Fabulous and fancy @ Ebi

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Ebi Fine Food, 18A Essex St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3300

Consider The Sauce loves Ebi; we adore the place, its charming host, the perfect fish and chips and bentos.

But $120 for a tricked-up degustation men?

Not exactly regular fare for CTS, as regular readers will understand.

How to justify such extravagance?

Birthday prezzie?

A few days out, but what the hey …

Tax return treat?

Having only just got all the required documentation in the one room, I haven’t even really started on this year’s effort yet …

Celebratory outing based on good results in the “scary medical tests” department?

Truth is, tonight’s Ebi event – the first of its kind – is simply too tempting to pass up.

I’m tingling with excitement at seeing John spread his wings with the sort of ritzy food, time – and labour-intensive sauces, and superior and refined ingredients of the kind that rarely come my way.

And I’m looking forward to sharing the experience with what I assume will be a small audience of Ebi regulars/fans and doing so with some classy beer, sake and wine on hand … though I suspect the booze may be wasted on a wine prol such as myself.

I’m expecting food that displays strong influences from both Japan and France – and maybe even Italy.

And so it largely proves to be …

Sharing the bar stools with me are Jake and Kim, on one side, with Daniel and Tom on the other.

 

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The table for two behind us is soon filled, to my happy delight, with CTS pals Justin and Sasha!

Wonderful!

And so it begins …

This is no ordinary degustation bash. For starters, the price is way less than those sought for most of the famed and storied options available elsewhere.

There’s the same paper serviettes as ever.

And John himself acts not just as chef but also waiter, maitre’d, busboy and dishwasher.

Frankly, I’d not be comfortable with a more formal arrangement.

 

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Spherified edamame with sea salt crystals is as out-there as tonight’s fare is to get – John even uses the word “Bulli” in relation to it. It’s a gorgeous, slippery, crunchy mouthful with pronounced edamame flavour served with Koshihikari Echigo rice beer.

 

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Anchovy and parmesan straws are rich, buttery and crumbly, the anchovies supplying just the right kind of salty flavour explosion.

 

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Seared Hokkaido scallops with soy wasabi butter are such a hit – for good reason – that John quickly whips up another round for us!

 

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Grilled, salted salmon belly is profoundly exquisite and served with Osakazuki Junmai Ginjo Sake.

 

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Lobster? CTS? Blimey!

Butter-poached crayfish is a dream, served with a yuzu kosho sauce that exhibits just the right kind of tartness to match the seafood’s sweetness.

John describes the sauce as made with a fruit that is a mix of lemon, lime and orange blended with salt and chilli.

This is served with a just-right Borgo Bello Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie 2012.

 

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We’re about to move into significantly more robust and richer territory …

 

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Duck and porcini kamameshi comes with blackcurrant jus.

Kamameshi turns out to be a sort-of Japanese version of the universal rice dish and is very much like risotto – it’s wonderful, too, as is the juicy duck.

(Served with Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz 1998.)

 

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Ahhh – the best of all!

Wagyu fillet with roast marrow, shallot and herb tartlet comes also with roast beetroot and organic kale.

It’s all terrific, the beef ultra-succulent and the tart pastry so very rich.

Served with Wynns Coonawarra black label Cabernet sauvignon 1997.

 

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And to finish …

Ginger and ume bombe with “plum” ice-cream, sponge and meringue – just my kind of grown-up, not-too-sweet dessert; served with lovely Osakazuki Umeshu (“plum liquor”).

So … has it been worth it?

Yes.

I’ve loved the food, the company, the conversation and the liquid accompaniments.

It’s been a beaut experience!

But we’ll still be loving those bentos and fish and chips …

And, yes, there may be more such events at Ebi.

See earlier stories here and here.

 

Ebi Fine Food on Urbanspoon

 

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When imperfect chips are perfect

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dough2
Dough!, 115 Blackshaws Road, Newport. Phone: 9939 157

Can you remember the first time you consumed a beer-battered chip?

Blowed if I can … I think it may’ve been at a Grill’d outlet.

Since then, of course, beer-battered chips have become ubiquitous.

There’s a very good reason for that – at their best, they are sinfully delicious.

But here’s an interesting wrinkle – John at Dough! reckons that most outfits that serve beer-battered chips are actually serving brought-in products made with re-constituted potato.

In this scenario, your beer-battered chip would seem to bear a similar relationship to a spud that a nugget does to a chook.

I have no reason to doubt John’s assertion, though a quick online search didn’t turn up much.

But it makes sense, doesn’t it?

In any case, at John’s Newport pizza and fish ‘n’ chip emporium, he’s for sure taking another tack.

His chips are peeled – in a tumbler – and cut right there on the premises.

The result is a stark contrast to the crisp and puffy beer-battered chip.

John’s chips are quite easily identifiable as coming from real spuds – there’s dimples and imperfections and a profound degree of spudness.

This is my kind of nostalgia!

 

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With my wonderful chips ($5 and worth every cent), I get blue grenadier ($6.50) and three calamari rings ($2).

Both are lightly battered.

The fish falls apart as I eat it, but I don’t mind. It’s rather delicate and beautifully cooked.

The rings, too, are tender and tasty.

John tells me his business is growing.

He’s in a good spot here – there’s not a lot around by way of good food, though Motorino and Famous Blue Raincoat are a few blocks away.

Still, he must balance what he’d like to do and what is best for the business in terms of satisfying customer demand.

He plans in the next few months, for instance, to start using real ham instead of the processed “pizza ham” variety.

And hooray for that!

But still, on John’s pizza lineup – split between about dozen each of “traditional” and “gourmet” – punters can choose Aussie-style pies heaving with the usual toppings .

Or they can single out more spare offerings in the Italian manner.

 

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On a subsequent visit with Bennie and Che, for instance, Che’s small meat lovers ($9.50) has the aforementioned “pizza ham”, along with salami, chicken and bbq sauce.

It’s definitely Che’s go!

 

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Bennie’s puttanesca ($10) is more continental in terms of its toppings but their quantity is Aussie-style all the way.

He nods with appreciation after a few bites but towards the end of his meal tires somewhat of the saltiness engendered by bacon, olives, capers and anchovies.

 

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My own piccolo diavolo ($10) hits the spot and is – not surprisingly, given my own tastes – the leanest and meanest of our lot.

Hot salami, chilli, red onion, roasted red capsicum and chilli oil make for a light, tasty, spicy lunch.

We like John and his joint, and envy the locals for whom this is becoming a regular.

 

DOUGH! on Urbanspoon

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Hot Fish @ Conways

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Hot Fish @ Conways, 11-21 Wingfield St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3400

Fish and chips and other seafood to eat right away at Conway’s?

Seems so obvious, we’re surprised it’s taken this long to eventuate!

But we’ve taken our time to check out the freshly-cooked fare at the famed seafood outlet near the river.

We’re particularly interested to see how things are shaking in regards to a couple of issues raised by the otherwise warm picture painted by the review at Footscray Food Blog and subsequent Facebook discussions.

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First up, the eat-right-here situation has been well and truly fixed thanks to the addition of four nice long bench tables and equally long seats right outside the Conway’s shop proper and another seating set-up further along under an umbrella.

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Secondly, the chips – about which some misgivings had been voiced.

Our brought-in chips are crunchy, well-cooked and hot.

But, oh, the salt!

I’m a big fan of salt when it comes to F&C, but this level is almost too much for me – and Bennie finds it goes a fair way to spoiling his lunch.

The fish (hake) that comes with our twin Classic Fish & Chip packs ($9) seems a little light-on at first, but proves to be meaty, delicious and filling.

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No surprise our serve of coleslaw ($4.50) is dressed with commercial mayo, but it’s good.

The vegetables are fresh and hand-cut, and we both like the resultant salad a lot.

With its fine, under-cover seating and ease of parking, Hot Fish will certainly be a magnet for those in the greater neighbourhood seeking a fish and chip fix.

But best to request a restrained hand when it comes to the salt shaker!

Hot Fish on Urbanspoon

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REAL old-school in Altona

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Alex Take Away Food, 11 Ford Rd, Altona. Phone: 9398 4267

“If you aren’t paying for a product, you ARE the product.”

Such is the charge often levelled at Facebook

We’re not blind to the creepier aspects of the social media behemoth.

But while keeping them in mind, we find it almost impossible to remain unmoved by the connectedness it can foster.

Take the Altona, I lived there FB page for instance.

In its short life, it has quickly racked up more than 2500 members and become a lively, entertaining focal point for all sorts of stories, photos and reminiscences about Altona.

And it’s how we found out about Alex Take Away Food.

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The address has nothing to do with what most of us non-Altonians think of when we think of Grieve Parade – the freeway exit after the Millers Road one.

Nope, this part of Grieve Parade requires taking the Millers Road exit, heading right down past the refinery, turning right on to Civic Parade and THENĀ  turning right on to suburban – as opposed to industrial – Grieve Parade.

On the early week night we visit, the place is mad busy.

There’s a heap of customers in-house and there seems to be just as many phone orders coming in.

Everyone but us is a regular. We feel like strangers gatecrashing an intimate gathering of friends and families.

Certainly, the pace is sufficiently frantic to preclude any chit chat and inquiries about just how long this community asset has been doing business right here.

But judging by the funky decor, I’m guessing at least since some time in the 1970s.

We’re in no hurry though, so happily enjoy the vibe until our order is taken.

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There are zero tables or chairs, inside or out.

And unlike almost all the other customers, we can’t simply whisk our goodies home – and even the beach, while reasonably close by, seems a stretch that will ruin our dinner.

So we prop on the footpath right outside the shop, get stuck in and make small talk with some local youngsters while we’re at it.

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Bennie loves his “with the lot” ($7.50).

He’s enough of a burger maven to understand and appreciate that there’s a difference between more American-style burgers and the Aussie variety – and that there’s a time and a place for both.

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My calamari rings ($1) are the of the surimi variety and just OK.

My deep-fried snapper ($7.50) is much better and a real classy piece of work.

The batter is crisp and deep brown, and adheres to the fish pretty good.

The snapper itself is a huge chunk of seafood and has juicy depth of the sort we’ve rarely encountered.

Our chips orders ($4) got lost in the hubbub somewhere, so we end up with some that appear to have been sitting for a while – they’re barely warm and a bit leathery.

But as we saw heaps of chips of what appeared to be excellent quality and appearance be prepared as we waited for our food, we wouldn’t let this minor lapse deter us from returning to this amazing and obviously much-loved neighbourhood joint.

Alex Take Away Food on Urbanspoon

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Old-school F&C

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CK’s Cafe and Chippery, 253A Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 4560

The stretch of Barkly Street up towards Victoria Street remains unreconstructed Footscray and is not, it appears, perceived in any way as a food precinct.

Yet while the area is changing in terms of apartments and the like, it already teems with eating activity.

The options range from the new-look Plough Hotel and a couple of famous old-school Chinese places to Lentil As Anything, a growing number of African establishments, a (mostly) late-night pizza joint, a Nanado’s and a pair of cafes.

Chris, the “C” of CK – the other letter is a bloke named Ken – tells us he’s even heard the short-lived Italian buffet-style place across the road from his new cafe is scheduled for a fresh incarnation.

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It could be that the guys’ cafe and chippery may find a handy niche for itself in this mixed environment.

As Chris points out, the area is a lot more residential than it appears from street level.

What they’re offering is a nothing-fancy range of fast-food.

In terms of fish and chips, it would be unfair to compare with the polish of, say, Ebi – but being situated between that Essex Street place and the new food-to-eat-right-away outing at Conway’s, and offering an alternative to what’s around in their immediate vicinity, may do them right.

Certainly we have only the most minor of quibbles regarding a two-man meal that costs us only small change over $15.

(Conway’s, BTW, is where CK’s is sourcing their fish …)

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My blue grenadier ($5) looks a little lonely presented alone but tastes fine. The batter is relatively ungreasy but does come away from the fish.

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Bennie’s burger with the lot ($6.50) appears rather unimpressive when first brought to table, but the boy likes it a lot – as you can see from the photograph, the patty is significantly more beefy than is often found in such places and at such prices.

As he says, it ain’t the Grill’d of which he’s so fond, but it IS less than half the price.

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The chips ($3) are the standout of our meal – lots of ‘em, hot, crisp, perfectly cooked.

We’ve even been given a choice of regular or chicken salt.

Chris charges us $2 rather than the listed $3.50 for the coleslaw he’s quickly whipped up for us on account of he thinks it’s rather on the mean side size-wise.

I carelessly neglect to take a picture of it, but it impresses – freshly made cabbage and carrot with just the right, restrained amount of commercial mayo.

Meaning it’s a little on the sticky side – as opposed to the mayo/cabbage soup we are often served elsewhere!

CK's Cafe and Chippery on Urbanspoon

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Book ends for an Indiana Jones marathon

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indi6

Hooked, 172 Chapel St, Windsor. Phone: 9529 1075

Supper Inn, 15 Celestial Ave, Melbourne. Phone: 9663 4759

It’s halfway through the school holidays, it’s grand final day and we’re feeling exuberant and a little bit mad.

We’d sort of planned on watching almost all of the footy before hitting the road to St Kilda and the Astor Theatre for a 5pm start.

But we find the whole thing so pitifully boring, so we head out heaps early.

And, naturally enough, there’s little traffic to speak of, so we have plenty of time to wander down Chapel St eyeballing a vibrant part of town we rarely visit these days.

The bonus time factor likewise settles the dilemma of whether to eat before or after our three-movie marathon.

We finally settle on the specialist and classy Hooked fish and chippery, of which there is also a branch in Fitzroy. I’ve eaten here before, but Bennie hasn’t.

We’re expecting excellence of the same kind we regularly experience at Ebi in West Footscray.

That’s what we get, too, though at first we are somewhat taken aback at what seems like rather tight-fisted serves of both our fishy protagonists and chips.

But once we remind ourselves that we’re having the daily lunch box special for $10.95 with salad extra for $2, we devour our early dinners with much enjoyment and consider them good value.

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Bennie’s crumbed calamari is right up there with best I’ve had – grease-free, both fresh and nicely chewy, beautifully seasoned.

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My two pieces of blue grenadier are more substantial than they appear, deliciously tender and superbly cooked.

In both our cases, the chips are very fine and the Asian-influenced salad with pickled ginger does OK – so actually is way better than the usual salad components found at fish and chip joints.

The most lovely surprise of our meal comes in the form of a punnet of one of the sauces available for 95 cents.

“Sambol” is unlike anything sambol we’ve ever experienced before.

It’s actually far more like the sort of oiled and gingery mash usually served with Hainan chicken rice.

With deep-fried seafood and potatoes?

It really works!

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Booking a couple of tickets for the Astor’s Indiana Jones marathon was inspired by examination earlier in the week of the lacklustre school holiday movie fare on offer.

It’s a winning move and we have a ball.

We see three cracking good flicks for $20 in a gorgeous old theatre, sharing the experience with a happy, slightly geeky crowd that claps and cheers before and after each movie, during the more preposterous scenes and at some of the more crack-up lines.

There’s at least half a dozen cats dressed up as Indi, and one group with an Esky stuffed with food.

During the first interval, we see one bloke tucking into a can of Jim Beam & Coke AND a mighty slice of chocolate cake. At the next break, we spy the same dude wielding a packet of Malteasers.

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We’d seen Raiders Of The Lost Ark at the same venue about a year before, so it holds little surprise for us.

I haven’t seen the next two since the time of their original releases and have little recall of the storylines, so lap them up with glee.

Temple Of Doom seems to suffer, to my mind, from a lack of exotic locations.

From a foodie point of view, however, it does boast a couple of brilliant barbecue scenes.

The Last Crusade is more upbeat, goofy and rollicking, with Sean Connery a real cool addition.

Across the three movies, we spy two stunts that have received the Mythbusters treatment, though there may well have been others.

Given the slightly late start and the breaks between flicks, it’s after midnight before it’s all over, so the early dinner has turned out to be just the right move.

But now, of course, we’re up for supper. Bennie wants to have his first ever crack at congee, so off we go down St Kilda Rd and into the CBD, where we find a park easily.

Supper Inn is a late-night Melbourne institution, though my one meal here was so long ago as to leave me completely bereft of any detailed recollection.

No matter – it seems like the perfect place to continue what has already been an awesome day in the life of Consider The Sauce.

The restaurant is bustling and doing brisk business. The dowdy decor doubtless hasn’t changed in decades.

Most of the punters do as we do and roll their eyes and grimace as a series of rowdy (drunk) Hawthorn fans periodically spark up with tuneless renditions of their club’s theme song.

Footy club theme songs being perhaps even more loathed in our home than the dreaded Christian Music …

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I’m knocked out and proud as all get out that Bennie’s wanting to try congee for the first time – and that he orders the preserved duck egg with pork rendition ($7.50).

Even better, he slurps the lot up with glee. It tastes pretty good to me, too!

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By comparison, my rice noodle soup with roast pork is a dud.

I appreciate the wealth of bok choy and the pork is equally plentiful, on the sweetish side and rather good and meaty.

But overall, my supper is bland – and, at $16, it’s at least $5 more pricey than we’d normally expect to pay for such a dish.

Should there be another late-night out for us – and on the basis of this one, it appears that is certain be the case – we’ll likely head for another late-night joint, China Bar, around the corner.

There, should we wish to do so, we’ll be able to have a better quality version of the same soup noodle dish at a more modest price, and probably better food overall – or at least more in line with our tastes.

Still, we’ve fully experienced two grand Melbourne traditions in a single day – a movie marathon at the Astor and a post-midnight feed at the Supper Inn.

Happy sighs punctuate our drive home.

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Supper Inn on Urbanspoon

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When a place goes bad – or at least a little off – do you want to know? No matter the cost and consequences?

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On Sunday night, Bennie and I visited an old favourite we hadn’t checked out for a while.

We’d heard there were new owners running the place.

Indeed, about the time this joint was on the market, our previous post on it received quite few visitors. Prospective buyers doing their research?

Would the food in particular and the experience as a whole be of the same excellent standard as previously?

Yes, there was a new crew running the place – and doing a grand job of it.

The service was tip-top, the smiles wides, with walk-ins being treated to the same standard of friendliness as the many phone-ins.

The phone barely stopped ringing the whole time we were in the house.

The food?

Well, on the one hand what we got was all anyone could rightfully expect of a pair of $5 burgers, bacon $1 extra, small serve of chips for $3.

But on the other hand, the chips were dull and quite a few of them were barely lukewarm.

The burgers seemed equally drab and a mite miserly, with the patties those cheapy kind that when cooked have texture and taste closer to meatloaf than a beefy burger.

It was an average meal but typical of the kind you’d expect from such an establishment. But it was notably less impressive than those we’d been served by the previous owners.

Were this a bigger business or a trendy one with plenty of supporters and fans and potential defenders, I’d be up for an explicit and honest review.

But … this is a lovely little “mom and pop” operation.

And as it stands – today, right now – I’m feeling squeamish about laying it all out. As well, it could be that other aspects of the food available – such as fish and chips – remain excellent.

So, dear readers, the question is: Do you want to know – no matter what, and no matter the cost and consequences, potentially quite damaging, to the businesses involved in such cases?

(To those of you really curious and who take the time to email me, I’ll spill the beans!)