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

Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant

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Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant (Quan Chay Tu Thien), Shop 11 Alfrieda St, St Albans. Phone 0435 397 129

Mock duck, vegan ham, vegan crispy chicken?

I’ve always been a bit sniffy about the concept of “pretend meat”, even if it is a venerable Asian tradition.

We love, eat and cook quite a range of non-meat food, especially Indian at home.

But I’ve long held that if we are to do without meat, then let’s not pretend … so to speak.

I now suspect my ambivalence about mock meat has had quite a lot to do with the fact the Chinese food is not way up high on our list of favoured cuisines – and it’s with Chinese cooking that I most associate these kind of products.

Because I find that when they are matched with Vietnamese food, my whole outlook is transformed.

I am intrigued and tickled pink as I take in the menu at Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant.

Pho, rice paper rolls, vermicelli, “beef” stew, crispy “chicken rice – the menu is packed with Vietnamese staples done in ways that are completely free of meat and seafood.

But whatever broadening of my mind that is transpiring here, I play it safe by ordering a dish that looks like it’ll be a very close cousin of its non-vegetarian version – bun bi cha gio (8.50).

Instead of shredded pork, there’s shredded tofu.

The spring rolls are much more genteel and smooth of interior than I expect, with none of the crunch and texture of nuts or mushrooms I had foreseen.

There’s lettuce, grated carrot, mint, peanuts and bean sprouts, of course, along with the vermicelli, and the accompanying chilli sauce adds a good seasoning kick.

It doesn’t quite have the same flavour kick of the various meaty versions, but a degree of subtlety is only to be expected.

But it’s a nice change, even if a certain mealiness becomes more apparent as I near the end.

It’s big serve and I don’t quite leave my bowl clean.

It’s not until later that realise there’s been no onion or vinegary tang. Perhaps the spiritual and philosophical outlook of the place prevents it, though I notice there are menu items that include garlic.

I’m very interested in this place in general and what’s in those spring rolls in particular.

But I find the robed and smiling staff are no more adept at English than I am at Vietnamese.

So we’re at a stalemate until I gently accost a customer seeking a takeaway lunch, and discover that, yes, she speaks English and will be only too happy to help out.

The spring rolls contain, I am told, nothing more than vegetables and tofu.

The restaurant has been open since late July.

It’s a Buddhist establishment, basically – as the name indicates – being run as a charity, with all the cooking done by monks and nuns.

My lovely translator, Mo, tells me she herself is Buddhist, as are her parents.

She says that while younger generations of Vietnamese are less likely to embrace such spiritual or food traditions, among older generations she believes adherence may be even higher than 20 per cent.

I’m excited about the idea of exploring the menu further – there’s Singapore fried noodles, some good-looking salads, steamboats, straightahead vegetable dishes such as sauteed pumpkin leaves and a whole lot more (see full menu below).

If anyone tries it, please let us know your hits and misses!

There seems every chance Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant will become a magnet for vegetarians, not only from the western suburbs but from all over Melbourne.

Thanks, Mo, for being so gracious about being asked to provide translation aid!

Sunshine Charcoal Chicken

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Sunshine Charcoal Chicken, 3 Alfrieda St, St Albans. Phone: 9364 5310

Now look here, I’d be rather cross if you folks started believing there’s some sort of group-think going on with food bloggers.

Well, believing there is more of it than is found in all sorts of endeavours involving the inter-action of human beings.

Reading other blogs is supposedly part of blogging itself.

Truth is, though, I love checking out what other people are up to.

Sometimes – when I’ve nothing to gasbag about myself – I spend a whole evening reading other blogs, leaving a few comments along the way.

One thing that has struck in becoming familiar with this wonderful new world is the rampant individuality and the personality that blogs generate.

This seems especially so of the 20 or so Mellbourne food blogs I admire most and follow the most religiously.

More specifically, I’m quite amazed about how little overlap there is between Consider The Sauce and the blog and blogger with whom we have most in common – Footscray Food Blog and its boss, Ms Baklover, whose work we adore.

Considering myriad mutual interests, including but not restricted to geography, this seems rather miraculous.

The number of places both blogs have covered would be well into double figures but equally well short of three figures.

I reckon that says a lot about the foodie riches of Melbourne’s western suburbs, don’t you?

But sometimes the obviousness and rightness of something cannot be denied.

So …

The very day Footscray Food Blog writes about the Sunshine branch of an outfit called Sunshine Charcoal Chicken happens to be a day off for yours truly.

Lunch is not only on, it’s mandatory – and preferably one I can bang on about.

The St Albans’ outlet of the same outfit has long been on the CTS wishlist.

And I need to harvest some photos for Snap West

So … a meandering drive to St Albans and back is just the ticket!

And thus, for the first time ever, CTS and FBB write on the same organisation on the same day, albeit about different shops.

(Editor’s note: As Ms Baklava herself point out below, this was actually the second time … but still. For such sloppy attention to detail, the author has been docked a week’s pay!)

I really like this Alfrieda St chook emporium – it has a lovely lived-in feel and four tables.

During my lunch visit, the place is pretty damn busy with chicken-loving regulars and locals.

They sell two kinds of chicken – regular Aussie-style charcoal chook and what they refer to as Spanish chicken, which means Filipino style.

The latter are butterflied and marinated, and a whole flock of them have just entered the in-house tanning salon as I arrive.

A quarter bird of either will cost you $4 and a half, $6.

I go Filipino-style, of course, that being the whole purpose of my visit.

Bonus points to this joint for providing real cutlery and crockery, which according to Ms Baklover is not the case at the Sunshine food court outlet.

The chips are fresh out of the frier but a little disappointing – I’m not quite sure what the problem is, as they’re hot and nicely salted. Maybe the problem is all mine.

The breast meat is too dry, but not disastrously so.

The meat around the various bones is much, much better – top class, in fact.

The flavour is rather mild. There’s an expected sweetness and my tastebuds tell me there’s a significant garlic component as well.

The coleslaw is heavy on the gloop factor but the cabbage and carrot ingredients are fresh and crunchy.

It’s a really good chicken lunch I enjoy, so this place is likely to be the subject of return visits by father and son.

I’m partial to regular charcoal chicken, but it’s cool that there’s this tasty alternative in St Albans AND Sunshine.

And on the way back home, doing the CTS Westie Prowl, I discover an Argentine bakery in Derrimut! It’s closed but I’ll be there the next day for sure.

Sunshine Charcoal Chicken on Urbanspoon