Scorcher reviews: Bia Hoi — ‘It’s really fun, really casual, get out to The Glen!’
Vietnam is the best place for people watching. The streets pulsate with colour and movement, an ever-changing feast for your eyeballs.
Fruit sellers dart across streets, doing their best to avoid motorbikes piled high with children and chickens; business men sit at tables slurping bowls of noodles; women in conical hats chop up meat out in the open air, swotting away pesky flies when they get too close to the carcass.
And the best vantage point to take in all this activity is actually one that’s low to the ground: grab a seat on a child-sized plastic school chair at one of the many roadside beer vendors and watch life happen around you. It’s like being sent to the greatest naughty corner in the world. A naughty corner where beer is served at 25 cents a glass.
Now, one celebrated Melbourne chef is aiming to bring some of that frenetic energy to Melbourne, with the opening of a beer-focused, fun and friendly Vietnamese eatery at The Glen shopping centre.
Bia Hoi, a restaurant that doffs its hat to the draught beer culture of Vietnam, is Jerry Mai’s newest thoroughbred in her stable of Melbourne restaurants (she also runs the excellent Annam and Pho Nom outlets in the city).
For Bia Hoi, Jerry wanted to make suburban Melbourne part of the story and has set up shop in a prime position in The Glen’s new-look alfresco dining precinct.
I’m a big fan of Vietnamese food. It’s all very fresh, the flavours are clean and crisp, and with many of the dishes consisting mainly of veggies you can have yourself a guilt-free pig out.
For starters, try the banh xeo, a crispy turmeric pancake filled with pork, prawn and bean shoots or the signature fired chicken (admittedly not guilt-free), a crunchy delight which comes glazed in a caramel fish sauce. Also on the list of smaller dishes are classics like soft shell crab baos (or tofu for the vegetarians), nuggety spring rolls that you self-wrap in fresh lettuce and dip in salty-sweet nuoc mam sauce and chilli beef skewers with pickled veg.
For mains, the pork belly with apple slaw and chilli caramel will make a convert out of the most strident of pork belly doubter. Excellent too are the wok-tossed king mushrooms with Chinese broccoli, ginger and soy. Other larger dishes include the house pho, fried barramundi with tamarind caramel and pineapple, and a vegetable red curry with pumpkin and snake beans.
Diners can also opt for shareable steamboats – aka Asian hot pots – where meat and veg arrive in separate dishes and you construct and cook your meal in front of you at the table.
So people watching in Glen Waverley may not be what it is in Saigon (I’m yet to see a motorbike stacked with mattresses and a pig drive down the Kingsway) but Bia Hoi does capture some of that carefree, fun atmosphere that’s so palpable in Vietnam.
Melbourne’s outer suburbs are going bonkers – there’s no longer any need to come into the city to have a good meal – and I’m tipping Bia Hoi will be a big hit with the folks of Glen Waverley. Frothies, frothies, frothies, hoi, hoi, hoi!
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