Everything tastes better charred – and Firebird got the memo. A restaurant dedicated to smoke, flames and fire that opened on the brink of the pandemic, with every dish in some way, shape or form having been licked by the fire, and it’s all the better for it.
You’ll find the 110-seater space on Prahran’s High Street. The Vietnamese-leaning menu will come as no surprise given it's owned by the Commune Group (also behind Hanoi Hannah, Tokyo Tina and wine bar Neptune directly across the road). It’s constantly vibing. The music’s loud, the warehouse-style space has videos projected on the walls, and the splashes of green tiling make it feel a little retro.
Oysters should be printed in red on the menu with exclamation marks as they’re one of those non-negotiable, can’t-leave-without-trying snacks. They’re superb, kissed by the hot coals for just a split second or two as they are creamy as anything, warmed yet not at all rubbery. This would be an easy dish to take over the edge, but it’s done masterfully.
A moreish, crunchy, pressed banh mi is tiger-striped and bolstered by a charred eggplant relish. It's sweet, a little tangy, and unexpectedly complex for what looks like a scoop of chutney in a ramekin – likely thanks to the addition of pork floss adding a little meaty umami. A grilled sheet of rice paper comes next, smothered in a mushroom pâté with corn, peanuts and lime. It’s textural, fun to eat and inventive – roll it up, chop it up, enjoy the flavour bombs. And then, the carpaccio.
Oh, the carpaccio!
With the thinnest of thin slices of beef sitting in a balanced sweet soy dressing, this is a standout. Add the crunch of sprinkled puffed rice and the fresh explosion of finger-lime beads peppered on top into the mix and you've got a dish of the day. In between nibbles, the cocktails add a nice continuation of the fiery theme – the Burnt Paloma delivering a smokier take on the classic. Unlike the latter which relies on fresh grapefruit juice, the Firebird version ups the ante. Using the burnt flesh of the fruit to create a syrup, it's aromatic, bitter, and a more sultry take than the original.
The ‘From the Fire’ section of the menu takes things up a notch. Flame-tossed pipis come swimming in a canh chua reduction, a sort of sweet and sour Vietnamese-style broth. If you’re not busy chugging it in spoonfuls, you can soak it up with grilled Chinese donuts (youtiao) – long fried strips of golden dough that are crispy on the outside, yet airy and fluffy on the inside. Traditionally eaten at breakfast time across East and South East Asia, they're savoury, textural and the ideal sponge for the moreish broth. It’s a clever dish, tangy from the charred tomatoes, rich from the pork oil and has a touch of heat. Sitting with a big bowl of this in your lap would leave you one happy camper.
The duck à l’orange follows suit, the slow-roasted (or should one say slow-fired?) bird available by the half or the whole. And while its exterior is totally blackened it’s on the fattier side, juicy and tender. With the grilled orange to squeeze adding smoky citrus, the 'Firebird excellent sauce’ delivering the best kind of hoisin-spiked hit that’s been amplified with a reduction of the cooking juices, and pickled ginger to pack a little punch in between bites, it’s a flat-out treat.
Hot and sour broken rice is the best kind of comfort food, with all the crisp bits one’s heart desires housed in a claypot full of vegies and served piping hot. Everything else is just as good: wok-tossed morning glory with a zesty lemongrass sate for a side of greens; a wood-roasted duck fat potato gratin for something heartier; a punchy chargrilled squid and papaya salad for something fresh.
Firebird's all about smoke and flames, and nails the brief. It does so with an inventive menu that transports you to the fiery street food stalls of Vietnam, a fun atmosphere that puts you in a good mood, and a consistent dining experience that has you excited from start to finish.