July 15, 2021
Shop stories: Explore Hanoi Hannah in Elsternwick Village
Dishing up delicious Vietnamese cuisine in a fun and friendly atmosphere has earned Elsternwick Village’s Hanoi Hannah a reputation as one of Melbourne’s best-loved Asian eateries.
An offshoot of popular Windsor restaurants Tokyo Tina, Hanoi Hannah and Saigon Sally, Hanoi Hannah Vol. II has quickly established itself as a favourite destination for diners with a hunger for fresh, modern Vietnamese.
And with a menu packed with fragrant pho, brilliant banh mi, and scrumptious salads, it’s easy to see why its loyal and expanding customer base keeps coming back for more.
Hanoi Hannah’s success is largely down to the innovative trio behind its inception.
Simon Blacher and Paul Nguyen of The St. Hotel, and Nick Coulter of Sarti, recognised there was a lack of hawker-style food in Melbourne’s south-east and decided to do something about it.
They opened Hanoi Hannah’s big sister in Windsor in 2012, and the instant hit inspired the team to try their luck with a slightly more upmarket model, Saigon Sally, in 2013.
Takeaway-only venue Hanoi Hannah Express came next, followed two years later by Japanese-Korean fusion restaurant Tokyo Tina.
And then Hanoi Hannah Elsternwick was born.
Manager Bel Gibson said the staff were the secret ingredient that made the restaurant special.
“We’re like a family at Hanoi Hannah. We’re happy to be here, and when everyone is happy, everything just flows,” she said.
“We keep hold of our staff for a long time, we don’t have a high turnover, so we’re very lucky.”
The friendly atmosphere was another crowd-pleaser.
“Our vibe is fast-paced, fun, loud,” Ms Gibson said.
“If you walk through on a Friday or Saturday night, there’s a real buzz in the air and you know people are where they want to be.
“And they keep coming back – we have loads of regulars.”
A growing opportunity
That huge popularity meant Hanoi Hannah Vol. II soon outgrew its original 55-seat space located opposite Classic Cinema.
The team snapped up a roomy new 100-seat restaurant just up the road in the former schnitzel and grill house Maxy’s International.
Double the size, the new venue has an all-weather alfresco space, a roomy bar, and an impressive open kitchen.
“It gets to a point in every business after a few years when you want to change things up a bit and see where you can go,” Ms Gibson said.
“We were very, very busy and our waitlist was quite extreme some nights.
“Expanding really gave us the opportunity to get more people in and lower those waitlist times and keep our customers happy.”
The new venue has an added bonus – a bigger kitchen and menu.
Alongside the old favourites, like soft shell crab rolls and tender beef pho, customers can now enjoy larger dishes including whole market fish and dry-aged roast duck with lemongrass.
There are plenty of share-friendly options as well, such as grilled chicken ribs, lime and pepper squid, and Szechuan chilli vinegar wontons, and the new venue has enabled Hannoi Hannah to deliver a popular takeaway service as well.
“Down the road, it was mainly hawker and street food,” she said.
“We’ve kept that on the menu, but we’ve also been able to steer away from that a bit and offer bigger dishes, things that are special to us.”
Dishes like the dry-aged duck, which Ms Gibson describes as a “five-day labour of love” to create.
“The kitchen staff put a lot of love into the dishes and that shows,” she said.
As far as favourites are concerned, Ms Gibson said the pork Hanoi-style spring rolls were still a bestseller.
“They’ve been on the menu as long as I can remember, and they’re as popular as ever,” she said.
“They’re a bit DIY, which is fun. People can build them up with textures and flavours. They’re fantastic.”
But for Ms Gibson, the new whole market fish is hard to beat.
“At some stage or other, every member of staff has talked about how much they love the whole market fish,” she said.
“It’s ocean trout with a green mango salad with a bit of spiciness to balance out the sweetness of the caramel sauce.
“It’s so good, my mouth waters every time I think about it.”
Visit the restaurant
306 Glen Huntly Rd
Phone: (03) 9939 3528