China Bar 24 hours a day

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China Bar, 257-259 Swanston Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9639 6988

Because of a pre-fatherhood, pre-western sojourn spent living in the CBD, the Russell Street China Bar became a much-loved and endlessly reliable and enjoyable eating place.

So it’s a little difficult for me to think of China Bar as a franchise chain.

But there it is, right on the group’s website.

They’re everywhere.

And – this I did not know – the group also encompasses Claypot King and Dessert Story.

Not that that should come as any surprise – there is a marked similarity in branding.

And another surprise – according to Urbanspoon, the Russell Street branch (the original?) is “closed temporarily”.

We’re back from our Friday CBD adventure, so have no way of knowing what this means.

Maybe a short-lived closure to enable a no-doubt badly needed tart-up?

No matter … after witnessing the Melbourne Storm down the Brisbane Broncos in an exciting, tough game at AAMI Park, Bennie likes the idea of trying out the newish “24-hour” China Bar.

As we amble up Swanston Street, we seem to be amidst the wind-down of the end-of-working-week crowd, with the night-owl activity soon to be ramping up.

 

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Inside China Bar, all is China Bar – even if the physical surroundings themselves are different.

Many people are eating, staff members – some of them with familiar faces – are bustling about.

That bustle and buzz is a big part of the attraction, as it is just about anywhere in Chinatown.

There seems to be more customers than I would normally expect chowing down on dumplings and smaller dishes.

But we go with the familiar.

 

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My Hainanese crispy chicken rice costs $12.90 and stacks up thusly …

Rice – good chicken flavour but it’s packed so tightly into the bowl that it has become almost a like a pudding that needs carving.

Soup – warm only but good

Chilli, ginger/garlic/oil and cucumber accessories – oh dear, simply not enough zing.

Chicken – very crispy, very good, with a serving size that (as is so often the case) eats bigger than it appears. I could live without the gooey sauce underneath.

So … a little underwhelming considering the high esteem in which I hold the Russell Street branch, which I last visited late at night just a few months’ back.

Does this meal diminish my warm feelings for China Bar?

Just a little …

 

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Bennie is quite smug in his certainty that his “seasoning salt spare ribs with rice” ($12.90) is the superior choice of our two meals.

He may be right.

I don’t try the chicken but the accompanying jumble of onion, capsicum and spices tastes OK.

But when asked if what he’s eating is as good as the same dish at a certain Chinese joint in Sunshine, his answer is: “No!”

 

China Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Pure Pies – oh my!

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Pure Pie, 383 Bay Street, Port Melbourne. Phone: 9041 5004

The email offer of a free pie went barely noticed among the usual blizzard of spam and inane, clunky PR approaches.

But then Consider The Sauce spied the handsome pies in the display cabinet at a very groovy and fine Kensington cafe.

Upon hearing of their source, I lose little time in making my way to Port Melbourne to redeem my email offer.

Pure Pie, as well as being a pie factory, is a cool cafe space situated at the city end of Bay Street.

As such, there is a relaxed vibe quite different from the retail/hospitality hubbub further towards the bay.

And there’s heaps of parking capacity!

 

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Along with my free pie – braised beef with red wine and rosemary ($8.90), the most establishment’s most popular I am told – I also get a pork, apple and fennel sausage roll ($5).

The sausage roll is good, with dense, firm sausage meat though – I feel obliged to say – not much by way of apple or fennel.

My pie is something else.

It’s tall, with fabulous pastry.

The filling is rich and flavoursome, with lusty beef chunks high in number.

Worth $8.90?

Yes, very much so.

 

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So Impressed am I, that I buy a couple more pies to take home – chicken with corn, bacon and leek; and beef with Guinness and cheddar.

Bennie and I have them for dinner a few night’s later.

 

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Wow!

Served with great green beans dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, these pies constitute a meal for which we’d happily pay $20+ in a pub or restaurant.

Look at the meatiness of our beef number.

How often does a chook pie seem all glutinous gravy and not much else?

So we’re very happy to eat a chicken pie that has multiple meat chunks packed with flavour.

I like Holly and Michael and their products so much, we’ve tentatively set a date for a Consider The Sauce event early in 2015.

Stay tuned!

Check out the Pure Pie website here.

 

Pure Pie on Urbanspoon

 

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Chris The Barber

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Chris The Barber, The Circle, Altona

It’s a beautifully sunny early spring day.

I breeze in to say hello to Chris The Barber.

I’ve been here for a haircut before, though he doesn’t remember me.

He’s one of the old-school barbers I revere and – sort of – collect.

They’re a dying breed.

I have it in the back of my mind to start a blog one day that will “collect” them. That’s something I may or may not get around to.

I have used the services of such man all over of Melbourne in all my time in the city.

They’re often of Greek or Italian extraction, although this year I’ve had a couple of “zero all over” cuts from an African gent in Flemington.

They recall for me barbers of my New Zealand childhood, it being very memorable that those establishments usually had lying arorund scruffy back copies of racy, slightly risqué mags such as Man.

Chris is the very epitome of his kind – kind, full of good humour and whatever the Greek word is for blarney.

He’s been in the game for 50 years.

He has posters of Bulldog teams of yore plastered on his walls.

 

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I’ve never got the hang of shaving/cutting my own hair, most commonly these days scoring a $9 haircut in Vietnamese Footscray about once a month.

But somehow my grey locks have become what is for me quite shaggy, and as Chris has bugger all customers and I have plenty of time, I opt for something rare in my life these days – a head shave for $20.

What a treat!

I shaved my mush the previous day, but if I so desired I could have that done, too, for a superb extra $2.

After quickly clipping my fuzzy dome, Chris shaves it just once after lathering me up and unsheathing a fresh open blade.

But he’s slow, methodical and very, very good.

The result is as close to a baby’s bottom as any part of me is ever likely to be ever again.

And if it lasts an extra couple of weeks over and above my usual “zero all over” job, it’ll be worth every cent of my $20.

Anyway, that’s what I tell myself as I depart with a smile.

 

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Grazing in Yarraville

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Tong Food & Wine, 13 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 8877

Far sooner than expected – and after noting the multiple changes coming in Yarraville and writing a preview of Tong – we’re seated for a mid-week dinner at the corner location of what was previously The Bank.

Team CTS consisting on this occasion of B and K, C and J.

We’re four folks who are mostly used to eating heaps of food at ridiculously cheap prices, so it takes a little while to switch gears to Tong’s more refined style of “grazing”.

But we do so, having a real nice time spread over a couple of hours.

The place is fullish for a Wednesday night, there’s a buzz going on and the service – with a couple of hiccups – is fine.

We would only advise that anyone with a raging hunger be prepared to choose multiple dishes.

 

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From the “smaller” list (see menu below), mixed tempura vegetables with dipping sauces ($11) is an agreeable, fresh selection of red capsicum, zucchini and cucumber.

The sauces – one that seems to be of the BBQ variety, the other a lemony mayo – are much stickier than you’d find in a Japanese eatery.

 

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Steamed pork buns ($14), too, are different from those you’ll find at various Footscray outlets.

They’re terrific!

With less dough – they’re more like dumplings – there’s scope for the sticky, unctuous and meaty filling to shine.

 

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Julian and Christine enjoy their beef tataki with grilled quail egg and radish salad ($14), though as they point out it would be more accurate to refer to it as a rare beef salad.

 

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Moving on to the “bigger” section of the menu and … even with all the goodwill and generosity of spirit we can muster, Bennie’s crispy spiced lamb ribs leave us collectively bemused.

Forget the asking price of $16 and what that represents per individual rib.

That this mostly unadorned dish is listed as “bigger” rather than “smaller” surely leaves Tong open to unkind cracks about nouvelle cuisine.

Bennie loves them and wolfs the lot down … but there’s a wait of a good 10 minutes between him cleaning his plate and the rest of us receiving our corresponding dishes.

(I was tempted to use the phrase “main courses” right there but realise that may not be appropriate to the Tong philosophy …)

 

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Our friends enjoy their braised tofu with spring onion and crispy noodles ($18) without becoming truly animated about it.

 

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Our table gets two serves of the spicy eggplant sizzling plate ($17) – and good thing that is, as it’s far and away the hit of the night for all of us!

The eggplant flavour is sublime – I wish I could cook eggplant like that.

There’s a few bits of onion and red capsicum in there, the dish has a mild but effective spicy hit and – like  a lot of eggplant dishes – this is quite oily. In a good way …

 

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Moving to dessert, sticky black rice with coconut and pineapple crisp ($14) goes OK with she who has been most looking forward to it.

 

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Predictably, Bennie likes the sweet red bean dumplings ($9) while I remain wholly unmoved by what seems to be a sort of doughy blandness.

Christine points out that they’re quite like something her mum whips up.

 

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The Tong style and ambitions may not be a natural fit for we four, but as we saunter into the night we reflect on a lovely evening with great company and good conversation.

And good – sometimes very good – food.

 

Tong Food & Wine on Urbanspoon

 

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Yes! It IS Afghan kebabs for Footscray!

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The fit-out at 241 Barkly Street, Footscray, is coming along – and there’s a menu up!

The fluorescent lights constituted a photographic nightmare when I stuck my nose in, but you can get the drift …

As you can see, Footscray really is soon to get its first Afghani eating house.

I note with excitement the presence of not only skewered meats but also …

… pulaos, including one with red beans and another with lamb shanks and broad beans, and …

… also the marvellous Afghani dumplings callled mantoo.

Oh boy!

 

 

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ASRC catering rocks!

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Consider The Sauce is at a family reunion in Northcote.

Actually, it’s more like a combined reunion and 30th, with not just family members but also friends and colleagues of birthday girl Nicole in attendance.

I fit into none of those categories but am being made to feel very welcome nonetheless.

It’s also a fancy dress event – and I have done my bit in that regard by turning up in full-blown ageing hippie regalia.

That’s a bald-faced lie, of course, in that ageing hippie is how I always dress!

And the food?

Oh, yes, that is very fine indeed.

 

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A few weeks before, I had received an email from Nicole.

She’s big fan of Consider The Sauce, is especially digging the recent community-based stories and could I suggest place along those lines to cater for her party?

I fired off suggestions she ignored completely – instead opting for the catering arm of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

That’s great, said I, I’ve been thinking of doing a story about them so let me know how it goes!

In fact … and thinking on my metaphorical feet … why don’t you let me blog your party, and then between us both we can give ASRC catering some well-deserved exposure?

To my delight, Nicole eagerly ran with the whole idea.

When I expressed my appreciation, Nicole said:

“It might be marginally preposterous, but if it helps the ASRC, then I’m all for it!  And anyone who knows me will not be at all surprised at this – you have to take interesting opportunities when they arise!”

Obviously, she’s my kinda gal!

 

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So it was that I spent an hour or so with ASRC sous chef Natasha in the Brunswick kitchen.

(As most readers probably know, the Melbourne base of the ASRC is these days in Footscray, but the catering wing will not be making that move until early in 2015.)

Small world department – Natahsa is a Werribee resident who previously worked at Cornershop in Yarraville and has also worked with Jess of Pod @ P.I.D.

But she really, really likes her ASRC gig, which she has had for a couple of years.

It’s mostly minus the crazy hours of restaurant work and she gets a great deal of satisfaction from working with and helping train asylum seekers from many parts of the world.

In this way, the catering business helps people rebuild their lives and is a source of income for ASRC itself.

 

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The food is all vegetarian – this not only avoids any cultural or religious issues with the asylum seekers but is also increasingly seen as an asset and selling point.

Nicole’s party is at the smaller end of the sorts of events ASRC caters, which include weddings and anniversaries and corporate awards ceremonies.

Finger food is the most popular option and plain, no-frills the most common form of delivery, though that can range right up to delivery accompanied by full service and staff

Nicole has chosen two dishes from the ASRC catering “lunch box options” – caramalised onion polenta baked in a rich tomato herb sauce, roasted mushrooms and mozzarella; and chick pea and vegetable coconut curry served with jasmine rice.

 

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Other menu selections that caught my eye include …

Baya kyaw – Burmese split pea fritters, served with sweet chilli.

Dal kachori – a spicy snack popular throughout India and Pakistan. Golden
fried bread filled with spiced dal (black gram) and served with raita.

Akaree – a typical snack eaten throughout Africa, black eyed bean fritters with onion, chilli and ginger, fried to perfection with a red capsicum and peanut sauce.

Fattoush – fresh cucumber, tomato, cos lettuce, feta cheese, and olives, tossed in lemon, garlic and olive oil topped with crispy sumac pita croutons.

Sudanese curry – a delicious stew of cannellini beans, tomato, eggplant and potatoes. Seasoned with cumin, cardamom and cinnamon, and served with our homemade yellow spice bread.

Tandoori vegetables – chunky, seasonal vegetables and paneer marinated in yoghurt and spice and roasted to perfection. Served with basmati rice.

ASRC cater can also provide beverages, including beer and wine.

For more information about ASRC catering go here, and for a full and extensive menu go here.

 

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Natasha and I make the brief journey from Brunswick to Nicole’s Northcote joint to find the party already in full swing.

Nicole grins when she tells me that she has evolved a simple way of avoiding any misgivings the assembled guests may have about the vegetarian fare she is offering them – she is simply not going to tell them.

She’s going to feed them instead – and it works a treat!

I really like the chick pea curry, which is packed with a variety of vegetables and has a rich gravy not unlike that of a massaman curry.

The trick there is the use of coconut milk – something I’ll be sure to try next time a cook with chick peas. It’s a nice alternative to the usual tomatoes/onions/spices combo.

There’s more food here, mind you, than just the fine ASRC offerings – there’s birthday cake, a tardis full of lollies and more.

Thanks to Nicole and her extended family for making me feel so welcome and to Simone and Natasha at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre for helping make this story happen.

 

 

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Salad oooh! on Barkly Street

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Pod @ Post Industrial Design, 638 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 0400 193 038

It’s taken Consider The Sauce a while to get around to writing about Pod, a preview story aside and a newsy item on the kitchen’s gallery of vintage Melbourne menus.

Truth is, since it opened, Pod has become one of our regular stops.

Most often for always excellent coffee.

Sometimes for a sweet treat, as well – including a preposterously orgasmic choc cake Bennie and I shared a few months back.

More substantial Pod fare has been had less often, but today is definitely the right time for lunch.

Saturday, early spring gloriousness, the staff not run off their feet and a jazz combo doing their best Sonny Rollins in the window.

 

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I don’t have to make myself right at home because it already has that sort of feel about it.

I know not about the breakfast line-up here, but when it comes to lunches – and this has been noted elsewhere – the lovely food Jess is sending out from the kitchen is beautiful and delicious but decidedly not of the cafe heartiness variety.

But while the serves seem far from gargantuan, the quality is unmistakable – besides, it’s a light lunch I’m after.

 

 

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My warm salad of roasted seasonal vegetables is perfect in every way.

The superb potato, red onion, carrot, fennel and beetroot speak in magic tongues with the parsley, plentiful pine nuts and goats cheese.

Wow!

Worth every cent of the $16.50 I have paid for it.

There’s some very cool symbiosis going on between Pod and P.I.D.

The latter’s Mary tells me that in terms of buzz and customers, the results are most definitely greater than the sum of two parts.

I have reproduced below the current breakfast and lunch menus, but Fiona tells me they’ll be changing in a few weeks.

My $3.50 cafe latte, too, is perfect.

 

Pod @ Post Industrial Design on Urbanspoon

 

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