CTS Feast No.4: Slurp!

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Pho House, 318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

It’s a thrill to contemplate that with the successful completion of the fourth Consider The Sauce Feast, a tradition has been established.

Long may it continue!

The fourth gathering took place at what has already become a favourite of ours.

Pho House adds just the right Vietnamese touch to Racecourse Road in Flemington, rounding out one of Melbourne’s best foodie strips.

So much quality and fun is such a small package!

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CTS Feat No.4 had some familiar faces from earlier escapades – namely Alistair and Michelle and their gorgeous daughter; and Charles, who brought along his daughter, Celina.

I was very excited to meet Pauline, a regular commenter on CTS with whom I enjoyed discussing Yarraville shopping and how to get kids to eat interesting, Pauline was accompanied by her pal, Sarah.

Also seated at our bubbly table was Jill from Spice Bazaar and her friend Angela.

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We were joined by a former colleague of mine, Corrina, and her partner Dave. So cool to have such a good mate from my previous life make an appearance!

Last but not least, we also enjoyed the company of my favourite food blogger in the whole world (other than myself) and Westies co-conspirator, Lauren of Footscray Food Blog.

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We started with samples of real nice and freshly made spring rolls and rice paper rolls before moving on to the soup dishes.

For the mains, everyone went the bowl route, with no one choosing the rice plate options.

Save for two customers, we all went for pho of various kinds involving a wide variety of beef.

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My own plain rare beef small was just fine.

There was much happy slurping done.

Pauline and Sarah went for the seafood curry laksa, which has a rather lovely story behind it.

When I had earlier asked Talina why she had laksa on the menu, she told me it was actually a carry-over from the previous inhabitants of the premises, the much-loved Vy Vy.

So another tradition continues!

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The girls enjoyed their laksa very much, and having dug it myself several times in recent weeks I can vouch for its excellence.

It’s mildly spiced and very creamy, but it’s the seafood that is the biz.

Apart from a plethora of surimi such as fish balls and fish cake, Talina’s laksa has fresh fish, a not very common laksa occurrence, and fat, bursty prawns that are very high on prawn flavour – also not a very common laksa occurrence.

Thanks to our Consider The Sauce friends for the company and thanks to Talina and her staff for taking care of us on what was an already busy night, even without us taking up so much space!

PS: Alistair, I can insert a close-up photo of the top of your noggin if you so desire.

See previous review here; the Pho House Facebook page is here.

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Consider The Sauce Feast No.4: Pho House,

318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

Wednesday, Janurary 29, from 7pm.

Menu:

Assorted Pho House entrees and snacks.

Choice of pho, laksa or rice dish.

Soft drinks.

Pho House on Urbanspoon

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CTS Feast No.4: Pho House

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NOTE: THIS FEAST IS NOW FULLY SUBSCRIBED! NO MORE APPLICATIONS, THANKS!

Meet Talina!

She’s the boss lady at Pho House, the lovely joint that is adding even more diversity to Racecourse Road in Flemington.

You’ll be unsurprised to learn, given the name of her restuarant, that she is proud of her pho.

Very proud.

And she wants CTS readers to try it!

So in conjunction with Consider The Sauce, Talina and her Pho House crew will host the fourth Consider The Sauce Feast.

Talina really, really does want you to try her pho.

But, OK, if you insist, the lucky punters who gain feast seats can opt for a laksa or rice dish.

As well, there will assorted Pho House entrees and soft drinks.

If you fancy a beer or wine, you will be expected to pay for them yourself.

Pretty much the same ground rules as applied for previous CTS Feasts …

  • No restrictions this time around on those who have attended previous CTS dinners.  
  • First in, first served.
  • There are 10 places only available.
  • Fellow food bloggers welcome to apply but they will not be given preference.
  • No more than two places to be claimed by any applicant, though “singles” will also be accepted.
  • There will be no charge for food or soft drinks, but guests will be expected to pay for their own alcohol.
  • Applications only to the email address posted elsewhere on this site. Attempts to gain a seat by commenting on this post will be ignored.

Consider The Sauce Feast No.4: Pho House,

318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

Wednesday, Janurary 29, from 7pm.

Menu:

Assorted Pho House entrees and snacks.

Choice of pho, laksa or rice dish.

Soft drinks.

****

See earlier story here and the Pho House Facebook page here.

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Wayo wow in Flemo

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Wayo Japanese Dining, 286 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 5484

Ahh, 286 Racecourse Road …

For many years it was the site of this site’s preferred charcoal chicken shop.

Its products were not in any way different or better than those of most similar places.

But when the mood for such trashy food was upon us, we always received a warm welcome there.

And they served their in-house food on real plates with real cutlery.

But now it’s the home of a chic new Japanese eatery.

It looks good, and we enjoy the service and the promptness with which our food is delivered to us.

And on the basis of our first lunch there, we reckon that if Wayo was situated in, say, the CBD, Fitzroy or Prahran, the queues would already be forming.

There’s a few sushi rolls in the display cabinet, but mostly the menu sticks to some basic yet enticing bowls and grills.

The entree list numbers 12 – order all or most of them and you’d have a mighty spread of Japanese-style tapas for a table of four or so punters.

From that list we choose charcoal grilled vegetables (large serve, $13.50) as a shared starter.

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The vegetables – wonderfully including fennel – are beautifully cooked, taste as good and go great with the dark, lusty sesame sauce.

The only quibble we have is with what seems to be a rather steep price.

Bennie chooses a simple bowl of curry with rice ($10; the same meal is available with chicken cutlet for $14).

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The lad is a little underwhlemed.

He reckons the beef quotient is neither here nor there.

But it tastes good to me, the gravy being a rich brown, deep of flavour and – of course – of only mild spiciness.

Maybe he’s outright envious of his dad’s meal.

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Charcoal grilled chicken ($13) with yakiniku BBQ sauce is a delight.

The miso soup appears as if it may be quite a class above that served in most cheap Japanese places, stuffed as it is with onion chunks and more.

But we both find it a tad flavourless.

I suspect this style of miso soup is supposed to look and taste just as we have been provided, but we miss that miso tang nevertheless.

The thigh pieces are much better – only lightly grilled, they boast splendid chook flavour.

That flavour is quite subtle, though, so I may have been better off choosing one of the other, less robust sauces available.

Quite apart from our meals and experience in general, it’s the attention to detail at Wayo that really impresses.

It would be easy to bluntly dismiss, for instance, my serve of potato salad as just a pile cold mashed spud.

But that would be to ignore the skill with which the potato has been cooked and dressed to be fully tender yet maintain such a wonderful, grainy texture.

Likewise with the green salad provided with both our meals – the ingredients are super fresh, well-balanced and dressed with a delicacy seldom seen in such contexts.

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We like, too, the rustic wooden tables.

Blogger note of appreciation: They are non-reflective!

Even the handsome wooden chop sticks and soup spoons add their own touch of joy and class to the Wayo experience.

We suggest the Wayo crew might want to place a sign somewhere that says something along the lines of:

“1. Please order at counter.

 2. Please pay when ordering.

 3. Cash only.

 4. Thank you!”

That way any potential confusion, embarrassment or disappointment may be avoided!

Even with the minor caveats expressed above, we are very eager to return.

Wayo Japanese Dining on Urbanspoon

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Bits and pieces

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So how’s this for an eye-grabbing sign in Racecourse Road, Flemington?

Nope, can’t say I have … tried camel meat, that is.

Right next door, in the Grand Tofu, I ask Suzanne if she has.

Nope.

In fact, she seems surprised there is even such a sign gracing the halal butcher shop right next door.

What the Grand Tofu, Suzanne, Stephen and their crew do do is serve up a sperb chicken laksa.

Look, I’m quite fond of the two more famous Malaysian eateries just around the corner.

But I don’t like queues and they’re always so busy.

The Grand Tofu is frequently busy, too – but the staff always find time for a bit of a chat or at the very least a warm welcome.

Which can’t always be said of the competition.

And then there’s that chicken laksa (oh my!) – and much more besides.

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Providorable is lovely foodie haven in Williamstown – you can read about it here.

Providorable proprietor Kelly recently posted the following on her business’s Fcebook page:

“Good morning everyone, I’m feeling this morning I need to write this post. I think a lot of the local shop keepers this week would say that things are looking brighter for Xmas sales after a very quiet winter. I urge everyone to support local business. Supermarkets are trying to shut down small business, this is where you get the personal service with product knowledge, not in a supermarket. Also, WHY have the council allowed two farmers markets per month in Willy? Do you realise that now there are two it takes business away from your local shops that are the ones that pay the rates & rents to make strip shopping be still available? Have you questioned any of the stall holders at farmers markets about where some of their products come from? There are genuine items being sold but some are not from their own farms being sold direct to public. Yeah, have one a month but why 2 every two weeks … you go and buy fruit and veg, it affects your local fruit shop, same as butcher, dog treats, coffee shop, jams and relishes etc etc. PLEASE SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS. By this market being there every two weeks, you are supporting outsiders who don’t pay the huge rents and rates we pay. OK rant over lol and enjoy your day. Williamstown has wonderful shops and fantastic shopkeepers. Keep us all in willy for years to come please.”

What do you think?

We’re quite fond of visiting farmers markets.

But in truth we rarely buy more than a coffee and maybe a snag or other eat-on-the-spot treat.

Fruit, vegetables and other produce?

Hardly ever.

But we do enthusiastically support and enjoy the hell out of our local shops and delis, be they in Williamstown, Altona, Seddon, Footscray, Sunshine or beyond.

Handy addition to Racecourse Rd

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Pho House, 318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

Flemington’s Racecourse Road is one of our favourite haunts.

One thing it did lack until very recently was a straight-up hardcore pho place.

Which probably accounts for Pho House being ultra-packed on the couple of times I’ve ambled past in the week or so since it opened.

No such problems early into a Saturday lunch session, with plenty of tables to spare.

Pho House is all regulation, though the dark-stained wooden chairs and the decor in general give the place a classy feel.

The orange-polo-shirted staff are plentiful, happy and on the ball.

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They do a few things differently  here, however.

For instance, rice paper rolls come in pairs for $5. As well, the “side dishes” portion of the menu has some dumpling entries, spicy salt calamari and even beef stew with bread rolls – all far from your standard pho joint repertoire.

They’re even doing laksas, though not on the day I visit.

One novel twist of which I heartily approve is the use of big metal spoons in the Asian style instead of the usual stainless-steel tablespoons.

Extra good for robust slurping!

Another point of difference – the pho varieties come in only two sizes, regular and large.

Being of substantial appetite, I order the large beef/chicken combination ($11.50), not caring much one way or the other if I will be getting my orthodox order of sliced beef/sliced chicken or something more elaborate.

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What I do get is a sort of compromise.

The chicken is all of the simple, sliced variety, but joining the really super rare slices of beef are some tendon, beef ball segments, sausage and even a couple of hard-boiled chicken eggs.

The broth is of strong flavour and blessedly unsweet.

It’s all really, really top-shelf stuff, making for a very fine pho experience.

I’ve been enjoying my lunch and the new Stephen King book so much that it’s only upon departing that it finally dawns on me that this handy addition to the Racecourse Road scene has come with a subtraction.

The premises that Pho House inhabits was formerly the home of that long-standing and much-liked veteran Vy Vy.

I wonder what’s happened to Tiffany and her family?

Pho House 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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Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen

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Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen, 311 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Phone: 9372 5218

Entering Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen for a Sunday feast, we wonder why it’s taken so long for us to visit.

After all, this establishment has been around for a while now and, heck, we’ve tried just about every other eatery in the Racecourse Rd/Pin Oak Crescent vicinity.

No matter – we’re in the house now and up for dumplings and whatever else may eventuate.

In the days before Consider The Sauce, these premises were actually a regular for us in the form of a pretty good Malaysian/Chinese place called The Big Chopstix, which was followed by another rather nondescript Chinese joint and then (as far as I know) by the current Szechuan emporium.

The new look for the new business is rather wonderful, with all the bits and pieces finding a harmony that is unusual for this neighbourhood and the kinds of places we gravitate towards in general.

Lovely, heavy wooden tables of the rustic variety, overtly plump chairs, wall coverings and table adornments all work together.

We are handed two menus – one is a lavish affair with stacks of great photos of a dizzying array of dishes; the other is a more rudimentary single page of noodles, rice dishes, dumplings and a few others bits and pieces.

Reading the main menu is a drool-inducing experience.

There’s a lot of food here that we will find a little challenging on future visits – there’s a lot of offal, for starters.

But there’s also a lot of amazing looking dishes featuring ingredients we are more familiar with done in ways we’ve never before encountered – even in our previous experiences with Szechuan food, as limited as that is.

But on the basis of the two simple dishes we order for our lunch, future visits will definitely happen, and soon at that – they are truly fantastic.

We split our order, after conferring with the friendly waitress, between the two menus.

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Pan-fired chicken and prawn dumplings ($8.80) are superb – and illustrate vividly the folly we quite often commit by ordering dumplings of various sorts at places that don’t specialise in them.

These are a cut above the rest.

The upper pastry is soft and unchewy, the bottoms agreeably crunchy and the fillings – with the chicken meat stuffed into the inner curve of the prawn meat – of high and delicious quality, perfumed with just the right amount of ginger.

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Our second dish comes from the main menu – smoked pork spare ribs ($18.80).

It’s mind-blowingly good.

The meat comes away from the bones easily and is wonderfully tender. There are a few stray, tiny and dangerous bone pieces, though, for those looking to protect their dental investment.

Just as good as the ribs themselves is the accompanying mix of chillies slices, crushed and whole peanuts, green onion slices and no doubt a whole lot more.

This is quite similar to the spice mix we often get when ordering spicy chicken ribs elsewhere, but this is better – deeper, richer, more complex.

In her review, Ms Baklover says a lot of the food here is covered in a chilli-and-cumin blend, so that could be what’s at play here as well.

In any case, it’s all superb, with a quite high level of heat that is of the wonderful slow burn variety.

Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen – what took us so long?

Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Bulsho Cafe

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Bulsho Cafe, 303 Racecourse Road,  Kensington. Phone: 9372 3557

In this case, the food and – presumably – the clientele is Somalian.

But individual differences and quirks aside, Bulsho Cafe could be Italian.

Or Polish or Croatian or Chinese or other African or Turkish or Vietnamese.

In its own way, it epitomises what I think of as “working men’s cafes”.

Or, more accurately, community hubs, hang-out joints and coffee stops for men, whether they be working or not.

You’ll rarely see women in such places.

You’ll rarely see them blogged or on Urbanspoon, either.

If they serve food – and it’s a big if – there’ll likely be no printed menu; just a hand-scrawled list, if that.

You’re mostly required to ask.

Such places can be quite daunting, but I’ve found often enough that perseverance and friendly inquiries can lead to fine food done dirt cheap and served with a welcoming smile.

My Sunday lunchtime experience at Bulsho, right next door to Flemington Kebab House, mirrors those experiences – and I’m eventually glad I hang in there.

Upon I entering, I see just a single customer, who is eventually joined by a mate, and no staff anywhere.

I hear sounds of activity emanating from the rear of the premises, but there’s no bell or other way of alerting the staff to the presence of willing customer.

I wait a few minutes and a few minutes more before deciding to split. That’s the way it goes at these sorts of places sometimes.

But as I am in the process of departing, I actually cop an eyeful of what the solitary customer is eating.

“Gosh,” methinks. “That looks good.”

So good, in fact, that I summon up some more perseverance by directing a robust, “Hello!” to the so-far unseen staff.

I am rewarded by a smiling young chap who is only happy to help ease my lunchtime fervour.

From there the process is easy …

“I want what he’s having,” I declare, gesturing towards the other customer.

It’s lamb curry with rice ($13).

Except, it’s not a curry at all. Or not in the way it’s generally understood.

Instead, it’s a lamb pieces on the bone – mostly shank, I think – in a clear broth of the same fashion as served by Safari in Ascot Vale or Ras Dashen in Footscray.

If the soup isn’t quite of the same spicy, piquant succulence as found in those two fine establishments, it’s good enough nonetheless.

Somewhat unexpectedly, given the nature of the meal and my previous experiences with similar feeds, the meat itself is quite different from the fall-from-the-bone kind I am expecting.

The meat is pleasantly chewy, comes from the bones easily enough with just a little effort and is ace in its own way. And there’s plenty of it.

A small pot of mild curry gravy is brought to my table after the rest of my meal, lubricating things nicely.

But the monarch of my meal is the plentiful rice – done in a way I am familiar with from other Somalian eateries, but here strongly perfumed with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.

Not for the first time, I have been handed a lesson – that good food in the west can sometimes require a bit more chutzpah than merely walking in, grabbing a  menu and ordering.

And I think that’s a fine thing.

I would really love to hear other food hounds’ experiences – good, bad, indifferent, puzzling, frustrating, whatever – at such places as Bulsho.

There’s plenty of them, that’s for sure.

Yet they’re a part of our cultural and food landscape that goes largely unremarked.

As for women being rarely seen in them, I reckon that’s just an entrenched tradition – one I’d like to think is not based on any religious or cultural dogmas or taboos, such is the surprised delight I’ve invariably come across whenever I’ve chosen to make the effort.

Bulsho Cafe on Urbanspoon

Vy Vy

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Vy Vy, 318 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.

The exterior signage says: “Vietnamese, Chinese & Malaysian Cuisine.”

But the internal furniture and fittings give the game – if that’s what it is – away.

This is a Flemington favourite with a Chinese lineage that attempts dishes from other Asian traditions.

And mostly, we’ve found over the years, it does an excellent job – so much so that for us and many regulars, it is preferable for Malaysian food to its far more lauded neighbours around the corner in Pin Oak Crescent or just up the road, or even right next door.

Oddly, for this mid-week dinner, that proves not to be the case – what we get are good plates and bowls that are nonetheless full of food that is only loosely Malaysian as filtered through a Chinese kitchen.

But tonight we care not a whit for authenticity.

It’s cold, we’re hungry, football practice has been long of duration.

Even more auspiciously, just as we’re about to order, a supreme example of humanity enters the restaurant to hand me the $20 note I’d left dangling out of the ATM across the road.

We salute you, Sir!

Our shared lobak ($5) has none of the usual vegetable texture from the likes of carrot.

This is just about all pork of a sublimely chewy kind and, as always, we love the crunchy, crispy tofu outer.

This is a very meaty entree!

Bennie is absolutely adamant – in the face of advice based on infinite wisdom from his dad – that he wants to order the satay fried beef noodles.

Thankfully, our bubbly waitress, Tiffany, talks him out of such a course on the basis of high levels of spiciness.

Instead, he gets hokkien fried noodles ($11.50), which goes down a treat – its array protein keeps the lad happy, while the profusion of greenery mollifies his father.

He rates it a high 8.5 out of 10, but it’s very much a toned-down version of the Malaysian hokkien mee – less dark, less lusty, just less.

Much the same could be said of my beef curry with noodles ($10).

The menu describes the curry as “rendang”, and such has been the case on previous visits.

But not this time – there’s no coconut to speak of and the gravy is soup, and a pretty runny one at that.

The meat is good, but a little on the fatty/gristly side. And I wish I’d gotten hokkien noodles instead of the rather dreary egg noodles I get.

But – surprisingly – the dish as a whole kicks goals.

I love the high chilli levels and plentiful amount of bok choy.

Certainly a curry bowl in which the sum is greater than the parts.

We’ve been here too often to be even slightly deterred by an oddly “un”-Malaysian experience.

As she shows us before and after photographs of her splendid work as a make-up artist, Tiffany tells us that the family business was one of the very first Racecourse Rd eateries.

They’ve been in the current premises for more than 10 years and before that inhabited the building a couple of doors down that still houses Chop Chop and a few others.

Besides, sometimes there’s an awful lot to be said for formica, tiles, smiles and equine artwork.

Vy Vy on Urbanspoon

The Grand Tofu … again

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Fried squid tentacles ($6.80) at The Grand Tofu.

The Grand Tofu, 314 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Phone: 9376 0168

It’s been a pleasure attending the first rugby practice for the new season.

Bennie has dug being with his teammates again and running the drills.

The location – Footscray Park below Victoria University – lends itself to heading in various directions for a quick feed before heading home.

Bennie favours Ebi, but I persuade him Flemington is the go by mentioning that friends have tipped us that the fried squid tentacles at The Grand Tofu are hot.

After our recent and first post from there, I have been a little surprised and also gratified to learn – from comments left, other reviews and the tentacle recommendation from two former work colleagues whose family always has a firm grasp of the Flemo eateries – The Grand Tofu is widely regarded as a beaut spot that is more than holding its own with the famous alternatives around the corner in Pin Oak Crescent.

We’re happy to pursue the matter further.

After parking, we pass one of the few non-Asian eateries in the area.

We find it impossible not to glance at the dips combo an inner-city hipster with a Hitler moustache is eating at a window table.

He glares at us.

Much to my surprise, Bennie is largely unmoved by the tentacles – but his dad loves them.

The batter is unoily, crunchy and beautifully seasoned; the tentacles themselves are right on the good side of the chewiness concept.

Beware though – this a big serving, much bigger than it looks in real life or in the photo above.

Really, Bennie and I could share these and a single bowl of noodles for a perfectly filling meal.

Bennie goes for the yong tofu – six pieces, noodles, soup for $10 – his first experience with this particular eating experience.

He rejects the combos available and chooses his own – no surprise he steers strongly towards the meatier dumplings and away from the stuffed vegetables.

At first, this kind of meal seems just right for the lad – hey, it’s just like yum cha for one, right?

But he tires of it quickly and even leaves a couple of the dumplings uneaten. A case of too much of a good thing, perhaps?

His dad chooses the Penang king prawn noodle soup ($12.80).

This is good and a huge serve, but it strikes me as a tad uninspired.

The broth is suitably prawny, though the two fat beasties themselves are a on the doughy side.

Given the price, though, I suspect there are plenty of Grand Tofu dishes that’ll be more to my liking on future visits, while Bennie will definitely want the BBQ pork dry noodle next time around.

We’ve tried too hard, but that lessens not our affection for this establishment.

Bennie’s experience with oysters is minimal but his eyes glitter as spectacular, fiery serves of flaming lemon grass oysters are carried to adjacent tables.

And perhaps this’ll be the place to come when we feel like splashing out on chilli mud crab.

Returning to our wheels, we notice that the inner-city hipster with the Hitler moustache is talking to a lady friend at an outside table.

And having just about as much fun.

The Grand Tofu 3 on Urbanspoon

The Grand Tofu

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Yong tofu goodies at the Grand Tofu in Flemington.

The Grand Tofu, 314 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Phone: 9376 0168

A more recent review can be found here.

Restaurant experience or eat-and-run?

That’s what hungry hordes descending on Flemington may ponder, particularly if they find full-to-overflowing the fabled Laksa King and the already storied Chef Lagenda, both just around the corner, but still desire Malaysian food.

They’re likely to find themselves entering The Grand Tofu, being well fed in a beaut joint and deciding that Plan C is the preferred option after all.

I suspect that’ll certainly be the case with us.

At Laksa King, in particular, they try to do the right thing by having a staff member you to your table, issuing menus, returning to take your order – the whole nine yards, which is fine really.

But, honestly, sometimes all I want is a bowl of something. Now.

Actually, describing The Grand Tofu as an eat-and-run place is a little unkind as the routine is pretty much the same – but there’s an ease and immediacy about it that I dig..

Sure, there’s a wall of those photos and a robust lunchtime crowd that appears to agree with my positive assessment.

The place is kitted out with nice dark-stain furniture, mirrors and hand-written specials notifications on paper.

But the smiling service is every bit as obliging and efficient as that of their two famous neighbours, the prices appear to near-identical and The Grand Tofu appears to have all their bases covered … and more.

For there’s a lot to try here.

As well as lobak on the entree menu, they have dumplings and entree-size soups of four denominations for about $4.50

As well as all the expected noodle, rice, soup and curry offerings, there’s the likes of Penang king prawn noodle soup ($12.80) and even butter chicken ($16.80) – described as deep-fried chicken w/ chef special sauce”.

Gosh – what’s that all about, I wonder? Indo-Malaysian?

Yong tofu with curry sauce base at The Grad Tofu in Flemington.

And then there’s the yong tofu lineup, which I choose to constitute my lunch in honour of the place’s name.

The glistening, glowing spread is all made in-house, I am assured.

You can go with one of three pre-chosen combos of six pieces each to go with your stock, curry or tom yum soup and noodles.

Or you can be real daring and go custom-built.

Both versions cost a fine $10.

Which is what do by ordering lightly fried pork and seafood ball, seafood stuffed eggplant, chicken dumpling, prawn dumpling, stuffed chilli and chicken-stuffed doughnut with curry soup and rice noodles.

As you can see, I erred on the side of naughtiness in ordering, but I doubt the vegetable options here are any more healthy than the meat or seafood alternatives.

In any case, they’re all good.

The dumplings all have a nice sogginess going on by  the time I get to them.

I leave the eggplant until last, only to find it’s cooked wonderfully in the soup and is slippery slithery delicious.

The curry soup is no great shakes, but I’m heartened by finding a curry leaf, which I hope denotes it’s a house-made brew.

Besides, I get a nice kick from the stuffed chilli, which is both spicy and juicy.

The rice noodles are a nice alternative to the egg noodles I usually have with this sort of fare.

This a big meal – I don’t finish the noodles or soup.

I’m dead keen to return here with Bennie in tow – I like their style.

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Flemington Kebab House

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301 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Phone: 9376 2767

This Flemington institution didn’t get a write-up in the whiz-bang new book on Melbourne kebab shops, but it certainly would’ve been a worthy inclusion.

It’s never been at the top-tier of our choices for such food, as there are options closer to home.

As well,  the last time Bennie stuck our noses in the door the prices had crept up, and the previous dad-only visit had left me feeling a little shortchanged in terms of quantity.

So it is with much interest and a little wariness that I enter for a midweek dinner.

The place has had some simple renovations done. It’s homely. Tiles, photos of Turkey – the pics tug at my heart. From what I’ve gathered over the years, Turkey is right at that the top of the list of countries worth visiting for foodie reasons as well as friendly people and drop-dead gorgeous scenery.

As my dinner ritual unfolds, I relax in the knowledge that the previous disappointment can be written of as little more than a blip.

This kebab joint is at the top of its game and my meal is excellent.

A kebab wrap will cost you $9.50 here.

Meal platters range from non-meat for $13 up to mixed grill for $21.

My spread of lamb from the spit, two salads, two dips, rice and bread clocks in at $15.50.

There’s only one size, which is a bit of a blow – my plate could feed dad AND son.

The meat is tender, perhaps not crusty and crunchy enough, but light on the fattiness.

The chilli dip is of a pleasant spiciness, fine and fresh and tangy, and goes fantastic dab by dab with the meat.

The babaghanous lacks the smokiness that tends to come with coarser versions, but its smoothness is full of lemony, garlicky tang.

The rice is good, the salad of lettuce, cabbage, carrot and so on nice and crisp.

The other salad – of red capsicum, leaves, olives and even a couple of cubes of fetta cheese – seems a little excess to requirements.

I envy Flemington residents having this place ready as a groovy go-to option to the many Asian eateries surrounding it.

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Chef Lagenda revisted

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16 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington. Phone: 9376 2668

Since out earlier visits to Chef Lagenda and its cheek-by-jowl neighbour Laksa King, our incessant orbiting has found us looking elsewhere for our jollies.

In the meantime, it’s been a bunch of fun reading myriad comments about both – comparing them, weighing up the various pluses and minuses, sometimes opining that one is superior to the other and even pondering the politics/relationship between the two.

We care nothing for that last point, and if we rate one above the other – and after today’s lunch, we most certainly do – it seems beyond dispute to us that whatever the rivalry between the Flemington neighbours, it is actually good for the business of both in the long-term.

A feature of the Chef Lagenda menu is the Meal Deal.

For $9.50, they offer a choice of two meats (steamed chicken, roast chicken, BBQ pork, soya duck), noodles or rice (flat rice noodles, hokkien noodles, vermicelli, egg noodles, chicken rice) and soup (clear chicken, laksa, tom yum, soya sauce (dry)).

Bennie goes BBQ pork, roast chicken, hokkien and tom yum and loves it, slurping and sipping with gusto.

As far as I’m aware this his first prolonged exposure to tom yum and it’s mild enough to be no problem, though it seems a little on the sweet side to me and he tires of it before the end.

The meats are in biggish chunks and, oddly, taste more like Western roasts than is usual in Asian eateries, and a little on the dry side, too. No matter – there’s plenty of moisture going on, including the bed of yummy wilted bean sprouts on which the meats reside.

The Meal Deal is a good deal, especially I suspect for kids.

I go for the straight-up bog standard curry laksa ($9.20) – and it’s a beauty.

At first glance, it lacks the devastating and lusty oomph of the laksa swooned over this year at Nasi Lemak House.

But it is of broader and deeper appeal.

Rather than usual couple of prawn tails, this rendition features something like half a dozen fat doozies full of flavour. Exceptional! (I’d already scarfed a couple before I realised this laksa’s prawn count was unusual, so cannot be more precise …)

Likewise, the fish cake is more thickly sliced than is the norm.

There’s ample bits of chicken and chewy juicy tofu, and the soup/gravy is good, though on the mild side.

The crowning glory is the largish slice of eggplant sitting atop the lot – it’s slippery, delicious and Bennie gets none of it.  Ha!

We like the quirky crooked-house layout of Chef Lagenda, and the service is just as good as the food.

The Chef Lagenda website is here.

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Green Tea

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320 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Phone: 9372 6369

What do you do on Judgment Day?

We go to Racecourse Rd for lunch.

We first check one of our fave Turkish kebab meats ‘n’ dips places, but hastily retreat when we realise the plate-size lunches have escalated in price to $15 and more.

Plan B is definitely Green Tea.

While a whole bunch of folks are having a fine old time comparing the relative merits of the next-door-neighbours Laksa King and Chef Lagenda, around the corner in Pin Oak Crescent, something appeals to us about checking out the premises vacated by Laksa King in the process of moving to its swish abode.

So it is that we amble up the arcade known to generations of Melbourne cheap eaters.

The space that was formerly Laksa King has undergone a transformation from those dog-eared and dingy days. It looks swell and swish, with much dark wood.

On the signage outside, Green Tea announces itself as purveying “Vietnamese & Chinese Cuisine”, but there are also Thai and Malaysian-derived dishes on the menu.

There’s pho, laksas, nasi goreng, green curry, pork belly hot pot and chicken teriyaki.

Will this be capable multi-tradition, perhaps even sensational? Or just a clumsy melange?

First up is a complementary plate of prawn crackers.

Then dad learns a lesson about letting Bennie have the run of the drinks cabinet unsupervised – to the tune of $3.80 and a bottle of Cascade sarsaparilla.

Bennie, meanwhile, learns that sarsaparilla tastes like not particularly nice medicine and smells like footy changerooms.

Two plain dimmies are stodgy, hot and delicious, but pretty steep at $4.90.

Having already pronounced a hankering for fried noodles of some sort, Bennie orders the mee goreng ($10.80).

It’s a good one without reaching any great heights. Some more seasoning zing may’ve been a good idea. This dish is routinely served with a lemon wedge on the side. We ask for one and it is provided.

That the lad fails to finish his food, though, says more about its quantity than quality.


I order the beef laksa.

I get the vegetable laksa ($8.80).

I’m not one for sending perfectly good food back to the kitchen – not today anyway – and proceed to enjoy what is an impressive array of non-meat goodies.

In my bowl are bok choy and other leafy vegetables, cauliflower, broccoli, onion, carrot, green beans, tofu, baby corn, two kinds of mushroom and quite possibly some items that escaped notice.

The noodles are egg only; no rice noodles here. Nor is the usual pile of bean sprouts resting under all.

The soup is thin, uncreamy and not particularly flavoursome. As well, I’m pretty sure I detect a whiff of tom yum about it all.

The whole experience is a bit odd.

Paying for our $31.10 meal with a $50 note, I receive a handful of shrapnel in return.

Dang! I really wanted to be knocked out by this place.

Green Tea on Urbanspoon

Chef Lagenda

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16 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington. Phone: 9376 2668

New Chef Lagenda review here.

The Flemington foodie strip of Racecourse Rd/Pin Oak Cres has been a rare destination for us in the past year, where once it was quite the regular.

Maybe it’s to do with the demise of the wonderful Big Chopstix. What was once a cracking Chinese/Malaysian joint has been replaced by a mostly Sino place of much less distinction.

Or maybe it’s to do with the lingering memory of another Chinese place that replaced prawn dumplings still hard frozen in the centre with … more prawn dumplings still hard frozen in the centre.

In any case, it’s a bunch of fun to be taking my time taking in the sights and menus on this Thursday lunch time. It’s a day off, it’s pay day, the sun is shining and I’m in the mood.

It’s been a while since we visited the new-look, new premises Laksa King, but this time around I settle on its next door neighbour, Chef Lagenda.

It’s dead on noon, or thereabouts, but there’s several tables already taken – all by folks of the Asian persuasion. Which fact I take as a Good Sign.

The place is done out using recycled wood and brick, and looks very fine.

The crockery is even embossed with the restaurant’s logo.

It’s kind of pokey, though. There’s steps, stairs and inclines that no doubt are a stress factor for new waiting staff.


I’d entered with laksa on my mind, but surprise myself by ordering the Roti Canai Special.

I know I shouldn’t, but order a serve of achar as well.

My plates are of a type that means they’re both on my table within five minutes.

The achar ($4.90)  is less tangy and pickled than those I remember from earlier years and other places. Still, it’s a nice jumble of cabbage, cauliflower, onion, cucumber and carrot with a bit of chilli kick and sesame seeds. In a nice touch, it’s served on top of a bed of cucumber spaghetti, which gives the whole dish a really nice crunchy, healthy feel.

Like many of its kind, the curry and roti combo looks a means serving for $10.20. But I know from frequent practice that looks can be deceiving.

So it is in this case.

I know not if the bread is housemade or not, but it’s still good. It’s unoily, and stays moist and pliable until the last shred.

The bowl of beef rendang has four large pieces of wonderfully tender meat. But as aficionados of this dish know, it’s not the meat that counts – it’s the gravy, and delicious use thereof for mopping up with the roti.

On that basis, I’m on a winner here. The gravy is rich, mildly spicy and beautifully integrated. By that I mean that it may be really oily but doesn’t appear to be so. It’s delicious, especially once the meat starts falling apart and mixing in.

It’s a super good meal, so much so that I am unsurprised that the quantity of roti precisely matches that needed to wipe out the last of the curry with a final mouthful of bread.


Still, I’m just a tad regretful that I hadn’t ordered one of the dishes I see whizzing about me as the place fills up. The Hainanese chicken rice ($8.50) looks especially toothsome – something to look forward to. Everyone loves it, but really great versions are not that easy to find in Melbourne.

For me, and based on a single visit, Chef Lagenda has the edge on Laksa King.

Read more about Chef Lagenda, the source of its rotis and other speculation/opinions at Urbanspoon here.

Chef Lagenda on Urbanspoon


Laksa King

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6-12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington. Phone: 9372 6383

The old Laksa King was one of the places that spoke so eloquently of Melbourne food culture.

Not in terms of quality or high-falutin’ style or world renown.

Nope, its place was along the lines of Melbourne food personality – think Pellegrini’s, Stalactites, the bratwurst stall at Vic Market, the Waiters Restaurant and so on.

Unfortunately, Laksa King was also a dumpy old thing, drab and more than a little down at heel.

Moreover, we never ate there because – whatever it might have lacked in sparkle and swish – it was very popular, so whenever we were in the vicinity there always seemed to be a queue of six or more.

The contrast to the new Laksa King – around the corner, and adjacent the train station – could not be greater.

The new place is gorgeous!

It’s big and bright, packed with lovely wooden chairs and tables, and the many black T-shirted and on-the-ball staff scurry around on a polished cement floor while a you-beaut sign adorns the roof..

Given the substantial upgrade, it’s a pleasure to note that Laksa King has nevertheless kept its prices well within the cheap eats realm. Most single person dishes – ranging from Hainanese chicken rice to mee goreng – fall a tick or two either side of $10.

We’ve been twice in the past couple of weeks.

First up was a rather frantic Friday night, with waiting times for our main courses stretching out to about 15 minutes.

We got by in the meantime with a beaut lobak ($6.20), the crunchy bean curd skin encasing minced pork that also had a delightful crunch about it thanks to being studded with carrot and water chestnut. The achar (pickled vegetables, $5.20) was OK, but a little on the bland side.

We regretted our conservative choice of mains.

Bennie let his love of dumplings rule, and while his prawn dumpling noodles were fine – OK stock, OK dumplings, OK noodles – they seemed to lack a little zing.

My roasted chicken rice was lacklustre. The chook was dry, the rice passable, the soup OK and – worst of all – the chilli sauce tame and dull, while its expected partner of an oily ginger/green onion mix did not turn up at all.

Our return visit was made more agreeable by sticking to tried, true and a little more spicy, and by eschewing side dishes and soft drinks – keeping the price tag down to a very excellent $19.70.

The beef curry laksa ($9.20) was a brightly coloured bowl of more tender beef slices than we could eat and mild spiciness. Its highlight was a large and silky eggplant slice of magnificent flavour. I swear I’ll rue the day Bennie decides to dig eggplant!

The curry chicken noodles ($10.20) were also mildly spiced, with plentiful chicken and bok choy sitting on thin egg noodles that at first seemed as though they were going to require the attentions of a knife and fork, so enamoured were they of each other’s company. But there was plenty of gravy, which mixed with the noodles in a fine fashion to become a sort of Malaysian pasta dish.

Still, after two visits we remain underwhelmed.

Given the homely surrounds we mostly inhabit in pursuit of great cheap eats, it’s quite a thrill to send time in  a place that proudly boasts a bit of flash, a bit of a wow factor.

But the food, as we have thus far experienced it, leaves an impression of hedging its bets for the broadest possible reach in terms of customers. Of the four mains and two starters we had in two visits, only the lobak sparkled.

Nothing wrong with that – and the crowds vindicate such a policy. I’ll concede, too, we made rather conservative choices – but there’s not much further you can go on the menu.

But I can’t help but feel we’ll continue to find more fire and passion in the more humble likes of Vy Vy, around the corner on Racecourse Rd.

You can read more reviews of the new Laksa King at Jeroxie and Saint-ism.

Laksa King has been reviewed by The Age.

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