“Good morning, Vietnam!”
Jimmy Wah’s brings a huge smile to our face. Not only is it a sideways nod to the local GI bar in the 1987 movie Good Morning, Vietnam, but its combination of talented owners – Jake Cooley, highly regarded former head chef of Social Eating House + Bar and Shelly Greaves, former owner of the hatted Verve restaurant in Broadbeach – brings the possibility of an excellent new dining hot spot.
The fact that the pair have chosen modern Vietnamese as their predominant flavour palette excites us even more. The spices of Asia are, in a way, as precious to Gold Coast restaurateurs today as they were to Christopher Columbus. Some of the most exciting openings on the Gold Coast in the last year have tapped into Asia for inspiration, inspiring regional cuisines that Jake (like so many of us) enjoyed on a trip to Vietnam, determining to recreate some of those dishes on his return to the Gold Coast. But there are many more flavour tones yet to be explored, and we’re in a state of restless longing already!
Open for both lunch and dinner, Jimmy Wah’s menu is cleverly balanced between modern versions of popular classics, such as Banh Mi, Pho Bo, Rice Paper Rolls and Viet pancake through to Pan-Asian dishes with a wider range of flavours and derivation: exquisite Scallop ravioli (dumplings) with water chestnut, fermented garlic and black vinegar; and Roast duck breast with young ginger, yuzu, shiso and puffed rice showing an East Asian influence. Most are dairy-free and gluten-free and can be made vegetarian on request.
We find that most dishes, such as the Thai-inspired Soft shell crab on green papaya salad, are well balanced between soft and crunchy, sweet and sour, the dish zinging with fresh flavours.
However, the decision to stray to modernism rather than to hang with tradition upsets the balance of other dishes, especially in the lack of accompaniments. Maybe it’s our mistrust of oppositional flavours at play here, because although Jimmy Wah’s serves the first Cha Gio (Crispy spring rolls served with nuoc cham) on the Coast, you’ll need to ask for lettuce and mint to wrap around your spring rolls – the texture and flavour make all the difference!
Similarly, ask for sides of lime and chilli to be served with your Pho Bo. Made on oxtail for a richer broth than the usual flank or brisket, it’s dressed with coriander, star anise and ginger, and also served naked without accompaniments. This dish would gain so much from the addition of a generous squeeze of lime, Thai basil and bean sprouts, and chilli (for those who choose it) to balance acidity and heat. Without these elements we feel that our choices have been made for us, the dish straying towards Mediterranean flavours.
Very cleverly, Jimmy Wah’s menu can not only be shared or eaten solo at the bar, it also suits a diverse demographic and a range of expenditure. For example, Jimmy Wah’s Banh Mi, a crisp-topped baguette spread with house pâté, salad greens, fresh chilli and sliced meat is just the meal to grab if you’re on the run. Feeling hungry? Then add a bowl of Pho, or enjoy your meal with a cold beer on one of the high tables fronting the restaurant. It’s far more comfortable than an upturned milk crate on a Hanoi street corner! Far cleaner too, but prices match our costs, economic climate and the popularity of Modern Asian cuisine!
Planning to make a night of it? Then why not let the chef choose. The personalised ‘feed me’ option at $59 per person could add an intriguing element of surprise to date night or a family celebration.
Far too polished to truly reflect its moniker establishment, Jimmy Wah’s is sparsely decorated with American oak furniture and lantern shades on a neutral ‘bamboo’ palette. Somehow the wall of timber seems out of place, the venue too pristine, leaving me longing for a huge graphic of Saigon at night and the tracks of motorbikes crisscrossing the concrete floor. But the devil is in the detail with stylish plating, cultery and glassware, the place lit up by the beaming exuberance of Jimmy Wah, a two-metre high mural by local artist Mark Wilson.
“Now you say hi to me then you smile!” says Jimmy, his infectious good humour brightening the room despite the turmoil outside in the streets of Saigon. War raged both outside and inside in the ‘70s, an unholy mix of freedom and rebellion fuelled by a war many believed we should not be a part of.
If there’s a hook to take us back to the era of street protests and free love, it’s Jimmy Wah’s soundtrack featuring music of the era, from the protest ballads of Bob Dylan to the rock ‘n’ roll classics DJ Adrian Cronauer loved to play on military radio, brightening the GIs’ day about as much as a trip to Jimmy Wah’s.
“We’d love a couple beers, Jimmy,” the guys would say.
While beer to us is ‘de rigeur’ when eating Asian food, Jimmy Wah’s offers a range of other options. If you prefer wine, our waitress recommends the 2013 Hugel Pinot Blanc as a good match for the food, however the Asian-inspired cocktails such as a white rum and lemongrass Viet Daiquiri, Bubble Mai-Chai Tea, or Jimmy’s obsession, Walter Brennan (spiced rum, ginger liqueur, ginger beer, and balanced with the heat of chilli) are drinks which would more likely pull us away from a Singha or Asahi on tap.
Jimmy Wah’s is a great addition to the Gold Coast’s growing showcase of modern Asian cuisine. Like the GIs of Saigon, Jimmy Wah’s could very easily become ‘…the place where we like to hang out.”
1724 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads Ph: 07 5659 1180
Open: Wed – Mon 12 noon – late