Wood-fire cooking is nothing new, says restaurateur Simon Blacher, of the Commune Group, but no one in Australia has really focused on Vietnamese flavours. "Which is funny, because all of Vietnam smells like barbecue smoke."
It's the inspiration behind the Commune Group's latest restaurant, Firebird, which opens in a former Windsor furniture warehouse on Thursday. It's directly opposite two of the group's other restaurants, Neptune Food & Wine and Vietnamese tuckshop Hanoi Hannah Express Lane, and replaces an earlier iteration, which closed in 2018. (They also run Tokyo Tina, in nearby Chapel Street, and branches of Hanoi Hannah in Richmond and Elsternwick).
Despite being a Hanoi Hannah offshoot, pho and rice-paper rolls will not be on the Firebird menu. Instead, chef Steven Ngo, who trained under Thai authority David Thompson at Long Chim, is dishing up Vietnamese and northern Thai-inspired plates such as flattened and grilled banh mi rolls with garlic oil and charred eggplant relish, grilled pipis tossed in a tamarind and burnt tomato broth, broken rice claypots, and wood-roasted citrus tarts.
"Everything," says Blacher, "has been touched by fire or coal or timber at some stage in the cooking process."
Even fruits are charred before being turned into mixers for cocktails and other drinks.
Like the group's other restaurants, the 110-seat Firebird will be fun and approachable, the sort of place you can go to on a weeknight in your gym gear or get dressed up for on a Saturday.
Music is loud ("it's a bit obnoxious really") and the fit-out, by architect Ewert Leaf, is industrial with retro touches in the tiled 12-seat bar, mosaic-topped tables and use of coloured glass. "The brief was 'grandma's house in the '70s but modern', which I think we've nailed," says Blacher. Custom-built chargrill and wood ovens will be the kitchen's focal point.
"We're really happy with where we've landed," he adds. "We're really excited about opening a restaurant and we're really excited about hospitality. There's been too much doom and gloom lately – people need to get excited."
From Thursday Firebird will open daily from noon-late at 223 High Street, Windsor, firebird.hanoihannah.com.au