• The duck a l’orange is served with pickled ginger, a burnt orange and a spiced sauce. (Firebird)Source: Firebird
The group behind Hanoi Hannah and Tokyo Tina is bringing a blazing Vietnamese restaurant to Melbourne’s south.
Audrey Bourget

1 Jul 2020 - 10:58 AM  UPDATED 1 Jul 2020 - 11:54 AM

At newly opened restaurant Firebird in Windsor, pretty much every dish hits the charcoal grill or wood-fired oven at some point. And that even includes cocktails, with burned citrus and charred pineapple.

Commune Group director Simon Blacher says, "When you go through Southeast Asia, in Thailand, Vietnam, anywhere, everything is cooked over charcoal. That sweet smell you get; the fat and the pork, it's delicious and really evocative."

Commune is the group behind popular Vietnamese eateries Hanoi Hannah, Japanese restaurant Tokyo Tina and Italian wine bar Neptune. "We're lucky to have never been bound by traditions. The flavours are there, but all of our restaurants generally reinterpret them in a different way," explains Blacher.

For Firebird, he enlisted chef Steven Ngo, who grew up in the countryside outside of Ho Chi Minh City. "My mum would cook traditional Vietnamese food. We'd catch fish in the river and get vegetables from our garden. My mum inspired me a lot to cook," Ngo shares.

(From left) Venue manager Lyndal Spencer, Commune Group Director Simon Blancher and chef Steven Ngo.

Ngo has a deep understanding of Vietnamese cuisine, as well as Thai, thanks to the years he spent working at Long Chim and Chin Chin in Melbourne. At Firebird, he loves merging fresh Vietnamese dishes with bold Thai flavours.

You can't go past the pipis, which are served in canh chua, a sour tomato and tamarind soup that has been reduced into a sauce. Blacher explains, "The pipis open over charcoal so what happens is that some of the liquid comes out and the smoke jumps back in. When you eat them, you get a bit of smokiness on the shell which adds another layer." 

The 250g, 500g or 1kg servings come with a fluffy Chinese doughnut to soak up the sauce.

Ngo takes his ingredients seriously and is not one to cut corners. Take duck a l'orange, a French dish that has been reinterpreted by the English and Vietnamese. In Vietnam, vit nau cam sees a duck braised in orange juice and spices. At Firebird, spices are a big part of the dish, but Ngo chose roasting over braising.

He brines the duck overnight with cinnamon, star anise and orange, then stuffs it with spring onion, lemongrass and orange. In the morning, he bastes it before briefly putting in the oven. He then hangs the duck to roast slowly for several hours. "For the sauce, we use duck fat, fish sauce, palm sugar, lemongrass, spring onion, cinnamon, star anise, Worcestershire and orange juice," reveals Ngo.

Finally, the duck is chopped and served with pickled ginger and burnt orange to cut through the richness.

"We like eating with our hands and getting a bit messy."

Fans of Vietnamese street food will be excited to find banh trang nuong (grilled rice paper, sometimes called Vietnamese pizza or taco) on the menu.

"It's a dish that comes from Dalat, in the mountains, but you can find it everywhere in Vietnam now. The rice paper sheets are thicker there, that's why in Melbourne not many restaurants do it because they don't have the right rice paper," explains Ngo. In Vietnam, the rice paper is topped with things like quail eggs, pork floss, Sriracha, dried shrimps and cheese, before being grilled. At Firebird, the rice paper is topped with egg, as well as mushroom pate and sweet chilli sauce made in-house.

Several other dishes like the eggplant in red curry, green papaya salad and grilled banh mi are also vegetarian.

With its loud music, 70's inspired décor and bar flanked in the middle of the restaurant, you can feel Firebird has been built for fun. "We like eating with our hands and getting a bit messy. I want people guzzling beer and not taking themselves seriously," says Blancher.

223 High St, Windsor
Wed-Thurs, 6pm-late
Sat-Sun, midday-late

A new takeaway offering, 'The Mighty Ducks' will see the Commune venue reopen to serve up 30 'Mighty Ducks' every Friday for pre-order and collection each week. 

Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @audreybourget and Twitter @audreybourget

Feels like home: 'My dad's Vietnamese ginger-braised chicken is best'
Jerry Mai's late father only knew a few dishes, but no one can beat his version of this Vietnamese comfort food.
This Melbourne suburb should be your next dining destination
Find Persian date omelettes, Vietnamese banh cuon and Afghan dumplings in Sunshine, one of the city's most multicultural suburbs.
Vietnamese food crawl: Mum's pho takes on Top End laksa
Laksa-obsessed Darwin is getting its phở fix, complete with mum’s seal of approval.
Vietnamese food crawl: Taste Vietnam's north in Australia's far west
This small part of Vietnam is full of tasty surprises but there’s no need to grab a plane ticket to experience it if you find yourself in Perth.
Green papaya salad with buffalo jerky

A fresh Vietnamese salad of papaya, herbs and coconut served with a homemade dipping sauce.

Vietnamese goat curry

The aromatic, homemade paste beautifully flavours the goat meat which is preferred for its tenderness.

Ant eggs with fresh betel leaves

Red ant eggs are a rare delicacy found deep in the Vietnamese jungle, served in bitter betel leaves. 

Banh mi or Saigon roll? Depends where you live
If you live outside the nation’s capital Canberra, you might be surprised to learn that your beloved baguette-based Vietnamese meal, banh mi, is often called a Saigon roll. So what’s in a name?