David Adamson dives straight into a bowl of broth

I don't need to tell you how popular ramen is. It's everywhere. You could fill an olympic swimming pool with the volume of the stuff that gets slurped down every day in most British cities, and Liverpool is no different.

But it's not the be-all and end-all of the broth world, and Vietnam's comforting national soup dish pho has made serious ground on the Japanese favourite in recent years. 

There's even chains now dedicated to Vietnamese food, which is always something of a litmus test for the popularity, and with it the varying quality, of a cuisine. I would argue this means it's more important than ever to try independents when they spring up. 

Off to Hope Street it is then, and down a set of stairs into basement restaurant Pho Ham.

2024 06 27 Pho Ham Review Exterior
Outside Pho Ham Image: Confidentials

It can be hard to make a windowless room bearable to be in, never mind inviting and even cosy. Something about the lack of natural light just works against you. But miraculously in Pho Ham the subterranean setting really adds to the place. 

The plentiful decor and abundant colour helps a lot in that regard, the room filled on every side with vibrant and lively nods to Vietnamese cities and countryside scenes and does a good job of tricking you into thinking you're not quite in a corner of North West England. 

I ate at lunchtime, where the usual mosaic of various groups of different diners were in; the whole-office lunch, the Aussie couple travelling the UK, a group of students, two Vietnamese blokes nattering away, and of course, yours truly, the journalist reviewing the place.

2024 06 27 Pho Ham Review Interior 2
Inside Pho Ham Image: Confidentials

With it being lunchtime, there was only really one thing I had in mind - a bowl of pho; that warming, everyday Swiss Army Knife of a dish that seems to cure most ills. But South East Asian starters are some of the best in the world in my book, so I had to order at least one of those as well. 

I decided on the Summer Rolls (£5.90 for four), which had several options (prawns, grilled pork, chicken). I chose grilled pork, to my mind the meat that can be made to taste the most interesting and which keeps pace with whatever spice you throw at it due to its fattier nature. 

It also deals well with the makeup of a summer roll, that being rice paper and lots of vegetables, all of it cold. This may be off-putting to some, but slightly warmed carrots and cucumber - when they should be crunchy - just taste a bit odd. This is a bright and garden fresh starter, thanks in no small part to the mint leaves wrapped inside the rice paper, and a well-gauged dish to get things going, especially between two. Alone that day, I took the rest home with me.

2024 06 27 Pho Ham Review Summer Rolls 2
Grilled pork summer rolls Image: Confidentials

Now onto the Beef Pho (£10.90). What a concoction these things are; a sort of alchemy goes into making what is for me, alongside French Onion, top of the soups (sorry ramen). Beef bones simmering for several hours, unleashing the sweet marrowy flavours that would take ten thesauruses to fully describe, such is the complex knot of notes that emerge when you give something time. The beef was sliced paper thin and without a chewy, gristley bit in sight, which is not as easy as you may think. Pink at first and gradually cooking more in the broth, it tasted to me like something from a happy, healthy cow. Otherwise what's the point? 

The noodles were flat, not too thick, and in abundance. Because while you might think the beef, broth and vegetables may be enough, why not add plenty of noodles to keep things interesting. The red onions and spring onions that bobbed about alongside large shards of serious-looking chillies added layers of fragrance to the oceanic depths of the beef broth, all combining to make something that I would not only happily eat for my lunch every day, but actively seek out.

2024 06 27 Pho Ham Review Beef Pho 2
Beef Pho Image: Confidentials

To think that I had a starter, a Belfast sink-sized bowl of pho and a pint of lager all for £20 seems almost from another time, namely about ten years ago. Pho Ham have clearly made these prices what they are so that you can actually come and eat there regularly, which I would strongly suggest you do. It's a straight up and down, understated place that clearly puts the quality of its food above all else, but if you want a bit of decor they have that too. 

What happened to ramen all those years ago will probably happen to pho in time as well. But when the money men arrive and it's costing you £18 for some beef and water, remember that it's places like Pho Ham that set your daily broth habit in motion, and that its places like this that deserve your custom for all the care and attention they put into something as seemingly simple as a bowl of soup. 

Pho Ham, 32 Hope St, L1 9BX

2024 06 27 Pho Ham Review Closer Pic
Pho Ham Image: Confidentials
  • Food 8/10

    Grilled pork summer rolls 7.5, Beef pho 8.5

  • Service 4/5

    Attentive, friendly and straightforward.

  • Ambience 3.5/5

    Not necessarily a buzzy place but then not everywhere needs to be. A nice layout and atmosphere, but really you come for the food.