In the moments before uttering the word pho, you have to make a decision. Do you take the easy route of whitewashing the pronunciation of this comforting Vietnamese soup and ask for a “beef foe, mate”? Or do you instead take a crack at asking for a “fuh”?
At Sen Storm, a new Vietnamese diner on Smith Street, Fitzroy, owner and head chef Ryan Pham couldn’t care less how you pronounce pho. Just don’t squirt Sriracha into it. “That’s not the real sauce to me,” he says.
Regarding sauces, Pham has a strict ethos of Vietnamese tradition. Choose one of Sen Storm’s two beef phos (traditional or thin-style beef, which is tenderised into delicious strips), chicken pho, or their vegan tofu version, which all arrive with a tiny plate of homemade chilli sauce that’ll make you sweat. Pham assures me it’s a close approximation to the heat you’d find in the soups served in Vietnam.
“We pickle the chilli and the garlic in a lot of vinegar,” he says. “Everything is fresh, and we pickle it ‘til the time we think it’s a perfect brine, then blend it with some other things as well. So there’s no preservatives. Just natural flavour.”
Like its pho, Sen Storm’s pine and teal-tiled decor is straight-up. Pham opened the eatery with business partner Kieran Nghiem, who runs front of house, late last year. Prior to Sen Storm, Pham worked in countless Auckland kitchens before moving to Hanoi, Vietnam, where he opened his own restaurant, the Matchbox. He ran it for three years, and developed an interest in the meeting point between hyper-traditional Vietnamese food and dishes with European influences. When Pham sold the Matchbox and relocated with his family to Melbourne, this became the concept for Sen Storm – excluding the pho.
“We use some of the French techniques, but it’s more about our coming home to our roots,” Pham says. “So it’s very authentic, very simple cooking. No mucking around, just flavour … No decorations. Nothing, not even garnish. When I say minimal, I mean very minimal.”
The menu is split into small plates (pork skewers with nuoc mam; five-spice quail; calamari and pork fritters), noodles (the aforementioned pho, a few vermicelli soups, duck curry with egg noodles), and the grill. In the latter you’ll find dry-aged Gippsland sirloin with sweet potato rosti and a peppercorn sauce; mountain-pepper-spiced Yarra Valley venison; and duck breast with mashed cassava.
The drinks list champions local Aussie wine, and beers from a local brewery, which can help extinguish your mouth should you overdo the homemade chilli sauce.
It’s an easy mistake to make.
Sen Storm Noodle Bar & Grill
293–295 Smith Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9419 2130
Mon to Wed 11am–10pm
Thu to Sat 11am–10.30pm