When I was six, I desperately wanted a Barbie picnic van for Christmas. I. Needed. It! And I washed a tonne of pumpkin-encrusted dishes so that Santa would have no choice but to give my Stardust Barbie a pimp’n new mode of transport. Come Christmas morning, I almost wet my pants with excitement when I unwrapped my new set of wheels.
Being a Prahranite, I experienced similar feelings of anticipation and excitement (maybe the pant-wetting) while painstakingly waiting for the fourth sister restaurant in the Chin Chin, Kong and Baby family to open up on the Windsor-end of Chapel Street. I stalkerishly watched as construction continued stretching out Hawker Hall’s rumoured July 2015 opening date. Then finally the restaurant-cum-beer hall was ready to swing open its big glass doors last month.
Is there a line up? Short answer: YES!
With a return of the no-booking policy (for groups under nine), Hawker Hall has definitely inherited its older sisters’ notoriously long, snaking lines. It took me two attempts to get a Saturday-night table. The first, failed, attempt, I satayed on in at 9pm and expected a table before midnight. Stupid, crazy!
On my second, successful, attempt, I cleverly (I thought) put my name down at 6pm. Although I was fresh from the gym in my sweaty Lorna Jane and mentally praying that a miracle table wasn’t available given Mrs Stinky would have put all 160 diners off their dumplings. Fortunately, there was a three-hour wait, which I cannot believe I just wrote, but it allowed me to walk home, shower, relax, maybe have a champagne, or two, not three, and by 9pm I was perched at the bar overlooking the exposed kitchen (which is manned by head chef Damian Snell, ex Charlie Dumpling), with a deliciously heaving menu placed in front of me.
My advice is to expect a three-hour wait – anything less is a bonus – and have a back-up plan. The great thing about being in Windsor is that there are many a time-killing options in the vicinity. Most of them involve gin. There’s no point in getting snarky and chucking an I-didn’t-get-my-Barbie-picnic-van tantrum. Put your name down and head straight for any of Windsor’s damn-fine bars, a list of which I’ve prepared earlier.
Reminiscent of the hawker centres in Singapore and Malaysia, the menu is a mix-up of the best street food found within the two countries, with lots of spices, stir fries and curries.
Given I wanted it ALL, I decided to opt for the $55pp (bargain) Hawker Feast and put my fate in the hands of my charming waiter (and he was quite charming in a young-boy Chris Hemsworth kind of way), who was given the responsibility of selecting the dishes. He said he knew the menu quite well, asked if I liked chilli and before long dishes were appearing quicker than the time Channel 7 took to kill Restaurant Revolution.
Dining under festoon lights, I was in my kind of heaven feasting on a banquet of Nyonya-style popcorn chicken; prawn dumplings in chilli sauce; roti canai with curry sauce and eggplant sambal; hokkien noodles with pork, prawns, squid and sambal; salmon in banana leaf with fragrant Indian curry and coconut; and Malay coconut beef rending. Finishing off with a dessert duo of coconut and chocolate ice cream; and caramelised pepper-roasted pineapple, which melted its accompanying whiskey ice cream like it was the Wicked Witch of the West. Chris Hemsworth chose well. If I had to choose a favourite dish, it would be a toss-up between the hokkien noodles and the prawn dumplings.
And with an army of 18 beer taps and six wine taps, you won’t go thirsty.
Hawker Hall is…
Given its siblings are dux of Melbourne’s food scene, Hawker Hall has big shoes to fill. So was it worth the wait, and line up? You bet your beef and black bean it was! The food is up there in the echelon of Chin Chin and the feed me Hawker Feast is totally the way to do it – try it ALL, I say.
Housed in a historic 1890s horse stable, the energy within the carnivorous hall-like space is also palpable. No doubt the super loud music has something to do with this; however, it’s not a first date venue, nor a place to bring hard-hearing parents.
The décor borders the boundary of kitsch with replica Asian street signs, but still has a modern feel with bamboo slatting. The unisex toilet that has the backing track of an interpreter teaching bathroom users to speak Malaysian is on the weird side.
And as an additional proof point of whether Hawker Hall is deserving of its acclaimed foodie bloodline, there were still some very patient people being seated ready to start their feast when I left at 11:30pm.
Hawker Hall | 98 Chapel Street, Windsor, Victoria
Phone: (03) 8560 0090