At the back of Firebird, past the 110-odd seats and across the dark-herringbone-tiled floor, flames are rising in the open kitchen. The woodfired oven’s been gathering heat since early this morning, and under the grill great chunks of red gum and ironbark are burning.
If the name hasn’t given it away, this new eatery is all about fire – smoke, heat, flames – and Vietnamese-style fare. It’s the latest from The Commune Group, which owns and operates three other Viet-diners, all named Hanoi Hannah (in Windsor, Elsternwick and Richmond), as well as Japanese-leaning diner Tokyo Tina and Mediterranean wine bar Neptune.
“All our Hanoi Hannahs interpret the cuisine in different ways – one does rice paper rolls, another does soup, and the third doesn’t have either,” says Commune Group director Simon Blacher. “Firebird is essentially our exploration into the fire and barbeque element.”
In contrast to the roaring flames of the kitchen, the dining room is dim, with projections on the walls and sparse lighting that reflects off the colourful textured glass and mosaic tiles. Design firm Ewert Leaf (Levi, Gathered, Sebastian) has turned this former two-level furniture warehouse into a single-storey, high-ceilinged space room full of sunburnt orange, moss-green and chartreuse tones. Natural light floods in from the old upstairs windows, and in some places (where there were once staircases) you can see brick poking through the bare concrete walls.
When it comes to the menu, Vietnamese-born chef Steven Ngo (former head chef at David Thompson’s celebrated Thai restaurant Long Chim, before it closed last year) draws on the textures and flavours he grew up with.
Small plates include black-pepper crab tostadas; chargrilled hot-and-sour ox-tongue skewers; Scotch quail-eggs with salted-duck-egg relish; smashed eggplant with a creamy, smoky curry sauce; and barbeque corn with spring-onion oil.
A play on the French duck à l’orange is slow-roasted over the grill and flavoured with Vietnamese five-spice. Fresh pipis tossed over the fire are served dressed in a sour tamarind and burnt-tomato reduction. A whole flounder is grilled until brown and crisp, served with burnt butter and citrus nuoc mam sauce and a side of French fries. And there’s a fired-up baby bird that evokes the eatery’s name: charcoal chicken with burnt-chilli fish sauce and a grilled half-lime to squeeze.
To finish, get the zesty lemongrass-citrus tart, which is topped with burnt orange slices. There are also slices of pineapple that are roasted until caramelised and served with a kaffir-lime sorbet.
The fiery theme carries through to the bar. The team’s take on the classic Paloma involves grapefruit that’s been roasted until its flesh is charred, and a mix of tequila and mezcal. The Highball is a burnt-plum-and-galangal shrub topped off with gin and soda, and other cocktails use charred pineapple and flamed orange.
“For the wine list we’re embracing textural drops – things that go really well with spicy food or food that has those charred, smoky aromats that we’re putting on the plate,” Blacher says.
223 High Street, Windsor
(03) 9088 8093