It has been a year since sisters Nhung and Lani Pham (the Pham in Phamily Kitchen) opened their own little slice of Vietnam in the heart of Castlemaine and we couldn’t be happier to help them celebrate.
The sisters describe their food as home-style. These are the dishes they grew up eating, but with their own twist, and Phamily Kitchen has wound its way into the hearts of Castlemaine locals and visitors.
The menu is focused on seasonal eating. Lunch is all about quick, fresh options for people with limited time. Dinner is more relaxed, encouraging sharing, talking and lingering over many delicious communal plates.
“Our passion for food is reflected in our dishes which are tasty, fresh and flavoursome but still traditional,” says Nhung.
Both sisters had careers in finance, brief for Lani, longer for Nhung, but they shared a vision of opening their own restaurant.
“We just had to find the right time and the right town,” says Lani who manages the kitchen after years honing her skills in restaurants in Melbourne’s north.
Once they decided on Castlemaine it took them six months to find the perfect location. When Narelle Waller of Waller Realty showed them an unassuming little shop on Barker Street they say they knew it was the one.
“We had debated whether to buy an established business or take a leap of faith and completely fit out a place ourselves,” says Nhung. “Once we saw this space we knew straight away this was it.”
It’s not hard to understand why. Towering ceilings wrapped in centuries old pressed tin reveal the building’s ancient past but the new fit out is totally contemporary. Long banquet seating is just made for cosy conversations over dinner and a collection of intricately woven light fittings of odd sizes, shapes and heights bob above diner’s heads, reminiscent of traditional fishing baskets. A delicate mural painted by an artist friend depicts scenes of rural Vietnamese life.
Ask them about their favourite menu items and Lani picks the classic beef noodle soup, especially over the colder months. From the seasonal menu, a kolrabi and beef salad takes both women back to their youth in Perth. Kolrabi is popular in Vietnamese cooking and for the Pham girls growing up, there was no escaping it in winter.
“Dad was an avid vegetable grower,” says Nhung. “We didn’t grow up with traditional lawn to play on it was just garden beds and in winter half the garden was Kolrabi!”
For Nhung it’s the braised pork.
“My Dad loved having braised pork with rice and stir-fried vegetables so for me this is total comfort food.”
The sisters are thrilled Castlemaine has embraced their concept and welcomed them so warmly.
“We’re just ecstatic and so grateful for the way the town has taken us in,” says Lani.