Hawker Hall, Melbourne

Author: Larissa Dubecki

The beer came first at Chris Lucas's latest hospitality behemoth, a 200-seat Asian hawker-style restaurant named, appropriately enough, Hawker Hall.

Lucas, the impresario behind Melbourne's permanently buzzing Chin Chin, Baby and Kong, had noticed shifting beer tastes among his customers over the past few years. "A quantum shift, I'd call it. Women in particular are drinking more beer but it's of a fresher, lighter style that suits Asian food particularly well."

His increasing interest in hops led to a collaboration with Manly's 4 Pines brewery, the "huge" response to which "drove the idea for a beer hall initially, but we're restaurateurs first so we thought it made sense to combine it with food, and we wanted to stick to the Asian genre."

Enter the former furniture factory at the Windsor end of Chapel Street, stripped back to its bare bones - supporting timbers, corrugated iron roof - and due to open as a reinvented Asian hawker market in July.

Hawker Hall will be devoid of the Lucas neon trademark. "I'm trying to put some distance between us and the me-toos, but I have some surprises up my sleeve." The group's executive chef Benjamin Cooper is along for the ride, meaning the food will be bold, brash and authentic. "It falls into the broader categories you see in a hawker market," says Lucas. "Dumplings, noodles, curries, barbecue. Street food in the last little while got lost in the ether so we're making sure it's a true representation."

As for those house beers, there will be one designed to go well with chilli, another suited to sweet-and-sour Thai flavours. Of 30-plus beer taps, four will be devoted to Lucas's own as-yet unnamed label, made at Stefano de Pieri's Mildura Brewery.

"We're pushing back against the parochial craft-beer culture. Going in the opposite direction, as it were, with the food first and designing the beer around it. I like to mix it up."







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