Alfrieda Street eats goss

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So what’s happening on St Albans’ vibrant eats strip?

Well, I’m told a fire event has forced the temporary closure and refurbishment of Sunshine Charcoal Chicken.

Truth is, the place was looking rather tired so hopefully something good will come of their misfortune.

As I said recently to a CTS reader when discussing a similar business in Essendon, one of these days – with a little bit of tweaking and finessing – charcoal chicken shops will become the Next Big Thing.

 

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Alfrieda Street will soon have its own branch of French Baguette Cafe, the Footscray version of which is proving such a multifaceted hit.

 

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What was once home to the short-lived Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant quite recently came to house Sunrise.

In quick order that, too, has closed.

The lovely My from Phi Phi tells me the address is destined to house a new eatery with a broader outlook, one more attuned to the commercial realities of the neighbourhood.

 

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A new Alfrieda banh mi shop appears to have become  hit rather quickly.

 

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Meanwhile, I checked back into Phi Phi – after it all, it has been a long couple of weeks since I was last there – to make sure their roast meats are still superb.

The answer is: Yes!

Definitely my go-to place for this kind of food.

After talking with My, and all going to plan, Consider The Sauce and Phi Phi will co-host a CTS Feast there early in the new year.

 

Yumminess on Alfrieda

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Phi Phi Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant, 28 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9366 5686

We’ve been here before … 28 Alfrieda Street, that is.

First as Just Good Food, then as Phuong Thao – and there was another incarnation in there along the way as well.

Such is the ebb and flow, the come and go of our foodie precincts.

The latest establishment to grace 28 Alfrieda is Phi Phi – and based on a beaut Sunday dinner, we think that is a fine thing indeed.

There’s a new fit-out and the staff are trying really hard and with much graciousness.

Phi Phi is a Vietnamese/Chinese place with a wide-ranging menu that takes in all you’d expect – seafood-based banquets right through to the most humble noodles and rice dishes.

The big ovens are still out back, so you can count on the roast meats still being the goods.

 

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When we visit, the place is fetchingly busy.

And we can think of no better testament to the place’s worthiness than the way complementary bowls of chicken soup are dispensed.

For two of our mains, we would have been very disappointed had we not got soup.

For another, it’s arrival was a pleasant surprise.

For the fourth, the chook soup addition was a shock and a big plus – now that’s class!

We don’t push any envelopes with what we order, but everything we have is good or much better.

 

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Hot and sour soup ($5) is far from being the hottest or sourest I’ve enjoyed, but it IS among the very best, so chock-full of pork, baby prawns, tofu, mushrooms and other goodies is it.

It’s fantastic!

 

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Soft-shell crab rice paper rolls ($7) and …

 

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… sashimi salmon rice paper rolls ($7) are both lovely, high-quality treats.

The crab taste, the fried-and-fishy tang of which can be off-putting to some, is nicely muted by the other protagonists.

In both cases, the rolls deliver fresh takes on the usual but nevertheless fit right in to the rice paper roll tradition.

 

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Fried won tons ($5) are just so good!

Obviously house-made, they are grease-free and plump with nicely seasoned minced pork.

 

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Hainanese chicken claypot ($11.50) comes with heaps of bok choy.

Its recipient is delighted to find the bottom rice has the desired, browned crunchiness!

 

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Of course, ordering Hainanese chicken rice in a non-Malaysian eatery is always a bit of punt – but can lead to nice twists.

In this case, the Phi Phi version ($10) comes with some non-Malay greenery.

The rice is good, too.

And as with the claypot rendition, the chicken is superb – beautifully cooked and tender, despite some of the pieces being quite dense, and expertly boned with not a deadly shard of nastiness in sight.

That I really, truly appreciate.

 

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Bennie goes for the salt and pepper pork ribs on tomato rice ($11), mainly because the lad is currently in a place where fried = good.

It’s all very nice, though I’ve had versions – be they pork, chicken, tofu, whatever – that have had more arresting zing in the seasoning department.

 

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One of our party goes real old-school by ordering beef with black bean sauce on rice ($12).

And why not?

We’re loving our dinner so much we confidently expect this, too, to be very good.

And so it is.

Like all the aforementioned mains, this comes with a bowl of chicken soup – not a usual move for a black bean-sauced dish and worthy of a “Bravo”!

 

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As we muse on our wonderful dinner, we count ourselves lucky that the food we like most is so affordable.

Our meal – including a can of soft drink and a durian smoothie – clocks in at a stupendously good $74 for four.

And that, in turn, has us reflecting on the fact our newly refurbished Yarraville pub has on its menu Singapore noodles priced at $26.

Yikes!

We’ll take Phi Phi any day.

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On an earlier reconnaissance visit, yours truly also went old-school with a serve of roast duck and soya chicken on rice.

 

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This $12 outing was also most enjoyable.

The meats were tender and expertly chopped, and the presence of not just soup but also ginger/garlic/oil mash and pickles made the dish memorable.

 

Phi Phi Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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Alfrieda Street gem

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Phuong Thao, 28 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9366 5686

We first wrote about a restaurant at these premises a long time ago when it was called Just Good Food.

Since then it’s also been branded as Quang Thao but now has settled on Phuong Thao.

I have no idea if there has been or is any continuity between back then and now in terms of management, staff, cooks and so on.

Though the giant roast-meat ovens out back are still very much evidence.

I like the fact that it’s roomy and not as packed as a handful of the other Alfrieda Street hot-spots.

I like, too, that every time I’ve arrived at the place there has been a reassuring number of locals and regulars who obviously know what they’re about when it comes to their tucker.

I like it that for third lunch in a many weeks I am greeted similarly.

Yes, I have grown to like this joint.

(It was here, too, by the way, that I sourced the chicken feet that made Bennie’s thankfully short-lived stay in Sunshine Hospital just that little bit more tasty …)

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You can order pho at Phuong Thao, but why would you when there is so much other fun stuff to ponder?

There’s Chinese roast meats, of course, but the heart of what’s available appears to be Vietnamese.

They have four-person banquets that go from $107 way up to $357 for the bells-and-whistles lobster version.

On a more prosaic level there’s soft shell crab with salted egg yolk (cua lot rang hot vit muoi, $18.50), coleslaws that are surely mammoth serves given they cost $25 a pop, rare cooked beef with lemon (bo tai chanh, $25), fish in clay pot with caramel (ca kho to, no price lised with the photo on the wall) and goat casserole (lau de, $35 and $55).

For my first couple of visits I have the same fine dish – hu tieu nam vang or rice noodle in Cambodian style (top photo, $10).

It’s a super soup blast.

In addition to the rudimentary green onions and coriander, there’s quite a lot julienned celery for extra and delightful crunch.

The prawns have good, strong and fresh flavour and the slices of pork are grand, though I could live without the gooey-centred small eggs.

The broth is hot and fine, and has floating in it minced pork and – the bowl’s primary flavour factor – granulated garlic.

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For today’s lunch I go more basic and familiar with tomato rice with marinated diced beef ($10).

As I have found elsewhere with this dish, looks can be deceiving – what appears to be a smallish serve is more than adequate. Something about cocooning the main players in a lettuce-leaf cup, I reckon.

The beef chunks are a little larger than is usual, beautifully tender and nicely crusty on the outside.

The rice seems more like just plain fried rice with negligible tomato factor and is a little on the dry side.

Phuong Thao on Urbanspoon

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Street food blow-out in St Albans

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Chinese New Year, Alfrieda Street, St Albans

Ahhh, a lazy Sunday.

One on which we resolve to behave like do-nothing home-bodies.

We’re getting good at this as it’s precisely what we’ve worked resolutely on for the past three weeks.

We’ve even pulled the plug on a cross-town trip to the Astor to see a Marx Brothers double bill.

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Our slacker routine does, however, come with a mandatory self-imposed stipulation of at least a single out-of-the-house excursion and we’re planning on making that a relaxed WeFo cafe lunch.

But then a pal emails us with the riveting information that it’s Chinese New year time in St Albans.

So off we go …

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We’re no strangers to Chinese New Year celebrations but this is our first in St Albans.

It’s a doozy.

The whole of the Alfrieda Street strip is pulsating … with distorted music, laughter, prancing dragons and much more.

And it smells terrific.

While there’s some overlap between the massive number of food stalls, there is a gratifyingly wide number of choices available, much of it on sticks.

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As we amble up and down and back up the street, we make big-time happy with:

  • Deep-fried calamari
  • Mini Vietnamese pancakes
  • Wonderful grilled sweet corn
  • Skewers of beef interspersed with onion and capsicum
  • Beef honey jerky.
  • A wonderfully crunchy, fresh, healthy (!) green papaya salad with jerky and peanuts that almost matches the one we enjoyed at this august occasion.

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As we are leaving, a dude asks if it’s OK for his girlfriend to take a photo of him and I.

As Bennie concludes, it’s probably all over FB or Twitter by now …

Maybe I should start charging for Mythbusters pictorial duties.

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Brimbank Central Multicultural Festival

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Brimbank Central Multicultural Festival, Errington Reserve, St Albans

While there was some firmness about how and what Consider The Sauce would be when it started, it was also always going to be the case that it would evolve.

One of the really neat things that have become a feature – and one Bennie and I really enjoy – is getting out and about to various festivals and community events.

This has led to a regular routine of keeping tabs on social media, the suburban press (on the very odd occasion when it gets delivered) and other sources for info about forthcoming events.

Inevitably, of course, some slip between the gaps.

So we were delighted to get hipped to this lovely festival by another blogger who also keeps pretty good tabs on these sorts of things, Eve from Conversation With Jenny.

We met Eve while on rickshaw duty and we’re happy to enjoy her company again for this Sunday outing.

After walking from Yarraville to Footscray, where we’d wisely left our car after the previous night’s festivities, we hook up with Eve and tootle on up Ballarat Rd.

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The festival takes up a whole lot more space than any of us have been expecting, although much of that is taken up by your regular sideshow alleys attractions and rides.

The stalls – mostly food, but including others such a funeral director from whose staff we get show bags – are arrayed along a strip about 100 metres long.

The food offerings feature some that you’d normally expect to see at such a bash, but there are a few pleasant surprises as well.

Bennie and Eve are both lusting after those Dutch-style mini-pancakes, so off they go.

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He gets his from a regular-looking fast-food caravan establishment; she gets hers from the faux castle outlet.

Seems like a tie to me, though Bennie claims bragging rights in terms of quantity.

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I go for a serve of fish tikka – it’s mildly spiced, delicate and nice.

Next up for me is a $10 Polish platter from the folks from Eastern Bloc Catering.

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This is a delight … three pierogi stuffed with potato, cheese and onion, and topped with crumbled bacon and sour cream. I’m told the cheese is “farmhouse first hanging”.

Cabbage that looks like it may be sauerkraut but isn’t; it’s more of a slaw, lightly pickled and including both red and white cabbage.

Slices of Polish sausage topped with dill pickle and a mix of beetroot and horseradish.

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Eve shouts Bennie one of those potato tornado thingies.

He opts for the salt and vinegar version.

Looks pretty much like potato cake on a stick to me.

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Eve snags a small bucket of Taiwanese popcorn chicken but us boys to get to try it, too.

It’s fresh, hot and wonderful … not to mention stupendously healthy.

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That’s about it for us in terms of food, though I do wrap things up with a serve of chewy loukaomades and an excellent cafe latte.

We take in the sights and sounds a while more before heading home, beating the afternoon downpour and leaving the festival to roll on well into the night.

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Lasang Pinoy (The Filipino Cuisine)

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Josephine with the cup she won for having the best food stall at the 2012 Filipino Fiesta at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

Lasang Pinoy (The Filipino Cuisine), 12 Victoria Square, St Albans. Phone: 9364 1174

Whatever hiccups have attended Consider The Sauce’s exploration of Filipino food in the past, we can now happily put them behind us.

And it’s all thanks to a wonderful lady by the name of Josephine, who runs Lasang Pinoy in St Albans.

As much as anything, I think previous encounters went awry through not just sometimes dodgy or unsuitable food but also through a lack of engagement.

Now, I’m not sat saying such engagement was not possible or available in those other times and places.

But I am saying we failed to find it.

And it’s something Josephine supplies heaps of.

She senses right away our interest in her food and her eatery, making sure we are OK with everything and later explaining the dishes we had ordered.

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Her restaurant, situated in a court of mixed businesses about a block or so from Alfrieda St, bears still decor reminders of its previous incarnation as a Bosnian place, though Josephine has tempered it all with some colourful Filipino-themed artwork and posters.

For some weeks I’d become increasingly impressed with the pride and humour with which the restaurant had been touting its goodies on its Facebook page, so I am hopeful.

I’d stuck my nose in a couple of times previously, but this time around – with Bennie and good pal/neighbour Rob for company – Team CTS is determined to eat.

And so we do.

We’re delighted to share the dining spaces with a couple of tables of the Filipino family nature and revel right away in Josephine’s hospitality.

After getting a rundown on the contents of the bain marie – and studiously avoiding the more challenging (pork liver) dishes – we settle in for a tasty feast.

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Pork BBQ skewers – look black and burnt; are not.

Made with meat marinated in brown sugar, soy, vinegar, salt and pepper, they unsurprisingly taste unlike any pork skewers we’ve previously eaten.

They’re tangy and yummy. They’re also the only part of our spread that Bennie likes, the rest of it being a little too odd for him. He’s excused and granted permission to grab another skewer, pretty much leaving the rest of the meal to Rob and I.

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Beef kare kare, made with beef, canned banana blossom that looks like artichoke, eggplant and green beans, is my favourite.

The meat is quite tough but delicious, the broth and vegetables fine. Except for the disappointing eggplant, which seems woefully undercooked by my reckoning.

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Pork adobo is a simple dish packed with flavour from soy, vinegar and garlic.

I love the dark, sweetish broth, and the tender meat, too, after easily removing the fat.

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Fried tilapia, from Thailand we are told, is fish plain and simple.

Rob and I both like it a lot, making short work of the flesh, which comes away from the bony frame quite easily.

All our meal choices go well with a small side dish of pickles that are both sweet and sour.

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There’s quite an array of Filipino desserts on hand, but we restrict ourselves to sampling a single cheese roll. This appears to be another variation on the universal theme of fried dough. It has quite a strange flavour and is not as decadent as it appears.

After talking some more with Josephine, she lets us have a taste of her wonderful iced melon juice before turning Rob and Bennie on to a sugarcane brew of some kind.

I happily sit that one out.

Summarising our meal, Rob nails it – some of it has been unusual for mouths used to the other national flavours of South-East Asia, and maybe we could’ve ordered smarter; but we’ve had a plenty fine enough time of it to be interested in a return visit.

Especially considering the welcome and service.

And in terms of Consider The Sauce and Filipino food, that constitutes a breakthrough.

Even if the food does its level best to defy my photograph attempts to show it in a good light. It tastes better than it looks – honest!

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After showing Rob some of our favourite westie haunts, we stop off at Sweet Grass Bonsai Nursery & Cafe in Footscray West for relaxing, chilled-out mocktails – Black Widow for Bennie (he just can’t go past Coke and ice-cream) and tangy Sun Up and Bora Bora for Rob and myself.

What a grand day we’ve had!

Lasang Pinoy on Urbanspoon

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Hong Kong Noodle Bar

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Hong Kong Noodle Bar, 306 Main Rd E, St Albans. Phone: 9367 2525

Hong Kong Noodle Bar has a very similar name and look to a very similar establishment in Footscray – could be they’re even related in some way.

We’ve generally found the Footscray version to be of such haphazard service levels that we stay away.

But that’s not the reason we’ve taken so long to check out the one in St Albans.

That has had more to do with more alluring options around the corner in Alfrieda St.

For this lunchtime, though, none of them appeal … and even the banh mi places are all a-jostle.

So in I go … and end up very happy that I have done so.

For this seems like an everyday eats joint of quite some excellence.

The basic vibe is Chinese-style BBQ meats, with the roast beasties hanging in the window, the comforting chopping sound that can elicit pavlovian drool and – at one end of the kitchen – a handsome, large and rotund oven that indicates the roasting is done in-house.

Although double-banger rice or soup noodle plates are not on the menu, I have little trouble in arranging a soup bowl with both soya chicken and BBQ pork.

I love the way the sediments from the roast meats flavours the broth.

I don’t ever remember having this sort of soup bowl with anything other than squiggly, commercial egg noodles. I’m not sure I’d like it if I did.

Same goes with the MSG. Fine by me … for eating out. Does anyone use MSG at home?

There’s a good supply of bok choy.

As for the meats …

The chicken seems to be almost all breast meat, and thus a little on the dry side but blessedly free of bones.

The pork is sinfully rich, fatty and delicious.

It’s a cracking lunch for $8.

Honk Kong Noodle Bar flirts with a few dishes of Thai or Malaysian derivation, but I reckon tried and true is the go here.

Indeed, some of the rice plates I see around me look both fine and big, with bells and whistles – small bowls of soup and fresh chilli slices – that are not always the norm.

I wish we had one in our immediate neighbourhood.

Hong Kong Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon