"It offers delicate flavours, but can also be gutsy and brave". Edinburgh's new restaurant, Sen, is offering an enticing taste of Vietnam
They’re one of only four restaurants in the capital offering this style of cooking
“The inspiration for the interior came from a town on the coast of Vietnam called Hoi An,” says Tam Thi Tran, 30, chef and owner of new Edinburgh restaurant, Sen. “It's one of a few cities in the country that has retained its cobbled streets and historical architecture, which is painted yellow and blue. At night the town is lit up with lanterns”.
Although Sen, which was three years in the making and has just opened at 41 West Nicholson Street, isn’t the only Vietnamese restaurant in the capital, it’s surely the most beautiful. Even though we can’t sit in yet, it’s worth a glance through the window, to see dozens of those yellow tasseled lanterns, which Tam had specially imported from Hoi An, hanging from the ceiling.
For now, you can order takeaway, cooked by Tam and her father-in-law, head chef, Sau Foon Fung, 59.
They’ve designed a menu that showcases traditional Vietnamese dishes, which vary between regions - from, as Tam says, “the mild and natural flavours of the north, to the refreshing textures of the south” - but with their own twist. The food list will change every six months, so they can use seasonal produce.
For those who are unfamiliar with this style of cuisine, or perhaps just know about the tricky-to-pronounce pho (fuh) and the popular street food sandwich, banh mi, the restaurant owner has a few suggestions to break your palate in.
“You can start with the northern speciality dish - Hanoi crispy spring rolls - or fish cakes with a mango salsa, from the middle part of Vietnam,” she says. “Then you definitely should try our signature pho which truly represents the heart and soul of the country. Our broth is carefully cooked for eight hours and is hearty, with many health benefits. Also, there’s our lantern curry confit duck from Hoi An”.
There are also options that Tam says you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the capital, like “chargrilled prawn on sugarcane” and “handmade steamed rice rolls”, which are served with marinated pork and homemade cinnamon sausage.
“They bring back childhood memories from when I was in Vietnam”, says Tam, who, in 2015, returned to the country for six months to research dishes for her restaurant.
Even though it may be difficult not to fight over the last prawn, she recommends sharing, as it’s part of the culture. As she says, “It’s a bonding process which brings people together”.
They also do a vegan menu, and Tam feels very strongly that this, and her style of food, suits the times.
“It’s simple, naturally healthy and fresh, and the abundance of herbs gives it a very distinctive flavour”, she says. “Vietnamese food has had thousands of years of Chinese influence, as well as a hundred years of French colonisation, and we’re neighbours with Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Burma. We’ve taken these influences and created a refined, elegant and unique cuisine. We believe it’s what customers are looking for and offers a delicate balance of flavours, yet it can also be gutsy and brave. That’s what keeps people coming back for more”.