Despite countless restaurants, bars and casual eateries scattered across Brighton & Hove (allegedly more per capita than anywhere else in the UK), for the most part, Vietnamese food has been tragically overlooked in our city. So imagine my glee when I hear that Holy Phok – a restaurant bursting with authentic Vietnamese flavours, ornate charm and a completely unapologetic overuse of innuendo – has opened in Hove. Great food and a cheeky sense of humour? Now that’s something I can get on board with.
We arrive on a packed Saturday evening (they’re fully booked for the weekend – a testament to their success so far), and are quickly shown to our table, given the menus and poured some lime water – an excellent palate cleanser between courses, we later find out. Enchanted by the sumptuous aromas of Vietnamese cuisine, ordering takes a little longer than expected as we take in the menu and contemplate the conundrum of why nobody has thought to combine great food with humour before. After an extended chuckle prompted by the FAQs, which singles out Nigel Farage as not welcome (hurrah!), we finally place our order.
First to arrive are the Wanties (£4.75 for two), flatbread-style wontons with prawn, mango and an impressive array of Asian herbs, finished off with a garlic ginger dressing and topped with peanuts. Not wanting to spoil our appetites, we share the plate and are instantly wowed by the flavours. Not only are they balanced perfectly but the explosion of flavour is really incredible, so incredible in fact that we wish we hadn’t shared. For drinks, we selected the Bia Saigon (£3.60, a surprisingly light, lager-style beer) and Leitz Eins Zwei Dry Riesling (£4.25 for a glass, crisp and fruity), which turned out to be excellent choices as neither interrupted the harmony between the flavours in the food. Interestingly, Holy Phok chooses to stock exclusively German wines – we’re told because the acidity doesn’t exacerbate the chilli in the food, and as a tribute to the owners’ time living in Berlin. Aww.
Next up, the main event. Noted as the chef’s favourite, I chose the Barbecue Pork Skewers Noodle Bowl (£10.50) – a delightfully tangy dish with a contrast in texture and heat, with warm, soft noodles, crisp pickled vegetables and hot skewered barbecue pork which live up to every expectation (if only it was a little easier to get it off the bamboo). My companion chose the Moo Pho (£10), an aromatic soup bowl packed with flavour, each morsel of beef bursting with its own punchy taste, so soft and tender it melts in your mouth. Chillies come as an optional extra, which you can season to taste depending on your spice tolerance – something my cohort appreciated greatly. We note some delicious veggie and vegan options, however also that the kitchen is abundant with peanuts; severe allergy sufferers may want to sit this one out.
While waiting for our dessert, we note the décor to be as vibrant as the flavours, the cerulean walls, geometric floor tiles and pillarbox-red furniture complimenting each other perfectly. Despite the rows of lucky golden cat figures greeting you as you enter, you’d be deeply mistaken to write Holy Phok off as a novelty restaurant – they clearly take what they do seriously, sourcing organic meat from a local free range supplier, growing their own vegetables and making their own chilli sauces, the flavours of which speak for themselves.
Having travelled to South East Asia, I was instantly drawn to the matcha green tea ice cream for dessert (£3.50) and wasn’t disappointed. I found myself instantly transported back to my trip three years ago by its velvety texture and creaminess (although admittedly it may be a little adventurous for some tastes). My dining partner went for the brownie with coffee ice cream – a perfectly respectable choice, nonetheless – and we both left feeling satisfied by the end. The restaurant claims to be the most delicious Vietnamese street food in Brighton and Hove, and holy phok, they just may well have done it.
Holy Phok is at 52A Lansdowne Place, Hove, BN3 1FG