Indian blast; not in WeFo!

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dasian2

 

D Asian, 68-82 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 8354 8387

By the time Bennie and I step through the doors of D Asia, it’s been open about six months.

Obviously, we haven’t been paying enough attention.

Though perhaps in this case, that’s something to do with the fact the restaurant isn’t on Hopkins Street proper, but rather looks out on the carpark and towards Franco Cozzo and Centrelink (into which dread office I most assuredly never wish to step foot again!).

D Asia is a typically warped idiosyncratic CTS experience.

The place is cavernous, complete with dance floor, bandstand and disco ball.

We are the only customers.

The menu is by a long way the longest I’ve ever seen – far too voluminous to photograph and publish here.

No customers, stupendously long menu?

Those are the sorts of things that normally see red flags hoisted.

But after visiting as a pair and then solo, and eating mostly well, I have to confess my curiosity about this abidingly strange and unlikely Indian restaurant remains high.

I will return to check out the many dishes of which I’ve never before heard.

With no pre-planned gameplan, Bennie and I find ourselves going happily all Indo-Chinese and all vegetarian.

 

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The staff do the right thing by us by splitting our single serve of coriander lemon soup ($7.95) into two bowls.

It’s, um, super.

Mildly viscous in the familiar Chinese style, it’s refreshing and tangy, with tiny dice of vegetables providing crunch.

 

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Golden fried potato ($12.95) is OK but is nothing more than battered potato stalks.

There is little or none of the advertised “marinated” factor.

This dish is, in our opinion, way over-priced.

 

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Chilli baby corn is a much better deal at $11.95 – and a much better tasting one as well.

These are terrific flavour bombs, deep-fried and unoily.

There’s more than corn going on here, but it’s those kernals that provide the delightful “pop”.

Very, very yummy, they are.

 

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Gobi manchurian ($10.95) is a good deal wetter than the rendition we’re familiar with from our favourite Indo-Chinese haunt.

It’s pleasant enough but no earth-shaker and is very oily.

 

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As are our vegetable hakka noodles ($11.95), but we’d expect nothing different in a wok-tossed Indian dish.

They are fine, though, with plenty of diced and well-cooked vegetables.

 

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On my follow-up visit, I try another Indo-Chinese dish – cutmet aloo ($4.95), which is described as “boiled potato dressed with Indian spices and served with tamarind chutney”.

Again, this is nice enough but no great shakes.

 

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Then, just for to see what D Asia does with plain, workaday Indian food, I get a serve of mutton curry with roti ($10.95).

The fresh-cooked roti is fine.

The mutton is on the bone, and seems even more fiddly than is usually the case.

This is one of the most oily curries I’ve ever experienced.

And it’s the saltiest curry I can recall eating.

I like it a lot, though, although others’ mileage may vary!

D Asia?

What an enigma!

And I don’t think it’s really possible to be uncharmed by an eatery that has seven kinds of dal.

Or one that serves goat fried rice.

Or one that has 12 different soups on offer, including chicken or mutton suraba.

Or one that has a deep-fried Indo-Chinese dish call botanic vegetable.

Or one that seasons its gongura mutton with rosella leaves.

Or … well, you get the picture!

 

D Asian on Urbanspoon

 

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CBD holes

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dime5

 

5 & Dime bagel Co., Katherine Place, Melbourne. Phone: 9621 2128

For all that I’ve been living in the west for a decade-plus, an occasional foray into the CBD remains pleasurable – especially when it’s with the primary purpose of having lunch with CTS pal Jacqui, the Urban Ma.

It’s a lovely reminder of a life that was once mine – though I never enjoyed the workplace views that Jacqui does from her 35th floor eyrie!

It’s a lovely, reminder, too, that Melbourne’s CBD is an ever-changing scene of side streets and laneways and small, affordable eateries coming and going.

In this case, jacqui has pinpointed Katherine Place as a suitable location for lunch.

 

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The buildings here are newish, but it appears this little street may be coming to life in an eats sense – there’s an Indian street food place being prepared right next door top our bagel destination.

5 & Dime is a new enterprise that specialises in bagels that are “hand-crafted, boiled and baked using the traditional method”.

The bagels – there are nine varieties available – are terrific; chewy and delicious (see menu below)!

And the prices are very low – this is a beaut place to snag a cheap, sort-of healthy lunch for inhabitants of the CBD as it is towards the Flinders and Spencer end of things.

All the cafe seating is taken, so Jacqui and I quickly and easily arrange an impromptu “catch-up” picnic just outside.

 

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We both order lox with plain cream cheese ($9.50), mine with an onion bagel.

And we share a poppy seed bagel with “green olive and za’atar cream cheese” ($5.50).

The latter is especially yummy and tangy!

See Jacqui’s post here.

Check out the 5 & Dime website here.

 

5 & Dime Bagels on Urbanspoon

 

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So-so burger in Kensington

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jerry4

 

Jerry’s Burgers ‘N’ Shakes, 482 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 1687

Not too long before we noticed the assembling of a Jerry’s franchise branch in Kensington, our friend The Burger King dined at the Tullamarine shop.

His verdict?

He was and is dismissive.

More recently, another friend – for whom Kensington is neighbourhood territory – implied he and his had a much more satisfying time at the new place.

So I decided to find out for myself.

 

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The Kensington jerry’s is a smallish operation, done out in typical fast-food franchise fashion.

The seating is limited and rudimentary.

I found the service to be good and the prices to be very low.

But there’s the rub – on the premise of “you get what you pay for”, your Jerry’s burger will most likely suffer by comparison with the more pricey likes of Grill’d and other ritzy burger places.

The range of sandwiches – and even salads – is very long (see below), ranging through beef, steak, pork, fish, vegetarian and breakfast items.

 

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I went with the She Hot! burger with beef, bacon, cheese, red onion, Tabasco aioli, lettuce and jalapenos ($7.90) and a small serve of chips ($1.90).

My burger was just OK, and as hinted at above pretty much what you’d expect for cents under $8.

It wasn’t nearly as hot as the number of pepper slices included might suggest.

It was a sloppy meal, with the structural integrity lapsing totally by the end.

Worst of all, the meat patty was bereft of beefiness and redolent of sausage meat.

I wouldn’t go so far as draw a comparison with “pet food”, as one Urbanspoon contributor has done, but you get the picture …

The best part of my dinner were the chips, which were terrific and plentiful.

 

Jerry's Burgers 'n' Shakes on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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barkly25

 

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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bonton4

 

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