Review: Madame Nhu, Surry Hills

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!

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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!

Soda chanh day passionfruit, fresh lemon and mint, $6
Soda chanh day passionfruit, fresh lemon and mint, $6

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.

Grilled lemongrass pork summer rolls with green chilli, $9.50
Grilled lemongrass pork summer rolls with green chilli, $9.50

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.

Mixed pickles, $6.90
Mixed pickles, $6.90

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.

Signature ??c bi?t ph?, grass-fed beef prepared three ways, $16.90
Signature dac biet pho, grass-fed beef prepared three ways, $16.90

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.

Grilled H?i An-style squid papaya salad, five-spice soy dressing, $17.90
Grilled H?i An-style squid papaya salad, five-spice soy dressing, $17.90

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!

Madame Nhu Surry Hills on Urbanspoon

Review: An Restaurant, Bankstown

This is a somewhat embarrassing confession – for someone who’s lived in Sydney for just over three years, I actually don’t know that much about different areas of Sydney, outer suburbs in particular. It’s a sad fact that my life here is somewhat localised – I live, work, shop, and eat mainly on the North Shore and rarely have a reason to venture outside of my comfort zone.

To combat this sheltered existence, K and I have recently resolved to spend a day, every couple of weeks, in exploring different areas of Sydney. From Paddington to Parramatta, Manly to Maroubra, we’ll spend time getting to know Sydney over the course of the next year. Our first stop was Cabramatta (which is an old favourite of mine) and we also made a stop in Bankstown for a meal.

K remembered his grandparents taking him to An Restaurant in Bankstown nearly two decades ago, and so naturally, we indulged in a spot of nostalgia for him and stopped in for an early lunch.

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It’s a very large and very professional outfit, a far cry from your usual mum and pop pho restaurant. Over a dozen uniformed staff man the tables and everyone has a clearly defined role – one guy even has the job of just bringing plates of herbs, bean shoots and lemons to each table for the bowls of pho.

Our waitress seated us, and lingered around clearly waiting for us to order. As we stared bewilderingly at her, she sighed and went off to get us some printed menus – we were obviously committing some kind of a faux pas by expecting to look at a menu rather than order immediately. I noticed that the other tables around us were ordering almost before they even sat down – clearly the locals are already well-versed with the menu options!

Soy Milk, $3
Soy Milk, $3

As it was quite a warm day, I ordered a soy milk to help quench my thirst. Interestingly, it came out slightly green in colour, with a clear tiny of pandan essence. While I don’t mind the twist to my usual nutty soy milk as it makes it quite interesting, I think I would have preferred to get exactly what I ordered. If I had known I wouldn’t get my actual order, I probably would have ordered something different like three colour drink.

Beef Noodle Soup (Medium), $13
Beef Noodle Soup (Medium), $13

K’s pho bo (beef noodle soup) comes out in what is actually the perfect serving size. Often I find pho servings a bit too large to eat comfortably – a medium serving from An Restaurant on the other hand is perfect for satisfying appetite without resulting in physical pain from having eaten too much. The broth is surprisingly dark – I’m more accustomed to clearer broths. It is wonderfully rich and aromatic though, and really doesn’t require the flavour enhancing sauces that most people add to their pho.

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My beef and chicken pho (photo taken post-mixing with bean shoots and herbs) was very satisfying, and definitely hit the spot. There was a healthy serving of both the thinly sliced beef and the chicken thigh meat – so much that I happily shared a quarter of it with my meat-loving husband (then fiance). While I wouldn’t say that it’s the best bowl of pho around (the honour still goes to Pho Hung Vuong 2 in Melbourne for a much more reasonable price), it’s still a very satisfying meal from a really interesting part of Sydney.

I won’t be back to An Restaurant any time soon for the pure reason that I’m unlikely to go back to Bankstown any time soon. However, I still recommend it as somewhere you can go for a great meal, and prompt efficient service.

An Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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For our other Bankstown adventures, we dropped by Chehade El Bahsa & Sons Sweets to grab some baklava for a sweet treat over the next few days. Half a kilo of delicious sticky sweet baklava cost us only $12 – a bargain! I’d definitely go back to buy some more baklava – it would make a great sweet treat to take along to a dinner party.

Chehade El Bahsa & Sons Sweets on Urbanspoon

Review: Viet Hoa Hot Bread, Cabramatta

I may not know a lot, but I do know better than to ignore my cravings, especially when it’s for something as delicious as pandan waffles! As I needed to visit Cabramatta anyway (in search for a cheongsam for our Chinese wedding banquet later this year), I decided to skip breakfast that day and indulge in the food offerings at Viet Hoa Hot Bread, one of my favourite food joints in Cabramatta.

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The store isn’t much to look at, and the middle-aged women who run the store are more efficient than welcoming, serving you quickly and briskly without any smiles to spare.

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Sugar cane juice is one of my big indulgences, and what I like about the juice at Viet Hoa’s is that they mix in a little bit of orange/citrus juice – just enough to temper the overwhelming sweetness of sugar cane juice without diluting its unique taste.

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A small cup of sugar cane juice (with ice) is only $3.50. They’re also not stingy even if you choose the ‘ice’ option – the cup has a scoop of ice in it, but isn’t filled to the brim so you still get a generous serve of juice. You can choose the “no ice” option for an extra $1, but I quite like the way the ice cools down the juice and gradually waters it down a bit.

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This is what I’m here for though! The pandan waffles are only $1.50 each, and the blend of waffle mix, desiccated coconut and pandan essence make this the perfect snack for in-between meals…or a few of them could be a meal in itself. Not that I would ever do that of course…

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I also bought one of their steamed pork buns for $3.50. What this photo doesn’t show, is the fact that this bun is about three times the size of a closed fist – it is literally one of the biggest steamed buns I’ve ever eaten!

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The bun is a little soggy (it’s been sitting in the steamer for too long!), but this is more than made up for by the surprising filling. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting – a pork mince filling certainly, perhaps with some chives for flavour and interest. I certainly wasn’t expecting this solid pork filling that included vermicelli noodles, a quail egg, Chinese sausage and juicy shiitake mushrooms. I enjoy the bun so much that I find myself lambasting the fact that I can’t buy frozen packs of these buns for future breakfasts at home!

As my favourite food joint in Cabramatta, I’ll certainly be back to Viet Hoa Hot Bread – it’s cheap, cheerful, and constantly delivers delicious snack foods. Next time, I might even try their banh mi, which according to Noodlies, is one of the best in Sydney!

Viet Hoa Hot Bread on Urbanspoon