Ever since I found out Chin Chin (Lucas Goup) were involved in the opening of the new Hawker Hall in Windsor, I was waiting with abated breath. To be honest, to date, I've never been to the famous Chin Chin on the rare occasions I've been let out of my cage. There's always a mile long queue to get in which only adds to the intrigue. I did take my chance at the Night Noodle Market where the hawker food was launched for the first time. It was my maiden voyage sampling of what to expect.
I drove in to Windsor praying to my parking angels. We all know what the popular Chapel street strip is like. Strangely, there was a calm and emptiness that morning (empty for Chapel st) and I got a parking spot close to the Hawker Hall straight away. Perhaps everyone was at Etihad Stadium watching the UFC fighters also debuting in Melbourne. I also got lucky enough to have both Lucas Group executive chef Benjamin Cooper and Hawker Hall's head chef Damian Snell on the premises at the same time. Leaving nothing to chance, Chef Cooper was there to make sure everything was running to perfection for the launch.
Chefs Benjamin Cooper (left) and Damian Snell at the opening of Hawker Hall (Sunday 15 Nov 2015)
This former furniture shop hadn't changed in a 100 years until now. Eades & Bergman in collaboration with Craig Tan Architects were responsible for the design and delivery of this now ambient, spacious venue, full of individualised characteristics that fits right into the Chapel street vibe. It also fulfils The Lucas Group's vision, whose other ventures include the famous Chin Chin, Go Go, Baby and Kong. An impressive portfolio indeed. As a walk-in restaurant with around 200 seats there's no booking required at HH except for the 'chef's table' which is available for lunch and dinner bookings (seating min 10 & max 12) on the set Hawker Feast menu. Lunch bookings can be made any time before 4pm and dinner seatings are at either 6:00pm or 8:30pm. You can book directly from the website.
I wish I could have fit in more than I did. I was already struggling with what I had and had to give up the idea of ordering one more delectable morsel. HH's menu consists of a choice of Beer Foods like Malay vegetable spring rolls, toasted coconut meatballs and so on. From the Dumplings & Buns section I chose to have the prawn and ginger dumplings, followed quickly by one of my favourite foods under the Roti section, roti canai with curry sauce and eggplant sambal. The Satay BBQ category gave up its chilli squid with sambal belachan to my palate and that quickly disappeared.
Having had gado gado in Indonesia, I decided to pick it from the Salads. It didn't disappoint. It was fresh and absolutely delicious with its content of cabbage, sprouts, sweet potato, tofu, egg and peanuts. After the beef rendang from the the Curries section, I'm afraid I had to give up the ghost of a chance of fitting anything else in other than some freshly pressed, refreshing sugar cane juice. I have no doubt I'll be going back a fair few more times (lets face it, it's going to be often as I visit my son who lives in the area) to check out all the other delicious offerings under the categories of Noodles, Rice, Coconut BBQ Pit, Stir Fry, Greens and Sweets. Yep, you heard right. Just could not fit in any sweets
As the menu doubles up as place-mats, I brought mine home. Thanks for the memories HH. The food is vegetarian and gluten free friendly. Just ask the waitperson of any dietary requirements or allergies. You could also have a 'feed me' moment at HH for $55, just by saying 'feed me' and leave the rest up to HH to fulfil. Prices from the menu range from $4.50 (peanuts and crisps) to $19.50 tops (otak otak, steamed Barramundi, wok tossed Pipis) with an average of $13 to $15 a dish.
The 'Forever Independent' tagline largely dominates one side of the wall and refers to the beers at HH. They are not contracted to any one place, they just house beers that they believe in, beers that are fresh and brewed with love. Most importantly, it's brewed to be enjoyed with the Hawker food. According to the genius behind all these ventures, Chris Lucas in an article from Gourmet Traveller states a shifting in beer tastes. A fresher and lighter style that is favoured more by women and goes well with asian food. At HH you'll find beers designed to go with chilli and others designed to go with the sweet-and-sour notes of Thai food and such like. The food comes first and the beer is designed around it. "I like to mix it up" from the lips of Chris might just be the very reason for the success of everything Lucas gives the Midas touch to.
With a Taps Menu sounding as delicious as its food counterpart, you'll find intriguing names (to a non drinker like me at least) like Mildura Honey (honey wheat lager, clear yellow, malty, subtle sweetness, light & clean); 2 Brothers Kung Fu (rice lager, pale straw, delicate citrus hops, crisp finish); Kaijui Metamorphosis (India pale ale, dark amber, herbal, pine, citrus, big hop bomb) and so on. It'll set you back between $4.80 and $6.50 for 200ml and between $8.50 and $12 for 370ml. Like the food, there's more to discover. The range of beer will be subject to change as well, as with no contracts, HH has the freedom to cater and house favourites of its patrons while revolving and introducing other more adventurous tastes and combinations including their own developed brews.
You can also order the ales in bottles and cans which ranges from $9 to $36, the La Sirene Praline (750ml bottle Belgian chocolate ale) at the upper end of the menu. The feature taps 1 to 3 consists of Shiki Lager (light gold, subtle citrus hop, refreshing pilsner malt, clean and dry); Shiki Pale Ale (pale amber, citrus, floral aroma with malty sweetness & lingering biterness) and Shiki White Ale (hazy straw, tropical fruit and spice, full bodied fresh palate). They come in 200ml (avg $5), 370ml (avg $9) or 2lt sized growlers (avg $45).
If beer isn't your poison of choice, don't worry, HH also has a dedicated cider tap and several wine taps in addition to the bottled beers and wines of both local and international origin.
Prawn & Ginger Dumpling, Chilli Squid & Sugarcane Juice
Now that we've covered food and drinks, the other important factor that makes the restaurant fly is their staff. For my personal experience, everyone was wonderful and accommodating (including the two chefs who posed for me), especially Melissa the hostess and waitstaff Andrew with whom I had an 'up close and personal' amazing service encounter. In the famous words of you know who, "I'll be back!".
The HH is open 7 days a week from 11am to late at 98 Chapel Street in Windsor (03) 8560 0090.
Apart from food, a place is only as good as its staff. The amazing Andrew and Melissa.
Generally a good article about a great new restaurant, but very disappointing to see that Craig Tan Architects is not also credited with the design and interiors.
In actual fact the interior design and fitout was a collaboration between Craig Tan Architects and Eades & Bergman, and the beautifully designed and styled space is a reflection of the close collaboration between the two firms.
This restaurant is definitely one to visit though - great food, atmosphere and music, well done to everybody involved in getting this up and running!