54 Preston Street, Brighton BN1 2HE
01273 206 422 | Website
The route to our hearts is 100% through our stomachs, and the fast-lane there is via a rich, warm bowl of proper Vietnamese pho. There’s just nothing like it. Gorgeous, deep-flavoured bone broth, simmered for hours, then poured over soft noodles and topped with thinly sliced meat, seafood (or even tofu), and your own measure of aromatic herbs. When the taste is just right, it takes us back to greedily-slurped breakfasts eaten while perched on tiny plastic chairs on the streets of Hanoi… When we need a full-on pho hit closer to home, we make a beeline for Big Bowl.
Big Bowl serves real Vietnamese cuisine, as we’ve experienced it on our travels, right on our Brighton doorstep. Though we’ve spent more hours in Big Bowl over the 4 years since it opened than seems decent, we’d never met Brandon Vu (manager) before, and had no idea what to expect as we sat down for our chat. It quickly transpired that the Vu family’s journey was anything but ordinary.
Hailing from Haiphong in north eastern Vietnam, Brandon’s dad, Oskar, moved to Poland in the seventies to study mechanics before returning to Vietnam, where they stayed until 1989 when the family escaped the regime on a gruelling ten-day boat journey to Hong Kong. They were in a refugee camp while awaiting permission to move on, then lived at various times in Canada (where Brandon was born) and Iceland, before eventually moving to the UK.
When they settled in Brighton, the family immediately saw a gap in the market for a Vietnamese restaurant - the small selection of Vietnamese eateries in the UK were serving food that was, in Brandon’s words “good, but it wasn’t mum’s”. The family decided that Elva’s north Vietnamese family recipes were too good not to share, leading to the opening of Big Bowl, and we’re so thankful that they did.
Family is at the heart of this place. Oskar and Elva ran Big Bowl until last year when they took a well-earned back seat and 26-year-old Brandon took the wheel. Brandon’s youthful, entrepreneurial spirit is now taking Big Bowl from strength to strength.We’ll be eagerly watching to see which inspiring idea Big Bowl serves up next, and whichever it is we’ll be ready to take a big bite… just as long as we can still get the pho too!
Landing in Vietnam for the first time is an arrival like no other - you’re immediately intoxicated by wonderful scents coming from the streetfood stalls, small open restaurants and bustling markets. My travels there have spanned from north to south, and the exciting variety of dishes you encounter across the country are as much a part of the journey as the destinations.
My afternoon with Brandon and his family was a genuine pleasure. He spent his childhood in a variety of places, but I was surprised to learn that he’s only been to Vietnam once - although he’s clearly eager to return. His travel plans are undoubtedly being led by his stomach, and stories of his parents experiences there.
Along with visiting relatives in Haiphong, where he’s keen to sample his mother’s Banh Cuon at source, he’s eager to enjoy pho in Hanoi - its true home - although you’re never more than a few minutes away from a steaming bowl in any town. Hue came up a few times, as Brandon is particularly excited about sampling the imperial-style dishes that that the city is so famous for. We’d certainly include Danang (near Hoi An) or Phan Thiet for their legendary seafood, before finishing with some fiery, wok-heavy dishes in Saigon.
Tuck into your Vietnam
Call us on 01273 670 001
“We focus on healthy ingredients...to make it light” Brandon