Meal of the week No.21: Tre Bicchieri




A sizable chunk of my working life was spent working on a metropolitan Sunday newspaper.

That meant 12-hour slogs on Saturdays and perpetual irregular weekends of Sundays and Mondays.

So my current working regime – hard yakka with Star Weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays, two days “off”, Fridays back at Keilor Park, then the weekend – seems like a miracle.





Not, mind you, that I am idle on those mid-week days.

Far from it – I get out and about, usually cramming so much living and blogging and food stuff into two days that it always seems a surprise when I return to my regular gig.

It can be a bit disconcerting but I do love it all.

This week’s Wednesday, for example, involved a morning blog post followed by a journey to Camberwell to meet and talk with a cafe owner disgruntled and dismayed by approaches being made to him by Zomato (and by the nature of those approaches), followed by a haul to Royal Melbourne Hospital for a blood test and then a visit to Williamstown for more food business.




Post-Camberwell and pre-test, I pull into Rathdowne Street looking for somewhere to have a quick lunch.

Upon stepping in Tre Bicchieri (623 Rathdowne Street), I grin with delight as the memories flood in.

This was a frequent lunch spot for me when a regular part of another weekly routine involved a weekly radio show on PBS.

Gosh, it’s a sweet place.

The staff are happy and fully into their work.

Even better, it manages to be oh-so-classy yet at the same time relaxed, welcoming and absolutely non-hipster.

I wish it was in the west.

The general vibe – and much of the produce stocked on the shelves – seems to be Italian.

But the menu (see below) is broader than that.




From the specials board, I choose corn fritters with spinach, avocado, poached egg and zaatar ($18.50).

As with most such constructions, it eats bigger than it suggests upon visual appraisal.

It’s all top quality, though I’m not persuaded that the zaatar – denoting, in this case, the Middle Eastern seasoning mix of  sesame seeds, oregano and more, rather than pita bread baked with the mix on top – is a good match for the salmon.

But the smoked fish does go beaut with the wilted spinach underneath the extremely corny fritters.

I’m eager to be back on the road and taking care of business so don’t linger over a coffee.

But the cafe latte roadie I depart with is perfect.





Little fishes


Not all food bloggers have the same aims or motives. Yet I am sometimes surprised by the happy delight so many take in creating and crafting posts and stories about their overseas jaunts. I’m sure many blog readers are prepared to grant a fair bit of leeway to their favourite bloggers in this regard. But nonetheless, blithely assuming that loyal readers who follow on the basis of regular reviews and stories about eats doings in and around Melbourne are therefore interested in one’s holiday snaps strikes me as a somewhat dodgy proposition. Of course, we’ve gone there on occasion ourselves. And here we do so again. I’m putting this up just as a matter of record and because the establishment concerned was such a singularly Kiwi experience. If you’re at all interested or if you’ve followed our whole story – which has seen Bennie graduate from being not much more than a toddler to a these-days rather hulking young man – then please enjoy. If not, simply ignore what follows …





Whitebait Inn, 55 North Street, Mokau, Taranaki, New Zealand.

We’re in New Plymouth for a week of quality Grandma Time.

Nothing special planned – just a simple matter of family and chilling.

But we do head north in our hire care for a feed of whitebait and an evocative reminder of my younger days.




Mokau, about 90 kilometres north of New Plymouth and pretty much on the border of provinces Taranaki and Waikato, is a small coastal town.

It has a year-round population of about 400 that swells to several thousand in peak summer times.




It’s a pretty place and there are Maori fishermen trying their luck on the black-sanded beaches.

Whitebait were a regular part of my childhood diet.

But Kiwi whitebait are quite different kettle of, well, fish from the salt water whitebait we sometimes have a dabble at in Melbourne – such as the chubby, rich ones enjoyed not so long ago at the Croatian Club in Footscray.




New Zealand whitebait are the babes of a handful of native freshwater fish varieties and for obvious reasons the netting of them is tightly regulated.

There may be other ways of preparing them but I only have ever known them as ingredients for fritters and omelettes.




And that’s what we get at Mokau’s famous Whitebait Inn.




Whitebait Inn is done out in classic roadhouse fashion and does double duty as the local post office.




Right next to the coffee machine is a container full of another Kiwi staple – chocolate fish!

As they’re from fresh water and so very small, the flavour of New Zealand whitebait is very, very mild.

Indeed, it could be argued that the flavour of the batter and/or eggs completely overwhelms them.

But there IS something there by way of flavour – tantalising, delicious – and I love what we have.




Bennie goes the fritter sandwich – though he does bulk up with the addition of a corn dog.




I have the fritter meal and love this venerable taste of Kiwiland, even if the chips and salad are just OK.




Grandma Pauline chooses the whitebait omelette.

I suspect the only difference between the fritter and the omelette is about half a cup of flour!




Pub finery in Footscray




Station Hotel, 59 Napier Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 2913

Just back from a week in Kiwiland and feeling like a lazy weekend feed – so we head to the pub.

But not just any pub.

The Station Hotel in Footscray.

It’s not Bennie’s first visit here but it is for his dad.

In all the years this place has been running, I’ve built up this mental image of it being a swish-o gastro pub of the “special occasion” variety.




So I am delighted to discover that, in the bar area anyway, it’s pretty much the same vibe as any of the local pubs we are known to visit, with prices mostly to match – unless you’re inclined to venture into the upper reaches of the Station’s meaty fare.

Except that here, the food we have is without blemish and very, very good.




It starts with a nice serve of beautifully fresh and crisp bread with olive oil.

We’re asked a little later if we’d like more.

We like that even if our answer is in the negative.




We had a bunch of burgers while on the other side of the ditch so Bennie gets a flat “no” when it comes to the matter of the Station’s version.

Instead, he goes for the pork schnitzel with coleslaw with mustard fruit dressing and beurre noisette and is a very happy chappy ($32).

The slaw is dreamy in its excellence – crisp yet tender and easy eating, something that is not always the slaw case.

The pork rests mostly on a bed of capers but is superb.

It’s thick and crisp and a real-deal meat meal – and significantly more hefty than it appears to be in the above photo.

It’s stuffed with a mix of the same cheese as is crispped on top. Inside it’s gooey and creamy and dances with chopped prosciutto.

Wonderful stuff!




I’m not so ambitious or meat-minded so choose one of the lighter dishes on the menu – penne with spicy Bolognaise, peas and fresh ricotta.

It’s fabulous in every way.

OK, so it’s only constructed on a base of commercial tubed pasta and is not so different, at a fundamental level, from the sort of things we sometimes prepare at home.

But this is peak pasta!

The fine, mildly-seasoned meat sauce has plenty of pop from the peas and creaminess from the ricotta.

But the crowning glory here are the rocket and radicchio leaves, the bitterness of which perfectly complement a perfect dish.

And at $18 for such a big serve, it’s marvellous value.

We leave happy and smiling, only to have the moment soured somewhat by having scored a $91 parking ticket in Hyde Street.

We have no cause for complaint, really, as we have been caught to rights parking in a permit-only zone.

But just why there is a permit-only zone in this part of Footscray, when the nearby flats appear to have ample parking and the town hall is right across the road, is an interesting question.

Given the Station Hotel is a famous eating place and that doubtless most of its customers do not come from the surrounding handful of blocks, we think we are safe in assuming that we are just the latest in a long line of Station customers who have thus been caught out.

Altona’s new burger joint




Between 2 Buns, 26 Pier Street, Altona.

A new burger place?

Another new burger place?

Truth is, I am suffering burger fatigue – after all, there is much more wonderful and affordable food in the world, particularly in Melbourne’s west.

Same goes for pulled pork – probably more so, actually.

But then, within days of Between 2 Buns opening on Pier Street in Altona, I start to see some feedback on social media – and it’s all good.

So off I go for a Saturday lunch.

Even early lunchtime, the place is building up a head of steam of curious and eager punters.

They all leave happy.

As do I.




The place is done out nicely in hip burger joint style with an accent on black and white.

But unlike some of the franchise places, this one hums with a family-run vibe and high pride in the what is being done and the food that is being prepared.

The menu (see below) doesn’t  explore any outer reaches of innovation or experimentation, but that’s fine, too.

There’s six burgers, six varieties of fries, hot dogs, “donut sundaes” and shakes.

How about dirty fries of a large fries, chilli beef, cheese sauce, bacon, M2B sauce and spring onion?

An $11 meal all on its own.

My ambitions are more modest, for this visit at least.




I get a classic burger ($9.50) with beef, cheese lettuce, tomato, red onion, mustard and B2B sauce, with bacon for $1 extra.

And a regular of the beer-battered fries.

Initially, my hearts sinks when I see the fries – they appear to have been doused in chicken salt.

Another thing of which I’ve had my fill!

But to my surprise, they don’t taste of chicken salt – they taste simply like good, hot fries.

The burger, as suggested by its name, is a classic burger.

Nothing fancy – just top-notch, fresh ingredients stuffed between the covers of a nicely soft bun, all making for a very enjoyable two handfuls.

The slightly chewy, slightly crisp bacon pushes things from good to very good very nicely.




What I’d like to see in such burger joints:

Hand-cut real-spud chips of the kind found at Woven, Dough! and Zigzag  – blemishes and all. As opposed to the reconstituted “beer-battered” variety – the potato equivalent of chicken nuggets.

At least one non-meat burger or sandwich – perhaps a nice, juicy, well-seasoned mushie burger? Vegetarians will never be a real important part of a set-up such as Between 2 Buns but offering at least one non-meat option would surely be a winning strategy for those families and groups with diverse eating habits.

(And I know of one Altona local – a vegetarian – who has already become an inevitable non-customer.)

Finally, if you’re going to offer hot dogs I most certainly consider it’s worth paying a bit more – and pricing accordingly – for a fine smoked frankfurter such as those sold by Andrew’s Choice in Yarraville.

Others mileage may vary.

We’ll revisit so Bennie can make his expert call on Between 2 Buns.

He’ll certainly go for one of the more grandiose burgers.

And, most likely, those sinful and seductive dirty fries.




Ethiopian … in Fitzroy?



Saba’s Ethiopian Restaurant, 328 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 8589 0442

Of the foodie friends we break bread with, Marketa and Nick are two lovely folks whom we see too little of.

So I am only to happy to agree to a proposal to join them at a new Ethiopian eatery … in Fiztroy.

Turns out that Marketa and the Saba after whom the restaurant is named know each other from another place – a gym!

For Marketa, this will a first try of Ethiopian tucker; not so for Nick, though his single encounter is just a fading memory.




But even for me, veteran of so much western suburbs Ethiopian food, there will be something new.

As recounted in this story about Lemat Injera Bakery, for most of the Ethiopian community’s time in Australia, the grain from which injera is made – teff – was not allowed to be imported.

So the injera makers – as cultures have done through the ages – experimented and adapted, using a mix of grains, until they created something like, well, injera.

Those import restrictions have been lifted now but as far as I know this will be my first ever encounter with teff injera.

I arrive early so have time to talk with Saba and her staff about injera and Ethopian food in Melbourne.




The eatery – smack dab in the middle of Brunswick Street’s hipster heaven – is bright and light and the staff do a fine job.

As we’re enjoying our meal, people are being turned away.

Seems like Saba’s is going to fit right in in Fitzroy!

But Fitzroy isn’t Footscray so I have been bracing myself for prices way above what I’d pay for similar food much closer to home.

So, upon perusal of the menu (see below), I am pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the prices are above what we all pay on Nicholson Street or thereabouts – but not ridiculously so.

I’m happy to be in the house and catching up with my friends.




Other differences between Saba’s and the western suburbs Ethiopian eateries are the names of the dishes.

I don’t get around to asking Saba why this is so – but can tell, reading between the lines of the dish descriptions, that I am going to be eating in familiar territory.

Saba places a restraining hand on our eagerness in terms of ordering too much.

So what we end up with is a splendid Ethiopian meal of one meat dish, one pulse offering and two vegetable dishes.




It’s all very good, including the carrots-cabbage-spuds of dinish ($16) and the “side dish” beetroot, here called key sir ($12).

Our meat selection, keyih sebhi ($23.50) is a wonderfully rich, deep red stew of lamb with just the right chilli kick.

It’s almost like an Ethiopian bolognese!

As for injera made from teff, I can honestly say that I didn’t notice much difference – maybe this injera was a bit plumper.





Feeling crabby

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Pacific Seafood BBQ House, 295 Racecourse Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 6688

As a recent dinner with friends wrapped up at our fave Somalian eatery in Ascot Vale, it was suggested we reconvene for a soiree for the Chinese mid-autumn festival with the express purpose of getting gleefully sticky and messy with as much mud crab as we can handle.

The festival Sunday proves too tricky so instead five of us gather mid-week at Pacific Seafood BBQ House in Kensington and have a ball.

I confess this is unfamiliar territory for me.

Do we order one mud crab – they’re priced at $65 – each?

How does it work?

It’s easy – the rest of us reject any ordering duties and leave it all up to She Who Oraganised The Gathering.

Our trust is well rewarded!




As with my previous visit to this newish arrival on Racecourse Road, with another member of our happy group, we are served complementary soup.

We love this tradition, which we also run across in various Asian and African places.

This is plainer than most and reminds me very much of my mum’s vegetable soup, even if it is beef based.

Then it’s crab time!

After consultation with the staff, it’s agreed that two crabs with accompanying noodles and a few other dishes will do us right.

Our crabs are brought, pre-cooking, to our table for our approval – just like a bottle of wine.

They look bigger than in the distorted view offered by their storage tank.

Then it’s off to the kitchen with them!




They return upon a mound of egg noodles ($12 on top of the crab fee) and drenched in a sticky chilli sauce.

It’s all very good.

There is much cracking, sucking, ooo-ing and aaah-ing as the delicious, sweet crab meat is extracted.

It’s a profound pleasure to have one’s fill of fresh crab and bugger the cost.

The two crabs prove plenty – in fact, the final two claws linger on the plate for several minutes before being claimed.

But here’s an interesting thing – the sauce-imbued noodles are every bit as tasty and enjoyable as the actual crabs.

Such good seafood in the company of good pals – absolute heaven!

Happily, the rest of our meal is also very good.




The fried rice ($10.80) is excellent and quite a cut above the regular fried rice we all know so well.

This is studded with good-sized chunks of roast pork and quite a few biggish, plump and wonderful prawns.




Vegetables with bean curd ($19.50) makes sure we get some greenery and fungus as part of our meal.




Our final dish – deep-fried chicken ribs with egg yolk ($22) – comes from the specials colourfully arrayed on the walls.

It’s a relative of the familiar salt and pepper chicken ribs.

But these chook bits are richer – perhaps a little bit too rich but perfectly fitting and yummy for a special occasion feast such as this.




We’ve eaten grandly – for which pleasure the five us pay a few collective few bucks under $200.

So … $40 each for such fine food?





We finish with moon cake pieces – just a nibble for me because, as with another member of our group, I’m not a fan!









Hot croc in St Albans

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Phi Phi has become a firm favourite of ours. Here’s a take on it by CTS contributor Erika Jonsson from the point of view of a family lunch and a belated Fathers Day celebration.

Phi Phi Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant, 28 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9366 5686

My husband is a proud carnivore.

He’s happy to try the most exotic meat on the menu, the things that I would never be brave enough to order myself but am happy to try if they’re his meals rather than mine.

So I knew what he was going to order the second I saw crocodile on the menu at Phi Phi in St Albans.

We were having a belated Fathers Day lunch with our two sons and I’d given him carte blanche to order what he wanted rather than what the boys would be most likely to share.

We’d already ordered some predictable favourites for them so our mains might actually be for us.




Joe wanted chicken on a stick (satay skewers) and spring rolls, while Hugh was happy munching on prawn crackers and little else.

The chicken was fried in an egg white wash, which made an interesting and pleasant change to the more common grilled skewers.

The spring rolls were run of the mill but certainly tasty enough.

Hubby ordered the crocodile with coconut and curry, while I went with something safe as a contrast – salt and pepper squid.

I should’ve been bolder.




The squid was cooked really nicely but lacked oomph.

The fried chilli, onion, garlic and noodle topping was tasty but I really would have loved a fresh chilli sauce to pour over the top.

Our waitress brought some sweet chilli sauce without prompting and that certainly helped but the zing of something fresh would have made a big difference.

My husband was a man far happier with his decision.

I’m told crocodile can be quite oily or fatty but this was far from it – lean, white meat that seemed perfectly cooked to all of us.

“More croc please, more croc please,” Joe chanted as we ate, helping himself to tasty morsels at will.

Eggplant, okra and vermicelli noodles all worked well with the coconut sauce and the dish was flavoursome withou being overly spicy – no doubt that helped the kids’ enjoyment.

The service was excellent and it was a really great atmosphere for family dining.

I love the fact that kids are not just accepted but welcomed and loved at Vietnamese restaurants.

A high chair made life easy and our meal cost around $55 for three and a half very satiated eaters.

We left almost our whole serve of rice as we just didn’t need it with the mains we had ordered so we’ll learn from that.

We enjoyed our meal but next time I’ll either be more adventurous or trust that my boys will enjoy whatever it is I really want rather than what I think they’ll share.

As it was, neither was interested in the squid and I would have been much happier with a plate of chicken with lemongrass and chilli or a bowl of hot and sour soup.

We’ll definitely return to try some more dishes on the extensive and reasonably priced menu.

See earlier story here.