Meeting Zomato

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Zomato international operations director Pramod Rao, CTS and Zomato Melbourne community manager Pranav Singh.

As far as I’m aware, there are three kinds of users for restaurant website Urbanspoon.

For many, it is simply somewhere to go for information about places to eat – including details such as phone numbers and opening hours, but also very much including opinions good and bad.

A second group does all of the above but also contributes what are referred to as “diner reviews”.

The third group consists of food bloggers, who stories are listed and linked on the Urbanspoon website in exchange for carrying eatery-specific Urbanspoon dinkii.

For the first named of the above groups, the recent news that the American Urbanspoon had been bought by the Indian company Zomato is probably of only passing interest, and perhaps none at all.

By contrast, for the contributors of Urbanspoon “diner reviews” – and some, such as our friends Nat Stockley and MelbourneMiss are very active indeed – and the food bloggers, the Zomato transaction is very big news.

Like many blogs, CTS derives many visitors from its relationship with Urbanspoon.

That relationship sees bloggers going unpaid for the goodwill and stature they bring to Urbanspoon but the actual work requirements are minimal – simply cutting and pasting a bit of code and making sure the paragraph or sentence that appears with the Urbanspoon link is appropriate.

Should my relationship with Zomato – once Urbanspoon is integrated into it – become any more complex, time-consuming or problematic, I’d seriously have to consider cutting my ties.

It’d be a bugger to lose all those referrals, but the truth is the number who become regular CTS readers is probably quite small – so I’d do it, no problem.

And from all I’ve read, the existing Zomato operation so far has not utilised bloggers anywhere it operates in the world.

Thus for bloggers, the questions surrounding the Zomato buy-out are many.

So I was surprised and delighted even to get an invite from Zomato’s Melbourne community manager Pranav Sigh to meet for coffee and a chat.

(I am just one of quite a few Melbourne food bloggers they are in the process of meeting …)

This in itself is a big change – my technical or procedural issues with Urbanspoon over the years have been minor and dealt with well and quickly, but always via email with Urbanspoon staff in Seattle.

So people on the ground is a whole new ball game, with Pranav – he’s a Kiwi by the way, having been educated in CTS’ home town of Dunedin – being just one of hundreds of staff being hired by Zomato around the world to manage the transition and the ongoing relationships with bloggers and other contributors.

When I meet Pranav, he has with him Zomato international operations director Pramod Rao.

We have a good frank, discussion.

I am eager to make my point main points – that food bloggers and contributors around the world are feeling a distinct level of unease, and that Zomato would be foolish indeed to discard, meddle with or downgrade in any way the contributions these many people make and the goodwill and stature they lend to their employer.

I can only take what they tell me at face value, but for the record I find them both to be smart operators who are fully aware of the issues and eager to reassure me on every question I have – and hence their pro-active approach to getting out meeting the people concerned.

So …

Branding apart, there will be little or no change in terms of Zomato’s relationship with its contributors, including bloggers.

Links with food bloggers are very much seen by Zomato as an asset.

The various leaderboards will continue, although the exact methodology for determining them has yet to finalised.

Zomato’s Melbourne staff count stands at present at nine but will rise to about 30.

Zomato’s aim is to update the details, including menus, of each and every restaurant every three months.

However, contributors will still be able to “Add Restaurant”.

To much greater extent than Urbanspoon, Zomato will be “social”.

Indeed, what Pramod shows me on his phone looks very much like a “Facebook-for-foodies” and actually very exciting.

Urbanspoon generated income – such as it has been – through the likes of Google AdSense.

Zomato, by contrast, will hopefully derive income by taking a hyper-local approach to advertising.

This throws up a whole new set of questions for me …

“What if,” I ask Pramod, “a potential Melbourne advertiser is prepared to spend big bucks with Zomato – but only with proviso that existing negative reviews be removed or altered?”

“That will never happen,” Pramod tells me.

Black devil

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When choosing a cat, the last thing we wanted was a boring pet.

Well, we got real lucky in that regard.

There is nothing boring about Boris.

He’s settling in now after a few weeks and has become familiar with our various routines.

He is endlessly high-energy and entertaining – as Bennie quipped at one point, it’s like having our Animal Planet channel right in our own home.

He’s a long way from becoming a “lap cat” yet – but that’s OK.

He likes his new companions but is sparing with his intimacies.

Despite reasonably deep experience in living with felines, I’m seeing Boris do things I’ve never seen a cat do before.

Aerobatic hi-jinks and mock battles with his various toys is only to be expected from such a young animal.

Heck, I even owned at one stage long ago a cat that “fetched” – just like Boris does.

But playing chase and tag the length and breath of our house is a first for me.

But all this has a down side.

This high-spiritedness seems to be all he knows.

He scratches and bites at almost every opportunity.

He’s shredding furniture and books.

Sometimes I just want to yell at him: “Geez, mate, take a chill pill!”

Yelling?

Yes, I know.

Counter-productive.

 

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Maybe when we decide it’s time for him to be an outdoor feline, we’ll see the edge come off his manic behaviour.

His psycho behaviour …

He’s ignored the scratching device we first bought, despite it being liberally doused with catnip.

So today we got, on the advice of a pet store employee, a cheap deep-pile rug.

It’s working!

Scratch and sharpen those claws to your heart’s content, little fella.

Thankfully, he IS being a good boy when it comes to his food and litter area.

It’s messy but liveable.

And I guess it’s not just Boris who is need of some attitude adjustment.

We do, too.

We’ve got an animal in the house now.

As such, it’s up to us to ensure there’s nothing lying around within easy claw reach that we value or don’t want to be destroyed.

I know that among regular CTS readers there are a number of Cat People.

Tips, anyone?

There’s Japanese … and then there’s Japanese

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kunis21

 

Kuni’s, 56 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9663 7243

This particular foray to the CBD is about nothing more than spending Grandma’s money on a much-desired comic book.

Bennie’s accepts with good grace my point that perhaps a book or even an electronic game would be a better and more long-lasting present than a comic book – even if it is one that has won a Pulitzer Prize.

Accepts with good grace if note an entirely convincing display of agreement.

The first likely shop we enter does not have the desired item in stock, the second one does.

By the time we’ve made our way from Flinders Street Station to Spring Street, we’ve been up and down many laneways and in and out of many book and record shops just for the fun of it.

I’m somewhat amazed we’ve done so with me keeping my credit card in my wallet.

We stop for a coffee at Pelligrini’s and then it’s most certainly time for lunch.

Bennie loves Japanese food – particularly our local haunts Ebi and Ajitoya.

We both love them.

 

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But as far as I am aware, he’s never dined in a swish CBD Japanese eatery.

Kuni’s seems to get mentioned less than some others when it comes to naming Melbourne’s more venerable Japanese restaurants.

As a one-time regular customer, I’m not sure why that is.

On the basis of our wonderful lunch, my affection for the place is only enhanced – the tranquil elegance, the service, the very good food and its pricing are a real kick.

We stick to the compact meals offered on the lunch list, Bennie’s selection pretty much a given considering his fascination for all things bento.

 

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After slurping up his fine miso soup, he tucks with relish into his bento of the day ($19) of beef teriyaki, sashimi, tempura and some salady things.

It’s cost a few bucks more than a bento deal might in less storied and more cheap-eats style Japanese places, but the quality is there.

 

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My own tempura lunch deal ($22) also begins with miso soup along with marinated bean sprouts and a beaut chawanmushi.

There’s not a lot of content in my savoury custard, but it’s so silky and sensual, I simply do not care.

 

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My tempura offering is superb – as good as I’ve had, hot, ungreasy and featuring a wealth of vegetables and seafood.

In addition, I get spinach with a sesame dressing and some pickled zucchini.

What a simple and lovely lunch it’s been for two lads leg-weary from retail therapy!

Check out the Kuni’s website here.

 

Kuni's on Urbanspoon

Bargain Barkly lunches

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540 On Barkly, 540 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 96872479

It’s taken us a good while to eat at 540 On Barkly since initially covering its impending arrival.

Now that we’re in the house, we’re happy – the long room is a tranquil, nice place to be on a broiling hot day.

One of the walls is adorned with photographs depicting scenes from Footscray’s past.

Some of them have foodie themes.

 

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Can anyone identify where this pic was taken?

 

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Perhaps this one was snapped somewhere around Essex Street?

 

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We keep it simple – and very affordable – by ordering from the list of $12.50 lunch specials regularly posted on the establishment’s Facebook page.

 

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Bennie like his chicken fajitas fine, though as they’re in wrap form they present as a very light meal that seems to disappear in seconds.

Yes, my lad would’ve preferred the burger from the menu proper!

I do much better with my very excellent fish burger (top photo).

The Turkish roll housing it is super fresh.

Fillings are tip-top and just right.

The fish itself – blue granadier – has been simply pan-fried and its taste is delicate yet robust enough for a good flavour hit.

The chips are many, very hot and very nice.

 

540 on Barkly on Urbanspoon

 

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Team CTS does BBQ – again

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Le Bon Ton, 51 Gipps Street, Collingwood. Phone: 9416 4341

Are regular readers discerning a trend here?

Yes, it seems we’re methodically – without actually meaning to – checking out Melbourne’s outlets for BBQ and other things to do with the American South.

This is driven largely by besottedness with that part of the world in general.

I’d have to say, after several tremendous meals, my skepticism about what is possible and available in Melbourne in this regard is evaporating; Le Bon Ton continues that trend.

Our pursuit of this food is driven, too, by the simple fact we love it to pieces.

In this case, “we” refers to an extended CTS “A” Team that numbers six and involves Bennie, myself and four great pals who also love getting on the fang.

We wish another “A” Team member, the fabulous Nat Stockley, who would fit like a glove into this happy aggregation, was with us!

 

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Le Bon Ton is in a former pub in the back blocks of Collingwood.

It’s a big place rather extravagantly set up, with a lot of time – and no doubt money – spent on creating a Southern aura.

It works.

The place rambles just like some old-school New Orleans restaurant, with many rooms and a beaut outdoor dining area out back.

We figured arriving relatively early on a Friday night would see us right in terms of snagging a table.

We are wrong.

The place is jumping and packed.

No matter – after a brief cocktail-and-chat interlude that actually seems just right, we are seated and thereafter very well taken care of.

Most of our group went with the $49 banquet set-up just a few weeks previously at Meatmaiden, and ended up being happy with the results.

At Le Bon Ton, we baulk at their comparative offering of the Southern Pride deal for $59, not so much because of the cost but because we simply doubt our combined capacity to eat that much food.

So we go our own ways, ordering a couple of dishes to share and getting sandwiches and a meat offering based individual preferences.

This turns out to be a winning approach for us – and allows us scope to go with a couple of pies at the end of our meal.

 

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The original inspiration for our Bon Ton outing was fried chicken.

Here it’s served as an entree of “Southern style buttermilk soaked tenders with cracked pepper white gravy” for $16.

We get two serves that allow us one piece apiece of very good, beautifully seasoned and coated chook.

 

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Based on a recent visit here by two of our party, we also go the chili cheese fries ($15).

As all our food arrives pretty much at the same time, the photographic situation is intense so this rather blurry photograph is all I’ve got to show you of these delicious, decadent pimped-up spuds.

We get two orders of these, too. One would’ve done.

 

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With the arrival of the brisket (half a pound of grain-fed Riverina Angus beef for $21) we wonder just how Melbourne’s BBQ emporiums who sell their smoked meats by weight go about maintaining consistent portion sizes.

Surely there’s not someone in the kitchen weighing up individual orders?

In this case, the serve seems very, wonderfully generous, so much so that the person whose meal it ostensibly is happily shares it with rest of the table.

Thanks, Eliza!

It’s very, very fine.

 

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The Le Bon Ton cheeseburger of “150g Wagyu beef patty & crispy bacon w/ onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles, spicy ketchup & aioli” comes with a price tag of $16 and disappears down the gob of its owner in a flash.

 

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Two of us select the brisket sandwich of “pit smoked chopped brisket with damn good BBQ sauce & slaw” ($16) – and what a sloppy, tangy, spicy joy it is.

Mine certainly eats bigger than the photo seems to suggest.

The “debris” of meats and dressings that tumble from my sandwich are far from being the least of the pleasure had.

 

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Through our BBQ explorations, Bennie has developed a profound fondness for pulled pork.

He devours the Le Bon Ton version – “pit-smoked pulled pork with white onion, jalapeno, sharp cheddar & special sauce” ($16) – with relish.

It, too, is bigger and more hearty than first appears to be the case.

 

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With a view to dessert, the Pie Mistress in our midst goes for the lighter delights of Gulf-style crab cakes with streaky bacon, bell peppers, celery and Old Bay aioli ($16.5).

She reckons they’re good and crabby. The sample I am afforded tastes lovely with a herbal blush that is familiar yet mysterious.

 

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With such an amazing spread laid out before us, the otherwise fine buttermilk biscuits ($8.50 for three and served with chipotle and honey butter) seem something like bridesmaids.

 

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Then it’s pie time!

 

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What to choose, what to choose?

The Le Bon Ton pies are individually baked items that cost $12.

We collectively find the …

 

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… chocolate and peanut butter mousse pie and …

 

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… the banana cream pie to be utterly wonderful, though in truth the former seems a little on the bitter side to me.

We’ve made pigs of ourselves.

The food and the service have been grand.

The financial damage?

The $35 per person we pay is outstanding value.

Eschewing the temptations of hanging out all night in cocktail mode, we waddle into the night.

I skip breakfast before getting down to writing this story.

Check out the Le Bon Ton website, including menu, here.

In a lovely piece of serendipity, just before departing for Collingwood I had unwrapped a new CD arrival that has this tune as its first track:

 

 

Le Bon Ton on Urbanspoon

Souvlakis and white choc risotto

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hellenic3

 

Hellenic Flavours On Puckle, 25 Puckle Street Moonee Ponds. Phone: 93757064
Vicolo, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500

There’s been a number of eatery openings in and around Puckle Street lately and we’re up for trying one of them for lunch.

We know Hellenic Flavours will be a kebab shop that will also do hamburgers.

But we suspect that it may also be one of those nifty places that does a nice job of taking care of the fast-food requirements but one that also offers more substantial Greek food at prices way below those found in more formal Greek restaurant settings.

That’s just what we discover.

 

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The place is done out in the expected mix of take-away and restaurant with plenty of seating and scenic photos from the Mediterranean adorning the walls.

A big work group sitting next to us is tucking with glee into $15 plates of various kebab meats (some of it on sticks), pita, salad, chips and tzatiki.

Cool!

There’s also available the likes of mousaka, pastitsio, stuffed vegetables and grills such as steaks.

 

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We both go for the traditional lamb souvlaki ($11) and are happy with our choices.

 

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Our wraps are encased in the usual, thickish Greek-style pita we suspect may have come from this venerable Braybrook institution.

There’s just the right amount of salad and sauce.

And the meat is crunchy crusted, salty, hot and delicious.

Next stop – dessert!

Not since a flurry of visits to the classic Italian of Vicolo – culminating in a beaut CTS Feast – have we been back.

Today we’ve been enticed through the Young Street doors by a Facebook item in which Marie spruiks her white chocolate risotto with hazelnuts.

 

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It’s the biz at a very generously proportioned $12 serve – thank heavens Bennie and I share.

“Mmmmm – it’s good,” says I.

“Yes, and so healthy,” quips Bennie.

Haha!

It’s nothing of the sort, of course.

But nor is eating this glorified rice pudding quite exactly like the decadent, silky and out-there experience of consuming a panna cotta, creme brulee or even a pavlova.

The al dente rice gives it a bit more substance and chewiness than that.

Still – excellent!

 

Hellenic Flavours on Puckle on Urbanspoon

 

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Something groovy for WeFo

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ovest3

 

Consider The Sauce may have views on the varying food, service and even the social media hubris of West Footscray’s Indian restaurants, but right from the start we’ve considered them a community asset.

So we were surprised to discover – via a comment on our story about new Indian kid on the block Amrutha – that such a welcoming outlook is by no means universal among West Footscray locals.

Still, as much as we love our Indian tucker, we also dig the heck out of diversity – so we’re delighted to see something very exciting happening in one of the neighbourhood’s landmark buildings.

 

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The double-storey building at 572 Barkly Street has been vacant and unused, so far as we are aware, for several years.

Its history includes time spent as an ANZ bank branch and as home for a Serbian Social Services And Support group.

That latter was still active when we were living just around the corner, many years before CTS.

My very strong visual recall is that “social service and support” meant, in this instance, a very blokey spot for coffee and gossip!

That’s the (potted) history.

The future is … Ovest.

The new eatery, at this point scheduled to be unveiled to the eating and coffee-slurping public in February, is the baby of Ben Sisley, his wife Stephanie and Alex and Kate from Seddon’s Sourdough Kitchen.

Ben has a long history in Melbourne’s hospitality industry, including more recently stints food styling in the corporate world and, before that, time with Mr Wolf in St Kilda and, before that, with Madame Joe Joe, also in St Kilda.

 

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Ben tells me Ovest (it means “west” in Italian) will offer food that will be based around the joint’s pizza oven – think pizzas and the likes of seafood and steak dishes using the same cooking apparatus.

Ben talks enticingly, for instance, of whole snapper lightly crusted/dusted with flour, seasoned, pan-fried and then quickly grilled in the pizza oven.

“We  will be tightly focused in terms of opening hours and menu at the start, and then we’ll see where the public takes,” he says.

“This is a great location and we think the area is ready for something like this.

“We see us catering to everyone from people grabbing an after-work drink right through to young families.”

What that means is … no pasta, no breakfast, dinner and maybe lunch on selected days.

Nor will there be entertainment offered – the open kitchen will play that role.

“The food is the entertainment,” Ben says.

And, thanks to a liberal licence being secured, there is the possibility of 1am finishes on Saturdays and Sundays.

“But we won’t be sitting around chewing up money on wages if there’s no customers around,” Ben quips.

Significant renovations are underway on the ground floor of the old bank building.

But in some ways it appears to be almost purpose-built for the likes of Ovest.

The classic ’60s/’70s style bar is cool as!

The area around the entrance will be for more casual, drop-in customers, with the rear area offering dining of a more formal variety.

Read Hilary McNevin’s story in The Age here.