Cheap and cheerful. It’s a term that is so lightly thrown around these days, like “vegetarian” and “tip”. I take all of these things very seriously, and think of myself as a dedicated follower of the last 2, and in constant search of the first. When it comes to Xage, I think I have definitely found it, although it would have to be closer to the higher end of the scale than, say, banh mi from the local street vendor in Vietnam. Focusing on “fuss free” Vietnamese cuisine from Central and Southern Vietnam, Xage has clearly won over its patrons since it first opened its doors with $10 dinner specials, pulling in a nightly full-house long after the permanent menu prices set in.
Having heard of the upcoming opening of Madame Nhu, an offshoot of Xage in the Galleries Victoria Building in Sydney’s CBD, I decided I must return to it’s sister restaurant before grazing afield. I had been in email contact with “Minh”, after having made an online booking enquiry for dinner at Madame Nhu. Minh Nguyen, who (upon Googling) I find is actually the chef and owner of both, tells me dinner service has not begun pending the liquor license, but assures me that he will keep me posted. He also warns me that there are only 2 vegetarian options on the menu at this stage. I’m game if you are! In the meantime, I am happy to return to Xage at Minh’s recommendation and am happy that I have.
On this occasion I have booked for two for 6:30, and arrive just after my friend. At first I think she is being hustled off our table as I am running about 5 minutes late, but as I get closer I realise a discussion about parking meters is taking place with the waitress trying to ensure her patrons are not going to be distracted by the interminable Surry Hills fines. This dinner is going to be a quick one, especially when we remember Xage is BYO only after the meter has been fed.
To start off we order Honey Tofu Summer Rolls with hot green chilli sauce. They are a little rubbery in the rice paper department but the ingredients are very tasty and the tofu inside is of the spongey variety, my favourite. Paired with some fresh chopped chilli on the side they’re complimented by the added flavours, which is almost enough to distract me from the alfalfa sprouts piled on the top. Yergh!
One of the best things I ate all around Vietnam was salt and pepper tofu, so this version of Silken Tofu with Sichuan Pepper, Salt and Chilli has some big shoes to fill. Admittedly, it has been a while since I was there, but I’m pretty sure this is more than up to scratch. With crispy, fresh, crunchy outsides and soft, silky tofu on the inside, it really hits the spot.
I would usually never order a stir-fry with fried rice, but in this case I can tell I am not going to need to use the rice to mop up any sauces. The Vegetarian Fried Rice is a perfect pairing along with the hoisin and sesame sauce served on the side, and we are both well and truly stuffed full by the end of the meal.
I wouldn’t say Xage is exclusively traditional Vietnamese, although I’m not sure it purports to be. The sweeter than usual sauces and modern garnishes are a dead give-away, but I quite like the little twists and combined with the chic, beautifully lit surroundings with open-plan walls, this is a really nice place to be. It’s in the little stretch of Crown St that connects the much less affordable Surry Hills attractions like The Winery and Thomas Dux with the more down-to-earth offerings further south towards Cleveland.
While I keep an eye on Madame Nhu’s Facebook page (the last couple of posts from diners, or wishful diners, have suggested that they have arrived for dinner after 6 only to find the food has been flat sold out), I await Minh’s nod of approval that dinner service is well and truly ready to go. In the meantime I will perhaps settle for some “liking” of Xage and Madame Nhu in the hopes that, someday, I might win dinner for 2 at either one.
(02) 9332 3344
333 Crown St, Surry Hills