Vietnamese Coffee & Dessert Culture Focus at Pho To Shop Xuhui

By Sophie Steiner, March 8, 2022

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The Place

Award-winning Vietnamese restaurant since 2014, Cyclo has been a pioneer in bringing the authentic flavors of Vietnamese cuisine to Shanghai.

For their next concept, the Cyclo team opened up Pho To Shop on Wuding Lu in October 2019 – a fast-casual Vietnamese diner that quickly became the neighborhood’s go-to when it comes to banh mi, pho and everything in between.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Pho To Shop has continued expansion since then, with a second outpost on Nanjing Xi Lu, and – most recently – it’s newest digs on Huashan Lu. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Just like any precocious, younger sibling, it turns out Pho To Shop is not content with being a smaller scale version of its bigger sister restaurant. It longs to carve out its own identity and make its mark upon the Shanghai culinary world. 

DSC01285.jpgImage by Sophie Steiner/That's 

So, in a bold, sideways step, it is developing itself in a separate and original direction – one that places a stronger emphasis on Vietnamese coffee and dessert culture. 

The Food & Drinks

Inspired by the street corner coffee shops of Vietnam, with their tiny plastic chairs and tables spilling out onto the sidewalk – separated from the street by somehow very much of it – the new Pho To Shop boasts a much more expansive coffee beverage selection, plus a wide variety of sweet soup desserts. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Vietnam’s culture is deeply rooted in a robust history of coffee production and consumption. As the second largest coffee bean producer in the world, Vietnam has created a variety of coffee flavors and styles. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Vietnamese coffee distinguishes itself with its significantly bold and bitter flavor. It starts with the unique brewing process using the “phin” filter, a metal tin that slowly drips coffee as hot water is added at the top. 

As the hot water drips and turns into coffee, it settles in a glass with sweetened condensed milk to balance the strong flavor. And voilà, a classic Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk – ca phe sua

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Another take on coffee in Vietnam is the egg coffee – ca phe trung. First made in Hanoi in the 1940s, egg yolk was substituted for milk when cow's milk was scarce.

Egg yolk is whipped with condensed milk to create a light froth to mix in with the coffee. Today, this version is still popular around the country. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Pho To Shop’s Egg Coffee (RMB38) is sprinkled with a dusting of sweetened cocoa powder to juxtapose the robust coffee aroma. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Using coconut cream rather than coconut milk for extra oomph, plus coconut syrup, the Coffee Coconut (RMB40) delivers on the coconut front without being saccharine. 

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A play on the ever-popular bubble tea, the Bubble Coffee (RMB35) is just as the name promises, but with a Vietnamese coffee and milk base rather tea. Ideal for those who can’t decide between a coffee or dessert, this tenders both at the same time, in the same glass.

Of course, there’s also classic Vietnamese Coffee with Condensed Milk (RMB30), available both hot and cold; for some extra pep in your step, spike your coffee with Kahlua or Bailey’s for RMB40. 

DSC01277.jpgImage by Sophie Steiner/That's 

The desserts are down to earth, light and refreshing, reminiscent of the fruit, jellies and coconut-laden dessert soups served out of time-worn pots by the ladleful by Vietnamese street vendors until the wee hours of the morning.

Homemade with coconut palm sugar rather than plain white sugar, the treats proffer a more honey-like sweetness. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

From the colorful Rainbow (RMB38) – with crunchy beetroot and pandan-dyed water chestnuts, herbal black jelly, coconut jelly and mung bean paste in a coconut milk soup...

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... to the equally sticky, sweet yet pantone Snow White (RMB30), with lychee, water chestnuts, chia seeds, coconut milk, coconut jellies and crunchy slivered almonds – each dessert soup is distinct with varying textures to keep every bite far from the mundane. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Other options span warming Banana & Sago Pearls (RMB30) with stewed bananas, crushed peanuts and coconut milk; Sweet Corn Pudding (RMB30) with a coconut cream topper; and the refreshingly cold Longan & Lotus Seed Sweet Soup (RMB30)

DSC01198.jpgMango Sticky Rice (RMB38), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

The food menu is a copy-paste of other Pho To Shop venues, with items like banh mi – the Vietnamese baguette sandwich – spring rolls, bun cha and, of course, pho. 

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When pho is in the name, you order it, and you have a choice of chicken or beef. We opted for the latter, also known as Pho Bo (RMB58/small, RMB68/large), the large easily feeds two people.

The seasoned broth combines concentrated umami elevated by an abundance of fresh herbs and slippery wide rice noodles.

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Imagine our surprise when the Bun Cha Hanoi Noodle (RMB73) stepped up to steal the show. Three pork belly meatballs come swimming in a tangy fish sauce and citrus broth studded with slivered garlic and carrots.

Spooning that over the heaps of fresh herbs and lettuce, grilled pork, fried spring rolls and sticky vermicelli noodles, we were left feeling satiated, yet not weighed down.

DSC01180.jpgVermicelli with Grilled Pork (RMB63), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Hailing from co-owner Lam’s hometown of Tra Vinh, the Shrimp & Fish Sate Soup (RMB68) sees a coconut milk-based broth simmered with tart pineapple and chili, stacked with fried fish cakes, shrimp and hard-boiled egg.

The bowl’s bottom is rounded by two kinds of noodles – thin pho noodles and thicker, springy rice noodles. Crunchy peanuts, bean sprouts and fried shallots adorn the top along with a gasp of lime. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Similar to papaya salad in flavor, the Susu Salad (RMB38) features chayote – a thin-skinned squash from Mexico – plus julienned carrots and green mango in a herbaceous citrusy fish sauce. 

The Vibe

A bright place to be with a buzzing ambience, this location is located on a B1 level in a food court, yet it doesn’t lose its character. The walls are decorated with Vietnamese village graphics done up in a modern art style, while the brightly colored seats drawn in passersby. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Split into two, one side is more café heavy – with a heavy-duty coffee machine – while the other side is where the kitchen sits.

Definitely one to revisit, while perfect for big messy meals with a group of friends, it is also a rare place where you would be as comfortable eating on your own.

Price: RMB150-250
Who’s Going: Those working near Zhongshan Park, Vietnamese that live in downtown, those wanting a healthy-yet-filling Southeast Asian lunch
Good For: Coffee dates, a mid-day sweet treat pick-me-up, Vietnamese food cravings

See a listing for Pho To Shop (Xuhui).

Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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