Bia Hoi review

Bia Hoi at The Glen Shopping Centre in Glen Waverley.
Bia Hoi at The Glen Shopping Centre in Glen Waverley. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

235 Springvale Rd Glen Waverley, VIC 3150

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Opening hours Daily11am-late
Features Licensed, Outdoor seating, Accepts bookings, Groups
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard

Malls. They'll never capture our hearts again like they did in the '80s and '90s, a heady time when Reebok-browsing, Paris Hilton and movies like Mallrats made even trips to humble Aussie shopping centres feel like you were living the American dream.

That time is over. In an age of online retail, forecasters are gloomily certain. And yet our plucky shopping centre magnates will not say die. Instead, they are now trying to blow your hair back in different ways.

Grilled half chicken.
Grilled half chicken. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

"Dining precinct" is a term that has been doodled into wet concrete slabs all across a rapidly developing Melbourne. Emporium gave Melbourne its first taste, sprinkling roolio troolio restaurants like Dainty Sichuan, Din Tai Fung and Jimmy Grants into their glittering layers. Not as a courtesy, but as bait to lure shoppers back in and then hit them with their impulse-buying weaponry. It's the ole Bunnings sausage trick, on a far fancier level.

It must have worked. Since then, every outlet from Chadstone to District Docklands has been fighting to sign the biggest names it can, each retail giant pinning its hopes on a different kind of consumerism. The literal kind.

So it is that the latest restaurant from celebrated chef Jerry Mai, she behind provenance-focused Vietnamese eateries Pho Nom and Annam, can be found far from the city where she's previously staked her claim, but between shoe shops and fernery at Glen Waverley's shopping nexus, The Glen.

Bao are like savoury marshmallows, here stuffed with tofu.
Bao are like savoury marshmallows, here stuffed with tofu.  Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Modelled on Vietnam's low key beer halls, Bia Hoi channels both Mai's restaurants, high and low, but the offering here is broader than either. You can pho solo while someone fixes your iPhone screen, but also cocktail freely and clack tongs over an in-table barbecue with friends.

With enough reinforcements you can order steamboats-style soups, whole barramundi and pour your own brews from a three litre "beer tower". Because dining precincts are taking on a life of their own, you can do all this at night.

When I consider the stale doughnuts and potato wedges of Bathurst Metro Shopping Centre, the fact that you can barbecue some beef intercostals (a sticky, flavoursome cut from between the ribs) and sink the latest sour beer from brew kings La Sirene or the limited release all-female brewed Saint Hildegard XPA from Hawkers, it's phenomenal progress.

Barbecue sets come with vermicelli, Vietnamese mint and greens.
Barbecue sets come with vermicelli, Vietnamese mint and greens. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Not moon landing progress, perhaps, but very good dining for a shopping centre progress. Bia Hoi is a sunny space, with a proud blond bar, puffy red lanterns, greenery and the kind of vivid lighting I presume makes your brain think "spend". The servers, even though they forget to bring plates and enough napkins at times, are exceptionally nice.

It's a big menu. Bold too, with bright salty snacks and sauces doing a lot of the legwork. A lime salt makes the crunchy whorls of pork crackling work. Our roti, a bit doughy and legally blond, comes with a vibrant sate with a pleasant fish sauce kicker.

King of snacks are the thick, saucy bao, those oven mitt shaped buns that are basically savoury marshmallows, here sandwiching either thick wheels of crackle-edged pork belly or creamy tranches of nutty tofu. It's a pity our Jerry's fried chicken ribs (JFC) are too cool to activate the fiery-sweet chilli sauce into fragrant action, especially given that Gami Chicken and Beer is across the promenade.

Deep-fried bananas drenched in caramel.
Deep-fried bananas drenched in caramel. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

This isn't a commentary on Mai's cooking. She's a great chef, but she is not (as far as I'm aware) omnipresent. I wonder, then, if asking a distant outpost team to nail everything from curries to cocktails, lunch and dinner, seven days is a recipe for consistent success?

Not tonight. Still, it's onwards and upwards with our deep-fried fish, a wide-mouthed baby barramundi looking contemptuous, and delicious, with its skin rendered crisp and sticky with tamarind, its mildy muddy flesh falling apart. There is an excellently fresh interjection of vivid papaya salad on the side. If I were of the veg-only persuasion, I'd take the pleasant roast pumpkin and quinoa salad for another walk too.

Do you barbecue? It's a commitment. In the pros column, Mai is a provenance queen, so you can be assured your scallops in shell, spicy beef skewers and chicken ribs lived and died well (what happens now depends on your tong work).

Pick and mix, or, get a meat, seafood or vegie set, which comes with plates of vermicelli, Vietnamese mint and greens to wrap into DIY rice paper rolls. Fun. Tasty. But brazier beware that electric grills, ceiling-based vents and big knobs of butter conspire to make this a truly immersive dining experience you'll be wearing home.

Is that home Glen Waverley? What a boon to have Jerry Mai's signature pho and a whole slew of craft beers suddenly on tap. For the rest of us commuters, I'm not sure it's destination dining on its own, but if you must be dragged kicking and screaming on shopping missions, beer towers and caramel-drenched deep-fried bananas make mighty fine bait for the hook.

Vegetarian Plenty of options from soups to salads and grills.

Drinks Great boutique beers, though some are out on our trip.

Cost Snacks $7-$14; large dishes $21-$29; barbecue sets $35-$40 a head.

Pro Tip: It's more fun by day, unless you love a ghost town vibe.

Go-to Dish: Whole barramundi, tamarind caramel ($29).