My mum always told me not to play with my food.
But at London's newest Vietnamese eatery, it's allowed - and even encouraged - joy!
Inspired by owners Stephen and Juliette Wall's travels to Vietnam, Pho (pronounced feu) recently opened a second branch in central London.
It's informal dining, with the emphasis on nutritious, authentic dishes, all cooked from scratch by a team of Vietnamese chefs.
Stepping in from Great Titchfield Street, the atmosphere was cosy, bright and buzzy, with tables of office workers grabbing a quick bite; couples out for a leisurely meal; and shoppers keen to get off their feet and recharge.
Seated straight away, we were quickly served a couple of 'local' beers - Halida (northern Vietnam) and Hue (central) and given a quick run-through of what's on offer. If you're new to Vietnamese food, think lots of fresh, tasty ingredients - slurpy rice noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, fragrant herbs and lean meats.
Pho - which is named after the healthy, gluten-free rice noodle soup - has made its menu intentionally short and sweet. The soup - a Vietnamese staple - comes in 15 different varieties including with fillet steak, beef meatballs, chicken breast and prawns - or you can DIY.
It costs between s6 and s8 and looked a popular choice.
Traditional starters include Goi Cuon (fresh summer rolls with prawns or chicken and herbs); and Chao Tom (pounded prawns, wrapped around a chewable stick of sugar cane); with a list of mains populated by the pho, bun noodles with stir-fried topping; and Asian salads. Most dishes also have a vegetarian option.
So, on to the food fun - my order, Banh Xeo Tom Ga (traditional crepe filled with prawns, chicken and beansprouts, s5.95) - is a starter, but large enough for a main. Deliciously crunchy, it comes with a huge chunk of iceberg lettuce leaves. With your hands, use these to wrap up a parcel of the crispy crepe and filling. Add a splash of chilli sauce and it's a little bite of fun, bursting with zingy flavours.
Our waiters were friendly and helpful, and wise in the traditional ways of the food and how to eat it.
My only complaint is that used dishes and empty bottles weren't cleared as they were finished with.
An after-dinner treat for the adventurous is the Ca Phe Chon - 'weasel' coffee - made from beans that have been eaten and regurgitated, yes regurgitated, by wild weasels, before being roasted. It's served in a drip-top filter cup, with condensed milk on the side. At the end of a night spent discovering new tastes, its rich flavour was the perfect accompaniment.
With its modern take on traditional cuisine, Pho is a breath of fresh air.
3 Great Titchfield Street,
London, W1W 8AX
020 7436 0111