Chef Jerry Mai, the culinary brains behind Annam, is set to open a new VIetnamese-style beer hall in Melbourne's south-east suburbs where beers, snacks and communal hot pots receive top billing.
Bia Hoi is set to open on 1 August at The Glen Shopping Centre in Glen Waverley. The restaurant's name derives from the Vietnamese word for "draft beer", and the rambunctious beer halls found throughout Vietnam.
"At these bia hoi, people often stop past for a few beers after work, especially on Thursdays and Fridays. Often you'll find that the men sit at one corner and women at the other and kids run around in circles in the middle," says Mai."There's lots of cheering of "một, hai, ba, dô!" ["One, two, three, cheers!"]. It riles up the next table who do the same cheer, each table getting progressively louder and louder. It's always a loud, happy and fun vibe."
At Mai's Bia Hoi: The Glen Waverley edition, expect popular Vietnamese beers 333, Bia Hanoi and Saigon Special, as well as closer-to-home brews by Dandenong's Kaiju! and Mr Banks Brewing Co from Seaford.
The promised snacks, too, are all crunchy, salty and drink-friendly: crispy pork skin and salted peanuts, say, or skewered meats and dried squid. Then there's the larger-format shared dishes: a do-it-yourself Vietnamese barbecue, where grilled meat and seafood is wrapped into rice paper rolls, and bubbling steamboats such as the canh chua, a hot-and-sour broth with tamarind, pineapple and barramundi.
She's hoping Bia Hoi will recreate the hustle and bustle of her favourite beer hall in Vietnam, found in Hanoi's old quarter. "There's an old lady who chews tobacco in the corner, pouring beers and chatting to tourists in broken English. She looks like she's seen a lot," says Mai. "Push carts come past with snacks like peanuts, salted squid and boiled quail eggs – perfect to eat with beer."
In Vietnam, patrons sit on precariously low plastic stools – "your legs feel like they're up around your ears". But at Mai's Bia Hoi, they've hired Melbourne design firm Architects Eat to kit out the three separate areas – a large dining room, a U-shaped bar, and an outdoor space – with red brick and rattan touches, and lanterns sourced from Hoi An.
Mai, who grew up close to Glen Waverley, envisions the restaurant as a community hub for local residents to gather. "It's a bit of a personal full circle for me, as I grew up just a few suburbs away," she said in a statement. "I hope the local community will use it as a place to get together over a drink and a meal and just enjoy each other's company."
Bia Hoi is slated to open on 1 August at The Glen; 235 Springvale Rd, Glen Waverley, Vic, biahoibar.com.au