I have to send out a big thanks to Sharking for Chips & Drinks for alerting us to the fantastic Bia Hoi, a ‘summer fling’ on Lygon Street, East Brunswick. Since returning from Vietnam last year, I had been lamenting to my other half about the Vietnamese offerings in Melbourne – where are the flavours we encountered there? The masses and masses of herbs and salad that accompanied each dish, adding an addictive lightness and texture? Where was the variety? Why did we have such pedestrian Vietnamese here, with restaurants seemingly offering only pho, pork chop and rice, and rice paper rolls? As much as I like these dishes, Vietnamese cuisine offers so much more!
So last week the twittersphere did what it does so well and sent out to the universe information about a new Vietnamese street food ‘pop-up’ happening in East Brunswick, Bia Hoi. And I was excited, very excited. However, one important point – the lovely people running this show are not calling it a pop-up. It’s a ‘summer fling’. And that’s cool, so let’s go with that.
We weren’t intending to go last Thursday, its opening night. However it was a hot, dry Melbourne day, I was tired, we couldn’t be bothered cooking, I drove past just to see what was happening and next thing you know, we were inside drinking some icy cold Thunder Road beer. And I’m so glad we went. It was fantastically fun and cheap! The dishes range from $6.00 to $10.00. These prices made me want to go a little bit crazy with the ordering but the moderating influence of S. helped me to restrain myself.
We started with the roast pork rolls. These were good. A nice thick piece of rich roast pork (with some fat, which is good because as we all know, the fat adds flavour!) in a small roll with fresh and pickled vegetables. These made a strong start and I was sure they would be my pick of the night, until the chicken ribs with sponge luffa came out.
Of everything we ate, this was my favourite. It was one of those great Asian braises, such as a Chinese braised beef with daikon, which are rich and flavoursome without being heavy, where the meat is paired with a crisp root vegetable to provide a textural contrast. In this case it was sponge luffa, which I don’t think I’ve ever had before. We simply picked the up the wings and inhaled the succulent meat…mmm, delicious.
We also tried the green papaya salad and the rice paper rolls. I really like the astringency green papaya provides to a dish and was excited to see it on the menu. This salad was very refreshing, dressed in an aromatic and tangy dressing, and flecked with shredded chicken. A great interpretation of a Vietnamese classic. The flavour of the rice paper rolls was slightly disappointing. While the dipping sauce was excellent, I would have liked a lot more herbs wrapped in with the prawns and rice noodles. However, this small disappointment was easily overcome by wrapping the rolls in the lettuce and mound of herbs provided to each table when you sit down.
The idea for Bia Hoi emerged from a trip to Vietnam for the owners last September. Like us, they had a fabulous time eating Vietnamese street food and drinking the local fresh beer, bia hoi. Unlike us, they had the energy, industry experience and connections to get this fabulous concept up and running. Hooray for them I say!
Vietnamese street food is a great option for hot days and Bia Hoi will be here for the rest of summer and early autumn, running from the 24 January to 24 March, on Thursday and Sunday evenings only. The menu is short with a couple of vegetarian options available, and good for people such as myself who should be avoiding wheat but I’d check to confirm the gluten-free and fructan-free status of the dishes. The drinks menu is limited to Thunder Road beer, lemonade and water. And it’s cash only, don’t forget otherwise you’ll find yourself pounding the footpath looking for a functioning ATM like me.
Go and try it. It’s really good food that’s fun, tasty and cheap. Sharking for Chips & Drinks also visited the evening we were there, and gave it a positive review.
What we had:
Roast pork rolls $6.00
Green papaya coleslaw $6.00
Rice paper rolls (with prawns) $10.00
Chicken ribs with sponge luffa $$8.00
Thunder Road beer $4.80 glass, $16.00 a jug
Bia Hoi at Small Block
130 Lygon Street
*More information on my friend Kaff-eine can be found here.