Rating: 7 / 10
Criminally forgotten when most newspapers or magazines attempt a "Best Pho in Town" article, mainly because of it's awkward location on a streetcorner just below the main drag of Torshov, but above the populous area of Birkelunden too. I admit, I lived around the corner for over 2 years before I tried it. Something about the appearance just left a doubt in my mind that a real Vietnamese place would open up there.
Thankfully I managed to shake off my preconceptions and headed there for a bowl of beef Pho. Since that merry day of discovery I have been back a few times and I'd love to say it's all been roses, but it hasn't.
On their day, Pho Mai is undoubtably one of the best place for a bowl of authentic Pho in town. Without a doubt. However, the "but" comes in. Consistency is an ideal most restaurants should always strive towards, and sadly this lets them down. One day you are treated to a near perfect bowl of steaming pho with delicately spiced broth, perfect noodles, good quality beef and all the necessary condiments and herbs piled high on white plates. You spend the next two weeks in missionary zeal telling all your friends about the saviour on the top of the hill, and suddenly start getting text messages in the afternoon like "WTF, it was bang on average", "I've had better at Da Lat Cafe". Your mind goes into a wild frenzy doubting your very own tastebuds, until you inevitably head up there again to reassure yourself you haven't gone mad, only to be served a bowl that was nothing like the last one you remembered.
A year or two passes and you have tried a few other spots in town, usually ending in disappointment, and you pluck up the courage to go back to Mai and see if they can redeem themselves. And suddenly the glories of that first visit abound with delectable flavours and swirling bliss. You again tell all your friends about it, and suddenly this starts to become a pattern of highs and lows stuttering their path to take the fallen crown off Hai Cafe after their closure.
If they manage to iron out the wild differences in quality there will be nothing holding me back from lavishing unlimited praise on them.
I will try them again this year, but the thing is that i'm not exactly excited about going there because I don't know which bowl or which chef will greet me.
Rumours from the interwebs/dark secrets told in bars, speak of a rift in the management at Pho Mai which has resulted in the expulsion of the previous cook and a mediocre replacement. So tread carefully, tho we cannot substantiate these claims, we feel the need to warn you.
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 in the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"