In Vietnam, 'bia hoi' refers both to draft beer and beer halls. The latter is a fun and rowdy meeting spot for families, friends and coworkers.
"It's very joyous, there's lots of ruckus and sometimes it's a bit too loud for the average Westerner who is not accustomed to this.
"You sit in a corner on plastic furniture and you have a beer and dry squid, and it's really cheap and affordable. I like to go to the local one were they sell shellfish, crab, hotpot and you grill food at the table. I really enjoy that, having heaps of beers and catching up with friends."
This is the vibe that Mai will bring to the suburb of Glen Waverley when her latest restaurant, aptly called Bia Hoi, opens in August. She promises it will be fun, a little loud and not stuffy at all.
The beer selection will range from Vietnamese imports 333 and Bia Hanoi to local microbrews. Snacks like crispy chicken skin, dried squid and chilli salted peanuts will match perfectly.
"Nothing should be hard and fast; you just enjoy your dinner, sit back and relax like in a beer hall."
If you're after something bigger, it will be mostly DIY with BBQ tables and steamboats, encouraging sharing and the use of your hands.
With the BBQs come a selection of wagyu, chicken and seafood to grill, as well as rice paper, sauces, herbs, veggies and rice noodles. "I really like the BBQ, how you can cook your own meat and roll it in rice paper rolls as you go. You can drink beers and cocktails. Nothing should be hard and fast; you just enjoy your dinner, sit back and relax like in a beer hall," says Mai.
The steamboats will also let you cook at your own pace. You can either get the canh chua, a hot and sour tamarind and pineapple-based broth served with barramundi, prawns, rice noodles and herbs or the pho, which comes with wagyu sirloin, brisket, beef balls and silky rice noodles.
On Sundays, the bottomless brunch involves food delivered on trolleys and free-flowing beer, wine, mimosas and spritzes for two hours.
A passion for Vietnamese cuisine
Before opening Pho Nom, Annam and Bia Hoi, Mai worked as a chef in Australia in restaurants like Longrain and Gingerboy, and in London under David Thompson. When she returned to Melbourne, focusing on Vietnamese cuisine felt natural: "I always come back to Vietnamese food because it's my heritage, my culture, a cuisine I'm very familiar with and very passionate about. It’s a culture I want to be seen in a better light than it's been seen over the years."
At six years old, she came to Australia as a refugee with her parents, fleeing communist Vietnam. They first settled in Brisbane, before moving to Springvale, a suburb south-east of Melbourne.
"We spend so much time opening things in the CBD and it gets so packed and the suburbs get overlooked. Bia Hoi is close to the suburb I grew up in, Springvale," she says. "Not everything needs to be in the city, we underestimate what the suburbs can bring to us."
Jerry Mai: James Morgan
Food: Jana Langhorst
Renders: Architect Eat
Bia Hoi at The Glen is opening on 1 August
235 Springvale Road, Glen Waverley
Everyday 11 am – late
Cutting the fish into cubes means crunch on all sides, for a salad packed with texture and flavour.