Kitchen Inn

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Kitchen Inn, 471 Elizabeth St , Melbourne. Phone: 3330 0023

Kitchen Inn – at peak times – is no doubt already as mad busy as Coconut House, just up Elizabeth St about a block.

Evidently, there is significant interest in this newish place’s specialty – the food of Sarawak, a state on Borneo in Malaysia.

That Kitchen Inn has created a buzz among Sarawakian students and expats of various kinds is eloquently and expertly testified to by bloggers Kimba’s Kitchen, Arrow Foodie and Yellow Eggs, whose reviews are no doubt far more authoritative than my own will be.

Nevertheless, it is with a keen sense of adventure that I hit the place for lunch.

In our world, anything that fosters regional specialties has a good chance of going to the top of the “to do” list. It’s not just food but also things like music and languages that are being sorely strained, often to the point of extinction, by the forces of globalisation.

It’s a small eating house with a bottleneck at the cash register, where people paying for their meals dodge staff delivering food to customers yet to eat – or pay.

The longish menu has some familiar names – Hainan chicken rice, Singapore fried vermicelli and nasi lemak.

But I wouldn’t expect them to be routine offerings – the Sarawak laksa, for instance, looks and sounds quite different to the norm.

From what I can gather, if Sarawak was a nation, the national dish might well be kolo mee, so that’s what I order.

The Wikipedia entry for the city of Kuching describes kolo mee as “egg noodles, flash-boiled, then classically served with crushed garlic and shallot, minced pork or beef, white vinegar, either vegetable oil, pork oil or peanut oil, and sliced barbecue pork known as char siu or beef”.

The kolo mee special, at $11, is $2.50 more than the regular, for which extra money you get three plump prawns. “Deal 4″ at $15 gets me kolo mee special with a bowl of “Special Soup”.

The soup’s broth has a quite intense and briny bitterness. It’s OK, I slurp it, but I won’t be in hurry to try it again.

The pork balls are tender tending to mushy, and delicious. The other meat is thin-sliced and has the delicacy and texture of lamb’s tongue.

I subsequently discover it’s actually pork liver.

Would I have ordered it had I known pork liver was involved?

No.

Did I like it?

Yes.

The kolo mee is fine – quite mildly seasoned, it’s much more interesting in the flavour department than it appears.

There’s a heap of thin house-made noodles, with just a enough juice/sauce at the bottom of the bowl to make the dish fly.

The prawns are OK but a bit of an irrelevancy.

The pork mince actually adheres quite well to the noodles, but predictably and delightfully the meal gets better as it is ending as there’s more juice, mince and roast pork to go in to every mouthful.

It’s an engaging taste overall – one I’ll inaccurately describe as “slightly smoky” because I can’t think a better way of putting it.

Next time?

Maybe I’ll try No.31 -  Marmite chicken ribs with rice.

Kitchen Inn on Urbanspoon

Bulsho Cafe

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Bulsho Cafe, 303 Racecourse Road,  Kensington. Phone: 9372 3557

In this case, the food and – presumably – the clientele is Somalian.

But individual differences and quirks aside, Bulsho Cafe could be Italian.

Or Polish or Croatian or Chinese or other African or Turkish or Vietnamese.

In its own way, it epitomises what I think of as “working men’s cafes”.

Or, more accurately, community hubs, hang-out joints and coffee stops for men, whether they be working or not.

You’ll rarely see women in such places.

You’ll rarely see them blogged or on Urbanspoon, either.

If they serve food – and it’s a big if – there’ll likely be no printed menu; just a hand-scrawled list, if that.

You’re mostly required to ask.

Such places can be quite daunting, but I’ve found often enough that perseverance and friendly inquiries can lead to fine food done dirt cheap and served with a welcoming smile.

My Sunday lunchtime experience at Bulsho, right next door to Flemington Kebab House, mirrors those experiences – and I’m eventually glad I hang in there.

Upon I entering, I see just a single customer, who is eventually joined by a mate, and no staff anywhere.

I hear sounds of activity emanating from the rear of the premises, but there’s no bell or other way of alerting the staff to the presence of willing customer.

I wait a few minutes and a few minutes more before deciding to split. That’s the way it goes at these sorts of places sometimes.

But as I am in the process of departing, I actually cop an eyeful of what the solitary customer is eating.

“Gosh,” methinks. “That looks good.”

So good, in fact, that I summon up some more perseverance by directing a robust, “Hello!” to the so-far unseen staff.

I am rewarded by a smiling young chap who is only happy to help ease my lunchtime fervour.

From there the process is easy …

“I want what he’s having,” I declare, gesturing towards the other customer.

It’s lamb curry with rice ($13).

Except, it’s not a curry at all. Or not in the way it’s generally understood.

Instead, it’s a lamb pieces on the bone – mostly shank, I think – in a clear broth of the same fashion as served by Safari in Ascot Vale or Ras Dashen in Footscray.

If the soup isn’t quite of the same spicy, piquant succulence as found in those two fine establishments, it’s good enough nonetheless.

Somewhat unexpectedly, given the nature of the meal and my previous experiences with similar feeds, the meat itself is quite different from the fall-from-the-bone kind I am expecting.

The meat is pleasantly chewy, comes from the bones easily enough with just a little effort and is ace in its own way. And there’s plenty of it.

A small pot of mild curry gravy is brought to my table after the rest of my meal, lubricating things nicely.

But the monarch of my meal is the plentiful rice – done in a way I am familiar with from other Somalian eateries, but here strongly perfumed with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.

Not for the first time, I have been handed a lesson – that good food in the west can sometimes require a bit more chutzpah than merely walking in, grabbing a  menu and ordering.

And I think that’s a fine thing.

I would really love to hear other food hounds’ experiences – good, bad, indifferent, puzzling, frustrating, whatever – at such places as Bulsho.

There’s plenty of them, that’s for sure.

Yet they’re a part of our cultural and food landscape that goes largely unremarked.

As for women being rarely seen in them, I reckon that’s just an entrenched tradition – one I’d like to think is not based on any religious or cultural dogmas or taboos, such is the surprised delight I’ve invariably come across whenever I’ve chosen to make the effort.

Bulsho Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bruno’s Coffee Lounge

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Bruno’s Coffee Lounge, 39 Puckle Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9370 0349

Bruno’s Coffee Lounge is an old-school cafe in an old-school, narrow arcade/mall off Puckle St.

It’d long ago registered in my mind as somewhere worth checking out, but it took a nudge from Consider The Sauce pal Nat Stockley to get me stepping through the door.

But I’m so glad I have.

I’ll cover the food I have on my initial visit shortly.

But what rally wows me about this place is the warmth and gentleness of the welcome – it’s like a soothing balm.

The blankie-blankie of eateries, if you like.

Many and Mick, originally from Shanghai, have been in residence at Bruno’s for about 13 years.

Before them, it was under the sway of Greek influences for eight years, and before that – and starting in 1961 – it was run by eponymous Bruno, he being of Italian extraction.

How about that?

A 50-year-old Moonee Ponds institution serving honest, delicious food across generations and cultural backgrounds! 

The couple tell me that they’ve pretty much stuck with food routines and menu they inherited, though I’m sure there’s been some tweaking along the way.

Besides – and based on my superb lunch – why would they change anything of substance?

The last thing I expect to be having is a full-on roast, but I let Mandy sweet talk me into it.

There’s salads, sandwiches and rolls and breakfasts – and more.

But maybe I’m roast pushover because of rather wonderful meals I’ve enjoyed lately at the Famous Blue Rain Coat and the Footscray Club.

The Bruno’s roast deal ($12.90) is every bit as good, maybe even better.

Really, really fine, in fact.

Sliced potatoes – roasted with salt, pepper, onion and oil; drained of the oil and then grilled; melt-in-your-mouth sensational.

Roast beef equally fantastic and moist – sliced thinly; cooked wrapped snugly in foil to keep the juices in; topped with heaps of lovely gravy.

The vegetables go pretty good, too; hand-cut carrot, cauliflower, broccoli; well-cooked but nowhere near mushy. And definitely not frozen!

Gosh, I wonder after a knockout lunch, how good might the roast pork be? Or the chicken parma or the rissole dinner?

And how incredible if the coffee’s as good as the food I’ve tried?

Bruno's Coffee Lounge on Urbanspoon

Biryani House

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Biryani House, 61 Gordon St, Footscray. Phone: 9318 8007

No prizes for guessing this new Gordon St venture is a sister restaurant for the well-known King St, CBD, place of the same name.

It joins two other restaurants and a grocery in fostering a mini-Indian precinct on this stretch of Gordon St.

The new Biryani House is a nice room but very plain – wooden tables and chairs, some swirly wallpaper that looks like an optical illusion on one side and not much more.

We’re told that in the meantime aside from all-week dinner hours, lunch is served Thursday through to Sunday.  More week-day lunch hours may eventuate next year when the students – and there’s heaps of them hereabouts – return for a new academic year.

We’re tickled to find the menu starts with a list of “Aussie Favourites” – butter chicken, lamb rogan josh, lamb vindaloo and lamb madras.

Righto, now we’ve got them out of the way, let’s see what points of difference there are in the rest of the menu … and we find some crackers, ensuring an interesting meal and a hasty return.

Just for instance …

Khichdi – “traditional Hyderabad rice with lentils”.

Nehari – “a spicy soup made with tender lamb shanks garnished with fried onions and fresh grown herbs”.

Marag soup – “a fine soup delicacy made from tender chunks of lamb”.

Kahtti dal – “a lentil stew in tangy juice of tamarind”.

And so on … but we start with gobi 65 ($8.50, top picture).

It’s more austere than the same-titled dish we’ve had elsewhere – just some curry leaves and battered cauliflower, but golly it’s very good.

The thin batter is a crispy treat and the vegetable pieces totally moreish.

And we really, really appreciate it when the natural flavours of a dish come through despite high levels of seasoning, especially with a mild flavour such as cauliflower.

We squabble over who’s going to get the biggest pieces.

Another big plus at this place – almost all the chicken and lamb dishes are available in half-serves, $5.90 instead of $9.

This enables us to have a broader meal than would otherwise be the case, and we find our two half serves none too shabby in the size department at all.

Hariyali chicken is described as “a popular festive dish of chicken simmered in a unique blend of fresh green herbs and peppercorns”.

What appear to be juicy chunks of thigh meat swim in a rich sauce that has the green of the herbs and a wonderful slow burn of heat that glows from the use of much pepper.

Lamb aloo methi, “cooked with potatoes and touch of fenugreek leaves”, is good, too, with tender lamb and a colour splash from the fenugreek leaves, though it seems to us it’s not as distinctive as our chicken dish.

The potato element is awesome.

Both of these dishes are at the outer limit of spiciness that Bennie finds tolerable.

For bread, we choose lacha paratha (2.50), which we are told is just plain dough that is folded very many times.

Our lovely buttery bread does indeed have a croissant-like flakiness, and it goes real well at its main task – mopping up the last of our curry gravies.

Check out the full menu at the Biryani House website.

Biryani House on Urbanspoon

Picnic time

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So the big day of the Consider The Sauce/Footscray Food Blog Spring Picnic finally arrived … would anyone turn up? Or would too many?

Neither, of course – just a really nice crew of friends, loyal blog followers, food fans and a fellow blogger, too.

The rain stayed away, but it was cool – though not to the point of discomfort.

Bennie and I loved meeting folks.

Ms Baklover brought some criminally delicious pastries from the South American Bakery in Sunshine.

Yours truly fronted with a beetroot salad and another of eggplant and tomato.

Best of all, Andy from Krapow fame rocked up with a big pot of Thai-style chicken rice and a tangy condiment.

Count on another Spring Picnic next year – almost certainly later in the year, but not too close to the festive season.

Thanks for coming!

Fast food/food court etiquette

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Just out of curiosity …

When eating at a fast food joint, be it a franchise or otherwise, or a shopping centre food court, do you:

1. Gather up all your food scraps and packaging yourself, and put them in one of the rubbish receptacles?

Or …

2. Treat it like a normal restaurant experience, and leave it all for restaurant employees to clean up?

If you leave your mess for employees to clean-up, are you:

1. Inflicting more pain and drudgery on staff who are already over-worked and under-paid?

Or …

2. Creating job opportunities by refusing to be guilt-tripped by the business into doing work that should be done by staff members.

Just Sweets

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Just Sweets, 26 Upton St, Altona. Phone: 9315 0553

You could go to the Just Sweets website to order their super rocky road, gingerbread houses and more online.

But to a large and loving degree, that would be missing the point.

Watching Enzo Amato preside over the 9am mummy rush hour for coffees and chats, in which he seemingly knows the names of each and every customer, it’s clear that this is a hands-on, community-based business full of passion and enthusiasm.

Like his wife and business partner, Maria, Enzo is Italian-born but was raised in Switzerland before coming to Australia.

His family background is very much of the shoemaker tradition, but here he found himself in the food industry, specialising in fruit and vegetables.

But he’s always had a sweet tooth, and eventually friends started suggesting that if produced his famed rocky road in salable quantities it would be a big hit.

He was very skeptical, but gave it a go – and after that first, and successful, outing at a Healesville market, they haven’t looked back.

Just Sweet sells a variety of sweet treats and candy from outside sources, but the prides and joys are the likes of the rocky road – 17 varieties! – and the gingerbread houses.

Nougat and individual chocolates are also made in-house.

I ask Enzo about the history of rock road.

He reckons it has its roots in the Great depression as a sort-of  “poor man’s food”.

Back home and online, I find some unsubstantiated information along those lines.

Yet an equally unverified entry on Wikipedia would have it that rocky road is very much a product of Australia’s 1850′s goldfields.

A mystery!

Just Sweets has been running for about three years at its Altona location, an old corner store that’s not actually on a corner, but is right across the road from Altona Primary School.

I suggest that such intimate proximity of a sugary shop and a school must surely be the principal’s worst nightmare.

Enzo laughs, saying Just Sweets and the school have a beaut relationship that stays on the right side of healthy eating habits.

Just Sweets even provides the supplied school lunches, including sandwiches and the like.

Enzo and Maria never envisaged their enterprise becoming a coffee stop and community hub, but after watching the business at work, their accountant advised to make precisely that move.

Yet the coffee machine has seen Just Sweets even more firmly embedded in the neighbourhood.