Currently, there are two NamNam outlets in Singapore selling Pho, Banh Mi and other Vietnamese street food favourites, and the queues at both are particularly crazy during the lunch and dinner rush hours. At under $10 the lunch set is a steal, but the a la carte menu is reasonably priced as well, which is probably why you'll see lots of students and young adults willingly hanging about in a line for over 20 minutes.
A was the earliest one at City Hall station, so he went to queue up first. Even so, by the time everyone arrived an age later, we were still waiting for our table to be readied. After a large group finally cleared out, we were given the table right by the entrance, and shared it with the girls right in front of us in the line. The thing about enforced communal dining though, is that no matter how you do it, unless people at the table feel particularly friendly or happen to already know each other, then you're not actually fostering any sense of camaraderie, just awkward shuffling every time a stranger needs to squeeze past you to get in or out.
Once everyone decided what they wanted, we filled out our order chit and sent A off to place and pay for our orders at the counter. Even with the full house, it didn't take long for our drinks, then our food to arrive. Mn & Mf got cans of coke that came with tiny vintage-looking tin cups that seem all the rage now, while my lime soda came in a more sedate plastic tumbler. I'm fairly sure Sprite instead of soda water was used for the lime soda, which was eye-watering-ly sweet.
Our table saw a combination of beef, chicken and combination beef Phos, and the overall verdict was resoundingly positive. The chain trumpets their 'no-MSG' policy, but the soup was just a tad too salty for my tastes. L & Mn though, found no fault with it and drained their bowls. I did like was the richness of the broth, which is apparently boiled with all manner of good things for over 24 hours. They're very generous with the beef slices, which were a little tough due to sheer thickness, but less so with the rice noodles, which seemed a shame. For me the noodles were the best part of the Pho. Elsewhere you get distressingly soggy stuff, but here the noodles have enough texture for you to chew on.
An oversight on my part (I neglected to circle the 'later' option) led to my dessert, a vanilla pudding with palm sugar caramel, arriving together with the bowls of Pho. It sat there till I'd slurped up the last of my noodles, and seemed no worse for the wear really. Maybe the sweet potato chip would have been crisper if I'd consumed it immediately, but the pudding itself suffered little.
It was a lovely pudding the first few mouthfuls. It jiggled and looked almost alarmingly liquid, but held up its shape magnificently and tasted really full and dense. It was richly, deeply creamy and sweet enough on its own without the caramel. Halfway through though, after the first of it settled, I felt too jelak to continue. It got a bit cloying, which was when I fobbed it off to the rest, who very happily finished it for me.
NamNam is probably the most affordable restaurant under the Les Amis group (Let's face it - Cine Cafe? Still feels indecently high end for those of us who can still remember fast food at Shaw Lido.) right now, but it still feels like the same quality control is being applied to the food here, to good effect. NamNam isn't perfect, but compared to similar eateries, its offerings seem to be of a much higher standard.
One odd thing about NamNam is that it seems like a place that should have a super quick turnover rate (And that massive snaking line of people glaring at you to finish up and leave certainly reinforces this impression), but the food invites more lingering, which results in a meal that feels abruptly cut short. It's not the best place for long reunions unless you count the time everyone spends together in the queue, but if you're looking for a good, quick-ish meal before you run off elsewhere, NamNam fits the bill.
252 North Bridge Road, #B1-46/47, Raffles City Shopping Centre, Singapore 179103 http://namnamnoodlebar.com.sg/