Last June, we broke news that the Lucas Group had secured a spot in Windsor for its next restaurant. All we knew then was that the new place would serve Asian food – not exactly a huge revelation about the group who brought us the Thai-inspired Chin Chin and the Korean-leaning Kong – the Italian Baby being the exception.
Eight months on, we can now reveal the details.
“The name is Hawker Hall, and it's going to be a combination hawker-style restaurant and Asian beer hall,” director Chris Lucas says. Lucas is speaking to us from Singapore, where he's headed with Lucas Group executive chef Benjamin Cooper and manager John Kanis. The trio is on a culinary safari of sorts, tracking down the best of Asian street food for Hawker Hall's menu, which will run to 50 or 60 dishes.
"We can't take over a football field and have 200 stalls,” Lucas says, “So we're taking the really famous dishes from these hawker markets and building them into an Australian restaurant environment. Having that breadth and depth is challenging, but to me, variety is the essence of what hawker markets are all about."
The menu will take inspiration from anywhere with a vibrant street-food culture, namely Malaysia, Singapore and other South East Asian countries, so expect dishes such as Hainanese chicken to reach hero status sooner rather than later – Lucas tells us he’s already tried 15 versions in the trio's quest to find the best one.
Hawker Hall will place a big emphasis on barbeque, including a whole host of satays. Noodles and dumplings will of course be on the radar, and the kitchen will be led by recently-appointed head chef Damian Snell (ex-Orient East and Charlie Dumpling).
For all this talk, Lucas says food will only form the backdrop for the real star of the show: beer. "It's quite a change in direction for us,” he says. "Over the years, we've really struggled to give our diners the full breadth and depth of the drinks that are out there, due to the constraints of some of the big suppliers."
Hawker Hall is his solution. Its beer taps – there will be somewhere between 24 and 30 of them – will pour brews from China, Japan, South East Asia and all over Australia. "If the product's good enough, we'll put it on,” Lucas says. “And if our customers like it, it'll stay on.
"Hawker Hall is really going to epitomise this independent culture. Yes, it'll have great food, and yes, it'll have great ambience and be a fun place,” he says. “But it's also going to have an underlying message, which is about creating a level playing field for people who brew interesting beer. Beer that goes with food, in particular."
The Lucas Group is planning to join this playing field soon. Its chefs are developing a number of Asian-inspired beers, experimenting with hot, spicy, sour and sweet flavours. They've already teamed up with Four Pines brewery in NSW to create a lemongrass and ginger beer, for example, with Hawker Hall the platform for its launch.
All this is not to say that wines and cocktails won't have their place, but for the authentic hawker experience, Lucas insists you can't go past a well-chilled beer. "It sits right alongside all the different foods they eat in South East Asia,” he says. “One: because of the climate. Two: because a good cold beer goes well with hot, spicy food."
Apart from that, beer will also be better suited to the rowdy atmosphere. In true hawker style, Lucas predicts it to be “noisy, vibrant, energetic and bustling" thanks to 200 diners squeezed under the venue's corrugated iron roof and exposed timber beams from 11am until late each day.
This existing shell – the remains of a circa-1900 stable – means there's little in the way of renovations to come. The place already looks a bit like the undercover markets in Asia, albeit with a perimeter of raw brick walls. "Obviously we can't replicate that model completely,” Lucas says, “but we're going to create that atmosphere as best we can."
Hawker Hall will open at the end of July.
98 Chapel Street, Windsor