A top contender for best lunchtime pho in the CBD, Madame Nhu's underground Vietnamese takeaway joint in the Galleries Victoria went overground in late 2012. Opening across from Bar H on a corner in Surry Hills, Nhu has a permanent pop-up bar look, the Viet version of El Loco. Sit in and drink up seems to be the message, with a cocktail bar offering eight different tipples and a restaurant menu split between starters, pho, and mains.
The team behind Madame Nhu also own fellow Viet restaurant Xage on Crown Street, although this is a more relaxed affair, with its simple bar stool, table arrangements, and inexpensive menu. Madame Nhu was the first lady of the pre-Communist South Vietnam in the 1950s and early 1960s. Her namesake clearly wants to be the first lady of Vietnamese pho franchises in the city, although in Surry Hills, she's a grungier version of the quick and business-like CBD Nhu.
The entrees are familiar terrain for Vietnamese foodie lovers. The small goi cuon summer rolls ($8.50-$9.50) range from tiger prawn filling to bbq duck fillet with three dipping sauces. The baby banh mi ($5.50) is a baguette slider with tasty chicken pate, mayo, salad, and soy dressing and is a simpler version of the kind of miniature snacks that Dan Hong churns out.
The pho noodle soups ($12.90-$15.90), for which city workers queue up each weekday in the Galleries Victoria basement, are brewed for eight hours, and although a little sweet for some tastes, have a loyal following. The mains are a spicy collection of salads and rice and noodle dishes, from a simple bun bo grilled beef vermicelli ($15.90) to a carmelised slow-cooked chicken ga kho ($16.90).
The cocktails, as the menu cheekily boasts, "are not for sissies". The punch is more in the flavour rather than the alcoholic hit. Our picks are the mango lychee slushy ($10) and the Red Under the Bed ($14).
Madame Nhu fits into Surry Hills' on-the-fly bar scene with its simple set-up and quick-and-easy service. With Spice I Am and House just around the corner, the area has become a great triangle of south-east Asian dining.