The lick of flames drives the menu at Firebird. Here, peppy cocktails and flavoursome modern Vietnamese dishes are served in an ultra-cool warehouse conversion in a fashionably happening area of Prahran.
Location: 223 High St, Prahran, VIC 3181 Ph: (03) 9088 8093
Cooking over fire is so hot (pun intended) in Australia at present that it’s easy to forget that Firebird was one of the first high-profile establishments in Melbourne to get on board with coals and open flames.
Whilst Serai champions refined, smoky Filipino cuisine, NOMAD Melbourne turns out exemplary Aussie produce kissed by fire and Lilac Wine Bar makes a feature of their wood-fired kitchen, at Firebird, it’s there in the name. This is an eatery that puts the power of the flame, front and centre, in their take on modern Vietnamese cooking.
What’s more, you can be sure that you’re in good hands as this is another sibling in The Commune Group family. It’s a hospitality company that knows its way around Vietnamese-inspired fare with Hanoi Hannah and New Quarter also part of their expanding stable of hip venues.
Further fashionable credentials come with the location. Firebird is in an increasingly dynamic pocket of High Street, straddling the charms of both Prahran and Windsor. There’s The Smith a couple of doors up and newcomers, Young Hearts and Neptune Food & Wine literally opposite. And if you want to really make a night of it, the bars and clubs of Chapel Street are just around the corner.
Firstly, Firebird is easy to spot with its name stencilled in huge black letters on its white front. A warm yellow glow beckons through the large window which reveals a deep, packed room.
Step inside and the warehouse origins of this eatery are clear. Cleverly, what was once a two-storey building has been turned into one by removing the second floor, but leaving the supporting beams in place. It’s a trick which manages to give the space an intimacy whilst also making it airy and open.
The colour scheme is watery yellows, burnt oranges and soothing greens. Interestingly, the walls hemming the room have oodles of character. A nice touch is that the scars of staircases up to the vanished 2nd floor can be seen within the distressed plasterwork framing the dining hall. In contrast to the naked rafters overhead, the flooring is tiled in a neat herringbone pattern.
Halfway up the restaurant to the right, there’s a quirky bar. If you arrive too early for your booking, you might be invited to hop up on a stool and grab a drink there until your table is free.
Towards the back of the room lies the open kitchen that is the powerhouse of the venue. There’s a wood-fired oven flickering with flames and waves of mouth-wateringly smoky aromas waft out across the dining room.
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Although there are definite Asian Fusion twists across the menu, Firebird’s heart is solidly Vietnamese. However, rather than trotting out familiar takes on Pho and Viet Slaws, the team incorporates the unique qualities of charcoal and flames to add an edge. And, interestingly, that even extends to the singed garnishes in the cocktails.
As you may already be aware, Eatability LOVES a Set Menu designed for sharing. Happily, Firebird offers one at $79 pp. Obviously, we’re in. But don’t fret. This isn’t our first visit to this slick joint and we’ve been A La Carte before and so can comment on a range of dishes.
Love Asian Fusion fare? Then see our guide to the Best Asian Fusion Restaurants in Melbourne.
Anyway, first up, my fellow gourmands dive into the Grilled Oysters with Green Nuoc Mam & Pickled Eschalots ($6 ea).
Now it’s time for a confession. I like an Oyster, but I wouldn’t sell my soul for one. And I’m aware that if you adore these ozone-perfumed molluscs, you would. So I frequently decide that I will go elsewhere in my Snacks selection and leave those slippery little jewels of the sea to people who appreciate then more.
That’s my defence and I’m sticking to it.
Anyway, I’m very pleased to report that our truly attentive waiter at Firebird has no issue with substituting my prescribed Oyster for the Scotch Quail Egg ($8ea). This little gem comes with a Salted Duck Relish and Chive Sate. It tastes nothing like a traditional Scotch Egg (I’m English-born and have consumed dozens over many a rain-swept picnic) and yet – strangely – does. But with a mouth-wateringly Asian slant.
From there, we reach group unity with the cute-as-a-button Banh Beo ($6 ea). These are dinky little Rice Cakes, topped with Tomato XO and Radish. Totally delish.
Whilst we’re dealing in Snacks, I need to say that previously I’ve enjoyed the amazing Flat Pressed Baguette with Garlic Relish & Tofu ($10). It’s the kind of fusion dish that makes perfect sense as soon as you bite into it. If only more places served it.
For great charcuterie and an excellent wine list, see our review of Agostino wine bar in Carlton
Finally, before we dissect the Mains, I have to admit that I’ve also worked my work through a portion of the Firebird Beef Carpaccio ($25) before. It’s an innovative take on the Italian classic with pops of indigenous Finger Lime adding citrus bursts.
From The Fire
Our Mains live up to the smoky promise in Firebird’s name.
The plate of Charcoal Free-Range Chicken with Burnt Chilli Nuoc Mam ($39/76) is a beautiful thing. Succulent and smoky, salty and sweet, it ticks all of the Vietnamese flavour boxes with ease.
Along side comes a plate of Fire Roasted Lamb Rump Cap with Green Viet Sate & Curry Jus ($46). The Lamb is soft and fragrant, whilst the Viet Sate cuts and yet enhances the richness.
Not to be over-looked, from the Sides we get the Asian Greens doused in a sprightly Lemongrass Sate ($18). It’s the ideal foil to the charred proteins – adding both freshness and crunch.
And in the past, I’ve slurped my way very contentedly through the Rolled Rice Noodles, Garlic Chives, Bean Shoots & Peanuts ($18). It’s a surprisingly light and refreshing offering, but anything but bland.
Rice is such a lovely thing, and I’ll fight anyone who thinks otherwise.
The version we’re served at Firebird is their Aromatic Claypot Rice ($28). It’s rich and textural and flavoured with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes, Cured Egg Yolk & Thai Basil. It’s a meal in itself and a very pleasing Side.
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We finish with the Mango Custard, Berry Granita, Nata De Coco Jelly & Whipped Coconut ($18). It’s a luscious palette cleanser that gives just enough sweetness to round off a beautifully balanced meal.
Given that Firebird is such a fine-looking establishment – and in a hip part of town – it’s no wonder that there are a few punters in the place solely for a drink at the bar.
As ever, the Cocktail List begs to be sampled and we gamely dive in.
At Firebird, the Margarita ($23) is Tequila, Pompelmo, Habanero & Bergamot. It’s a winner, with the grapefruit and orange notes sliding easily into chilli heat. Meanwhile, the simply named Coffee ($23) is a rich, darkly addictive blend of Cognac, Amaro, Coconut, Vietnamese Coffee & Cream. It’s an alcoholic, drinkable dessert in a glass and fabulous at the end of our meal.
Cocktails aside, the bar also stocks a number of Beers, as well as predominantly Aussie Wines.
Firebird Restaurant might seem almost aggressively hip with its sought-after location and distressed warehouse vibe, but the kitchen know what they are doing and take their food very seriously.
The use of coals and flames is no fad. Rather, it heightens the flavour of the dishes, whilst giving a point of difference to other modern Vietnamese venues around town.
Add to this excellent service and a sophisticated, but chilled ambience and you have a restaurant that you’ll be eager to return to.
We know we’ll be back.