Monday, 16 March 2015

CBA Friday at newly opened Ovest in Little India, WeFo - are we reaching saturation point?!

Ok so can we sustain yet another culinary addition to the West? When do we go from "oh wow, we're so spoilt for choice" to "fuck it, I just want some takeout and something mindless on the box"! We may very well be closer to that precipice than we think.

There is such a thing as sensory overload; and the mere act of having to decide and choose between a multitude of options can be inherently stressful, leading to almost paralysing bouts of anxiety. The Tyranny of Choice, or the Paradox of Choice as some behavourial economists have termed it. We will all need our very own Choice Architects (believe it or not, they actually exist!) to guide us through this consumerist maelstrom.

It does help if your final choice is an experience that is completely new, as it was with Ovest, a recent addition to the Barkly Street, WeFo set - a Pizza Bar with a fairly decent wine list and some interesting topping choices.

The joint was already pumping when we got there, but they were happy to fit us in if we could be done in an hour's time. Not really intending to have a languid boozy affair (hello married?), we decided to take the option and sat down to an amazing glass of wine which made us instantly regret our decision.

It was the Negroamaro, Matane (2013) from Puglia, which at $7.00 a glass is one of the cheaper options on the winelist. We could have easily sat there nursing a bottle of this red, amidst the frantic yet convivial clangour, in an interior with some slightly odd, almost unfinished design accents.

Bottom line is you basically come for the pizza at this joint so there's a limit to the refinery!! There are some interesting starters to be had, and some dubious options amongst the kids menu - the slightly morose blonde one at the table next door clearly was not impressed with his cannelloni which frankly looked an unsavoury orange mess.

If you're thinking that you're "man" enough to stomach an entire pizza on your own, let me warn you that the pizzas are large!! Although we managed to finish off one each, regret was waiting round the corner on our sofa!

I opted for the Prawn blond base, with zucchini, chilli, mint, ricotta and fior di latte ($21). I may be wrong, but I think the first time I ever had a Pizza Bianchi of any description was at Gusto's just a little further up the road. Since then I've tended to prefer the slightly fresher base to the richness of slow cooked tomato sauce. The mix of flavours on my pizza was spot on, with no individual ingredient overpowering the other. And I loved the slight charriness to some of the zucchini pieces, and the subtle hint of mint was a great touch. Definitely a recommend.

M went for something off the specials list (he generally does I now realise) - Spicy Pork Sausage, with Fior Di Latte, tomato suggo, jalapeno and prosciutto ($21). A slightly richer offering (also another M proclivity); the pork sausage was beautifully herby and the suggo provided a nice almost fruity hit! And there was bird's eye chillies amongst all that Jalapeno giving this a real scoville kick!

Ovest definitely warrants a second visit, particularly as we enter the cooler months, and a nice hit of carbs is more than welcome. And certainly a return visit for that Negoramaro if nothing else - and who knows what other hidden treasures on the list!

Ovest on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Up up and away, in my beautiful balloon

Ok so this nearly landed in front of our house.

We were getting ready for another dreary day at work when we heard an odd whooshing sound outside - couldn't work out if it was a plane, or a car or bike - it had the sound of a motorised vehicle of sorts but we couldn't figure it out.

When you reside off the confluence of 2 busy roads and under flight paths, you tend to block out some of the sudden clicks, bumps and pops that form the aural soundtrack of inner city living.

But this sounded unusual, so we went outside for a steaky beak, and there it was - a big hot air balloon, so low you could just about reach out and shake the hands of its occupants.

Maybe one day I'll make it up there - well if I can drag myself out of bed early enough and find spare cash lying around!

Friday, 6 March 2015

No I don't speak Jamaican and I'm not phonologizing either! CBA Friday at Bax Food Co, Seddon

Ok so does anyone remember Gravy Train from the pre-million dollar property days? It used to be one of the rare modern style cafes along this strip of Gamon Street in ... is it still Seddon or Yaraville at this juncture? We went there once, and never went back.

Well Seddon/Yaraville is now so crowded with gastronomic choices that the everyday fish and chip/milkbar burger has now become a rarefied luxury. One lazy Saturday afternoon brunching at Lady Moustache, we first noticed that the Greens had vacated their charmingly rustic (i.e. gradually shifting sideways) workers cottage. Then we noticed that Gravy Train was no longer and windows had been papered up sheltering the premise's new tenants in preparation for the big reveal!

After a little eugooglizing, the Westie interwebs rumour mill informed us that our snazzy hood was getting its first Jamaican restaurant. As a big fan of a good old spicy smoky jerk anything I was excited.

So when it opened we jumped at the chance of sampling the wares at Bax Food Co. Let me just preface this by saying that the hospitality gods have not been smiling down on us of late. We have had so many forgotten orders, inept service experiences, understocked menus of late, that its hard not to question our loosening grip on humanity. Unfortunately, Bax Food Co didn't quite help to change our losing streak.

The evening started off well. The open front courtyard has been preserved in a fashion and as it was a reasonably cool night, we were glad to be sat outside. A la Pappa Rich, each table has a tin with paper menus and pencils for you to tick your order off. But I think teething problems may have prevented them from sticking to their misguided workflow, and table service was provided instead.

When we visited they were still in the process of obtaining a liquor licence, but there were a number of fruit punch like drinks on offer. To get into the spirit of things, I opted for the watermelon which in its spritzy mixture had a very nostalgic and familiar flavour to me. M's had some kind of passionfruit nonsense, a fruit that I truly despise as it combines 2 of the worst things I find in food - slimy and supertart! He liked it which really is all that matters.

The menu is designed to be shared - a little tapas-y in construct. Once they get their liquor licence, you could go to town on this!

We decided to go for 2 selections from the Larger Boss Grub section on the menu. We placed our orders and settled into some heavy conversation as we were both extremely dejected about things at work. We didn't really notice the time flying. Then we were distracted by a couple of our friends walking their dog and we went out for a quick but long overdue catchup, which pushed the hands round the clock a little bit more.

When that was all done with, there was nothing further to distract from our rumbling tummies. And the stress levels began to creep up as the tables round us started emptying and filling up again. Then a side of Cassava chips was delivered gratis with an apology for the wait. That helped to appease the Roti Road flashbacks somewhat as the Cassava chips were delicious!! You must order a serve when you go! It came with a sticky green sauce perfumed by the sweetness of Jalapeno (I think) and pretty soon we were dunking and crunching no more as the box* switfly emptied.

We then had to prompt the waitress to see where the rest of our meal was. She returned to say that it would be no more than another 10 minutes. So I set the timer on my phone ... YES! I have turned into one of those people!! I am secretly mortified and ashamed ... but in the heat of the moment, all bets are off. But guess what! To the very second of those 10 minutes, our mains actually arrived!

But, and this is one of my many pet peeves, they had run out of one of the elements on the Jerk Platter we ordered, and simply replaced it with another item without first checking!! Thankfully for their sake, they replaced the Chicken Wings (and if you know me, you know how much I love my chicken wings!!) with an extra piece of their Jerk Roast Corn with coconut and jerk Mayo which was heaven!! And would have been way too hard to share. So our Jerk Platter ($25) came with Jerk Chicken, Pork Ribs, and 2 pieces of Jerk corn.

I almost want to say jerk is as jerk is, mainly because I like the sound of it. But the jerk was nigh on perfect for me. The right amount of smokiness with a hint of spice and the rub was well and trully cooked out. There was also a tamarindy sweetness in one of the sauces that worked very well with the rest of the flavours of the jerk. The corn was something else! Grilled almost to the point of slightly beyond burnt - it would never pass muster on Masterchef, but it certainly passed easily down the gullet!!

Our second main was the Doubles, served with Chick Pea, Potato, side condiments and Saffron Bread ($15). Doubles is like an empanada of sorts, or a rather mangled curry puff - well the version served here anyways. The Chickpea mixture was beautifully balanced and extremely moreish. Yet another highlight of a dish. But probably something best shared as its a little heavy, and just a few mouthfuls is sufficient without one becoming jelak - which is a great Malay word used to describe being sick of a flavour.

As it turned out, or as it was explained to us rather, they had someone call in sick in the kitchen just before doors opened. And I understand that and appreciate that they were honest about the situation. They more than made up for the delays with some amazing food. And such an interesting menu well deserves a repeat visit.

Bax Food Co on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Its getting crowded in here!! CBA Friday at Quan 888 in Little Saigon

Ok ... its getting crowded over here in Little Saigon! But the hood can afford another intrusion if its serving traditional fare such as this - honest, uncomplicated (relatively speaking) and uncompromising.

Now that my erstwhile goto bible* of new happenings in the West has recently found its well worn blogging feet again, I clocked the opening of Quan 888 in the Little Saigon market soon after it set up shop.

In fact I do believe we visited this newly minted establishment on the very day the post was published. And now that I am a skilful reader between the lines of this particular blogger's nomenclature, I knew we were in for a good night.

And a good night we had ... in part. There are popular dishes on here that sell out fast as we soon discovered. So we had to settle for second choices.

Most of the dishes are prefixed with the words Da Nang, a city on the South Central Coast of Vietnam, which is where I gather the proprietors originally hailed from. There are a few familiar dishes like Niem and Bun Xiao, but most of the menu could prove a bit daunting to the western palate, especially the fermentary (is that a word?) condiments and some of the stock bases for their noodles.

In fact the initial mouthful of my Fish Cake Noodles (sorry readers I'm bad with noting down menu titles and descriptions!) was overpoweringly fishy, with a hint of monsoon drain ... HOWEVER, as the flavours started to mix and the bits of pumpkin (yes you read that right) started to soften into the stock, each successful mouthful became ever increasingly moreish. The bowl was dry when I finished with it!

M's noodles had roast pork and jackfruit in it and the mere presence of this well loved artocarpus (yes I know how to google!) is enough to illicit a sour lemon pout of the Zellweger variety from me, but I did have a taste. I think there was more artichoke than jackfruit, so I was able to savour the deliciousness of the dish. But you can already surmise that the combination of ingredients is a little unusual at Quan 888.

We also had the green papaya salad which like its neighbouring establishment is garnished with that addictive Beef jerky that now seems to be everywhere with the arrival of Co Thu Quan.

For liquid refreshment we had the curious Corn Milk which is exactly what the name describes. Cold milky corn in a glass. Jury is still out on this. I think I would have liked it a little sweeter.

And to finish off the meal, we had Ca Phe Sua Dam - strong iced black coffee - dark of colour and miraculously milky?! I'm still trying to figure this out!

On our second visit, we were able to sample the Bahn Beo - steamed rice cakes with toppings of pork and also shredded dried prawns. These were delicious! And well worth going back for.

I also tried the Niem which was a little tricky to negotiate. I wasn't quite sure how to actually eat it. There wasn't really much room to try and combine the noodles with the herbs and with the meat. So I ended up eating each ingredient a mouthful at a time.

M had the Bun Xiao which is served rather dramatically with a dispenser that lets you wet your rice paper - a kind of DIY spring roll of sorts. It's a fun dish, but we both agreed that the actual pancake was a bit lacking in the taste department. Yes my palate is not as sophisticated - my preference is for punch in the face flavour.

A very welcome addition to Little Saigon indeed!

*Footscray Food Blog

Monday, 23 February 2015

Random Bites Part II

Ok time for a few more random bites before we head back into CBA territory again.

First up, we have Zigzag Burgers N Salad! Alright I can see the eye and head roll from here, ... "not another burger joint mum!!!" I hear you cry. And I admit this isn't going to totally blow your mind, but the price points aren't insulting, and the burgers taste good. 

Its right near Fancy Coles so you can do a spot of grocery shopping while you're at it. And they open from 10am till 9pm with ample parking.

As it was my first time here, I went for the plain old basic beef burger ($8) - 100% Black Angus Beef Lettuce Zig Zag Sauce Pickles Tomato Relish, Toasted Sesame Bun.

Nicely charred bun that wasn't too sweet, a decent sized and juicy patty and a deft hand and the pickles and relish serve. All in all a very satisfying morsel.

M went a little fancier and ordered the 12 hour slow cooked Beef brisket instead with Havarti Cheese ($8.50) - you can actually choose between the patty or the brisket for all the available burger options.

The brisket was nicely flavoured if a little on the chewy side. But I prefer a little give anyways, rather than a meaty mush.

The House Cut fries with cheese and bacon ($7.50) was the star. Ok so I have a feeling it was a run of the mill commercially made cheese sauce but you got the right balance of crunchy and soggy on the plate ... unlike a certain other gamely joint closer to the hood!

We'll certainly be going back.

Zigzag Burgers n' Salads on Urbanspoon

It was one of those listless weekdays whilst I was still in the throes of unemployment that we took a walk out to the lesser end of Barkly street to sample the wares of Kebab Surra.

We were actually hoping for a street style kebab, all greasy tin foil and dripping garlic sauce. Kebab Surra was in comparison a little more refined. Not that that is a bad thing. In fact the refined flavours were wonderful.

We weren't super hungry and decided to share their Kebab Special, which turned out to be quite a generous serving at $14 a pop!

I really should pay more attention to geography and cultural history. I'd be hard put to tell you where the owners and their traditions come from ... but clearly there is an overlap with the sort of cuisine served at Safari in Ascot Vale ... our wonderful host brought out a lamb broth as an aperitif very similar in make up. 

Our Kebab special arrived a-table full of vibrancy and colour. I'm generally less inclined to feast with the eyes ... to put it plainly ... I want that shit in my mouth before I read the bitch ... you feel me?! But the simple plating (my new obsession) was simply appealing!

Oh and the bread was moreish! Nice and crispy. I could have just kept eating it ... on its own even ... slumped on the couch ... watching some shit reality tv ...

You get alot of bang for your buck, so its worth checking the place out.

Kebab Surra on Urbanspoon

Now we travel way out of the zone to M's hometown, Alexandra. Lets be perfectly honest, you wouldn't necessarily stop over in this town for any longer than to wet the whiskers (what ... too much?) or perhaps to stock up on important supplies like a bag of chips!

But they have sexed up the Alexandra Hotel - now called the Alexandra Hotel & Cafe and its worth a visit. Well only if by a bee dick's of a chance you ever find yourself needing some sustenance in this part of Victoria, then the food is not disgusting and the coffee is more than drinkable. And its a nice spot to chill for a bit ... you could even go a bevvy!! Or two!

You know they're trying their best when the menu even has sliders!!

Finally, speaking of bevvies, we made it to Littlefoot! Oh the build up was exhausting. If you're local and invested, then I won't bore you with the details or the backstory.

Besides which its 11pm and my bed is calling out to me. So let me shorthand it. Its local, it has unusual and yummy cocktails, a reasonable bar menu (not without its missteps mind) and a little stage playing host to a wonderful array of cabaret-esque bands.

So here's how you do it. You join the queue at 8bit and line your stomach with some protein! Then trundle across to Littlefoot for further liquid refreshments and if you are very very lucky, you bump into a local celebrity (*cough* Lauren *cough*) and her Rosamond Pike lookey likey friend J, and have a wonderful night of silly conversation!

Littlefoot on Urbanspoon

Aah the West, ever evolving, ever surprising!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

CBA Fridays Revamped - accidental evening at Chicco in Seddon

Ok ... after a few months of abstinence, I finally get the chance to enjoy a CBA Friday dinner by revisiting Chicco in Seddon, which has recently started doing dinner service every Friday and Saturday night. I was a little ambivalent on my first visit for brunch several moons ago. But the night's repast has changed my opinion somewhat.

The food is tasty and really satisfying. Yes the space does still have a thin veneer of wannabe-ism, complete with touches of old hat Real World tribalism ... I'm betting that the owners own every single volume of those once ubiquitous Buddha Bar compiles.

But at least you don't feel cramped. And on a summer's evening, soundtracked by mellifluous acid jazz, its Juan Padilla at Cafe del Mar all over again. The menu follows a similar world view path with a nod to middle eastern cuisine.

We started with an entree of the Jawaneh Meshwi ($10) - 5 pieces of grilled marinated chicken wings with garlic and lemon. These were grilled to perfection with just the right citrusy hit without being too overpoweringly tart. Very moreish and a great bar snack.

M had the Spiced Lamb Pizza ($16) - with red onion, feta, roasted pine-nuts, red chilli, dressed with mint yoghurt on a zaatar base. There was perhaps too heavy a preponderance of the yoghurt sauce for my liking so I reckon a few sultanas would not have gone astray to cut the richness. I know!!! I'm the one who has a T-shirt that says "Stupid Raisins Stay Out Of My Cookie!" Still fair dos!

I had the Kraidis B'Toum ($19) - Pan-fried Prawns in a garlic and lemon sauce with fresh herbs served on Basmati rice. So the plating is fairly prosaic, almost plonked! But I'm not really one for fancy plating ... in fact I am a little bit over the drizzle, smear, foam, gel crowd! The dish had solid flavours with the Prawns cooked just so and an almost perfect balance of lemon and garlic.

I'm looking forward to working my way through the menu. A real new-old contender in what is slowly becoming a rather overcrowded food and entertainment district. Lets just enjoy it while we can before the franchisees move in.

Chicco on Urbanspoon

2015 doesn't feel all that much different ... yet! So I'm a little late with NY salutations

Ok ... I'm not really one for superstition, but I do appreciate ritual to a certain degree. So I'd like to wish all you netizens out there a Happy New Year .... and to collectively hope that 2015 will be a better and more compassionate year for the world at large.

I am going to try my very best to not take anything for granted and I want to work on teasing out any latent forms of apathy by replacing my I wish I couldas with more I will bes and I am going tos.

I've started the year with a new beginning of sorts, but I have taken a number of steps back as a result. New Job and new adjustments are proving difficult to handle. But I have incredible support from an amazing partner and some pretty fantastic friends. So I'm luckier than most I guess.

So here's to the year ahead. No more excuses folks! Time is running out!

PS - don't block the blessings!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Random Bites ... to round of a year's worth of eating!

Ok ... here's a small representation of some of the yummy delights I have had the pleasure of eating this year.

Ascot Food Store
320 Ascot Vale Road
Moonee Ponds VIC 3039

Most recently we visited Ascot Food Store, a fairly new addition to the Moonee Ponds circuit, a suburb not quite known for its culinary prowess.

The site's previous tenant was a little known milkbar specialising in Latino smallgoods with some killer empanadas helmed by Melbourne's very own Milkbar Esquivel. Remember Margarita Pracatan? Well he was the male euivalent - shimmying across the aisles and calling out Baby to all and sundry, trying to offload cartons of black beans and offering slightly suspect cellophane wrapped lollies to young and old. Oh I do miss him!

But don't miss out on a visit to his successor. The menu is interesting, the space is reasonably large and intelligently configured, and staff are friendly. Oh and the kitchen is more than competent. We had the Angus Burger with a side of Chips. Perfect!

Ascot Food Store on Urbanspoon

36 Manchester Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000

A recent catchup with an ex-colleague and friend saw us at Manchester Lane's cafe/bar with a conscience Shebeen. Be advised that unless you're part of the main lunch time crowd, this place cuts its hipster teeth so sharp that you're liable to be sliced just walking past the outdoor tables. Throw in a soupcon of the fashionista and you're likely to interpret the service here as bordering on the rude.

But persevere, its a great spot for people watching. There are cocktails to be had. And they have sliders that are the perfect size for a bit of lunchtime noshing. Just ignore the pretty young things hanging around. They're too busy talking about happenings, hemlines and homeopathy to take much notice of you anyways.

I had the Pork Belly, Jalapeno Jam, Mayo and Coriander Slider as well as the BBQ beef with kim chi, spring onion and Mayo. They're $6 each or $11 for 2. You will need two! They were delicious.

Shebeen on Urbanspoon

Tom Thoon Thai Noodle Cafe
241 Victoria Street
Abbotsford VIC 3067

This little section of Victoria Street close to the Railway bridge has always been a bit of a Thai enclave. I remember going to Ying Thai for my fried chicken fix in the early noughties, and picking up the heart stopping fried pork lard snack from the Thai provision shop 2 doors down. There are quite a few Thai additions to this little hub now and with negligible differences in quality it really comes down to which restaurant can fit you in. 

Tom Thoon Thai is known for its noodle soup combinations which I can also recommend. But its prize star in my books is the Mango and Sticky Rice pudding! Definitely worth the hassle of trying to find a parking spot! Or just catch the train - the station is just across the road. #anytimeofdaysnack!

Tom Toon Thai Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Dainty Sichuan Noodle Express
Emporium Lower Level
287 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne 3000

Aah the Emporium Shopping Centre! What an amazing and welcome addition to the cityscape of Melbourne. Not so much for its retail outlets, but for its amazing food choices. The upstairs food court is a must visit. But there are other little food nooks and crannies dotted around the complex, most notably an Express Dainty Sichuan branch.

If you are already familiar with Dainty Sichuan's cuisine, then you know what to expect. I was immediately drawn to the minced pork and chickpea noodle, mainly because I've never really associated this particular legume with Chinese food and I like trying new combinations. This was exactly how I'd imagine it would taste. Definitely worth a repeat visit!

Dainty Sichuan Noodle Express on Urbanspoon

Charlie & Co Burger
Emporium Melbourne Food Court
287 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

While you're there you might as well check out Sydney chain, Charlie & Co Burger. Perhaps not so much for the Burgers per se - they are tasty enough though maybe not quite deserving of the gourmet price tag - but for those Parmesan and Truffle chips.

Slightly more than you would comfortably pay and longer than you might like to wait for a standard lunchbreak meal, reserve your visit for offpeak periods and when you have a bit of time to spare.

Charlie & Co Burgers on Urbanspoon

Mighty Boy
59-61 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065

If fusion is what you're all about, Mighty Boy will tick those boxes across all sorts of levels. No surprises re the fitout given that it is essentially a Melbourne cafe. In addition, the Gertrude Street location gives the joint its "healthy" dose of hipster gravitas. However, this cafe is popular with the hospital and nursing staff from across the road, which does help to cut through the pretension. Service can be a little hit and miss, and depending on your mood and views on cross-cultural eating, the food may be a slightly underwhelming prospect for you.

We, however enjoyed our Duck Rice Paper Roll ($6 for 2) - the duck was not unduly fatty and the skin remained crisp. The rest of the flavours were freshly balanced and the hoi sin sauce did not dominate. Good lunch time snack.

I ordered the Crispy Fried Chicken Roti Wrap ($10) served with coleslaw and kewpie mayo. Again, fresh flavours abound and the chicken was actually well seasoned! My only complaint was that the wrap is served flat, with no hope of actually "wrapping" the bread given the size of the roti and the amount of ingredients piled on top.

M went for the Pulled Lamb shoulder Roti Wrap ($10) which was succulent, sweet and not too rich, due to the mild citrusy tones from the lemongrass and the addition of cucumber and a tzatziki styled dressing.

Mighty Boy Eatery on Urbanspoon

And there you have it folks! A slightly discombobulated wrap up of this year's food "adventures". 

An Honourable Mention:

Maccaroni Trattoria Italiana
10 - 12 Manchester Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000

Just a little up or down (depending on your approach) from Shebeen is this larger than you might think restaurant - Maccaroni Trattoria Italiana. Slightly more rustic in decor than its sister branch in Clifton Hill, this is a charming little cafe that serves simple honest Italian fare popular with the business lunch time crowds. My Pappardelle Funghi e Tartufo ($22) was slippery with a bite and nicely turned over in the Mushroom sauce. And that pistachio cake ... heaven.

Maccaroni Trattoria Italiana on Urbanspoon 
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