CTS Feast No.9: Xiang Yang Cheng – the wrap

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CTS Feast No.9: Xiang Yang Cheng, 672 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 7128

Our CTS Feast at Xiang Yang Cheng was a truly memorable occasion.

I remain surprised that only just over the allocated seating was booked – this was and is, it seems to be, just the kind of food that is ideal for such an event.

No matter … no matter at all.

Because those of us who did indulge had a thoroughly grand time.

And with a smaller group, it was all very relaxed and rather intimate.

I really enjoyed getting around our four tables and having chats with everyone.

 

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And that was made easier by the very nature of the food an its preparation – what may have taken a half-hour so to consume if brought plated to our tables ended up taking more than two hours of rambling indulgence.

Many thanks to the XYC staff, including Larry, Zi and Alicia, for taking such good care of us.

Thanks, also, to Nat, Marc, Paul, Marketa, Jenni, Bronwyn, Adam, Philippa, Milena, Paul, Christine, Lisa and Julian for making it.

 

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But perhaps the most thanks should go to someone who was absent.

One of my first contacts at XYC was Peggy.

Peggy is off being a new mum but it was she who devised the broad and representative menu selections that graced each of our tables.

A lot of thought obviously went into it – and thus was vindicated my decision to leave our meal up to the staff and not bother cherry-picking it myself.

Wow!

What a spread we had.

 

Xiang Yang Cheng on Urbanspoon

 

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CTS Feast No.9: Xiang Yang Cheng

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TO BOOK FOR THIS EVENT, CLICK HERE.

CTS Feast No.9: Xiang Yang Cheng, 672 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 7128
Date: Thursday, August 21.
Time: From 7pm.
Cost: $25.

Driving towards a rendezvous with CTS Feast No.8, Bennie and I were discussing option for the next such outing.

“What about the hot pot place?” he asks.

Great idea!

As we had plenty of time to spare, we headed to Mount Alexander Road and put our proposal to the Xiang Yang Cheng team.

Once we discussed what’s involved, their answer was: “Yes!”

It’s on …

XYC is, we reckon, an ideal vehicle for a CTS Feast – it’s a cool restaurant with VERY interesting food, both of which we’re happy to endorse.

And we also reckon their super Sichuan hot-pot cooking is ideal for the enjoyment of a gathering of CTS friends … we hope you think so, too.

In our discussions with Peggy and Tracey, we looked at offering each table the same representative choices from the XYC line-up.

In the end, though, I decided it best to simply let the Team XYC to do the choosing from their very long menu, which you can check out in our CTS review here.

The XYC tables seat four, so we are throwing this invite open to 24 guests.

TO BOOK FOR THIS EVENT, CLICK HERE.

 

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Good, fresh Japanese in Moonee Ponds

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I Dream Of Sushi, 6 Margaret Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9375 7951

I Dream Of Sushi is a brand new – Nat and I hit it for lunch on opening day – Japanese joint tucked just around the corner from Puckle Street, with a branch of Yim Yam and a fine fish and chippery nearby.

As this is his work nighbourhood, Nat has been watching developments with great interest as he sometimes gets cranky with despair and boredom concerning the same old same old lunchtime routines hereabouts.

The place is done in cheerful cafe style and the staff are on the go and smiling.

I suspect that, not unlike another Japanese CTS favourite, I Dream Of Sushi delivers sushi rolls not out of any great passion about doing so but because to do otherwise would be commercial suicide.

In any case, he and I happily focus on the rest of the menu (see below), which covers a tight but appealing range of smaller dishes and a line-up of rice bowls.

We do real good.

My miso soup ($3.50) is regulation but very good, with deep miso flavour.

 

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Gyoza ($6.50), too, are orthodox but also yummy with a nice garlickiness.

 

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Tofu salad ($10) is a winner and just the sort of light, healthy lunch I’ve been desiring.

The greens, tomatoes, cucumber and radishes are super-fresh and the dressing tangy.

 

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Nat is very happy with his salmon sashimi (12 pieces for $10).

 

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But it’s his teri may don ($12) of “tender chicken thigh cooked in sweet soy on steamed rice w/- Japanese may” that does it for him.

“I’ve hit the bullseye,” he happily proclaims.

I Dream Of Sushi is pitching itself cleverly for the local lunch market – it’ll do fine.

And, yep, Nat will be back.

 

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As we are wrapping things up, we get talking to Catherine and Barb, for whom this is a family affair – they could hardly be prouder of what Acko, Yagu, Miho and Con are doing!

 

I Dream of Sushi on Urbanspoon

 

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CTS Feast No.8: Vicolo – the wrap

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Maria (La Morenita) meets Maria (Vicolo).

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CTS Feast No.8: Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500. Tuesday, June 17, from 7pm.

It’s something to marvel at – that what started as a simple gathering at Hyderabad Inn in Footscray for about 10 people almost a year has seen the Consider The Sauce Feast concept progress to an eighth outing.

This time we were the guests of Maria at Vicolo in Moonee Ponds.

Of course, a fine time was had by all.

And once more, it seemed like about at least half of the guests had been attendees at one or more previous Feasts.

Thank you!

The Vicolo turn-out was a particularly gregarious crew, all of whom seemed happy and eager to make happy conversation with their immediate table neighbours.

That made my task as host very relaxing – a big thank you for that, too!

I thought the food was super.

 

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Conchiglioni ripienne di ricotta e spinache al forno (giant pasta shells filled with ricotta and spinach, oven-baked in our delicious Napoli sauce) was a light and simple starter with a fine tomato sauce.

 

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Those who chose risotto paesana di vegetale verde e pesto Genoese (risotto with zucchini, asparagus, leek, and green peas and our home-made basil pesto) as their main course were happy.

The sample I tried was flavoursome with pesto and beautifully, slightly al dente vegetables.

The serves were huge!

 

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If anything, those who opted for osso buco cacciatore-style con polenta (tender beef osso buco oven-braised with rosemary, red wine and winter vegetables over soft polenta) were even happier.

It was rich, sticky and wonderful.

This was Bennie’s first experience with this dish – he loved it, but drew the line at sucking up the marrow.

 

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Panna cotta della casa di mandola (homemade almond cream dessert) was divine, the wafting flavour of marzipan being all the more effective for its subtlety.

 

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The lemon tart was equally luscious.

Plenty of people managed to have a good taste of both desserts by doing deals with their neighbours!

Thanks again to everyone, particularly to Maria and her staff.

 

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Consider The Sauce Feast No.8: Vicolo

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CTS Feast No.8: Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500. Tuesday, June 17, from 7pm.

After an initial visit to Vicolo and then being a privileged guest at the joint’s 10th birthday party … it’s Feast Time!

I’ve had a ball getting to know Maria from Vicolo, who has lined up a dynamite night for us.

To secure your ticket for CTS Feast No.8 at Vicolo, click here.

This time out, the number of guests we’re inviting is 40.

The price is $25 per person.

Yes, that’s a little more than previous CTS Feasts – but there’s a very good reason for that.

And that reason is the night’s menu … check it out:

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CTS FEAST NO.8: VICOLO

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Conchiglioni ripienne di ricotta e spinache al forno (giant pasta shells filled with ricotta and spinach, oven-baked in our delicious Napoli sauce).

MAIN

Osso buco cacciatore-style con polenta (tender beef osso buco oven-braised with rosemary, red wine and winter vegetables over soft polenta)

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Risotto paesana di vegetale verde e pesto Genoese (risotto with zucchini, asparagus, leek, and green peas and our home made basil pesto).

DESSERT

(Desserts will be allocated on a 50/50 basis to guests, but feel free to swap with your neighbours!)

Cassata di limone (homemade lemon tart).

OR

Panna cotta della casa di mandola (homemade almond cream dessert)

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That’s right – a classy three-course Italian meal for $25!

If you need any further convincing of just what an exceptional opportunity this is, check out Vicolo’s regular menu here.

Guests will be responsible for paying for their own choices of drinks and/or coffee.

As with other recent CTS Feasts, the ticket monies will be split between the restaurant, in order to help cover some of the costs, and CTS, for our work in setting the night up.

To secure your ticket for CTS Feast No.8 at Vicolo, click here.

Thanks to Anna and Yvette from X2 Marketing for helping facilitate this event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

African flavour blast in Moonee ponds

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Shebelle Ethiopian Restaurant & Cafe, 33 Holmes Road, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 0403 338 836

Holmes Road is the continuation of Puckle Street on the other side of the railway line.

It’s a curiously undistinguished strip of shops and assorted businesses.

Shebelle, for instance, resides right next door to a pole-dancing instruction palace.

Never mind all that – Shebelle is here to give not just the immediate neighbourhood but also the Puckle Street precinct a hefty infusion of great colour, taste, flavour and friendly service.

Shebelle once resided with other Ethiopian eateries in Barkly Street, Footscray.

It’s been open in Moonee Ponds for about a week and I join Nat and his colleague, Tim, there for a terrific lunch.

We are offered right off freshly roasted and brewed Ethiopian coffee, but opt for post-meal caffeine.

The menu (see below) is longish and appears to have most of the regular Ethiopian bases covered.

But there are also more unusual touches and some Moroccan influences.

Much to ponder and check out on repeat visits.

How utterly gorgeous, for instance, might be a north African version of  “chicken satay sticks” – described as “Moroccan style marinated with harissa and clarified butter, garlic, olive oil” with a choice of injera or bread?

We all head elsewhere on the menu and are very happy with our choices.

 

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My “Harirra Soup”, served with house-made injera, is a lot more robust and tasty than it looks in this photograph.

It has the sort of tang we adore being provided in the soup at Safari in Ascot Vale.

But this version has more vegetables, making it a little like an African minestrone; the lamb bits are flecks rather than chunks.

And there’s a heap of small, delicate brown lentils, making it also like the sort of rich lentil soup that comes from all over the Middle East and parts of Europe.

 

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Upon the arrival Tim’s “Moroccan lamb meatballs” ($15), Nat and I are envious.

The four chunky, big and beautifully seasoned meatballs are served in an intensely tomatoey sauce that has a nice chilli whack – whether from harissa or chilli powder, we know not.

Accompanying is a densely packed couscous.

Wow – great dish!

 

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Nat and I, both being more used to “tibs” dishes that are dry, are surprised by the appearance of his lamb tibs ($12).

Hewan explains to us that tibs are dry when served with injera, but in more of a soup/stew configuration when with served with rice, as Nat has chosen.

In any case, his dish is another goodie, with fine, chewy lamb and fresh green chilli slices.

 

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“Ethiopian style salad” ($8) is a just-right mix of very fresh greens, tomato, onion and more green chilli. When I get this sort of simple yet classy, zingy salad at African joints, it makes me think they could teach many cafes a thing or three about how it should be done.

Before departing, we do take up the offer from Hewan and Etsegent of a small cup each of their delicious, sweet Ethiopian coffee.

We wish Shebelle and its crew all the very best in their new location – and hope the locals learn to appreciate what a gem is in their midst.

Shebelle Ethiopian Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Vicolo turns 10

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Maria, Nonna Nella and Bianca.

 

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Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500

Since Consider The Sauce’s first visit to Vicolo, yours truly has returned a couple of times.

That’s been to take advantage of the joint’s $15 lunch special of risotto and a glass of wine.

One time I had a zesty, lighter number with vegetables and lemon rind.

On another and by contrast, I went with a robust ragu and sausage number.

They were both brilliant.

Maria has done what she said she would – turned this long-time risotto hater into a convert!

I mention this to make the point that Vicolo is rapidly becoming part of our routine and that this time out I am not merely fronting for another snout-in-trough freebie at a place I would otherwise not frequent.

Though – let’s make no bones about it, and yes food blogging is sometimes the best gig in the world – I leap at the chance to attend the restaurant’s special 10th anniversary dinner as an extremely privileged non-paying guest.

And why wouldn’t I?

Specially when it’s not just Maria in the kitchen – in there she’s been joined by her mum, Nonna Nella, and daughter Bianca.

Three generations of Italian cooking – how wonderful!

 

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Once again I am joined by Yvette and Anna from X2 Marketing – by now, this has gone way beyond work and I genuinely like hanging with this crew – and this time, too, by their respective partners, Michael and Rob.

I suspect there are more extra hands at hand in the kitchen, and there certainly is on the floor.

It’s a full house, the vibe is upbeat and happy, and the guests seem evenly split between Maria’s extended friends-and-family and regular customers – with us lot in the middle.

It’s busy, busy, busy, but we find the service and food arrival times to be good.

Some of our party choose to eat from the regular menu, but I will highlight here dishes from the special birthday list (see below).

 

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We get a couple of sets of Nonna Nella’s antipasto ($22) to share.

It’s all fine in a wonderful old-school way. I specially like the rich fishiness of the sardine involtini and the zipoli (fried long doughnuts stuffed with anchovies), both bottom right.

 

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My brodo di pollo (chicken broth with polpette and home-made pastina, $15) is my night’s highlight.

Describing this as chicken noodle soup would do it a gross injustice.

Nor does the above photograph in any way convey the depth of simple, soupy flavour or the hidden presence of masses of noodles and marble-sized meatballs.

 

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I had goat, in casserole form, on our previous visit, so somewhat regretfully pass on the capretto in crostata (traditional cacciatore-style goat pie with verdura, $38).

But I’m glad Michael gets it and he enjoys the rich heartiness of it.

 

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My pesce spada (swordfish bagnara on grilled potatoes with orange and fennel salad, $38) is, for fish these days, quite well done.

That’s an appropriate term, as eating this IS like eating a steak – one, though, that is juicy, tasty and in no way dry. The salad and rather smoky roast spuds are the perfect foils.

Bangara?

Maria says: “Bagnara was the lemon, olives, capers, parley and olive oil dressing that garnished the fish!”

 

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Our table mostly goes without dessert, but Michael and I both plunge right on ahead with the pannetone pudding ($12).

This, of course, is a bread and butter pudding – and a fantastic one. Instead of the listed figs, our puds are topped with the most luscious berries.

For dessert, Yvette has … lasagne (in joke …).

 

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Finally, Maria sends us – unbidden – a plate of “dolcette – Nonna Nella’s little sweet things”. They, too, are lovely … but by this time we are all uniformly sated.

Thanks, Maria!

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This is the second in what will be a trilogy of stories about Vicolo.

The third will likely be published in a few weeks – regular readers will guess, I’m sure, where we’re headed with this … and it’s going to be brilliant!

Consider The Sauce’s meal at Vicolo was provided without payment being required. Management had no prior knowledge of what would be ordered, and neither sought nor was granted any editorial input into this story.

Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar on Urbanspoon

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Maximum hot pot

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Xiang Yang Cheng, 672 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 7128

Xiang Yang Cheng is a brand new Moonee Ponds food emporium that sells – and sells only – a singular brand of Sichuan-style hot pot.

It’s been open about a week, and as usual CTS pal Nat has done a super sleuthing job and promptly notified us of its existence, finishing with the simple plea: “When are we going?”

The answer – the only answer – of course is: “As soon as possible!”

Thus it is that Bennie and I join Nat for a most spectacular, enjoyable and tasty Good Friday dinner.

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The place itself is utterly gorgeous.

The upper beams and stonework of the original building are matched below by beautiful wooden furnishings and decorations.

Each table – and there are many, including a couple in semi-private booths – is equipped with a stovetop heater for the soups.

We’ll call what we have Sichuan-style, but the truth is we don’t quite know where the Xiang Yang Chenghuo guo” fit in terms of this apparently well-researched article at Wikipedia.

The young staff are eager to please if a little bemused with our antics, questions and rampant curiosity. But some things remain unexplained.

Including, for instance, the exact ingredients of our “double flavours” brew of “stock soup” and “spicy soup”. We can see the obvious – spring onions, garlic and so on. But there many mysterious Chinese herbs and others bits and pieces about which we’re only guessing.

No matter!

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Our twin-soup base costs $15. We find the slow-grow fire of the spicy soup is perfectly matched with the nicely salty and astringent plain stock.

From there we tick off a number of ingredients – most of which go for about $5 – for dipping into the soups of our choice.

We avoid the more confronting and peculiar (see full menu below), but take a couple of punts as well.

It takes us a little while to find the best cooking times for individual ingredients but it’s all good fun.

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Here’s how our many mixed ingredients stack up for me – the mileage of Bennie and Nat no doubt differs at least a little and maybe by a whole lot!

Frozen beef, frozen lamb: Both arrive at our table pretty as a picture and are very good – though truth to tell, I struggle to tell them apart once they have been briefly submerged and cooked.

Prawns: Average.

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Spinach, Chinese cabbage: The best of our vegetable choices, these seem to really soak up the broths superbly. Even the bigger, whiter stems of the Chinese cabbage are luscious when given enough time in the soups.

Garden chrysantheum: A fail for me – I find the stems too tough even after prolonged bathing. Bennie likes these, though.

Oyster mushroom: Quite nice, with a similar aptitude for flavour retention as the cabbage and spinach.

Potato slices: Another fail for me, though this turns out to be mostly because we don’t allow them nearly enough time. Dropped into the soups and forgotten about for a while, they shape up pretty well – a bit like the spuds in Malaysian or Vietnamese curries.

Bread sticks: Just OK for me, But – again – Bennie likes.

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For $1 or $2, we have been provided three dipping sauces – sesame oil and garlic, chopped coriander and BBQ. The first two are what they are, but the second is a puzzle – a BBQ sauce that just seems a little odd or off.

But the winner is a house sauce, provided without being requested, of fermented soy and broad  beans, chilli, garlic, spring onion, ginger, oil and peanuts.

It tastes strongly of miso to me, is granular and a little crunchy, and we all love it to bits.

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What an absolute ball we have!

Given the hit and miss aspect of our ordering, we figure we’ve done really well.

Next time, we’d probably order a little less in terms of quantity, and some more of that and less of this.

All up, our feast – including a long, tall can of papaya drink for Bennie – costs about $25 each, which we think is an outright bargain.

Even better, the very nature of the ritual involved makes for a relaxed, chatty and deeply engaged dinner experience.

We take about an hour to get ourselves full.

This could hardly be a greater contrast to Bennie’s burger experience of the previous night, in which case – for almost exactly the same admission fee – he had a meal that lasted way less than five minutes.

There may be other eateries doing this style of dining in greater Melbourne, but it’s a rarity in the west.

So we hope they do well.

It’s a unique experience that’s packed with affordable, high-quality ingredients – and it’s great for groups.

Xiang Yang Cheng on Urbanspoon

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Check your spam daily

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Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500

Just like everyone else these days, I am always looking for where the next opportunity or possibility may arise.

So I have developed a daily routine of always checking the spam file of my email account.

What I find there is almost always … spam.

But, just very occasionally, there is something more interesting.

Through that routine I find an interesting approach from publiicst Yvette and her company X2 Marketing.

Her firm represents, so she tells me, a small number of western suburbs restaurants. Would I be interested in some sort of collaboration with her company and the restaurants involved?

A very, very good half-hour phone conversation ensues.

I like it that Yvette and her partner, Anna, have no set ideas how food bloggers and their clients may interact and they seem to be open to ideas. Even better, the Consider The Sauce Feast concept spark a good deal of enthusiasm.

Both women come from a corporate background, yet have ended up in the same place as CTS, preferring the personal touch and a general embracing of the “small is beautiful” ethos.

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Two of the eateries they represent hold no interest to Consider The Sauce at all, but one of them most certainly does.

So it is that all three of us meet at Vicolo, in Young Street, Moonee Ponds. (CTS did not pay for its meal – full disclosure below.)

I am very familiar with Young Street in Moonee Ponds – indeed, Fresh On Young was the subject the very first CTS story.

But I have always been deterred by the somewhat forbidding glass facade of Vicolo, despite a good review from Lauren at Footscray Food Blog.

So I am delighted and happy to find that behind the glass is a classy Italian joint.

I really dig meeting and talking with Yvette and Anna. Despite our different backgrounds, I’d like to think we are on the same page.

On this Thursday night, there is a happy vibe in the place, which is crowded with what I presume are regulars.

Even better, I adore the boss lady, Maria, and the way she sparkles and genuinely seems to care about every table of guests.

Yvette, Anna  and I star with a trio of spuntini.

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Whitebait ($11) are warm verging on cold, but I’m guessing that in the antipasto swing of things this is perfectly acceptable. They’re crisp and unoily, with the fried richness being cut beautifully by the excellent tangy salad.

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Arancini ($10) are a big step up from the tough, unappetising footballs found in generic eateries across the land. These are delicate and variously flavoured with goat, pumpkin and cheese.

Similarly light of flavour and weight is the gorgeous salt and pepper calamari ($11).

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As we await our main, Maria is only too happy to give me a brief tour of the kitchen, expressing the hope that I’ll be comfortable with the fact her two cooks are Korean folks trained by herself pretty much from the ground up.

As if I would care!

One of them, Naggie, is happy to be photographed. The other, not so much …

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Maria explains how she prepares her renowned risottos in a restaurant context – by mostly pre-cooking the rice and keeping all the flavour packages separate, with the end product being as genuine and delicious as you could wish.

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The house red sauce, Maria explains, is made from only the best tomatoes – tinned and puree both.

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I get lucky with my choice of main – it’s a casserole-style goat number ($36) that isn’t even on the specials list. It’s sticky, rich and in every way excellent, the tender meat falling easily from the bone in a way that only comes from long, slow cooking.

My companions enjoy their pasta choices – linguini marinara with fish, mussels, pipis, scallops and calamari ($26.50); and lasagne ($23.50).

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Desserts all come with a $12 price tag, with the lemon tart and tiramisu going down a treat.

On the basis of our combined meal, I’m happy to conclude that Vicolo does classic Italian very well.

As for possible future collaborations between Vicolo and/or X2 Marketing, stay tuned …

Consider The Sauce’s meal at Vicolo was provided without payment being required. Management had no prior knowledge of what would be ordered, and neither sought nor was granted any editorial input into this story.

Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar on Urbanspoon

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Ponds gelati scoop

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Mio Dolce, 89 Puckle St, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9326 0402

Our post about gelati in the western suburbs brought forth a number of responses, both here and on Facebook.

Thanks to those comments we have at least one solid lead to follow-up.

But several things seem plain …

There are people in the western suburbs who love gelati.

There is gelati in the western suburbs for them to thrill over.

But the western suburbs will never be Carlton or even the CBD.

And thank heavens for that!

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In the meantime, having gelati on our minds leads to us checking out a beaut Puckle St business past which we must have walked a gazillion times without taking much notice.

Puckle St is a bit like that …

But Mio Dolce turns out to be a cosy, homespun and old-school Italian bakery and gelateria.

Sure, they do sandwiches and a few hot things, but the heart of this place are gelati and biscotti.

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We like it that they only do half a dozen or so gelati flavours, with none of them being unusual or particularly exotic.

I enjoy my very big $4.40 cup of caramel, Bennie digs his cone of donatella … sounds like a turtle to me but it’s apparently a mix of chocolate and hazelnut.

My cafe latte, too, is fine.

But Bennie finds his banana milkshake too sweet to handle. Could be a sign this lad is maturing, eh?

We ogle the range of biscotti, slices and other sweet treats.

We see, among others, crostata, almond bread, almond crescents, ameretti, vienesse, romanini and florentines.

We grab a bag of “mini-romanini” to take home.

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As you can see, the $5 price makes this a pretty good deal when compared with the prices of similar products at our local supermarket haunts.

Mio Dolce -Pasticceria and Gelateria on Urbanspoon

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Unwrapping parcels, so exciting!

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Spicy Hut, Shop 6/35 Aspen Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9375 2191

Many times on our various visits to Puckle St, we’ve wandered down the cul de sac that is Aspen St, adjacent a huge, unsealed parking lot, to scope out Spicy Hut only to walk away unfed and disappointed.

Each time there seemed little by way of any activity, so we didn’t even venture inside.

This obviously speaks to a lack of boldness on our part, because Consider The Sauce pal Nat continued to maintain he had been enjoying swell, cheap and delicious Sri Lankan food there quite a while.

So I am delighted to join him there for lunch, knowing for certainty his assertions will be well founded and we will eat very well.

They are and we do.

The tiny cafe space is rather spartan but offset by the charming welcome of the couple who run the joint.

The menu includes various options of the snack/street food variety such as rotis, samosas, hoppers and dosas.

As well, on three days of the week there are specials, with today’s being lamprais – so that’s what we have.

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According to the Wikipedia entry on Sri Lankan food, this dish is of Dutch derivation.

In Spicy Hut’s case, they are described as: “Rice cooked in chicken stock & served with eggplant, pickle, fish cutlet, boiled egg, choice of chicken or beef curry (all wrapped in banana leaf).”

With Nat going for the beef and me the chicken, our meals ($11) are delivered wrapped in foil and with papadams sitting atop.

Unwrapping the foil reveals mounds of steaming rice cocooned by banana leaves. The rice is moist but fluffy and quite nicely spicy.

My single chicken drumstick is tender and tasty, but really it’s the combination of all the bits and pieces that make this a splendidly enjoyable meal.

The fish cutlets (balls), made with mackerel, onion, potato, ginger and garlic, are delicate yet robustly fishy.

I enjoy my hard-boiled egg just as much as I do when they are served with biryani.

The “seeni sambal” sitting on top of my chicken adds a bitter element through the use of curry and pandan leaves, lemongrass and garlic.

And the dry jumble of eggplant, capsicum and onion on the other side of the rice has brilliant eggplant flavour.

Thanks, Nat, for revealing this lovely place to Consider The Sauce – I’m keen to return.

Spicy Hut is closed on Tuesdays.

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Minh’s Vietnamese & Chinese

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Minh’s Vietnamese & Chinese, 41 Puckle St, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9326 2228

My chicken coleslaw is all wrong.

Or rather, it seems all wrong.

The key component is iceberg lettuce. Or maybe it’s very finely chopped and extremely unfibrous savoy cabbage. Truth to tell, I cannot tell.

The chicken – an entire thigh, I think – has been grabbed from the bain marie chook section that looks like it contains the regulation chicken shop variety.

But appearances are most certainly deceiving in this case.

True, my salad lacks the tangy, lemony zip I am familiar with when ordering this dish from the Vietnamese eateries of Footscray. There’s no fresh chilli slices either, with some level of spice heat contributed by the sticky jam on the side.

But the flavours, while on the mildish side, meld together really well.

And the textures are full of crunch, too, with plenty of chopped peanuts, fried shallots, cucumber, carrot and more doing a swell job.

The modest looking chook is outstanding – it’s of supreme tastiness in the Asian style and there’s a heaps of it.

My small serve for $12 – there’s large available for $12 – is a great light lunch.

Minh’s is a small but often busy humble lunch spot on Puckle St, right next door to Chiba Sushi Bar.

Its goodies – displayed on a big photo spread on one wall and behind the counter – range across a surprisingly wide Vietnamese territory, from pho and rice and spring rolls, through to more generic Asian fare such as Singapore fried noodles.

If any of those dishes match the simple panache of my coleslaw, it could be that Minh’s is an easy-to-miss treasure in an area where it often seems classy exotica and spiciness are hard to find and the lines between good, OK and mediocre are blurred.

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Sophisticated juice vending machine

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Wonder juicing machine, Moonee Ponds.

If this apparatus – situated in one of the generic mallways off Puckle St – simply dispensed juice it would not have grabbed our attention.

But this one does more than that – it squeezes the oranges to make the juice, too!

This is a new one on us, even if that does make us look like westie rubes.

For sure, we’ve got to give it a go …

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We’re not keeping precise score, but as far as we can tell about four or five of the smallish oranges go into our small glass of juice.

We don’t actually see them being squeezed, that part of the procedure being hidden from view.

But the whole operation goes really smoothly.

The juice is excellent – chilled and pulp-free.

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Had the full price of $3.50 been charged, we may have been hesitant. But we figure the “summer special” price of $2.50 is pretty much what a dedicated juice joint would charge anyway.

The receptacle is plastic, but what can you do?

It’s only later that a couple of questions occur to us:

Who cleans the machine?

And how often?

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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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Fresh On Young gets a revamp

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Fresh On Young, 34 Young St, Moonee Ponds. Phone 9375 3114

Fresh On Young – the subject of the second Consider The Sauce story – remains a reliable favourite for us.

It’s a bit out of the way, but when it fits in with our rambling, it’s a fine place for great prices and produce, fresh and otherwise, of many kinds.

So we’re excited to note the place is undergoing a significant revamp that involves use of space, until now used for loading/storage purposes, that will in effect double the width of the premises.

When I talked to him, manager Lee was reluctant to give too much away before the unveiling in a couple of weeks’ time.

But the gist of it seemed to be an accent on an extended fresh meat and seafood section.

He cited the retail environment, including of the ongoing Coles/Woolworths battle, as being proof aplenty that standing still is tantamount to going backwards.

New York Minute update …

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New York Minute, 491 Mount Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9043 1838

Just a couple of weeks after first visiting New York Minute, word is out that the full menu line-up is of offer.

It’s time to return to check out their list of American-style sandwiches.

Saturday lunchtime becomes a cheery social occasion, with yours truly joined by foodie-all-over-town Nat Stockley, Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog and her girls.

My Brisket On A Roll makes a nice lunch, but it’s not something I’ll order again.

The cold beef is OK and accompanied by a Picalilli-style pickle; the advertised cheese seems to have made no appearance.

The chips are something else again – and a big step up from that first visit, going from satisfactory to near-sensational.

They’re hot, crispy but tender inside – it’s a good thing Ms Baklover relents and orders a big bowl for her brood, or we could’ve had a riot on our hands.

She and Nat both order the Pulled Pork Roll with “creamy coleslaw and smoky BBQ sauce” (top photo).

Their sandwiches look damn fine to me and I’m envious.

But thy both mention a sweetness in the sauce that becomes tiresome as their meals unfold.

The girls share the Philly Cheese Steak, which I foolishly don’t nail with a usable photograph.

Somewhat to my surprise, as we are organising our departure, Ms Baklover opines that it has been the best of the lot; so that’ll be my lot next time out.

I suspect New York Minute may struggle to impress ardent and picky fans of such American-style sandwiches.

But I’m not complaining after splitting while having paid a mere $14 for sandwich, terrific chips and a a full-size can of that Coca Cola stuff.

See earlier story and menu here.

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New York Minute

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New York Minute, 491 Mount Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9043 1838

Enjoying lunch at New York Minute is especially enjoyable, as only a week previously I’d ruminated on the fickle nature of this stretch of Mount Alexander Rd.

So it’s nice to welcome a newcomer.

Having been tipped off about this place – Hi, Nat! – and scoping out its website, I lose no time in getting up there.

Because the New York Minute menu is so extremely well thought out – nothing over $8, very succinct but with several bases covered – and the fact it’s open breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, it’s hard to see it becoming anything but a popular fixture.

It’s a small place, but the brown-toned fit-out is cool and there’s outdoor seating.

Unfortunately, as the place has been open only a few weeks, some of the sexier menu items are yet to eventuate – specifically the $8 Philly Cheese Steak, Pulled Pork Roll and Brisket On A Roll.

The super friendly staff assure they’ll be up and running in  a couple of weeks, but in the meantime I’m happy to make do with what’s available.

A super homely and rich minestrone ($5) looks awesome, but I order the grilled chicken burger ($8) with a side of chips ($3) and a soft drink ($2.50 for a 200ml can).

The chips are hot, delicious, just crunchy enough and just plentiful enough to accompany a burger.

The chicken meat is tender and juicy, but lacking a little in the flavour department.

Happily, the same can’t be said for the cheese.

I’ve actually given up ordering cheese with any sort of burgers, as almost always it seems doing so is for form’s sake alone. How often can you actually taste the cheese?

That ain’t the case here – the thickish slice of gooey, grilled Swiss is really good.

And flavoursome!

The burger is completed with some good spinach leaves, tomato and chilli mayo.

I linger long enough to enjoy a beautiful cafe latte ($3).

Even with a slightly parsimonious soft drink serve, my lovely lunch is a brilliant steal at $16.50.

And I’m excited about returning to check out the BBQ items …

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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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Oliver’s Garden

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Oliver's Garden in Queen's Park, Moonee Ponds.

Oliver’s Garden, The Strand, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 0438

The kiosk in Queen’s Park in Moonee Ponds is such a lovely setting that I wish it was closer to home – or, leastwise, that we had something similar.

The last time we visited was with our pal Kurt on the midway point of a longish Sunday bicycle ride.

If memory serves, our meal that day was BLT, nachos and a burger. Without reaching any great heights, they all did their job.

And also went some way to nullifying the truism that Melbourne does food in its parks about as well as it does bayside dining.

Truth is, I’m not even sure kiosk is the right term these days, as the eatery in question is operating under the name Oliver’s Garden.

For this week-day lunch, I’m in a burger mood, so am none too hopeful – the online menu, found on the establishment’s website, lists none.

But I’m in luck – though the news it’ll come in a Turkish loaf is unpromising.

Burger at Oliver's Garden ($14).

Initial impressions don’t do much to bolster confidence, either, as the beef patty looks way too small for the bun. And the $14 fee is starting to look a little on the high side.

But the hands-on experience is a winning one.

The chips are crispy, well-cooked, hot and very fine.

The burger meat belies its size by being full of beefy flavour and pretty much in the right proportions to its sandwich colleagues.

The dressing of grated beetroot, dill pickle bits and dill mayo is nigh on perfect in a suitably burgerish way, as is the fresh Turkish bread.

This is a burger meal that rates in quality, taste and price alongside the likes of Grill’d and Burger Edge.

Though my tiny bottle of that Coca Cola stuff for $3.50 is outlandish.

Oliver’s Garden does a range of breakfast dishes, focaccias, salads and a kids menu that ranges from $5 to $9.

On the day of my visit, the blackboard next to the takeaway servery hole lists a bubble and squeak for $13 that sounds real nice. 

Whizzing to and fro on our various adventures, it’s easy to forget this place and its lovely surrounds – and that’s our loss.

Even on a crisp, overcast day there’s a leisurely ease around the place of mums and children and ladies lunching.

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Atithi Indian Restaurant

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Atithi Indian Restaurant, 730 Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9326 0482

Atithi is an Indian vegetarian restaurant that takes its name from the Sanskrit phrase “Atithi Devo Bhavah”, which means “Guest are God”.

We like that approach!

It resides in a stretch of Mt Alexander Rd near Puckle St in Moonee Ponds that often seems ripe for foodie adventures, but along which we find most places closed when we’re in the vicinity, Dr Strangeloves aside.

Earlier in the week, when passing by, we’d parked and gone for a look-see.

Our response to the restaurant’s motto, part of the outdoor signage, was damn near pavlovian.

“For Who Know Value of Taste.”

So eloquent, so adorable – this place went right to the top of our to-do list, and we’re back for real in just a few days.

On entering, we appreciate the whirring fans and AC on the job.

Both the walls and floor are tiled, while tables are dressed with cloth tablecloths and paper. It’s quite a nice , tranquil vibe.

Initially, we’re a little taken aback by the stern words placed at the bottom of each page of the menu warning us to be prepared for a half-hour 45-minute wait for a our meal.

We cover that base by ordering bhel puri from the Indian Street Food Menu – “Round puri, puffed rice and fine chickpeas noodles mix in onion, tomato, Fresh apple, beetroot, and potato served with chutney” for $7.

We know that in India such like as bhel puri are not ordered as part of a meal, but we often find ourselves ordering them as we are normally not in a position to adhere to afternoon snack tradition.

Bhel puri at Atithi.

This is less crunchy and crackly than I expect, but still a tangy way to get our dinner rolling. Bennie finds the raw white/brown onion quotient overpowering.

Mix veg sizzler at Atithi.

Mix veg sizzler – “mix vegies and pettish cooked in special tomato sauce serve in leafs bowl” ($15) – is a voyage into the unknown for us.

It’s super rich, gloopy and tasty.

Mixed under the cheese and tomato sauce is a jumble of a whole roasted green capsicum, corn kernels, peas, diced potato and carrot and more cheese.

It’s a huge serve – more appropriate for sharing among four people with a mix of other dishes.

This is much more than a tomato sauce, I subsequently discover when chatting to chef Mitesh Patel.

It’s actually a bechamel sauce made of, yes, tomato but also ghee, flour, milk, sugar, salt and pepper.

No wonder it seems so rich!

This sort of dish is not really Indian or Indo-Chinese – it’s more an Indian fusion sort of thing generated by Indian chefs working in Europe and returning home full of ideas and inspirations.

The mix veg sizzler comes from the continental section of menu, which also includes Pineapple/Veg Macaroni ($14) and Paneer Stick Sizzler ($17), which I presume must be even richer again.

From the Indo-Chinese dishes we’ve ordered hakka noodles – “Noodles cooked with special sauces and fresh vegetable” ($12).

Hakka noodles at Atithi.

This is OK, but seems a little on the pricey side. Bennie finds it too spicy, even though we’d said medium when asked.

The version enjoyed at the old Pandu’s benefitted from the having little bowls of vinegar and sauces soy and tomato on the side.

If there is an uneveness in our meal we’re happy to attribute it to a clumsy attempt to get to grips with a strange menu. More advanced navigation skills may have allowed us to choose more complementary dishes.

I’d originally envisioned basing our meal around one of the dosa selections, but the dosas are not yet available.

Perhaps we’d have been better off by gravitating towards the standard curry menu, which includes two kinds of dal, peneer and kofta dishes, and entrees such as pakoras. 

You can check out the Aitithi menu options at the restaurant’s website.

Nevertheless, we welcome the addition of a dedicated vegetarian eatery to our neighbourhood when often it seems Indian restaurants relegate vegetable dishes to after-thought status.

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