After our second wedding dance lesson, K and I walked over to Madame Nhu, just one of the growing group of modern Asian eateries that take traditional dishes and serve them in a funkier bar establishment, appealing to inner-city hipsters. The food isn’t necessarily the highlight in these places – it’s just a nice addition to a cool dimly lit drinking establishment.
Unlike the other groups there who had clearly settled in for the night with a range of nibbles and a multitude of drinks on the table, K and I were just there for a quick dinner at the bar before heading home. Having just turned 28, I claim that I’m too old for a late night…but the truth is, I’m just a homebody at heart!
We took our seats at the bar as all the individual tables were taken. That was fine with us – it afforded us a great view into the kitchen, and the only downside was that we were situated a bit too close to the lavatories which, judging by the occasional smells drifting out every time the doors were opened, were in need of a good bleaching and cleaning!
We ordered a passionfruit, lemon and mint soda to share, as we were both feeling quite thirsty after our strenuous activities on the dancefloor. Unfortunately the ‘passionfruit’ was faint if at all present. I consoled myself with the fact that although we didn’t quite get the passionfruit that we ordered, we were at least enjoying a really nice house-made lemonade with a twist of mint.
The grilled pork rice paper rolls came out to our table within two minutes of placing our order, so I can only presume that they’re pre-made rather than wrapped fresh. You can taste the difference as well, as the rice paper had turned a bit hard and chewy. The lemongrass pork was very tasty though, and went well with the fresh veggies inside, especially when dipped in the green chilli dip.
When K first looked up the menu at Madame Nhu’s, he called out to me “They do a mixed pickles dish!” That was it, I was sold! I’m an absolute pickle fanatic, and you can always find a jar of dill pickles as well as a jar of kimchi in our fridge. Madame Nhu’s housemade mixed pickles are a great mix of cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cucumber and carrots – and ginger too. When mixed with some fresh bean shoots that took on some of the pickled flavours, it’s a great starter of fresh and tart flavours, and crunchy textures. A real winner.
You don’t go to a Vietnamese place (however modern and hip) without trying a bowl of pho! They have a few different varieties on the menu, but we opted for their signature dac biet pho, with beef prepared three ways. I was a big big fan of their clear, sweet broth which I found really cleansing, but K missed the opportunity that you usually get to add his preferred sauce mix (including Sriracha) to the broth.
I also like the ratio of ingredients – very often I find that you get a lot of noodles, but not much in the way of fresh herbs or bean shoots. Madame Nhu offers a much better balance, with an almost 50/50 split between noodles and other fresher and crunchier ingredients. It’s a real tick in my book as it makes for a healthier and more balanced meal.
While we were eating our entree, K and I saw the chef frying something up quickly in a burst of flame from the kitchen. “I wonder what that is,” I mused. Barely a minute later, our squid papaya salad was delivered to our seats at the bar. Inhaling the smoky aromas, I knew that our squid was fresh out of the wok.
Ordering squid is always problematic, as you never know how it’s going to turn out. Will it be tough and chewy the way so many deep-fried calamari rings from fish and chipperies can be? Luckily, the squid in our salad was beautifully tender and soft, and extremely enjoyable with the five spice dressing. Plus it’s a salad…so it’s healthy right?
Overall, we quite enjoyed our quick dinner at Madame Nhu’s and would definitely consider going back, though certain elements were more miss than hit. To help with that issue, I think that if you order items that have to be freshly cooked off the menu (e.g. the pho or certain salads), you’re probably more likely to have a more enjoyable meal. The pre-made entrees like rice paper rolls are more disappointing!
The prices are quite reasonable as well – while you pay a bit extra because of the location and ‘coolness’ fee (inner city Surry Hills), the prices certainly aren’t unreasonable. We walked away with a bill under $60 for two people, feeling extremely satiated. You can’t ask for more than that!