Cool cafe in a great ‘hood

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Mr Ed, 285 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 6444

Consider The Sauce loves Racecourse Road, but coffee and cafes aren’t what come to mind when we head that way.

There is coffee to be had there, including a couple of longstanding businesses that may get the CTS treatment at some stage.

Mr Ed, though is a new place that inhabits what was formerly the premises of an undertaker.

It’s been open since February, and based on the jam-packed crowd on a recent Sunday when is stuck my nose inside for a look-see, it’s doing quite well, thank you very much.

At first blush, it appears Mr Ed could be yet another westie hipster haven.

Cool black-and-white artwork?

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Tick!

Cutting-edge design stools?

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Tick!

But the proof is in the pudding – or, in this case, the pies.

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Take a look at these beauties, which sell for $9.50. (They’re a lot bigger than they appear in the photograph.)

After my lunch, I take one of the veal, bacon and portolbello mushroom specimens home for dinner.

Like everything else in the place, as far as I can tell, they’re made in-house.

For a week-day lunch, I find the staff friendly and obliging.

In addition to breakfasts, Mr Ed does a nice line in creative sandwiches that all cost around the $10 mark.

There’s blackboard lists of specials such as a risotto, pulled chicken sliders and beer-battered flathead with purple congo wedges.

The adjacent list of “usual suspects” includes a “beef and basil burger”, and beyond that are offered about a handful of salads.

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I choose one of the more expensive dishes – smoked trout and warm egg salad with celeriac remoulade with salmon pearls on rye toast ($16.50).

This is way more “plated” and pretty than is normal for CTS, but it’s truly a lovely thing.

It’s mildly flavoured and falls into the light lunch category.

But all the components work together beautifully, celeriac strands almost like noodles and the trout given some added richness thanks to the egg and some just-right poppy texture thanks to the pearls.

Mr. Ed on Urbanspoon

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Greek treats made with love in Kingsville

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Olive Oil & Butter, 196 Somerville Rd, Kingsville. Phone: 9315 1060

There’s an awful lot in the name of this great Greek bakery in Kingsville.

You see, that’s what they use – olive oil and butter.

Oh, of course, there’s other ingredients – but the name nevertheless symbolises a keen dedication to natural products.

No ingredients with numbers rather than names, no premixes … just a righteous determination to make and bake with the simplest and the best in an entirely old-school manner.

This is the kind of place at which the declaration, “Our products have a limited shelf life”, is a proud boast.

Olive Oil & Butter is run by Pelagia, her brother Chris and their mum Martha.

It’s a first restaurant/cafe/bakery outing for the family – and that’s a good thing, as it means the recipes are derived from an inter-generational tradition.

After my lunch is done and paid for (see below), I introduce myself to Pelagia, who is nice enough to set up a display platter of the Greek baking that is available this day. The line-up tends to change, but the prices are mostly in the $4-5 range (less for biscuits).

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 Clockwise from top right:

* Koulouraki – biscuit with vanilla.

* “The best” galaktoboureko – Filo pastry, semolina-based custard, vanilla, syrup with cinnamon and cloves.

* Baklava – roasted almonds and walnuts filling filo pastry with a cinnamon and clove syrup.

* Revani – semolina cake flavoured with lemon and orange sweetened with an orange-zest syrup.

* Another version of koulouraki.

* Paksimadi – a crumbly vegan biscotti flavoured with orange.

As Pelagia explains the ins and outs of the baking before us, we are joined by her mum.

It’s easy to tell from the glint in her eye and the pride in her work that Martha is serious about “olive and oil and butter” and using only the very best ingredients. And no preservatives at all …

I try only a few of the above assortment – they’re delicious.

The rest go home with me – it doesn’t take too long for me to realise my insistence on paying for the lot is going to be rebuffed at every turn, no matter how hard I try or how long I persist.

Olive Oil & Butter does breakfast and lunch, too, though much of what is available in that regard is of non-Greek derivation – pies, muffins, focaccia and so on.

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I do enjoy my pastitsio ($15), though.

It’s a hearty dish that is something of a variation of moussaka, with the good ground beef and tubed pasta melding into the rich bechamel sauce. The accompanying salad is just, fine, too.

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And for dinner, I am also gifted this gorgeous scroll-style spanakopita ($9).

Like the bakalava and its variations (katafi, gianniotiko, saragli), the cheese and spinach scroll is made with filo pastry that is made from scratch in the kitchen.

How good is that?

My two cafe lattes ($3.50) are excellent, BTW!

PS: I will update this post with “tasting notes” as I work my way through my trawl!

The Olive Oil & Butter Facebook page is updated regularly with news and photos of what is available.

Olive Oil & Butter on Urbanspoon

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Garden delight in Kensington

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White Rabbit Record Bar, 176 Bellair St, Kensington. Phone: 9376 5441

Always been music crazy – and always will be.

But have never been much of a record collector, not really.

Sure, I’ve gone through the occasional phase of accumulating a few originals 45s and 78s along the way.

But for me it’s almost always been about the music, not its format.

Hence these days, in a collection of several thousands CDs, the larger part – and certainly the portion I enjoy with most zeal – comprises releases of music originally released on 45s and 78s and even cylinders anywhere from the 1890s to the 1970s.

It’s all digital but it’s all old, too.

So while being sympathetic, I’ve never a been a member of the cult of vinyl.

Which perhaps explains why early on in our westie life I mentally dismissed White Rabbit as a vinyl hangout that offered nothing much more than a cool space and an option for coffee or wine.

What a surprise then to discover there’s much more to the place – a full kitchen and a lovely back garden setting included – and that that’s been the case for a long while.

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As well, in the process of enjoying a lazy mid-week lunch, we’re delighted to find that among the staff members is gentle pooch of a certain age named Jessie, whom we enjoy getting to know while we await our food.

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From the specials board, Bennie chooses the B.L.A.T. ($12.50).

It has all the appropriate bits and pieces and does good for him, even if it doesn’t have him metaphorically clicking his heels with glee.

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Chosen from a trio of antipasto-style plates, my falafel-based outing ($17.50) has winning points and some that I could happily do without.

The Turkish bread, for instance, is regulation but nicely toasted – making the crackers and wafers a tad superfluous.

The falafel balls are warm and quite good, as are the salad bits and mixed olives.

But the oil-drenched bowl of roast capsicum and cheese distracts.

The best aspect of my lunch are the house-made dips.

The houmus and another based on rocket, coriander, garlic and more are mildly flavoured but very tasty.

I suspect we could’ve chosen our lunches more wisely – perhaps the specials board spinach and fetta borek would’ve wowed us, and we’d for sure be interested in checking out the beef burger with “chunky potatoes” I saw listed a few days prior if the opportunity presents in the future.

But in terms of relaxed vibes, lovely setting and warmth of welcome, we consider our belated discovery of the White Rabbit riches within a fine thing indeed.

White Rabbit Record Bar on Urbanspoon

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Could be burger of the year …

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Chase Kitchen, 80 Hudsons Road, Spotswood. Phone: 0423 742 460

The initial aim of our Sunday drive is to eyeball the tall ships parked in the bay at Williamstown.

But that plan comes to nowt when we find the traffic backed up way before our destination and even some way down The Strand.

No way – we’re not that keen on things nautical!

So off we go with lunch on our minds.

Bennie – surprise, surprise – fancies a burger; his dad’s fancy is turning to the roast lunches available in the vicinity.

Bennie gets his way, but that’s a good thing indeed in this case.

We park expecting to hit the Spotiswoode pub, but choose to check out the action on Hudsons Rd anyway.

And what do we find but a new arrival.

Well, relatively new.

Chase Kitchen is open for business on a shopping strip that has become rather competitive – there’s a hip bakery and three other coffee/breakfast/lunch places right across the road.

We decide to give it a go based on the Boston Burger advertised on the footpath blackboard sign and end up being really delighted we have done so.

Inside is a chic but mostly regulation cafe space with stools and tall tables at the front, other seating further in, a back room between the front counter and the rear kitchen, and a garden further out back yet to be utilised.

The service and welcome we are provided are exemplary.

Certainly, the sharing of our two choices – the burger ($14.50) and the pulled pork roll with Asian slaw ($16.50) – is obligingly handled by the staff.

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The pork roll is fine and generous, although the crunchy, creamy, delicious slaw rather overshadows the pork.

But the burger is better – Bennie even rates it the best he’s had this year.

That’s high praise from An Expert.

The patty has great flavour, although it does seem a little mushy – more of a meaty texture would be grand.

But what really makes this a burger supreme is the tangy, spicy mayo given a righteous kick from jalapenos and terrifically crispy bacon.

It’s really, really good.

We are both given heaps of thin fries that are hot, salty and pretty damn fine, too, though some of them seem a bit limp to me.

We are not the first Melbourne bloggers to cover Chase Kitchen – that honour falls to our pal Jacqui at Urban Ma – read her review here. Although it may seem a bit boring that Jacqui and her family ordered exactly the same as us!

Chase Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Mama Bear

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Mama Bear, 526 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 0386

In terms of location, Mama Bear really has it nailed.

Roughly equidistant from the coffee-and-more riches of Union Rd, the swell Asian smorgasbord on the other side of the railway line on Racecourse Rd and undistinguished Macaulay Rd, it really stands out.

Even better, unlike the situation on those three nearby strips, the parking here is unrestricted on both sides of the road. You may have to look for a wee while at weekends, but I doubt it’ll be any great problem.

Lovely exterior artwork, concrete floor, random yet stylish furniture, vintage signs, a high communal table with stools – yes, this is hipster cafe territory.

As you’d expect, breakfast is the big deal here. Heck, there’s not even a lunch menu – the post-noon fare falls under the heading “Brunch”.

The building was previously a Mexican joint the threshold of which we never crossed.

Co-proprietor Daniel tells me that ithe building’s first role was as a stables or some other equine-related business. He shows me the indentations where horses had gnawed away at the window frames.

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I love the display of $3.50 old-school slices and hedgehogs. Some are brought in, some are made in-house.

The non-breakfast line-up is compact and appealing, with all items sitting on or around the $17 mark.

There’s a pesto-based pasta, a blackboard risotto, a calamari salad and a beef cheek slider.

I go for the Angus burger.

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The orthodox in me yearns for something more usually related to burgers for accompaniment – coleslaw maybe, or chips. Or both.

But truth is, I am a fan of the rocket and fetta fad – and this is a good one: Fresh, lemony, tangy.

The skewered pickled cucumber is a crunchy, slightly sweet and delicately seasoned delight.

The beef patty looks modestly sized but is quite substantial. More importantly, it tastes fantastic. If only all burgers were this juicy! Maybe it could’ve done with a slightly heavier hand in the salt, pepper and seasoning department, but it’s still a very fine thing.

By the time the beef is all gone, I’m left with a handful of other ingredients – high-quality bun, shredded red cabbage that looks pickled but doesn’t taste like it, tomato, good and gooey cheese, mustard and mayo. But they’re all so classy, I enjoy consuming every last morsel.

Has my Mama Bear burger been worth the extra few bucks above what you’d pay for a basic sandwich at, say, Grill’d or Jus Burgers?

Yes.

To finish, a cafe latte is ordered.

It’s insanely excellent.

Mama Bear on Urbanspoon

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UCAN Cafe

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UCAN Cafe, Altona North Community Library, corner Millers and McArthurs roads, Altona North. Phone: 9391 7929

UCAN Cafe, tucked away in the Altona North Community Library, is a low-key cafe and catering business set up “to provide a career path for those in the community who have a disability”.

The cafe’s siting – wedged between two wings of the building – hardly seems auspicious, but it’s a lovely sunny morning, for once I’m out and about for breakfast and I snag an outdoor seat.

Nor does the cafe itself look anything flash – if you’re looking for a westie new wave hipster vibe, look elsewhere.

Of course, none of that matters to me – I’m far more interested in my first coffee of the day and whether it’ll cut the proverbial mustard.

It does.

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One very fine cafe latte, slowly enjoyed as I read one of the newspaper thingies for whom I used to work and grabbed with a wave of approval by the librarian in the adjacent and just-opened-for-the-day library.

The cafe does the kind of food it looks like it may do – muffins, wraps, sandwiches and so on.

But there’s a few more substantial items on the menu, which you can check out at the UCAN website.

As well, daily specials of the soup and salad variety are scrawled on the tall glass doors that lead to the outdoor seating area.

My avocado with tomato salsa ($6, top picture) is a light breakfast treat.

I really appreciate the use of a lighter kind of bread – in this case two slices of nicely toasted and slightly chewy casalinga – rather than the sourdough that is usually utilised when avocado comes to breakfast.

The avo slices are perfectly matched with the light salsa that has just the right degree of oiliness and vinegariness.

I summon another cafe latte, which is just as good as the first. Like its predecessor, it’s not that strong but has great depth of flavour and achieves the neat trick of being neither tepid enough to down in a single swallow nor too hot to drink.

Excellent!

I’ve enjoyed my brief visit to this rather surprising but worthwhile Altona hideaway.

UCAN Cafe is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4pm.

Ucan café on Urbanspoon

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Famous Blue Raincoat

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Famous Blue Raincoat, 25 Vernon St, Yarraville. Phone: 9391 8520

After a splendid Sunday roast experience, it’s a pleasure to be returning to the Famous Blue Raincoat for a mid-week dinner.

It’s “locals’ night” and we’re up for it.

The main dining room has had a holiday break reno and looks lovely with the early evening sun streaming in.

There are already several tables taken and reservation notices on more, but we’re very happy to step out back to the cool, charming garden area.

On locals’ night, a variety of meals are offered at $13.50 each – tonight, according to the joint’s Facebook page, the line-up is:

Moroccan lamb chops on a baby spinach, roasted eggplant and cherry tomato salad; chicken parma, fat chips and salad; steak, mash and onion gravy; butter chicken curry with basmati rice, roti bread and yoghurt; roast beetroot, walnut and goats cheese salad; and Raincoat burger with the lot and fat chips.

The fish of the day, we discover upon arrival, is blue grenadier on a Greek salad.

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Tonight I put my foot town about Bennie automatically ordering the burger, so it’s the chicken parma for him.

It’s a good one, too.

He likes the double layer of ham, the sauce is a little sweet and almost smoky, and the chicken meat is nicely crumbed and enjoyably moist.

It’s big for the boy – he doesn’t finish it

The chips could be adjudged a tad too salty, but otherwise they’re sensational – big, hot, crisp and entirely delicious.

I help myself to them with no protests from my offsider.

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I need them to offset the lack of carb-like heft to my lamb chop dish.

The eggplant I incorrectly assumed would play that role turns out to be little more than a few chewy wisps that could hardly be said to deserve such a prominent role in the dish’s description.

The rest of the salad is fine.

The seasoning on my chops – cumin? lemon? – is fabulous, but beyond that the pair of them present quite a challenge.

I understand that for an asking price of $13.50 there are severe limitations on what cuts of meat can be sourced.

But in the case of my two chops, only the round hearts of both are easily, enjoyably eaten. The rest – though equally tasty – requires much sawing with knife and gnawing with jaw.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing … maybe we’d have done better, food-wise, had I let Bennie do the burger thing. And maybe I should have gone for the fish, which I turned away from on the basis that we can and do frequently make Greek salads at home.

A funny thing though: Reflecting on our dinner on the way home, we agree we had a fine time, like the place a lot and will return.

It was locals’ night; we’re locals (even if we do live in another part of Yarraville); and we felt right at home.

Famous Blue Rain Coat on Urbanspoon

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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?

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Famous Blue Raincoat

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Famous Blue Raincoat, 25 Vernon St, Yarraville. Phone:9391 8520

The Famous Blue Raincoat, which shares the Vernon St strip with Tandoori Flames and Motorino, was one of our semi-regular haunts in our early, pre-CTS days in the west.

I’m not sure why it ceased being so, although preferring to get our grub gratification in non-cafe settings has prolonged that status.

A recent visit for a terrific coffee after an afternoon exploring the west made me think: “Why don’t we come here more often?”

After a momentously fine Sunday lunch, I reckon we may soon be doing just that.

They’re big on music here, with a gig list that features some Very Famous Names.

No live music this lunchtime, but there’s some serious sounds on hand anyway … the classic John Coltrane Quartet seems a bit passionately overbearing for so early in the day, thankfully giving way to Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt and more rootsy, bluesy stuff.

The Coat does a range of food ranging from breakfasts to wraps, tapas, more substantial fare and a neat kids’ list.

But I’m here specifically to try the regular Sunday roast special – a $12 roast lunch sounds like a very fine thing indeed.

Today it’s pork:

It’s a lot bigger serve than first appears to be the case.

The accompaniments are as expected – three potato segments, parsnip, carrot, broccoli.

And the unexpected – two lovely bits of beetroot.

All are beautifully cooked.

The meat ranges from crusty to lovely and tender, and there’s quite a lot of it. There’s some fat, but it’s easily discarded.

The two pieces of crackling aren’t so much crackly as rock hard – but come good with a good soaking in the flavoursome gravy.

This a sublime lunch at any price, and as good a roast meal as I’ve had.

At $12, it is surely one of Melbourne’s finest dishes.

And I can’t help but compare it with a dish I spotted in the $unday Age while awaiting my fodder …

Is that a parallel universe or what?

Food aside, this place has a warmly welcoming vibe, the back courtyard is as cool and funky as one could wish, and the cakes look to-die-for.

There’s more magic before I depart smiling … just as my perfect cafe latte arrives, the sounds switch to classic late ’30s Duke Ellington, with singer Ivie Anderson and trombonist Lawrence Brown wailing on Rose Of The Rio Grande.

Perfect!

The regular Sunday roast is matched by a more wide-ranging $12 “locals’ night” on Wednesday.

The Famous Blue Raincoat website is here.

Famous Blue Rain Coat on Urbanspoon

Crowded House

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Crowded House, 48 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 5526

With its copious amounts of vintage wood, open kitchen and hip vibe, Crowded House no doubt is a magnet in an area of many worthy but often uninspiring eateries.

Thankfully on this Saturday lunchtime, the feeling is far from being one of trendier-than-thou, with a cheerful hubbub surrounding many happy tables of folks, including a lot of families, tucking into various meals and post-noon brekkies.

We find the service terrific and the wait time for our meals pleasingly brief.

We’re only after light meals, so I steer Bennie away from the more substantial fare and towards the blackboard menu of paninis and bagels.

He does good with his panini of “bacon, egg, jacks cheddar and mayo” ($9.50). The mayo looks decadently scrumptious.

He rates his classy, sophisticated BLT variant “yum out of 10″.

Seeing as the soup of the day, parsnip and carrot ($13.50), is being served with “artichoke chips”, I am expecting something a little sexy on the side to join the Phillippas toast.

So I am disappointed when the chips are more like shavings that act as little more than a garnish. 

The soup is fine – it has good parsnip flavour and tastes quite peppery.

But the admission price doesn’t seem to equate to particularly good value for money, especially when I see some of the more substantial meals about us.

We specifically eye with envy the “tempura calamari salad, chorizo, roasted capsicum, olives, roquette, fetta with lemon and olive oil dressing” and the “lamb koftas with traditional tabouli, hummus, labna and pita”.

That both these and half a dozen other meals (see menu below) are selling for $17.50 would seem to constitute a sooper dooper bargain.

Next time, you bet!

Flat-screen TVs: Nope.

We depart happy to have spent time in this cool cafe, if a little wistful about menu items untried.

Next job for the day is to deal with the messy result of some inept, clumsy parking skills by our driver – that would be me.

It’s at this point we discover our new(ish) car lacks a jack.

Oh how we wish we’d done the flat-tyre business before lunch – then we could’ve enjoyed supping as we waited an hour or so for the RACV …

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Wyndham Cache Cafe

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Wyndham Cache Cafe, 1 K Ave, Werribee South. Phone: 9742 1526

The first official day of spring is supposedly later in the week, but it sure feels like today should be so anointed.

The sky is mostly blue, studded with big, white fluffy clouds.

The sun is shining and for the first time in a long while – too long – I am not rugged up in the heaviest jumper I can lay my hands on.

Perfect, in other words, for a relaxed spin to a location I think of as one of the west’s country sojourn’s when you don’t really want to go bush.

It’s possible to get a country vibe going from the western suburbs with relative ease and in short time – think the wonderful Point Cook Homestead, for instance, or TeaPot Cottage Cafe at Werribee South.

Wyndham Cache is a rather quirky and charming – in its own way – cafe/restaurant about a kilometre past the turnoff for Werribee Mansion.

An outgrowth of a long-established polutry business on the same site, it does breakfast and lunch seven days a week and dinner on Fridays.

The ambiance seems to show the influence of the joint’s association with a small business of another, eggy variety entirely, with two sets of electric doors leading through to a rather clinical canteen-style dining room, its severity leavened by lovely country vibe service and a plentitude of photos depicting historic people, places, buildings and scenes from the area.

The menu ranges from wraps, sandwiches such as BLT ($14.50) and four salads at about $16 up to mains starting at $17.50 for the wagyu burger and going on to the likes of  pan-fried salmon ($22.50) and steaks for $25.

It’s a clever menu.

Unfortunately, in the rolled-dice gamble that is table-for-one dining I come up empty-handed.

There’s reasons why I very rarely order a steak sanger – and this one ($16.50) now joins that list.

Regulation white sliced bread, routine cheese slice, OK caramelised onions, some rocket and a tiny portion of meat – it’s mightily underwhelming.

It’s about what I would expect from a corner takeaway establishment for significantly less.

But the chips are good and hot, and I gobble each and every one.

That I have been lumbered with such a mediocre lunch is galling, because I see other tables with what appear to be fine meals – fish and chips, antipasto platters and even the dreaded and much over-rated wraps all look good.

And it’s hard to believe the burger – at just $1 more – could be so shabby.

Oh well – still worth a return trip with son in tow.

Check out the full menus at the Wyndham Cache website.

Wyndham Cache Cafe on Urbanspoon

Beatrix

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Beatrix, 688 Queensberry St, North Melbourne. Phone: 9090 7301

Like so many people, I have mixed feelings about Facebook.

On a macro level, some of the politics, ethics and sneakiness just plain creep me out.

On a micro level, I’d have to say it’s a fabulous tool.

Tool being the operative word.

It’s there to be used, in my book. If you want to use it, that is.

If you don’t … um, then don’t.

And please, let’s have no more lame-o opinion pieces about FB, social media and the end of the world as we know it … written by people, I’m pretty sure, who are as fixated and rude in the use of their mobile devices as those they criticise.

I’m delighted with the way my use of Facebook has evolved into a multi-pronged, life-enhancing … tool.

I’ve “liked” a slew of western suburbs organisations that hip me to all sorts of events, festivals and happenings that I would otherwise be blissfully unaware of.

Likewise, I’m always up to speed on the special events, menu changes, specials, news and sometimes whacko humour (Hi, Adam!) from a wide range of eateries and food suppliers.

Thus, while the initial inspiration for a visit to North Melbourne cafe Beatrix has most certainly been a drool-encrusted post by Ms Bakover at Footscray Food Blog, what gets me in the car and headed that way is the joint’s fabulous Facebook activity.

Each day, the Beatrix folks post details of that day’s goodies, particularly their sandwiches. This is Facebook newsfeed of seriously seductive proportions.

The sandwiches are small in number – just two a day – but packed with allure.

As I joyfully discover, that allure is of real and magnificent substance.

It’s a tiny but chic place, but as I am reliably early, finding a seat at the window counter is no problem. By the time I leave, it’s considerably more crowded.

The day’s heavier, richer offering involves sardines. Tempting for sure, but I go for the lighter, cheaper and unmeated option.

The Ricotta (large $12, small $10.50) is described as “Simply warmed That’s Amore ricotta, caramelised onion, radicicchio and black olive”.

My large sandwich is perfection is every way.

The bread is fresh and warm, yet happily minus the sometimes gum-shredding factor that often comes with ciabatta loaves.

The sweet onions are the perfect foil for the astringency of the sparingly used olives and the bitterness of the leaves.

The ricotta is smooth and creamy – more about texture than flavour, and given the other protagonists, that’s perfection, too.

It’s a super sandwich and experience.

If this is taking the science and craft of sandwich-making, and doing so with a small but rotating list of superb ingredients, and turning them into an artform, then all I can say is: Bravo!

The cakes here looking killing, too. Maybe next time with Bennie for company – he’ll love the place for sure.

And maybe the go here for paired-up dining is what I’ve seen a couple do today – a large sandwich and a slice of cake, shared.

Meanwhile, tomorrow there’ll be another unrelenting Facebook missive from Beatrix; and another one the day after that; and so on.

There is, it seems, no escape.

Except maybe clicking on “unlike”.

As if …

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Bagel & Juice Cafe and Catering

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Bagel & Juice Cafe and Catering, 736 Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9375 2947

The signs on the wall above the coffee machine are eloquent and indicative.

“The deadline for complaints is yesterday,” reads one.

“Sarcasm – just one more service we offer here,” says the other.

As you’d expect, Bagel & Juice proprietor Leanne is a formidably tough, hard-as-nails broad.

Just kidding!

Actually, everything about this homely Moonee Ponds enterprise – the food, the welcome, the staff singing along to the music, the decor, the cooking aromas and more – is a lively, nurturing antidote to the hipper-than-thou coffee joints sprouting up like mushrooms across the west.

Hey, I can go with that flow quite happily, but Bagel & Juice is something else again.

Being no great fan of bagels, I’d previously ignored the place despite driving and even walking past it countless times.

But earlier in the day I’d set out with the determined purpose of finding somewhere interesting to eat on the stretch of Mt Alexander Rd between Kensington and Puckle St. That’s not as easy as it sounds.

As I discuss with Leanne after my lunch has been and done, it’s a weird stretch with a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde about it.

Heaps of traffic, a fish and chip joint that does sushi, lots of Asian places further up near Puckle St that seem generally pricier than we are used to in our other westie haunts, plenty of cafes and the like. And lots and lots of light industrial and commercial activity.

There’s not a lot of footpath traffic and many eats businesses are not open for lunch, though I suspect there’s a nightlife vibe generated by the pubs and clubs in the hours I am least likely to be in the neighbourhood.

Maybe all that accounts for why about 80 per cent of Leanne’s trade is found on the catering side of her business.

Actually, the word bagel in the name is a little misleading.

There’s plenty of them – brought in par-baked from Glicks and finished on the premises – but there’s a revolving cast of other goodies going as well, including these days what Leanne calls her “Winter Warmers”.

There’s soups and wraps and pastas and stews – the range from week to week varies, sometimes for no better reason than staff preferences.

“We don’t want to eat the same stuff all the time either!” says Leanne.

What draws me through the door is the list on sandwich board outside, and specifically its mention of “Beef or Moroccan stroganoff”.

I opt for the beef version – and it’s a doozy.

Made, Leanne informs me, by using beef, beef stock, mushrooms, onions, sour cream, wine, garlic, black pepper and lots of love, this is classic stroganoff territory.

Served over nice penne pasta, its richness is ameliorated in just right way by the wine. The beef could be a little more tender, but it’s the mushies, sour cream and pepper that dominate the flavour proceedings in a grand fashion.

It’s very good and I luxuriate in every mouthful.

It’s a good-sized serve, too, making the $10.95 price tag something of a bargain.

Bagel & Juice is open 8am-4pm five days a week.

Leanne has all sort of special deals and customer loyalty schemes going on.

And a big mouth.

There’s a nifty courtyard out back, too.

Who knows? Given the great vibe, I might even opt for a bagel next time around.

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Java

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Java, 12 Ballarat St, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 7508

We’ve been long enough in the west by now to feel entitled about claiming nostalgia rights.

Well, if not nostalgia, at least the reflective gift to long-time residents of being able raise a wry smile about “the way things used to be” or to simply marvel at the changes taking place around us.

My own first visits to Yarraville involved train journeys from St Kilda or the CBD to the Sun Theatre, which in those days still screened black-and-white and noir classics from decades long gone, as the Astor does still.

Oh, how I wish the Sun continued to do likewise!

I know it’s lovely having our cinema set-up a few minutes’ walk away, but its line-up hardly varies at all from those available elsewhere.

We remember, on moving west, that Java was a simple and funky cafe that sometimes did service for coffee and babycinos but was also often erratic and frustrating.

That IS nostalgia, for Java has been a different operation – and different style of operation – for many years.

Whenever we’re in the vicinity, Java seems to be going great guns, selling all the usual breakfasts and meals of a kind that don’t seemed to be offered specifically by many of its competitors but which we suspect lack any kind of focus at all.

Could it be that Java’s “popularity” is a chimera fostered by overflow from the more loved options nearby?

On the basis of a long overdue Consider The Sauce meal, we’re inclined to think so.

Being neither of us hearty of appetite, we agree to share the beef burger ($16.50), which turns out to be an affordable light meal for us pair.

The chips are adequate in number but are not hot enough and not crunchy enough. They all disappear fast anyway.

The burger patty is nice and fat, leavened with some carrot and onion, and best thing going on our plate.

The trimmings do not inspire.

The salad, tomato and onion bits are OK, but the egg and bacon fail to provide any flavour lift or contrast at all.

On the specials board when we visit are Thai chicken curry ($16.50), beef stroganoff with jasmine rice ($14.50), beer-battered fish, chips and salad ($14.50), and roast beef, salad and chips ($200.50).

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Fifty-Six Threads Cafe

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This guest post has been written for us by Consider The Sauce pal Peppy/Karen. You can read her reviews at Urbanspoon here – as you’ll see, she’s very much on the same page us! Thanks for the cool company, fine conversation and the write-up!

Fifty-Six Threads Cafe, 56 Derby St, Kensington. Phone: 9376 6885

This one is a diamond in the rough – newly opened Fifty-Six Threads Café sits at the bottom of the imposing brown public housing block on Derby St in Kensington.

The name is a combination of the street number (56), with the “Threads” representing all of the different cultures and communities entwined like thread – very fitting for the latest social enterprise by AMES in conjunction with Urban Communities, in which the “main objective is to provide employment and training opportunities for new migrants”.

How good is this?  Get a good feed and help those who are new to our shores obtain hospitality skills!

After following Consider The Sauce since moving to the area 12 months ago, I finally got around to telling Kenny how much I liked what he was doing in his blog. Less than a week later we had arranged to meet to check this place out for lunch.

Both Kenny’s blog and Footscray Food Blog have been favourites of mine since moving to this side of the city and they have helped me to discover the amazing places to eat and go to on the west-side, so I am honoured to be able to contribute a review to CTS.

What is nearly as important as the food to me is the service, and this place won me over as soon as I walked in – very friendly and welcoming.

Nothing seemed like too much trouble and I think they were genuinely interested in making sure that we enjoyed our meal there. The fit-out is full of timber and cool suspended lighting – honestly, you could be at any of the fancy new cafes in the area sitting in the sun-drenched dining area.

Now on to the food!

The menu is split into two sections, All Day Breakfast and Weekly Specials.

Sadly the chick pea chips had sold out (cry) so Kenny went with the chick pea, bacon and thyme broth ($8) and I went with the Beetroot tamarind and dill spring rolls ($12).

I must admit I did have a bit of food envy when Kenny’s huge bowl of chick pea goodness arrived – it was a generous serving of bacon and vegetables cooked with garlic, carrot, onion and of course chick peas with two slabs of sourdough just waiting to be dipped in.

However, when my spring rolls arrived I think we both ordered winners.

The substantial cigar-sized spring rolls were filled with chards of rich beetroot that the chef tells me were cooked in a sauce consisting of tamarind and rosewater syrup – I will be on the lookout for a bottle of this when I’m in the Asian grocers next time.

I have a crop full of beetroot at home that I need to use and this was such an awesome way to cook it.  The pastry on the spring rolls was crisp and flaky, the salad was fresh and the orange segments were a great addition.

I love a good mayo, too, and could have probably done with 10 of those little pots as it tasted so good.

I also had a latte, which was from the Social Roasting Company – couldn’t fault it.  They also have a coffee loyalty card system there as well – bonus!

I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to go and check it out for breakfast and lunch the next day, so I dragged the husband out for a snack.

We shared a 56 Threads Breakfast ($15) and the pita bread pizza with chorizo ($8).

OMG you must try this pizza out – it was a cheesy, meaty, saucy plate of awesome.

The breakfast was everything it should be – well cooked and runny poached eggs. Oh and the red onion jam – far out loves it sick – all big breakfasts should come with a serve of this.

And don’t think I didn’t take home a freshly cooked almond and apple muffin, a little slice of baklava and a plum jam tartlet – all amazing.

I wish there were more homemade goodies to take home – I bet those chefs out the back have lots of awesome recipes for cakes and slices – or maybe I just came on a day where they were cleaned out of the cakes.

I honestly just love this kind of initiative that supports the neighbourhood – sometimes I feel that I don’t do enough when it comes to being an involved citizen of my new community.

I wish I had more time and money to give.

When I went to pay (by the way, they accept Visa/Mastercard) I had to double check the amount due – after the quick (bad) calculation in my head I could have sworn I needed to pay more.

The guy behind the counter tells me “it’s not all about the money”.

Amen to that!

It was lovely to meet up with you for lunch Kenny, hopefully more of us western suburbs food addicted bloggers can get together again soon!

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Novel Kitchen

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80 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9399 8437

With a 4pm work start, a long ‘n’ lazy newspaper-reading caffeine-fuelled breakfast seems just the ticket.

First stop is a new and groovy-looking joint in Newport Bennie and I had noted the previous weekend.

As I enter, I realise it’s much bigger than it appears from outside. It’s jam-packed and noisy. Intensely so. The communal table in the middle is the domain of a big mum’s group and their offspring.

Erm, no thanks – maybe some other time when it’s not rush hour in Toddlerville.

Next stop is Casa Italica, but I soon depart when I realise they aren’t set up for the kind of brekky of which I am desirous.

So it is that by sheer randomness I find myself just a few doors along at Novel Kitchen.

And what a happy accident it turns out to be.

It’s a cosy but not exactly personality-packed cafe that specialises in organic goodies, more specifically take-home meals. The range of salads – many of them featuring pulses and grains – for $8 seem like a pretty solid deal.

But I have more immediate concerns on my mind.

From the breakfast menu I choose the $12 free range omelette with tomato, spinach and fetta.

It’s a thing of brilliance, with the filling ingredients abundant and in equal portions.

The omelette sits atop a slice of toast, the pair of them matching each other almost precisely in dimensions. Good job!

The fetta superbly adds some bite and tang, as does the tomato relish that sits with some nice rocket leaves on the side.

It’s a such a fine and harmonious package that the bacon I ordered as an extra seems out of place and a needless expense.

Two excellent coffees and a quick whip through one of the Melbourne rags on hand and I’m pretty much done.

Novel Kitchen impresses as a bit of a Willy secret and a tidy alternative to the more frantic and well-known options in the vicinity, regardless of one’s ardour for organic ingredients.

Maybe next time I’ll go for one of the daily soups!

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