Did the chef quit? Is he/she bi-polar? Do they have rotating chefs and one is a genius and the other an imposter? Was the food really that good before or has time clouded our judgement?
These are valid questions that usually remain unanswered unless you are a nosey git. I am not.
Mama Pho came recommended by folks who had walked the dusty roads of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and dined in the dazzlingly spartan streetside Pho stalls that envelop you in the heady swirl of broth. They had also been disciples of the best Vietnamese place Oslo ever had, Hai Cafe, which mysteriously shut down and never re-opened. I took their advice to heart and trod the uneven streets to bask in the wonders of a glistening bowl.
Undeterred by the decor inside, screaming of an 80's ex-soviet discotheque, we ordered our bowls and pushed through the sea of onlookers to find a table outside in the shade. The price was Oslo-steep, but if the food was spectacular you feel a little less bludgeoned when the bill arrives.
First impressions: Rather small portion. Sure, there was enough meat + noodles but a scant spattering of broth. Also, did someone go rabies with the pepper mill?
The first two spoonfulls were for contemplation, for undecidedness, for mulling and meandering. Then a few bundles of noodles, some meat and some toppings. There was a lack of additional herbs, lime and bean sprouts which annoyed me as I do like a heap. There is something tantalising about being given a stacked side-plate of culantro, sprouts, chillis, lime and being free to go apeshit. Contemplation completed, this was a disappointment. The broth had a sweet tone to it that I find unappealing, the noodles were fine but who can really mess up rice noodles, the beef probably a mid-priced cut and the condiments fresh in their lacking.
It was one of those bowls where you get less excited the more you tuck in and I found myself struggling to even finish half of what was already a meager portion.
Upon returning to relay the opinions of mine that are hardly worth taking seriously, I was informed that the previous cook had retired and handed over the reigns in the kitchen to her kids, who obviously had been paying more attention to Tik Tok than watching her cooking instructions. That explained the mediocre food at least.
Mama Pho will probably thrive in a city where few inhabitants have tasted the real thing, but then again there is a distinct sadness that springs up in me knowing that they think this is true Vietnamese cooking.
These recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored by the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"