Popping out at the top of The Westgate Centre, it’s unnerving to find so many people out shopping, socialising, going to the cinema and dining. Our culinary abstinence is over it would seem judging by the hordes flocking to the restaurants at the top.
Lucky we’d booked because Pho were turning people away at the door
Luckily we’d booked because Pho was turning people away at the door, our craving for the Vietnamese eatery’s big bowls of noodles in broth, from whence it gets its name, proving too much.
Led to our table near the open kitchen at the back, the extensive restaurant was chockablock, but with a reputation for a quick turnaround we weren’t unduly worried.
“it was good to be back, scooping that fragrant, piquant broth out with the long wooden ladle, slurping and smacking our lips until it was gone”
Drinks were served almost immediately. Then some spring rolls and the see through vermicelli version with lettuce leaves – delicious, fresh and filling, all served with satay sauce and a portion of zinging chicken wings which came in at a hefty £7.50.
Three bowls of Pho followed, two garlic steak, and one tofu and mushroom, with all the tasty additions ready for you to add, from coriander and mint to slices of red hot chillies and beansprouts.
And oh it was good to be back, scooping that fragrant, piquant broth out with the long wooden ladle, slurping and smacking our lips until it was all gone and we were full to the brim.
My husband fancied something different so opted for the BÚN CHICKEN (Vermicelli rice noodles with a lemongrass and chilli wok-fried topping, served with chicken) and while he was happy with his choice, he cast mournful glances at our meals throughout, knowing he’d missed out on the star of the show.
£85 later, for a family of four, we were back out on the street, replete and satisfied, despite Pho’s production line style mentality. Everyone loves Pho! but it’s very popularity can be off-putting to others who prefer a quieter, less crowded experience.
Ramen Kulture is a much more independent, smaller and intimate affair, although certainly popular, situated where the cult St Giles Cafe used to be.
The few tables on the pavement outside were already full when we arrived, students enjoying a bowl of ramen and a beer, knowing that the sheer volume of the portions, as well as the very reasonable prices, means it’s well within their budget.
Fortuitously someone inside was just leaving, so we were able to nab a window seat and enjoy the street-style vibe of the interior.
Both Pho and Ramen kulture they both have a place in Oxford’s foodscape and only enrich it’s city centre offerings
The Japanese concept differs from that of it’s Vietnamese counterpart, the assembly carried out in the bowl, rather than out.
The ramen broth is made from chicken and pork bones stewed for 12 hours, with the flavour hailing from Japanese charshu slow braised for three days. So while the dish is quick to serve, the legwork has already been done.
Kicking off with the bright green edamame spring rolls served with a sweet chilli dip (£4.50) they were original, tasty and left enough room for the main event.
We tried the chicken curry ramen and the miso tofu ramen, both coming in at £9.80.
Brimming with fresh veg and boiled eggs, the chicken or tofu sliced and placed on top, the broth was understandably more flavoursome in the meat dish.
It’s a shame that the veg option didn’t offer the same strength of flavour, but in terms of quantity and health benefits, it was a properly balanced meal, and I was unable to finish mine due to the generosity of goodies within.
So there we are. Two interesting but different bowl concepts where noodles and broth are the stars of the show. In terms of a preference, I loved the individuality and unique dishes at Ramen Kulture as much as the depth of the broth at Pho.
Put it this way, both Pho and Ramen Kulture have a place in Oxford’s foodscape and only enrich its city centre offerings.
Pho is at Oxford’s Westgate Centre https://www.phocafe.co.uk/locations/oxford/
Ramen Kulture is at 52 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LU https://www.ramenkulture.com/menus