Saturday, June 25, 2011


Footscray is changing, but it's more a waltz than a sprint, with two steps forward and one step back.  I was excited when Yoghurt House opened because it was something different, a diversification of the usual restaurant/hairdresser/chemist patchwork of our suburb.  But then its neighbour Dimmeys shut down, creating a real black hole in Footscray's fabric.  Yoghurt House got their window smashed, cut down their number of flavours and eventually shut their doors.

Lotus Sen 021

This is why the reopening of somewhat tired Ha Long into the new and groovy Sen is very exciting.  Not because I have anything against mirrored walls and buckets of chopsticks, but because it is great to have choice.  Now if you want a classier Vietnamese experience, there's no need to jam the doors at Sapa Hills.

Lotus Sen 022

Sen is different because the decor is understated and modern and the menus are a pleasure to hold and browse.  The staff wear a smart pink uniform and there are no TVs.  According to Billy, it was bought out by the chef of Ha Long, so one hopes that because this person has had experience in the restaurant, they knew what they wanted to change.

Sen 003
Banh hoi chao tom ("Sugar cane prawns with fine rice vermicelli), $12

Well, change not this, chef - it is unreal!!  Banh hoi or "fine rice vermicelli" are little "mats" of very thin rice vermicelli noodles prepared somewhat like Sri Lankan stringhoppers in that they are formed by pressing through a sort of mincer and then steamed.  They are traditionally hard to make so are a celebration food.  Also here is chao tom or sugarcane prawns, a thick paste made of prawns and other seasonings, formed around sugarcane and grilled.  It is so tasty and the sugarcane infuses it with a touch of sweetness.

Sen 005

To eat, take a noodle mat, some sugarcane prawn meat and vegies and wrap in lettuce a la spring rolls.  Dip in the seasoned fish sauce - swoon-a-licious!

Lotus Sen 029
Bun moc ("Vietnamese rice vermicelli soup, Northern style"), $9

The rest of the menu has a northern Vietnamese bent, evidenced in this bun moc or pork meatball soup.  Deb highly recommends the bun moc at Dinh Sonh in Little Saigon Market.  Like at Dong Ba, you take the plate of lettuce, bean sprouts and red cabbage and tip into the hot broth.  This ups the vegetable ante and gives a lovely fresh vegetable angle to the meal that pho sometimes lacks.  The broth here was tasty, clear and refreshing, while the meatballs were yummy little flavour bombs of pounded pork mince and earthy black fungus.

Lotus Sen 028
Bun cha Ha Noi ("Rice vermicelli with Hanoian style grilled pork"), $12

Another Northern dish, grilled pork belly and pork meatballs as a DIY salad with vegies and vermicelli noodles.  Just load up your bowl, tip over the thin, tangy dressing and dig in.  I loved the thick, rich, dark soy marinade on the pork.  This was quite good - I'm not sure a match for Sapa Hills' epic version but tasty nonetheless.  The dressing differs from the typical seasoned fish sauce in that it is not as sweet and somewhat milder in flavour.

Lotus Sen 030
Bo La Lot ("Grilled beef in vive leaves"), $10

I am having some success with making my kids branch out from their customary grilled chicken and white rice with these bo la lot or beef mince in betel leaves.  Kind of like a sausage roll!  But green!  These were pretty good - the mince was not too fatty and they were well seasoned.  To eat, place in a piece of lettuce with herbs and pickled vegies (a nice and unusual touch) and dip in seasoned sauce.  Pay $2 more and get the banh hoi version, I reckon.  On learning these were for the kids, the waiter brought the dipping sauce without chilli especially for them.

Sen 001
Water spinach with garlic sauce, $12

Ha Long was reputed to have amazing Chinese broccoli with garlic and this water spinach or rau muong was divine!  The garlic must have been poached or pickled somehow as it had lost all its acrid intensity and was just smooth and almost creamy in flavour, just like roasted garlic cloves.  Some of the stems were a bit woody but overall, an great dish.

Lotus Sen 027
Com chien ca man ("Fried rice with salted fish"), $10

If you normally just eat combination fried rice, try something different with this fried rice with salted fish.  The salted fish gives a delicious umami tang to the otherwise kid-friendly meal of white rice, lightly seasoned and tossed with egg, chicken and a little lettuce.  Some of the pieces of salted fish were a bit chunky but the flavour was totally oh-yeah.

Lotus Sen 031
Ca phe su da, $3.50

Think there is no good coffee in Footscray?  Think again.  I love the jolt you get when you take the first sip of an excellent Vietnamese iced coffee like this one.  Smoothies also got the thumbs up.

This is a great restaurant - they are very welcoming to kids and the service is friendly.  Sadly they have none of their intriguing "Nem Sen" or lotus spring rolls as they cannot get the appropriate ingredient from Vietnam.  The list of bun or rice vermicelli salads is particularly impressive - Billy has given them a big thumbs up as having best bun thit nuong in Footscray!  (Stop by Half-Eaten to see more Sen deliciousness).  And who needs a TV when you have fish?

Lotus Sen 034

Sen on Urbanspoon

74-76 Nicholson St, Footscray (cnr Nicholson and Droop) - map
Phone: 9687 4450

No wheelchair access


  1. Ohhh wow Lauren, that looks delicious! I've heard a bit about Sen and was a bit apprehensive, but your review has changed my mind! I've been wanting to try some good Vietnamese for a while, I think this will be it!

  2. Oooh, can't wait to try although I have a friend who will be very sad that Ha Long is gone. I guess there is still the Richmond one?

  3. Oh my my this looks wonderful :) I didn't notice that Ha Long closed down hehehe. This place is a must try for me.
    Fingers crossed their stir fried rice noodles are good ;)

  4. wow it looks great, please tell us there's no tvs! Busting for tvfree food options in the scray.

  5. Agree..the food is pretty good. Owner and waiters seem to the same?

  6. No TVs Rayna!! Sapa Hills, Hien Vuong and Hien Vuong Pasteur (pho) also have no TV and I think Huy Huy don't either. I think Harambe at least upstairs has no TV. They were very welcoming to kids.

    Ellise I am 99% sure Richmond is still there :)

    Hi Jess, Marine and Penny - it is pretty delicious - everything made with care.

  7. the sugar cane, vermicelli + prawn wrap looks absolutely delicious. my bf's grandmother lives in Sunshine and we're out there visiting her a lot. should really swing by so many of your amazing recommendations en route... soon!

  8. I was one of the ones who was sad when Ha Long went, so I'm glad to see the old menu seems fairly intact at Sen. Did you notice if the duck soup was still on the menu? It is legendary in our office, and has been the cause of many long lunches! Thanks for the review.

  9. I went to SEN restaurant today and it was wonderful. Inside the restaurant, i felt a sense of belonging from the staffs, they gave me a warm welcome. On the other hand, the food were just amazing, tasty and delicious which they were flawless from my point of view. also,I had a pleasure to meet the new owner of the restaurant and she is a very passionate lady who wants to spread vietnamese culture through her lovely foods. Thank you, SEN

  10. I was heart broken when I found out this restaurant was taken over by the Communist Northerners. If you are an actual Vietnamese, please avoid this restaurant.

    It seems these days more of these Bac Ky Monkeys are flooding our suburbs. I am flabbergasted when I see naive (mostly Caucasian) people flaunting t-shirts with the wrong flag -- in the heart of the Southern Vietnamese community! Footscray is changing, but for the worse.

    Before anyone decides to argue, think how you would feel if you were Jewish and your favourite kosher restaurant was bought out by Nazis.

  11. Hi Anon - thank you for your comment. I am sorry to say that I am quite ignorant of ongoing tension in the Vietnamese community in Australia. I know what you mean about Communist chic though and must say I have personally never been a fan.

    That said, while I don't pretend to understand deep scars within a community, just as not all Germans are Nazis, surely not all Northerners are Communist tyrants or "monkeys".

    I am interested to understand more about this though. If you want to email me privately and explain more, I would be genuinely interested.


  12. AnoN : it s time for u go away cause what u said about sen restaurant . You are not welcome in footscray or in this world now .

    Today i have a chance to try the food in sen . Only one word i can describe about that: " wonderful " . I like the t - shirt with pink colour And a warmly Atmostphere . The owner is so friendly , she always wants to know what i think about the food and the restaurant.

    I love sen restaurant and this will be my choice of food ;)) i like it

  13. We went there last night for a birthday dinner and it was fantastic! The food was so delicious. I had a Vermicelli with Braised Pork and it was sumptuous, loved the amount of raw food in it so crispy and fresh. They were spectacularly kid friendly too. Thanks Sen for a perfect birthday celebration!

  14. Amazingly kid friendly - I took the two kidlets there for lunch last weekend - I was rather hungover, so not too picky about what I was eating as long as someone else was making it for me, but was a bit disappointing. The spring rolls tasted like it was time to change the oil in the fryer : ( And everything else was ho-hum. But so many glowing comments... I'll write it off to them having a bad day and give it another go : )

  15. Went here today thanks to this blog post, and both bun cha Ha Noi and bun bo la lot were great! Super kid-friendly too, they were falling over themselves to open doors for the pram, trot out highchairs etc -- and as a cherry on top, while the decor is a distinct cut above usual Footscray standards, the prices are not ($9-12). Will be back!

  16. Yay! Great to hear. They are amazingly friendly, aren't they? I had bo luc lac (shaken beef) there recently and it had a light sauce made with what I think was coconut water. Very very yummy.


I love getting your comments! They're what make blogging worthwhile. Unfortunately, the amount of spam I get is obscene and it is so tiresome to have to moderate every comment, so I have had to turn on annoying word verification. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but please know how much I love you having your say!

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails