Marten Chu has brought his traditional Vietnamese fare east, as Chumanchu Wheelers Hill opens up in the cafe space at Monash Gallery of Art.

Chu and his team hope to tap into a market that has remained relatively untouched in the area. “The people of Wheelers Hill are missing out on a good cup of coffee,” he says. “Dining options are few, and the current scene is saturated with bog-standard cafe options. No one wants to eat toasted panini all of the time. We’re here to offer something different to what’s currently available, particularly within the art-gallery setting”.

The cafe space is yet to be remodelled, but the design potential here is apparent. Natural light streams in through a floor-to-ceiling window, and the rolling green outside is countered by the sharp angles of the gallery space. Chu plans to adapt the existing colour scheme (stock-standard function-space decor with the odd section of colour-blocking), by installing minimal wooden features in line with the current facade of Chumanchu Preston. “Preston works,” says Chu. “It’s funky and modern, as well as tasteful. Here, we’re still a work in progress. Hopefully we’ll have the interior up and running by the end of the year.”

The menu tells a similar story. Although many signature dishes have been carried over from the sister restaurant (along with some key faces from the Preston team – manager Minh Nguyen has been made a partner in the new venture), Chu explains that the team’s options have been seriously limited by the size of its kitchen. “We’re slowly expanding the capacity for what we’re able to cook. Rather than an expansive evening menu, the focus here lies on smaller bites, entrees and salads, catering to a breakfast and a lunchtime crowd”. The cafe will also cater gallery events in the near future, a factor that explains an opening that otherwise seems slightly before time.

Although it’s still in the earliest stages of its evolution, Chu’s vision for Chumanchu Wheelers Hill is clear. Honest, healthy and well-priced food, paired with a strong cup of Dukes coffee. That said, the team is happy to take it slow, ironing out any potential creases or imperfections that might arise in what for it is new, unexplored territory. “Soon enough word of mouth will take over,” Chu predicts. “But until then, we’re going to allow ourselves the time to get things right.”

Chumanchu at Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill

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