Maximum hot pot

3 Comments

x2

x19

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.

x3

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!

x13

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.

x15

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.

x17

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.

x14

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.

x16

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

x20

x4m1

x5m2

x6m3

x7m4

x9m6

x10m7

x11m8

x12m9

x1

x21

x22

Check your spam daily

7 Comments

vic9

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.

vic4

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.

vic1

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.

vic2

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).

vic5

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 …

vic6

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.

vic7

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

vic10

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).

vic11

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

vic3

Ponds gelati scoop

2 Comments

mio2

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!

mio5

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.

mio3

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.

mio4

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

mio6

Unwrapping parcels, so exciting!

6 Comments

spicy3

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.

spicy1

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.

Spicy Hut - Authentic Sri Lankan Cuisine on Urbanspoon

spicy4

spicy5

spicy2

Minh’s Vietnamese & Chinese

Leave a comment

minhs1

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.

minhs3

Sophisticated juice vending machine

Leave a comment

juice1

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 …

juice2

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.

juice3

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?

juice4

Bruno’s Coffee Lounge

2 Comments

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?

Bruno's Coffee Lounge on Urbanspoon

Fresh On Young gets a revamp

1 Comment

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 …

2 Comments

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.

New York Minute on Urbanspoon

New York Minute

5 Comments

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 …

New York Minute on Urbanspoon

Bagel & Juice Cafe and Catering

2 Comments

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.

Bagel & Juice Cafe and Catering on Urbanspoon

Oliver’s Garden

2 Comments

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.

Oliver's Garden on Urbanspoon

Atithi Indian Restaurant

14 Comments

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.

Atithi Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Moonee Ponds Kebab House

2 Comments

Shop 1/19 Homer St, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 7569

There are times when Puckle St, Moonee Ponds, and surrounds can seem like a foodie playground rich with potential.

There are others when it conveys to us something of a profound mediocrity, even during a bustling Saturday lunch hour.

The latter is the case for us in this instance, with the joint we had specifically set out to try closed and others surveyed while wandering around offering little by way of inspiration.

Always, though, the Consider The Sauce team is willing to embrace with fervour the splendid concept of the silver lining.

So it is that we finally chow down at a place we had previously passed by on numerous occasions.

If our typical Turkish kebab shop meal doesn’t quite match the lofty heights of our favourite, it does the job, the price is very right and we’ll visit again in a heartbeat if we are in the area and looking for a cheap, tasty feed.

We had already survived the folly of shopping on empty stomachs, filling up on the makings for a big pot of minestrone and the related but different ingredients for an even bigger pot of chicken stock at Fresh On Young.

Unsurprisingly, though, our appetites are humming as we head for lunch.

The fare is very basic at Moonee Ponds Kebab House – only four dips, and the pides seem pricey at $7.

We settle on the lamb-off-the-spit platter with red capsicum and the cacik/yogurt/cucumber dips, with two stuffed vine leaves on the side at 90 cents each.

The vine leaves themselves are somewhat on the chewy side, and a little bitter, too. But the rice innards are excellent and lemony.

The bread is fresh and warm, and the dips lacking character and zing, though perfectly adequate for the job at hand.

The lamb and the salad are top-notch. In fact, at $12 and of a size more than ample to feed the pair of us, the lamb platter is an outright winner, especially given that we know of other such establishments where such is going for $14 and more.

The layered lamb is fresh, not too greasy, a little on the crunchy side and has the lip-smacking, salty tang so essential to this genre of tucker.

The salad – not tabouli – is ultra-fresh and crunchy.

Meat, salad, dips, two stuffed vine leaves and a can of that Coca Cola stuff? The fee of $15.80 is a super dooper bargain, and the service is smilingly friendly.

Heading somewhat aimlessly home, we stop at Crumbs Organic Bakery in Ascot Vale for cafe latte, hot chocolate and a shared and stupendously moist chunk of chocolate brownie, along with three or four hands of Uno, at which Bennie bests his father through his usual means – cheating. (Just kidding!)

Bennie has had school holiday rugby-free Saturday, but we make another stop on the way home to watch some of the Footscray big boys run around. Thankfully, the lad is sufficiently stuffed and has a ball hooning with some of his teammates that we depart knowing the burgers and egg-and-bacon sangers can await blogging coverage on a future game day.

Chiba Sushi Bar

8 Comments

43 Puckle St, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9326 2916

Japanese curry? Doesn’t get discussed by curry nuts in the same zealous manner as spice-laden dishes from throughout Asia – and, these days, the rest of the world – does it?

And while I’ve known folks who have lived in or spent some time in Japan who have a soft spot for that nation’s version of curry, for me it’s always been a matter “prefer others” when it comes to Japanese food.

Today, though, I take the plunge.

The lure isn’t desire or appetite. It’s the description propped on the counter at Chiba Sushi Bar:

Now that sounds good for lunch on a bleak and chilly day.

And so it proves to be.

Chiba Sushi Bar is the sibling of Chiba Japanese Restaurant in Hall St, a block over from Puckle.

During my half-hour or so in the place, it does a brisk and pretty much non-stop trade in sushi rolls, the popularity of which is also reflected by some rave reviews at the joint’s entry at Urbanspoon.

Perhaps there’s quite a lot to be said about takeaway sushi rolls purchased from an establishment that has real and meaningful ties to a more formal and proper Japanese restaurant.

Along with the rolls, they serve a small range of other dishes – katsu curry, chicken katsu curry,  tofu and vegetable curry, unadon – on rice, also with miso soup as part of the partaking fee.

My soup is good and hot, with some diced tofu but minus all but the barest glimpses of greenery. Sadly, it is served in a polystyrene cup.

I also get a Japanese soft drink of the peach persuasion. Getting into the fizzy sweetness defies my best efforts, so the staff eventually show me how – by pushing the marble at the top down, where it rattles around as you quaff. Neato and refreshing but at a price ($3.50).

My pork curry and rice, annoyingly, comes served in plastic and looks a rather modest serving.

It’s fantastic and the serve size proves more than adequate!

The root vegetables – potato and carrot only, as far as I can tell – are finely diced and meltingly tender, so much so that they are virtually part of the gravy. The pork pieces are likewise tender.

The gravy itself is blazingly hot and stays so until the very final mouthful. My ragout/curry has a nice but mild chilli undertow.

Calling this a curry in the same sense as we think of India, Thailand or Malaysia is a stretch. But taken on its own terms, it’s a winning lunch.

Well satisfied, I depart knowing I’ll forever remember this as The Day I Learned To Love Japanese Curry.

UPDATE: A friend has just informed that Japan-style curry sauce comes, she thinks, from a tube. Well, it’s pre-made anyway – check out this wikipedia entry.

You know what? I don’t care!

Chiba Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Strangeloves

Leave a comment

 

As Rob and I talk with the Strangeloves guys as they prepare that night’s curry feast, Bennie makes himself scarce – I subsequently find he’s found some friendly locals to thrash at checkers.

577 Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9078 3574

We experienced vicariously the trials, tribulations and satisfactions as our buddy Kurt and his business partner Michael set up shop in the hospitality industry with their Moonee Ponds wine bar Stangeloves.

We made a few visits soon after hung they out their shingle.

But as its primary focus is booze, it’s struggled to find traction for son-and-dad food adventures.

Throughout, though, as the pair have worked hard at establishing themselves, they have hosted special events such as tastings, organised a modest food list of tapas-style items and made it clear to their customers that they’re welcome to order in fare from the many surrounding restaurants.

More recently, they’ve introduced $10 curry nights for Sunday evenings, the first two comprising Jamaican goat curry and beef Madras.

So it is that we venture to Strangeloves on a chilly and blustery evening with the splendid company of our next-door neighbour Rob, himself something of a veteran stalwart of western suburbs cheap eats.

Strangeloves occupies a stretch of Mt Alexander Rd just down the hill from Puckle St.

The neighbourhood is cluttered with a  diverse range of eateries, some of which shape as potential Consider The Sauce features, some of which don’t, and some – such as the swanky Greek joint Philhellene - we’d love to try when an occasion comes along that warrants that kind of expenditure.

As well as eateries, there are a number of nightclub-style bars that we presume cater to a much younger and raucous crowd than us.

It is into this environment that Michael and Kurt are trying to carve themselves a prosperous niche, and by all accounts slowly succeeding, though one should never under-estimate the hard slog that starting such a business can entail.

Michael tells me they envisaged their customer base would be an older crowd looking for a quiet, comfy and cosy place to have a drink and socialise.

To that end, they boast a cracking wine list, while Rob – who is partial to imbibing Scotch – gives a big thumbs up to the whiskey list. There’s also a small but very hip range of boutique beers.

Happily, the customer demographic has developed an unforeseen bonus aspect, in that it seems there are also quite a few  20-somethings who find such a place offers plenty.

As Rob and I talk with the Strangeloves guys as they prepare that night’s curry feast, Bennie makes himself scarce – I subsequently find he’s found some friendly locals to thrash at checkers.

Curry night at a wine bar? I keep my hopes and expectations firmly in neutral.

Unnecessarily, for it turns out Michael is a dab and experienced curry cook – and the tucker they turn on for us is top-notch and quite unlike anything any of us has eaten previously.

The white rice is studded with grains of its black sibling.

The spiced potatoes are beaut, with the onions almost becoming part of the gravy.

But the highlight is the pork curry.

This features belly pork and two kinds of bamboo – the crunchy strands of the preserved variety and the spud-like chunks of the smoked kind, which has a somewhat similar texture to the canned bamboo shoots we’re all familiar with from Chinese food.

Health food this is not, but the taste and textures impress us no end. The chilli rating is kinda high, but Bennie and I both moderate the effect by pushing several small red peppers to the side.

And at $10, we conclude this is a primo cheap eat of a thoroughly and delightfully distinctive kind.

All three of us love the pleasant and convivial couple of hours we spend at Strangeloves, and we suggest getting along to one of the Sunday curry nights  is a fine thing to plan on – before the boys move on to something else.

A warning though …

The streets around this stretch of Mt Alexander Rd are a minefield of parking restrictions ready to trap the unwary and the hasty.

So keen were we to chow down, that all three of us failed to notice the “permit holders only” signs on the side street in which we parked, costing us a $72 fine.

We were in good company – there were at least four other vehicles in he same short street similarly pinged!

For the latest curries and details of others special events, you can visit the Strangeloves website or check them out on Facebook.

Strangeloves on Urbanspoon

Fresh On Young

11 Comments

34 Young St, Moonee Ponds. Phone 9375 3114


Young St is parallel to Puckle St, while Fresh On Young faces out on to the carpark adjacent Safeway.

This ain’t no supermarket – it may stock the likes of loo paper and laundry powder and so on, but not so that I’ve noticed.

On the other hand, nor is it a humble suburban fruit and vegie outfit. Nope, it’s more like a super-charged greengrocery.

In fact, the depth, breadth, colour and vitality of this outfit delivers much of the vibe of a visit to, say, Footscray market with very little of the jostling and hassles.

It’s a long building with a narrow street frontage, but it’s surprising how much they cram in there without ever engendering a cluttered or claustrophobic feel.

They have all the fresh fruit and vegies well covered, from staples to the more exotic, with specials to the front or outside.

The meats are all shrink-wrapped, but they cover a lot of bases there, too. We regularly pick up a six-pack of Italian pork sausages, which are as good as any we use for pasta sauces and seem more competitively priced than more specialist places. They even had goat when I dropped in a few weeks back.

The deli section down the end appears at first glance to be rather modest, but a look closer reveals they have all aspects of that covered, too.

There’s all the pasta, oils and vinegars and so you could want. I usually pick up some of the Motta or Lavazza coffee that’s on special, while down the front there’s also a pretty good selection of breads on hand – ranging from pide to sourdough.

There’s two checkout counters, one on either side at the front, and between them they can handle four shoppers at a time. I’ve always found the service quick and hassle-free.

Sadly, Fresh On Young is too far away from our Yarraville pad to be our regular one-stop grocery store. I wish!

Ripples Fish And Chips

6 Comments

14 Margaret St, Moonee Ponds. Phone 9370 0800

I’ve grown quite fussy about my fish and chips. I can imagine a scenario or two wherein I might eat them takeaway-style. Maybe tossed from the fryer into one of those cardboard trays, thrown is a paper bag and then scarfed at an adjacent beach no more than a few minutes walk away.

But as for eating ‘em after they’ve been wrapped in paper and toted home – well, no, we don’t do that no more. The result might have appeal for some, but for me by the time you get around to it, them fish an chips is steamed, rather than fried. Just like home-delivered Cantonese food – in fact, home-delivered food of most kinds, including pizza.

I’m also quite a fan of the new-school fish and chip joints (and burger enterprises) that are now scattered across Melbourne.

Let’s face it – this isn’t the kind of food that any of us wants to live on, or even eat regularly.

So when I indulge, I want it good and I don’t mind going the extra yards – and paying the odd extra dollar.

In all regards, Ripples – in a strip of eateries right across from the Moonee Ponds train station – hits the spot.

Inside, it’s all spotlessly clean and gleaming formica and chrome.

They do such things as grilled this and cajun that, but I’m not interested.

The coleslaw is your typical Aussie routine – that is, swimming in mayo – but less so than in your average chicken shop. It’s pretty good, actually, and the cabbage/carrot/onion combo is crunchy and pleasingly on the fresh side.

The chips are always hot and likewise crunchy.

A recent visit (21/8/10) for fish, chips, coleslaw, tartare sauce, can of coke clocked in at $14.10.

On his single visit, Bennie had his usual burger-with-the-lot-minus-egg, pronouncing it just fine.

And here’s the clincher – Ripples staff not only bring your meals to your table, they bring REAL cuttlery and REAL crockery with them.

In the new world of fish and chips, one in which the oil is presumably changed a lot more often than on a yearly basis, that’ll get my vote and my money every time.

Ripples Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon