancier than your neighbourhood noodle joint. “Pho & Dessert Kitchen”, it says underneath that, a combination of offerings you don’t expect to see together.
We walked through the entrance, passing a long glass display case with a range of individual serve cakes lined up. This setup cleverly prompts patrons to leave room for dessert. We were shown to seats, and a pitcher of cold water and glasses was soon brought out, as well as menus.
The food menu is printed in navy blue on one side of a large white board, divided into sections of the Pho Collection and the Soup Collection. On the Pho side, which is what this place specialises in, you construct your meal by first choosing your broth, either Southern style beef, or Hanoi (Northern) style beef. You then select the meat to accompany it, ranging from rare or cooked beef, to their special combination (rare beef, brisket, tendon, and tripe), to eye fillets of black angus or wagyu beef. For those who don’t eat beef, they also have Pho with chicken broth and chicken meat. For the non meat eaters, there is Pho with vegan mushroom broth, accompanied by greens and tofu. The Soup Collection side offers other soup noodle dishes, such as one with a blue swimmer crab tomato “sea foam” soup base, and a Vietnamese classic of bún bò hué (spicy beef and pork soup). There is also a feature dish of Hanoi style vermicelli noodle salad with chargrilled fatty pork and pork belly. Separate to this menu is another one listing the banh mi available. As they state, it is the only place in Brisbane where you can get freshly baked banh mi after dark. Sadly, other places seem to only do a lunch trade. Here then, is your solution to late afternoon or evening banh mi cravings. At the table in a clear plastic stand is also a list of drinks, running, as would be expected, Vietnamese flavours, as well as bubble teas. Though not on the list, you can also get the other delicious coffees that Cafe O-Mai does as well.
After working through the too many tempting options, we eventually decided on the Southern style beef pho, the Northern style beef pho, and the feature dish. For hydration, we ordered a Vietnamese iced coffee, a flat white, and pandan and lemongrass tea.
Looking around, the eatery has a clean, classic style. The dessert kitchen is a clear focus, taking up a significant amount of floor space, a counter around it letting patrons sitting there watch the precise processes of dessert-making behind the glass. Deep royal blue panels along the wall contrast with the white half of the walls and ceiling. The white bentwood chairs and tables make the space brighter, and the light wood laminate floor adds warmth, keeping it from all seeming too clinical. Warm globe lights along the walls add more classical charm. It calls to mind the 1920s and nautical themes, a far cry from what you would expect from a pho store. Vietnamese pop ballads were playing in the background at a comfortable volume, so that you could listen if you wanted to, but it was not intrusive if you were trying to have a conversation.
The Vietnamese iced coffee came out in its component parts, metal drip filter above a glass with condensed milk at the bottom. Another glass of crushed ice was served with it. There is a cool theatre to watching the coffee slowly drip through the filter, perhaps a reminder that good things come to those who wait. And then you get to make your own drink by mixing the contents of one glass with the other, without making a mess. The aromatic, strong coffee was tempered by the sweet, rich condensed milk, and with crushed ice, it was perfect for summer weather (which most of Vietnam has most of the time, so they clearly have it worked out).
The flat white was found to be well-textured and well-flavoured, as Cafe O-Mai does.
The pandan and lemongrass tea could be had hot or cold. Given the weather, cold was the preferred pick. It was served in an impressively tall cup. If one wanted to, one could pretend to others that it was a beer, with its golden hue and frothy head. It was nicely icy cold. It tasted more of lemongrass than pandan, the pandan hovering as a background flavour. It was unsweetened, which meant that it tended towards the bitter side. It works well for summer, but may not be to everyone’s taste.
The Northern beef pho had been ordered with the House special mix of rare beef, hand made beef roll, and oxtail. There was a good amount of meat in it. The beef slices were thin, so they cooked just sitting in the soup. The beef roll and oxtail were tender. The broth also had quite a meaty flavour, and was seasoned without being too salty.
The Southern beef pho had been ordered with the Special mix of rare beef, brisket, tendon, and tripe. Though the menu had described the Northern beef broth as being simple and uncomplicated, the Southern beef broth actually seemed like the lighter of the two. It was a little sweeter as well. Again, the thinly sliced rare beef was cooked by the soup. The tripe had a rubbery bounce, and in contrast the tendon had a soft, gelatinous chew.
We had bean sprouts, fresh basil, and lemon to add to the pho. In most pho places, they are served on the side as standard. As part of their sustainable practice, however, Pho Queue serves them (for free) only if asked for them. I suspect they were seeing a fair bit of wastage, as not everyone knows what to do with the pile of raw beansprouts.
The feature dish, the bún chà ha noi, came out with the pork belly and chargrilled pork pieces in a bowl of broth, the vermicelli noodles in a separate heap, and a pile of lettuce and mint leaves beside. The waitstaff told us that you ate the dish by putting the noodles and vegetables into the broth, which reminded us of tsukamen. It was a cold dish, as opposed to the other hot noodle soups. The broth was a combination of salty, sweet, and sour, that was light and moreish. The meats had just the right amount of chew, and slightly sweet overall from their marinade. We discovered that you could also have them and vermicelli dipped in the broth wrapped in the lettuce leaves to make a makeshift roll. It was tasty no matter which way you ate it.
As it was a dessert kitchen, we had to leave space for dessert, of course. We went back to the glass cabinet at the entrance and tried to decide what to have. They had a reasonable range of options, from chocolatey cakes (the Orange Chocolate, with coconut cremaux and milk chocolate mousse, or a chocolate brownie), to fruity ones (in mango or raspberry main flavours, or a fruit tart).
We eventually chose a vanilla creme patisserie-filled choux, a Raspberry Gem, and a Mango Dome.
The choux was about palm-size, and had a creamy, custardy vanilla filling. The pastry was on the soft, chewy side though, rather than having a satisfying crunch. It was a thin pastry layer, and would probably work well if it was freshly filled to order instead.
The Mango dome had mango mousse, yuzu curd, and sable. The mango part had a flavour much like the mango pudding you get at yum cha, and sort of had a similar texture as well. In the centre of it was the yuzu centre, citrussy and tangy, without being overwhelming. The sable base was buttery and crumbly, but had also taken up moisture from the mousse over it, and didn’t add a crunch component to the cake.
The Raspberry gem had Raspberry mousse, lychee jelly, and dacquoise. It was a smooth, quite light mousse, slightly tart, as one tends to expect from raspberry. At the centre of it was, indeed, meant to be lychee jelly, but it didn’t have a jelly texture, more another creamy texture, and until we reread that it was meant to be lychee, we thought that it was coconut. When eaten with the raspberry mousse component, the flavour of that section was not discernible. The dacquoise layer at the bottom, again, had taken up moisture from the components above, and was soft rather than having any detectable crunch.
Overall, Pho Queue certainly delivers on its noodle dishes. Their clear strength is Vietnamese cuisine, and it surely won’t be long before those who frequent Cafe O-Mai will discover that this is another place to get their pho fix. The desserts are pretty, but need work when it comes to putting components together to retain textures and balance individual flavours. Waitstaff were friendly and helpful.
Food: Noodle dishes 3.5/4. Desserts 2/4. (compelled to score them separately as they fared so differently.)
Total: 6.5/8 for noodle dishes. 5/8 for desserts.
Price point: Noodle dishes $13 to $25, most around the $15 mark. Desserts $7 to $8 for cakes.
Value: Good for noodle dishes, not so good currently for desserts.
Address: 9 Cracknell Rd, Annerley
Phone: 07 3195 6915
Website: Pho Queue