Madame Nhu: Innovative Vietnamese comfort food steeped in family and tradition
Beginning in 2007 with their original summer rolls, family-run restaurant Madame Nhu is no stranger to bringing fresh and innovative Vietnamese dishes to Sydney.
Named after chef-founder Nhu, and as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the controversial Vietnamese political figure often referred to as the “dragon-lady”, Madame Nhu has restaurants in Surry Hills, Chatswood, and Hornsby.
The shining star of the restaurant is undoubtedly the slow-cooked phở noodle soups, created and developed by Chef Nhu herself, which have become a legend to regular Madame Nhu customers and the Sydney-Vietnamese community.
Owner Minh Nguyen says that their “core vision has always been the same” despite a shift in focus from summer rolls to phở.
Originally from corporate working backgrounds, Minh and Nhu have always had a love for food and travel but found that elements of the Vietnamese food that they knew and loved were largely absent from Sydney restaurants.
“Vietnamese food in Australia became stagnated. When it first arrived, it came from refugees like us,” Minh said.
“It was very specific to the 1975-1980 Vietnamese food that refugees from that time grew up with, but we wanted to focus on something that is more evolving and not stuck in the past… [and] innovation of the food was a main motivation.”
In Vietnamese culture, food is the binding element of the family and community and Minh feels that in modern life that aspect can often be lost or forgotten.
Madame Nhu stands as a reminder that food is “the basis of celebration, of culture, and of getting people together”.
The reaction of the Vietnamese-Australian community to Madame Nhu has always been remarkably positive, particularly among Vietnamese students and expats who often return to Vietnam with these Westernised-Vietnam dishes, creating what is a two-way exchange between the cultures.
Minh says this idea of evolving and changing Vietnamese food has only been relevant to Sydney in the last decade or so but has not been without criticism and resistance from the public.
“The criticisms we used to get was that it was nice, but it was not authentic and traditional,” Minh explained.
“They completely missed the point, food that is not authentic is food that remains the same… Vietnamese food is meant to be evolving.”
Madame Nhu is a testament to Vietnamese-Australian food, representing what it means to be an immigrant in Australia.
The team behind Madame Nhu want this to come across in their cooking and in the experiences of each of their diners, whether it be through reminding Vietnamese-Australians of their unique heritage or inviting others to research and explore Vietnam for themselves.
“If the food can bring comfort and remind us what is important, then we have achieved what we want to achieve,” Minh said.
Recent events have prompted an update to the restaurant’s website and the addition of more delivery services such as DoorDash and Deliveroo.
Madame Nhu website: https://www.madamenhu.com/
Or check out Bar Pesta, also owned by the people at Madame Nhu (formerly Xage Vietnamese in Surry Hills): https://www.barpesta.com/