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Adventures in phở and Vietnamese drip coffee at Ô Mai, Utrechtsestraat

O Mai, Vietnamese food in Utrechtsestraat, Amsterdam

Ô Mai has been serving homemade food ‘the way mama makes it’ from its den at at the north end of Utrechtsestraat for a few years now. As you might expect from a mama, Mama Ô Mai doesn’t make a big fuss about it all, but her customers have been. And we know why…

For starters, the sticky summer rolls are as fresh as May daisies, so if you’ve an appetite for a first course or you’re just in the mood for smaller plates, you’ll leave with a happy belly, instead of a heavy one. As with our recent coverage of street food-focused FRNZY,  there’s little on the menu to be guilty about scoffing down. So we went for it and sampled the shrimp summer rolls, but there’s a variety on offer. Meanwhile, other people in our group ordered the delicious deep fried spring rolls, which are served with dipping sauces and lettuce leaves to wrap up and devour them in.


Pho with all the trimmings, and the ubiquitous Sriracha sauce

The main event, though, is the phở, which is created with the freshest, tastiest broth we could imagine. Team Kompas has eaten at Ô Mai on at least three other occasions, but on this visit we ordered the Phở Gà – or chicken noodle soup – for the first time.

This is a dish of deceptive simplicity, but  it not only allowed the minimal ingredients of shredded chicken, noodles, spring onion and broth to speak for themselves, but to sing together in perfect four-point harmony.

For want of a more contemporary analogy, this is the En Vogue of Vietnamese food and like all great musical successes, it was accompanied by a worthy backing band. The chefs and serving staff here pay attention to the details, serving their dishes with an array of authentic condiments and side ingredients. Some are native to the table such as the ubiquitous Sriracha sauce, whilst others are delivered per dish.

Needless to say, each one is designed to add bass, mid-tone or treble to whichever degree you desire. Order correctly and you’ll have a choir backed by a symphony.

As you know, we’re a fan of authenticity and Ô Mai delivers it in vats, dispensing with fickle notions of trend in order to deliver nothing less than distinctly high-quality food and efficient, friendly service. There’s a wall full of colourful paper cranes, but that’s it for fancy touches to the interior.

We’re fans of the restaurant’s location, too. Situated within spitting distance of tourist heavyweight, Rembrandtplein, Ô Mai is bundled up within an oddball collection of premises including a hipster B&B, a coffeeshop (the Amsterdam specific kind), an upscale meat restaurant, English pub and a drag bar. Perhaps that’s by-the-by, but it describes a piece of central Amsterdam’s charm for those who’re still building a case to come visit.

Before we forget, let’s talk about Vietnamese drip coffee; another first for us (here or anywhere) and a revelation that excites us greatly. Especially ahead of our trip to Vietnam in a few months time.

Served hot or cold, ‘Vietnamese drip’ (as we’ll casually describe it to anyone willing to listen) is a world-renowned combination of rich, silky coffee and sweet, sticky condensed milk. It arrives with some lo-fi brewing aids which require no real mastery, whilst the drip-drip waiting game only heightens the anticipation when you finally get to muddle together the pitch-black coffee and creamy-white milk into the intensely sweet, bitter and delicious confectionary that results.

Hot and cold drip coffee

Hot and cold examples of world-renowned Vietnamese drip coffee

Somehow, the food at Ô Mai (like any good Vietnamese restaurant) feels genuinely restorative thanks to its fresh ingredients and lack of unnecessary additives. We can’t say for certain, but we think we’ve extended our lives by at least six and a half minutes each time we’ve eaten here. Time will tell on that one, so start the clock. On your marks. Get set. Phở.

Specialities Life-giving phở and other Vietnamese specialities
Booking Yes, but turnover is pretty quick so you can also just turn up
Groups Not a problem, especially if you’re booking ahead

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