Never one to do things by halves, Nahji Chu is about launch the latest addition to the Misschu posse – and this time it’s less about rice paper and more about potato.
While her choice of a main ingredient might come as a shock, it’s hardly surprising that she’s counting down the days to the launch of her latest project – every time we check in she’s got something on the boil. Last month it was the opening of not only Misschu underground in the CBD, but also the release of Gidget Chu wines and the Misschu iPhone app.
This time she’s just returned from a jaunt to the Cannes Film Festival and she’s about to unveil the sister store to her Misschu Bondi tuckshop, titled Potato Ghetto.
Housed in the Beach House complex in Bondi, Chu has been working on the eatery’s final incarnation for a while (at one stage it was going to be a kind of Vietnamese ennoteca), but it’s finally found its footing as a celebration of all things potato and crepe, just not as you know them. Right now, we’re sampling Bánh xèo, the crunchy Vietnamese crepe broken up and wrapped DIY style in rice paper. It’s one of the headline acts at the new Potato Ghetto venue when it opens this Friday.
The finishing touches are going on the signature Misschu tuckshop-like space. There’re the soup bowl lights, the wood-look tiles, the awnings and the banks of windows. Music thumps in the background, bringing life and energy to the narrow space. While recognisably Chu, there are plenty of points of difference, including the small loft area where you can book out seating for a private party, complete with a tiny John Malkovich room that you have to crawl into, connected by a catwalk. There’s something so deliciously cubby house about it that it’s hard to resist.
So what was the idea behind Potato Ghetto? For Chu, health and convenience are, as ever, a top priority, particularly when Chu thinks about her Bondi clientele. She also wanted to provide an alternative comfort food for the colder weather that notoriously unsettles the Bondi scene. But mostly, the focus on sweet potato harked back to her childhood.
Chu points to a steamer on the shelf. “My mum used to put them [sweet potatoes] in a pot before she went to work when we were kids, so that there was something for us to eat when we got home and she was still out working, and that was what I wanted – just this,” she says as she dumps a simple, thin, sweet potato on the table. “That’s all I wanted, there really isn’t anything better than just that, steamed.”
It sounds simple, but these ‘tatoes are far from dull. The menu at Potato Ghetto is built around the old kids’ song – ‘one potato, two potato, three potato, four’ – with potato-base options laid out and a list of additional items to add to them. It’s a playful menu and one that lets the potato take centre stage without being stodgy or dull. Chu says it’s all about juxtaposition.
“Everything we do has to be that, juxtaposition. That’s exactly what I am. I’m a refugee, but I’m not just that anymore.” And so she hit on the humble potato and tricked it up to make it Potato Ghetto.
As always Chu is working to improve the community spirit of the area, chipping away at turning the laneway of the Beach House complex into a relaxed community space. And as always she’s coming up against the now familiar opposition of the less imaginatively minded. True to form though, it’s not stopping her, only these days she’s choosing her battles.
And right now, a much more entertaining battle is the one you can fight with old school toy potato guns in the shooting gallery at Potato Ghetto.
Potato Ghetto opens this Friday July 6.