May 4, 2021 | Food & Drink

Swaying Tom Phat

Author: Nandita Chakraborty

The noise of Sydney Road seems to fade away in the background as I make myself comfortable under the tatami lights of Tom Phat. One might just walk past unless one gazes at the sign above – but once in, one is transported by the delicious aromas of South-East Asia. The occasional cracking of the trams nudges one back to reality. 

Behind every delicious story, there is a journey that is initiated by the traveller. Tom Phat’s journey, its foundation laid by owner ‘Sway Quach’ more than two decades ago, speaks of volume and dedication. She jets between two restaurants, Bhang being the other restaurant a few blocks down the road, while acting as mother to her twelve-year old daughter. Sway, meaning ‘rose petals swaying in the breeze’ in Vietnamese, guarantees nothing more than her love for hospitality.

Sway and Brunswick Daily

Sway shares her story with Brunswick Daily. Source: Tom Phat

The philosophy has been pretty simple behind Tom Phat. At the time, Sway was working for a very busy restaurant in Brunswick Street. She was enjoying it and was getting promoted to more responsibilities and higher positions. The turning point for Tom Phat’s fate came when she started a relationship with a chef – so it was a natural progression to open their own place, giving birth to Tom Phat in 2004.

Growing up in a Vietnamese family, food has always been an integral part of her storytelling. Sway tells me in a Vietnamese house, one won’t be greeted with, “How are you?” On the contrary, one will be asked, “Have you eaten?” Food is such an important part of her culture, social and family life. Feeding someone and being generous is massive, and she points out that nibbles of food is not being gracious, but a feast is.

Travelling around Asia during her uni days is when she first discovered street food and realised that there are so many interesting kinds of food and flavours to be found. Majoring in anthropology in an arts degree makes it easy for Sway to blend culture, history, society, flavour and food. This makes it undemanding for her to talk to people in her restaurants, where the narrative is uncomplicated for telling their stories. So, we both giggle when she says hospitality was a pathway when she could see herself not making any money as an anthropologist.

Asking on what Tom Phat means, Sway tells me that was a last-minute inspiration, as the original name was a play on words that are symbolic to luck or fortune in Asian culture. “Phat” means “prosper” Phuc means ‘’happiness’’, and she came up co-incidentally with a name: PHATPHUC, a bit tongue-and-cheek. But a month before opening, Sway was not convinced about the name as to what people would assume.

After some head-scratching and soul-searching, they still decided to go with Phatphuc as their business name. If the ATO didn’t approve it as the business name, we might be dinning at Phatphuc instead of Tom Phat today. Sway smirks, saying that people at the ATO might still be wondering what the hell they do.

So, scrambling through cookbooks for the perfect restaurant name, the name “Tom” seemed to pop quite often. Rightfully so, with Tom meaning “prawns” in Vietnamese. So, they knew Tom Phat would be bigger than them; the name is catchy and can sometimes be mysterious. 

Tom Phat & Brunswick Daily

One of Tom Phat Chef’s specials. QLD butterflied tiger prawns with green chillies, pineapple, and lime. Source: Tom Phat’s Instagram

They have been asked to open up in Geelong and Mornington – and if they have to open up another one, it will be a new creative venture. Sway the business owner and single parent is always curious and super-fulfilled with her food journey. Sharing her skills with the business has nourished her to be who she is today. She would like to have more “me” time she can devote to her daughter.

Sway invites our readers to come and enjoy this unique dining experience. As I turn off the recorder, I deliciously sniff through the prawn pad thai that walks past me to the other table, connecting me to every bit of her journey with that dish.

Tom Phat & Brunswick Daily

DIY Xinjiang Lamb steamed buns with house pickles and kewpie. Source: Tom Phat’s Instagram

I can only think of Einstein to quote for Sway and Tom Phat: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”

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Evie Di
Evie Di
05/05/2021 11:43 am

How soon can I get there!!
What a beautifully written piece – truly pulled on my heart (and tummy) strings!

05/05/2021 12:05 pm

Love it ! Beautifully written.. have to go to Tom Phat now.