Cheap, quick Thai

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Thai Deli, 195 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne. Phone: 9696 6895

We spotted Thai Deli while ambling along Clarendon Street destined for Shakahari.

We liked the look of it – small, busy, cheap and with an abundance of that lived-in look that Consider The Sauce finds so alluring.

In the weeks following, Bennie spoke of the place a couple of times – I like it that such a business registered in his mind.

He even compared it with a much-missed Carlton institution. There’s big differences between the two, but I get where he’s coming from.

So soon we are back to take Thai Deli for a run.

Myself, Bennie, Che meet up with Thai expert Andy from Krapow and get busy.

Perhaps I’ve been a little naive in hoping that a cheap Thai joint in the guts of South Melbourne would offer at least a couple of stand-out or unusual dishes.

It doesn’t.

But what we have is certainly enjoyable, very affordable and – I estimate – at least a little better than your average suburban Thai offerings.

 

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Chicken pad siu ($10.90) is perhaps the best of our four dishes. It’s oily, yes, but has some wok hei and is tasty and popular at our table.

 

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Chilli basil chicken ($10.90 with rice) is a single-person serve and just OK.

 

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Lamb salad ($11.50) has heaps of good, fresh greens and other veg bits. Thankfully, the sweet chilli sauce is abetted by something with a little more tangy – tamarind maybe?

 

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Beef panang curry $11.90) is good but very mild. Like the chilli basil chicken, I like the chunky (unprocessed) vegetables, including potato.

Andy reckons there’s bottled or canned sauce used to make this and other dishes the place does. Just about all Thai restaurants do so, he maintains.

I don’t mind that.

And if I lived or worked around here, I would no doubt be at least a semi-regular at Thai Deli.

But the truth is that within a couple of blocks there are three other places that do stuff that is lustier and more hardcore – see here, here and here.

 

Thai Deli on Urbanspoon

 

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Asian tucker without meat?

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Shakahari Too, 225 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne.Phone: 9682 2207

Consider The Sauce Thing 1 was happy to accept an invitation to a gathering at Shakahari Too in South Melbourne.

Consider The Sauce Thing 2 was rather less keen.

“Vegetarian?,” said he, skepticism plainly writ on his face.

“Think of it not as vegetarian but more as Asian food without meat,” father instructed son.

The occasion was a group dinner organised by Monique of Mon’s Adventure’s fame as part of her Vegetetarian Mission – and we fully enjoyed the whole night, eating different food and meeting new people.

The Carlton Shakahari has been around as long as I’ve been in Melbourne.

Despite vegetarian nightmares associated with previous lives in other countries, I was happy to give the South Melbourne branch a shot.

But in the end, and based entirely on the main courses Bennie and I selected, I confess his skepticism was warranted.

 

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Monique shouted the whole bunch of us an entree called Avocado Magic ($15.50).

This tempura dish was lovely, and its deep-fried vibe even impressed Bennie.

“Avocado wedges and red capsicum rolled in thin eggplant slices, tempura fried in a rice batter” and “served with a jade green coriander and sesame puree” was a terrific, the lusciousness of the avocado an unusual delight.

 

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I have cookbooks and recipes I revere that do without onions, garlic and chilli, so I know great food can be produced by doing so.

Or it is perhaps that we so very regularly eat such highly charged and spiced food?

 

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Shakahari Too on Urbanspoon

 

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Ayam Penyet RIA

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Ayam Penyet RIA, 248 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne. Phone: 9077 2947

Ayam Penyet RIA is part of an Indonesian restaurant chain , one that – going by its website – is based in Singapore.

The South Melbourne branch has been open about a month – and the word is well and truly out among students and other Indonesians in Melbourne.

Even on a chilly Monday night, the limited seating is at a premium, with there being more potential customers than the place is able to accommodate.

The concise menu runs to four mostly meaty soups, three meat plates and a few more of egg and eggplant, along with gado gado.

I find the service cheerful and quick.

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But my “smashed chicken” platter with rice ($10.50) doesn’t quite reflect the various photos around the place in terms of generosity.

The greenery is limited to a single slice of cucumber, and there is a single chunk apiece of tempeh and tofu.

The good-sized piece of fried chicken is real fine, though, especially in conjunction with what the website calls “blacan-chilli relish” – a wonderfully potent concoction!

All this combined with the rice makes for a good meal.

But I suspect there may be better to be had here – the beef ribs and gado gado I see being whizzed past me look interesting and more substantial.

Worth another look, for sure.

Ayam Penyet RIA on Urbanspoon

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Penang Road

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Penang Road, 177 Clarendon St, South Melbourne. Phone: 9690 0536

My non-blogging journalism career seems to be mirroring, in its own way, the rapidly changing nature of work in Australia and no doubt elsewhere.

After 15 and more years on the one masthead and pretty much two decades with a single employer, I am on to my third workplace in as many years.

I’m finding myself nimble enough to keep pace with changing circumstances and enjoying the various challenges.

Even better, a far higher number of the stories I am working with are to do with coffee and/or food and/or restaurants than has previously been the case, even if mostly they’re about places I am not viscerally interested in or can afford.

At my new South Melbourne office, home of the The Weekly Review and associated enterprises, there are a few familiar faces from other places and times, but a lot of shared history even with those I have never met before.

Ironically, the one staff member with whom I share a deep and lengthy job history went unnoticed by me, so long had it been since we worked together.

It was only when partaking in a discussion of the local lunch options that he reminded me of all that and the metaphorical penny dropped. Turns out he’s hip to Consider The Sauce, too!

Ben is deeply involved in the business development side of things and is the office wine writer/guru to boot, so not so coincidentally likes a good feed, too.

So when he robustly enthuses about the Malaysian place just around the corner, I take notice for sure.

Still, work continues to be deadline-driven, so opportunities for lunch escapes are not that common.

Finally, though, we escape for a brief but spectacularly fine Malaysian lunch.

Penang Road has a modest facade, so gives little away about what goes on within.

Stepping through the door, though, I am pleasantly surprised to find a cheerfully busy restaurant with quite classy dark wood furniture, a step up from, say, Coconut House.

Penang Road has all he expected bases covered – laksas, rice dishes, noodles and snacks.

The place is quite crowded but we quickly score a table and get down to perusing the menu, placing our orders at the counter and getting our “number”.

Our food arrives with gratifying haste – and it’s brilliant!

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Ben’s chicken rice ($9.60) looks fabulous.

Very good rice and plain soup/broth with what I suspect are chicken balls floating in it – neither of us get around to finding out, so intent are we on the meatier side of things and a wide-ranging conversation.

Best of all, the all-important mix of soy sauce, oil, chicken broth, ginger and garlic in which his boneless chicken resides is way more plentiful than is the norm in Melbourne’s Malaysian cheap eats joints.

And it’s tasty, too.

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My “chicken chop with rice” ($9.90) is superb, though it’s a nutritionist’s nightmare in almost every conceivable and excellent way.

Same fine chicken rice and broth, albeit minus the balls.

Good fried egg atop the rice.

Plenty of chilli sauce of just the right heat levels on the side.

And the chicken?

This is truly “OMG fried chicken” of a kind to make the Colonel blush with shame.

It’s boneless (despite being described as “chop”), crispy, wonderfully chewy, ungreasy and so plentiful that I am unable to devour it all, despite rampant deliciousness.

The garlicky, spicy tang of our lunch lingers with gusto deep into a hard-working afternoon.

I find it thrilling that such a beaut Melbourne cheap eats experience has eventuated through evolving changes in the media landscape.

Than again, it’s not surprising at all … and how about those prices?

Penang Road on Urbanspoon

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Meetbowl

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Meetbowl, 95 York St, South Melbourne. Phone: 9696 4412

Meetbowl is so very much the epitome of a cheap ‘n’ cheerful ethnic cafe that it verges on caricature.

Dull decor that arrives somewhere between unlovely and shabby.

About a dozen tables inside, three outside.

Flimsy plastic chairs, though the eat-in cutlery and crockery are real enough.

A constantly revolving clientele that appears to be mostly Indonesian students and office workers.

I wonder if they’re here because of Meetbowl, or if Meetbowl is here because of them.

Next to me, there’s a mostly paleskin table of four that appears to be much more along my own lines in terms of age and style.

They look like social workers.

A drinks cabinet bereft of just about everything but bottled water and some dairy product refreshments in which I have no interest.

Fortunately, there are a stack of water containers and glasses for all.

Unfortunately, as I await my lunch, one of the industrious and obliging staff members manages to spill one of the water vessels right into the right shoe of the sole remaining social worker.

I could say she lets out a shriek, but that might be over-stating the situation.

In any case, everything stops.

A collective thought: “Is there going to be a scene?”

No, there isn’t.

Some earnest mopping and all is once again good.

The staff member even tries to refund the social worker’s meal money, but the offer is cheerfully dismissed as the lady returns to her noodles and Times Literary Supplement.

My own lunch is a combination laksa ($12).

Nothing in the least bit refined here – in fact, it’s macho.

The soup is a little disappointing, though – not really hot enough and just your standard, creamy laksa doings with noodles of both regulation kinds.

The chunky bits are big and bold – a pork ball not much smaller than the tennis variety; a large, chewy wonton; two slices of fish cake much heftier than is the norm; some rather drab roast pork.

It’s better than OK, but doesn’t really land a killer blow.

Still, I’m Very Glad this place is right here, right next door to my new place of employ.

Hopefully that gig will continue and roll on for … well, a bloody long time.

It’d be great to some day look back and know that I had the time and the work to get more adventurous and pursue the Meetbowl menu into areas at present unfamiliar to me.

I hear Bakso Special, Bakwan Special, Siomay Bandung, Batagor, Pempek Palembang and many more calling my name.

Meetbowl on Urbanspoon

Dahon Tea Lounge

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Dahon Tea Lounge, Shop 5, 111 Cecil St, South Melbourne. Phone: 9696 5704

Other business having necessitated a visit to St Kilda Rd, it’s a satisfying to stop in South Melbourne on the way home and finally get around to a visit to Dahon Tea Lounge.

It’s here I’ll renew my sometimes rocky relationship with Filipino food.

The place is done out in a comfy yet quite sleek cafe style.

Things start very well.

A single skewer of BBQ pork ($2) is just right – tender meat, smoky flavour and an easily acceptable level of oiliness.

The delight and pleasure in the ability to order a dish containing okra mean I pay scant attention to the rest of the menu options, ordering instead pinakbet with rice ($9.20), the former described as “Filipino vegetable stew with okra, bitter melon, snake beans, pumpkin and eggplant”.

Reflecting on my meal as I write, I figure there’s only really two viable scenarios here.

One is that this is a typical, average, good or even excellent version of this Filipino staple and that fundamentally this is a dish not for me.

The other is that it is simply awful.

I am thoroughly underwhelmed.

There seems to be little impact by way of garlic, ginger, onion or shrimp paste.

And there seems to be little or no overall harmony in my meal – just a bunch of vegetables carelessly slapped together.

There is very little of the okra that triggered my order.

If this were to be served in a vegetarian cafe, it would be ridiculed.

The most abiding presence is a nasty bitterness – caused not only, I suspect, by the bitter melon but also by the undercooked eggplant.

I can go with the flow of slightly cooked beans and even pumpkin – but undercooked eggplant?

I subsequently look at a lot of photos, read a lot of recipes and even watch an interesting cooking video, and realise that, yes, what I have been served very much resembles a real-deal pinakbet.

Filipino food and me – seems like we could do with some sort of mediation. Or a mutual pledge to stay well clear of each other.

Or maybe next time I simply need to order one of the good-looking Dahon baguettes.

Or anything else on the menu.

Dahon Tea Lounge on Urbanspoon

Peko Peko

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Pop culture shrine, Japan-Taiwan-style, at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

Pop culture shrine, Japan-Taiwan-style, at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

Peko Peko, 190 Wells St, South Melbourne. Phone: 9686 1109

Peko Peko is tucked away in a back street near the junction of Domain and St Kilda roads.

This is a surprisingly large part of South Melbourne that seems to go largely unnoticed by the rest of Melbourne – unless we’re whizzing along Kingsway or headed for the South Melbourne Market or the gardens.

But, of course, it’s teeming with life and people.

Yes, a stack of office workers of various kinds, but there’s also a lot of apartment blocks hereabouts.

For those reasons, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the presence of lovely Asian joint like Peko Peko here.

But I am.

Perhaps that can be put down to lingering memories of a previous life spent working amid the eating blandness of the Southbank neighbourhood just up the road.

Peko Peko is done out in nice Asian cafe style.

It’s comprehensively packed for this week-day lunchtime, and I suspect it’s the same at night.

It’s menu is long and varied, though it concentrates on dishes of Taiwanese and Japanese derivation and has items that broaden their base quite a bit.

The prices surprise, too. The average price of the many main meals seems to be about $10-12 – no more than you’d pay for similar food in the CBD or the west.

The serves are big and generous.

The entrees include more than a handful of spring roll variations, as well as Peko Sausage (“unique house-madeĀ  Taiwanese sausage”).

Curries all seem to be of the Japanese persuasion, while main meals can be had as either in bowls or in Peko Boxes, which turn out to be the familiar bento boxes of laminated legend.

My lunch companion chooses one of the left-field dishes – Singapore noodles ($10).

Singapore noodles at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

Singapore noodles at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

She’s had it before so knows well what she’s getting into, and enjoys it accordingly. It seems more stuffed with goodies than most of its kind.

Yours truly goes for menu item No.1 – Pork Chop Addiction ($12.50), described as “traditional Taiwanese deep-fried pork cutlet, served w. pickled cabbage”.

Pork Chop Addiction at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

Pork Chop Addiction at Peko Peko in South Melbourne.

The spring roll – hard to tell if it’s filled with pumpkin or carrot or both – is just OK.

The salady, cold beans are wonderful, tossed in – I’m guessing – some sort of sesame dressing.

The cabbage pickles lack any sort of pickle punch.

The deep-fried pork cutlet is heart attack material – and there’s a huge amount of it.

It’s crispy and nice, with a flavour that comes down to – I later discover – salt, pepper, garlic and five-spice. It’s also on the fatty side.

Still … a fruit salad dinner for me beckons tonight!

Peko Peko is a bit out of the way for us, but I have an inkling we may return – Bennie will love the pop culture shrine at the pay point and I’m learning he’ll eat just about anything, no questions asked, if it’s in one of those bento boxes.

Peko Peko on Urbanspoon