Fancy a quick one?
There are not many people I would meet for lunch at a thinly disguised outdoor food stall on a grey and perishingly cold day in autumn. It’s five degrees outside and snow is forecast when I meet my nomadic pixie friend, recently returned to the UK from living in glorious Bali, just off the Kings Road. She’s a sparkly firecracker of a young woman, fascinating to talk to, full of surprises, a gifted photographer (www.sukizoe.com) and the sheer warmth of her personality could melt an Eskimo’s heart. So dressed for an Arctic expedition, I make my way to Phat Phuc on Sydney Street.
Now before you start sniggering, let me tell you that Phat Phuc is actually pronounced Fet Fook and means Happy Buddha in Vietnamese, so go and wash your dirty mouth out with soap! It’s not easy to find, this little place, hidden away as it is down a few steps behind a flower stall next to Chelsea Farmer’s Market. And there it is, literally a food stall with a few adjoining tables under a vinyl marquee with a ceiling heater to take the edge off the chill. Despite the weather, it’s buzzing. We hunker down and peruse the sparse menu. There are the usual popular Vietnamese snacks such as spring rolls, dim sum, edamame and pork buns, four different Pho noodle soups, Laksa, noodle salads and a stir fry, ranging from £3.50 to £7.50 a pop.
As it’s soup kind of weather, we both choose a warming Pho Chay. The portions are huge with generous helpings of mildly steamed vegetables and lots of rice noodles, the food tastes light, healthy and incredibly good. Our neighbours’ cigar thin spring rolls and duck pancakes look very tempting too, but it’s only lunchtime, so we don’t overdo the order. It seems we’ve chosen well. Phat Phuc’s website reveals that ‘Pho is seriously good for you. Just as in Vietnam, our stocks are made from scratch and take many hours to prepare – it’s this authentic preparation that’s key to the stock retaining all its goodness and developing its subtle and distinctive taste. So it’s extremely healthy, brimming with fresh ingredients and very low in fat. The perfect food to fight off any colds, bugs, blast a hangover away or simply have a healthy delicious lunch.’ Neither of us has a cold, nor are we hungover but you can never overdo the goodness thing, can you?!
Our lunch is certainly delicious and while we’re happily scoffing, we exchange all our news. Men, Morocco, Mandalas and the merits of boyfriend jeans versus skinny jeans, we cover it all. I comment on her skin which is firm, translucent and glowing with not a wrinkle in sight apart from some very charming, barely there laughter lines around the eyes. Frankly, I have no idea how old my friend is. She could be anything between 25 and late thirties; she looks completely ageless. Unlike so many of my girlfriends, she’s just not the type to indulge in those magic injections. Her secret, so I find out, apart from the super healthy lifestyle she has always lived, is the Ayurvedic therapy she has undergone for the last five weeks. To prove it, she pulls out her sachets of wonderful smelling herbs and powders and mixes them with hot water into a concoction she takes at meal times. She’s a Vata dosha, she tells me, and she reckons that so am I. Whatever she’s on, I want it!
We eat, we chat, we have a thoroughly good time. A pigeon finds its way into the PVC marquee and flaps around, panic stricken. Some squeal while the rest of us look on helplessly until a French hero among the group of table neighbours gently grabs it and sets it free outside. Phew, the relief as it goes about its business elsewhere! Feathered vermin it may be, but it’s still not pleasant to watch a creature, any creature, in distress. Vata doshas, active and creative as they are, are thin skinned and given to anxiety and intense emotional response. Round eyed, we stare at each other but the wholesome warming Pho soup soon brings us back to equilibrium.
It’s a good little find, this Phat Phuc. Better probably during mellow summer weather but perfectly enjoyable even now, so long as one has a good pair of cashmere socks and a cosy wooly hat at one’s disposal. Small and extremely simple, it has an uncontrived zen quality about it. I really like it. It’s a little treasure and I’ll definitely be back!