Made predominantly from beef bones, herbs and spices, the noodle soup pho reached broad popularity in early 20th century Vietnam, when French occupation of the country during the Vietnam War lead to a higher than average availability of beef. This influence has lead pho’s origins to be linked to a French stew called pot au feu. But while their similarities – both use gelatinous cuts of beef to thicken and enrich the broth plus various herbs – are obvious, the jury’s out on whether pho was actually derived from pot au feu. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario.
Pho – one chicken, one beef-based – is the hero dish on the menu at new restaurant Love Exposure, owned by the trio behind Kiss Kiss and Happy Boy. Simmered and skimmed (to remove residual fat) for 12 hours in a large vat, the result is a meaty broth which is at once light and complex. Owners Ludo and Jasper Maignot and Celeste Thornley admit the recipe may not be one hundred percent traditional but they haven’t taken any shortcuts in the kitchen. In any case, it’s easy to forgive a little inauthenticity if the food tastes good.
Love Exposure – named after one of the Maignot brothers’ favourite Japanese films – is situated in a strange glass box on the corner of Dominion and Onslow Roads. It once housed another very good Vietnamese restaurant called Peasant, before several less successful ventures.
You can tell who now owns the place before you even get inside – the trio have become Auckland-famous for their garish, kitschy fit-outs. Here it’s their usual style with the volume turned up. Let’s call it two dollar shop meets strip club, with its bead curtains, fake taxidermy animals, camouflage tablecloths and fish scale-covered banquettes. It’s an Instagram dream but the lights, while emitting a flattering red glow, won’t serve those hoping to photograph their food. “We wanted it to be more shocking, more crazy, more fun,” says Ludo. There is a hectic mural by artist Guy Brock which runs the length of the bar and the toilet walls have fake lobsters glued to them.
Aside from pho, the menu covers glass noodle salads, chicken satay, summer rolls and a couple of banh mi. The only dessert is a coconut and banana sago pudding and the wine list is dominated by rosé and bubbles, just because. In keeping with its Dominion Road location, no food item is priced over $20 – it’s cheap and cheerful. Much like the fit-out.
Love Exposure opens Tuesday, May 1.
191 Dominion Rd