Melbourne’s Vietnamese dining scene continues to evolve in the hands of Jerry Mai – the chef behind casual street-food spot Pho Nom and the more refined Annam – with the launch of Bia Hoi, a vibrant beer hall in Glen Waverley specialising in Vietnamese barbeque.
In the side streets of Hanoi or Saigon you’ll find little stalls grilling marinated pork or seafood over smoky charcoal, and not far away there’ll almost always be a bia hơi joint serving fresh draught beer from kegs. Locals and travellers alike grab a stool and settle into the communal space for a quick snack or a long (sometimes rowdy) night.
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“The idea was to leave it a little worn and rustic,” says Mai. Soft red lanterns imported from Hoi An and old wooden window shutters brought in from Saigon give the venue a little French Colonial charm.
Half of the restaurant is for drinking; there’s an island bar pouring draught from Burnley Brewing, Two Birds and Bia Hoi Lager, which has a light, crisp and clean flavour and is available in a cylindrical three-litre beer “tower” you take to the table and pour yourself. Cocktails include the Fire Fly, a Margarita-like concoction made from chilli-infused tequila, cucumber, lime and salt, and the Uncle, a powerful hit of rum and amaretto with a touch of bitter chocolate. Wine is mostly Australian, with one French and one Spanish rosé, and there’s a short list of sake and soju, the latter available in watermelon, peach or lychee flavours.
Small plates are perfect for snacking. “We have customers going shopping, realise they hate shopping, and end up coming here for a drink and a nibble,” says Mai. Try the puffed pork crackling with green chilli salt, and the crispy chicken skin with garlic and chilli. JFC, or Jerry Fried Chicken, is fried chicken ribs with your choice of fish-sauce caramel or a fiery chilli sauce. There’s also banh xeo, a turmeric-spiced pancake wrapped around prawns, sliced pork and bean shoots with fresh coriander on the side.
Larger dishes include shared steamboats, such as canh chua, a slightly sour fish and tamarind soup that’s a staple in the Mekong Delta region. Sliced elephant’s ear stem (a little bit like celery) provides a spongy but crunchy texture, and rice paddy herb (a plant native to Southeast Asia) gives the soup its lemony flavour. Pieces of barramundi are lightly battered and fried, adding another textural dimension. The pho steamboat is sirloin steak, beef meatballs and noodles, and there’s a seafood version, too.
A number of tables are kitted out with a built-in hotplate and overhead exhaust ready for DIY-style Vietnamese barbeque. Meat options include beef rib marinated in yellow bean, chilli paste and garlic; A5-grade Wagyu sirloin; and beef skewers. Prawns arrive with the heads left on for those who enjoy the buttery tomalley inside. Scallops come in the shell with a little butter, and calamari is marinated in lemongrass or satay sauce. After cooking, dip your seafood in a herby-spicy sauce of green chilli, garlic, fish sauce and condensed milk. Mixed lettuce, mint, pickled carrot, rice vermicelli and rice paper come on the side so you can make your own rice paper rolls.
Mai will also introduce new plates such as the northern Vietnamese dish chả cá lã vọng – white fish marinated in turmeric, dill and shrimp paste and served with rice noodles – and bò bảy món, beef served seven ways. In the warmer months she also plans to spit roast meats in the alfresco area.
“Vietnamese cuisine has come leaps and bounds since the ’90s and even 2000s,” says Mai, who grew up just a few suburbs away. “It makes sense to bring this kind of food [to Glen Waverley]. We have the right demographics who enjoy this kind of eating and appreciate quality ingredients.”
Mai acknowledges that there’s great Vietnamese food all over Melbourne, especially in Springvale, Richmond and Footscray. But the chef stresses that Bia Hoi is different. “You can’t get this in Springvale – it’s cheap and cheerful. You get in, you get out. Plus you can’t get beer towers there.”
The Glen, 235 Springvale Road, Glen Waverley
(03) 8813 0729