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

Xuan Xinh

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Xuan Xinh, 52 Alfrieda St, St Albans. Phone: 9362 1544

Self-evidently, Xuan Xinh has a name.

It has street signage saying so, too.

But this has to be the most anonymous eatery on busy Alfrieda St.

Like Pho Kim Long just up the street, this is a local hangout, but one I’d guess even less likely to pull in visitors to the area looking for a good feed.

Aside from right here, you’ll not find bloggers or newspaper foodie bits extolling its virtues, nor any love – or even a mention – at Urbanspoon.

But that sort of anonymity and the steady parade of regular and hungry customers have their own appeal.

There’s banh mi makings on display, but most of the eat-in customers have their food out of bowls rather than buns.

I’d not call myself a regular here, but over the course of several visits I’ve endeavoured to discover what it is these customers are having for lunch.

But so unused are the staff to having non-Vietnamese speaking customers and so monumentally lacking is my understanding of same that such inquiries have, perhaps inevitably, ended up in all-round bewilderment.

All I know is there’s a congee on the menu, some chicken dishes, too; and next to the banh mi ingredients are a beef stew and a dish of pork ribs and hardboiled eggs.

I’m cool with it, as I suspect I’ll always order what I always order – the chicken curry.

This is a utilitarian eating space that has a comfy, lived-in feel.

I’m well used to biding my time in Indian joints by flipping with interest through copies of the various incarnations of the Indian street press.

But reading with equal interest the Filipino street press in a Vietnamese place? Definitely a first!

To go with my chook curry I can choose rice or roll.

I go the baguette route.

It’s sensationally fresh – crunchy on the outer, moist and almost doughy on the inside, perfect dipped in the curry.

Slurp, slurp!

My curry is perfection.

Three pieces of impeccably tender and tasty chicken, with the meat simply falling away from the bones.

One big and tender but not mushy potato.

Some coriander.

Curry gravy that is ever so mild, with just a whisper of spice kick.

The price? $8 – and that’s perfect, too.

Slavonija Continental Butchers

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Slavonija Continental Butchers, 75 Main Rd West, St Albans. Phone: 9366 2336.

The lovely staff at Slavonija Continental Butchers tell me the business has been in operation at these premises for about 30 years.

They answer my pesky questions as a succession of regular customers come and go.

They stock a nice but restricted line groceries such as pickled vegetables and so on.

But the main action here without a doubt surrounds the smoked meats and sausages.

Everything bar the salami is made in-house, I am informed.

There’s several different kinds of Polish sausage, the difference between them being something I only dimly grasp.

I buy a long length of low-fat Polish sausage at $20 a kilogram. If it tastes as good as it looks, it may become our default position for pastas, salads and bean soups and stews in which we use chorizo.

I buy, too, a half dozen frankfurts at $11 a kilogram.

This is about twice what we pay for unsmoked beef numbers at Al Amena at the Circle in Altona but still way short of what Andrews in Yarraville charges for their franks.

These are fat and pale pink, as opposed to the long, skinny and red that is more familiar. They are smoked, though.

Most of them go in the freezer, but I have two for dinner – just with bread roll, dijon mustard and pickled cucumber slices.

They’re damn fine, juicy and with a only a mild smokiness.

And yes – joy of joys – they go “pop”.

At that sort of acceptable price, these, too, could become regulars in our household.

I’m looking forward to exploring the Slavonija range at greater depth, especially with a view to tarting up our work/school lunches.

Pho Kim Long

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Pho Kim Long, 60 Alfrieda St, St Albans. Phone: 9364 4960

That the street frontage of Pho Kim Long is set a metre or so back from those of its neighbours and pretty much the whole of one side of Alfrieda St seems fitting.

This is an unfussy, utilitarian eating place, one unlikely – I suspect – to get much trade from visitors from elsewhere who are liable to gravitate towards some of the shinier establishments.

This is where locals eat – and there’s a lot of them.

As I saunter in, only two other tables are taken – one by a group of slurping senior citizens, a very comforting sight indeed.

By the time I’m done, the place is packed, with all heads over bowls.

Everything about the place – the tiles, the Buddhist shrine, the furniture, the menu, the tabletop accoutrements, the smell – is familiar and reassuring.

Pho Kim Long does pho every which way, but in only one size – and that appear to Large for $9.

That is what most of my fellow customers are tucking into.

I take another tack, ordering the vermicelli with pork and spring rolls ($9).

At first this looks a little on the drab side, but it’s fine.

The pork is on the oily side, quite thinly sliced, almost has a curry kind of tang to it and goes down a treat.

The spring rolls are ungreasy, crisp, hot and really good.

All the other ingredients are present and accounted for – crunchy peanuts, pickled vegetables, herbs and leaves including mint and some cabbage.

It’s good, even if not of the same stellar level of the vermicelli dishes at Pho Hien Saigon.

This is a nice lunch in a really soulful restaurant.

Pho Kim Long on Urbanspoon

Big Sam’s St Albans Market

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Big Sam’s St Albans Market, 3 St Albans Rd, St Albans. Phone: 9366 2237

Despite becoming quite familiar with the many wonders of the shopping and fun precinct that surround Alfrieda St in St Albans, Big Sam’s has until now escaped our attention.

For one thing, it’s often been closed when we’re in the neighbourhood.

For another, I heard – somewhere, somehow – that it’s nothing special.

A single, quick glance about as I enter amply demonstrates that latter point is untrue.

Instead of being just a single business, this appears to be many under the same roof and inhabiting quite a large space.

I don’t see any ordinary supermarket items such as loo paper or detergent, but between them the many stalls appear to have just about all the other bases covered. Certainly this is much more than a fruit and vegetable place.

There’s even a florist!

In that way, it’s a sort of multi-purpose market along the same lines as Sunshine Fresh Food Market – only a lot more meatier and a lot less halal.

There’s only a single seafood stall but a handful of butchers, each with a slightly different emphasis.

The prices are pretty keen.

I see several lots of tomatoes under the $2 mark. These are all very ripe – which is how I always buy them. Some are spoilt – but I have no problem at all finding some good still-firm ones to take home.

These bargain basement red capsicums are blemished – each one has what looks like some sort of frost burn the size of a 20 cent piece. But that aside, they are firm and fabulous. If the freezer at home didn’t have plenty of roasted and peeled ready to go, I’d be on them in a flash.

The market cafe has an Elvis thing going on … note the bongos.

I can see this place getting some handy usage from us when lunch adventures take us to St Albans.

It’s our kind of place with a really nice vibe.

Amanie’s Bakery

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Omelette with "the lots".

Amanie’s Bakery, Shop 4/280 Main Rd, St Albans. Phone: 9364 5333

No matter where you head in Melbourne for your fix Lebanese pies and pizza, they remain some of the very cheapest and finest food available.

The shop at the Circle in Altona is our default Lebanese pizza shop, due to both its excellence and the neighbouring shops, several of which have become firm and regular favourites.

It has a limited range, though, and in terms of an enjoyable eating-out-in-public experience, it doesn’t get more spartan.

Sometimes it’s only natural to want something a bit more colourful and entertaining.

That’s why we also really like Mankoushe in Brunswick and Al-alamy in Coburg.

Both offer broader menus that include things such as dip and falafel platters.

And both are way up there when it comes to interest, human and otherwise, and entertainment.

Amanie’s Bakery in St Albans resides somewhere between those two approaches, both in travelling distance from Yarraville and overall vibe.

The decor and furnishings are your basic ethnic cafe stuff, but the food list has all the basics and a few other items as well.

Mr Amanie, who has been here about 10 years, is a cheerful and obliging host.

Tending the Amanie's oven.

I’m here today to buy pies for the coming week – and, of course, for lunch, for which I desire something other than pies!

So I order the omelette “with lots”, which is going to cost me $5.50.

I’m half expecting that this will be served as the scrambled eggs are at Al-alamy – with pita bread, tomato slices, pickles and olives on the side – but I’m up for whatever eventuates.

That’s all to the good, as what I receive is a sort of egg pizza, with the omelette spread on the base and studded with tomato, olives and capsicum.

It’s been dusted deftly with chilli powder, which delivers a nice and spicy glow to what is just the sort of light lunch I craved.

Ms Baklover gives her rundown of this bakery’s gear  here at Fooscray Food Blog.

Meanwhile, it continues to be a profound mystery to me why Lebanese pizzas and pies – and sundry other dishes at the places that serve them – are not more widely celebrated as a brilliant and magical slice of Melbourne’s food scene.

Pho Ngon

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6 East Esplanade, St Albans. Phone: 9364 3838

The body has long been accustomed to the fact small-size pho is perfectly suited to my time in life.

The mind still has problems.

Thus it is that I gaze greedily at the medium and large bowls that whiz by, contrasting them with contemplation of what seems like a paltry serve in front of me.

The mind, of course, is playing tricks.

My lunch – a small serve of beef and chicken combo – is plenty big enough and plenty good, especially once loaded with bean sprouts and greenery.

The broth, clean and fresh, is of the mild, restrained variety, being neither overtly beefy nor heavily influenced by seasoning such a star anise.

The beef is very good, and that the chicken has some of the cool, chewy and gristly bits – instead of mere sliced breast meat – is fine and dandy by me.

Pho Ngon is a brand new old-school pho joint in St Albans, the existence of which we have been alerted to by CTS visitor Josephine.

The furnishings in black-stained timber, the menus on the wall – all is as you’d expect.

Pho prices are $7, $8 and $9.

But while pho, spring rolls and vermicelli dominate the menu, Pho Ngon boasts enough extra rice and noodle dishes – beyond the predictable – to offer more variety than might otherwise be expected.

Bennie, just for instance, couldn’t be happier with his dry egg noodles with crispy chicken (mi ga chien don kho, $8.50).

An unexpected plus here is the use of flat egg noodles, which give his meal the appearance and feel of a rustic pasta dish from another part of the world entirely. The noodles are awash with a sweetish, garlicky sauce and embedded with crunchy shallots, bean shoots, onion and cashews.

The serve of chicken is largish for this kind of dish and appears to be good and tender, coming away from the bone easily.

The soup-on-the-side Bennie leaves enjoyably until last. He tells me it’s not salty, not sweet, just OK.

Also a bonus are the outgoing cheerful of the staff – completely accepting of and unthreatened by photograph-taking, God bless ‘em – and the 10 per cent “grand opening discount” we receive.

We almost have them fooled that I am merely Bennie’s older brother.

We find out, too, that the only we’re going to get our hands on one of the fluorescent orange polo shirts bearing the Pho Ngon logo worn by the staff is by working there.

A quick post-lunch stroll up one side of Alfrieda St reveals that the place previous known to us as Just Good Food has had a name change.

St Albans Catering & Classic Cakes

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 216a Main Road East, St Albans. Phone: 9366 6566

Why are there no Maltese restaurants in Melbourne?

Even the most cursory online sleuthing reveals a super cuisine tradition, one that is of the Mediterranean yet quite different from that of its many neighbours – colourful, rich, varied and no doubt delicious.

I once put that question to a Maltese staff member at Stephz Gourmet Deli.

Her reply went something along the lines of the Maltese community is not prone to getting behind and supporting such enterprises, unlike many other expatriate communities.

Charles Sciberras reckons there may be something in that.

With his brother Ron, Charles runs the family business in St Albans.

It was started, at premises in Sunshine, in 1964 by their parents Emanuel and Maryanne.

The brothers became full-time staffers in 1974, and in 1979 the business moved to its present premises in St Albans.

From the mid-’80s to about 1990, a restaurant next door was indeed part of the business.

East End Bistro morphed into East End Reception, and Charles is happy to concede that catering is where the heart of the enterprise continues to lie.

“I can do 400 set menus almost in my sleep,” he quips. “Doing 100 al la carte meals …”

Left profoundly unsaid are the extra stress levels.


Charles was born in Australia, but tells he is more fluent in Maltese than most members of his generation of Maltese descendants because of his ongoing relationship with so many Maltese customers.

While there are only minor Maltese components on the catering menus the company creates for its customers, Charles is nevertheless proud of its product, saying the paramount thing is that the food be “flavoursome”.

“There is nothing bland about our food,” he says.

These days the business is about 80 per cent catering and 20 per cent cakes and pastries.

While the Maltese influence may not be in-your-face in their homely shop, a little snooping around reveals gems that Charles is happy to explain.

They sell quite a wide range of frozen pastizzi, which are sourced elsewhere.

They likewise sell ravioli and qssatat, which look like large versions of crimp-topped yum cha dumplings, are prepared in the oven and contain ricotta, or peas and onions, or – at Lent – anchovies, peas and onions.

Honey ring (top) and mqaret (bottom).

Very yummy are the honey rings, which cost $4.50 and contain a crumbly spiced mixed that involves dates, almonds, citrus peels and spices, all encased in a thin pastry tube.

Even more yummy are the mqaret (date slices), which cost $4.50 for a bag of six. The filling is just about all date and the pastry is very similar to the pimpled, flaky, crunchy variety found in canoli. Yep, they’re deep-fried!

They’re like the date-filled biscuits familiar to many Australians, ‘cept a whole lot better. Charles tells me it’s common for them to be served warm after a spell in the oven. I reckon they’d be great with good vanilla ice cream or yogurt!

Small galletti.

Also very Maltese are the galletti, which come in two sizes. They’re very dry, crunchy cracker-like affairs that Charles tells me are commonly eaten with Maltese cheese and wine.

The St Albans Catering & Classic Cakes website is here.

Kim Quynh

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56 Alfrieda St, St Albans. Phone: 9364 3872

Is there a dud eatery on Alfrieda St?

Even the charcoal chicken shop looks worth a go.

Truth is it’s still an adventure for us – and lots of fun.

But we really have little or no idea what we’re about when we’re there – it’s hit and miss for us, and that’s a kick all on its own.

For this holiday Monday lunch, once again we take our time, enjoying the sunshine as we stroll the full length of both sides of the street, just taking it all in.

We got lucky last time with the Chinese roast meats at Just Good Food – and we’re hoping our luck continues.

We veer away from the several restaurants that are jam-packed, with every table taken.

Likewise, we shun the single place we spot that has just a single table of customers.

We choose Kim Quynh based on the simple if unscientific premise that it’s busy and crowded with enough locals to guarantee a good feed while also having a few spare tables – which we hope means we’ll be welcome and not receive the sort of sloppy service and food that sometimes emanates from restaurants operating at fever pitch, with staff rushed off their feets.

We do good and a fine lunch ensues.

Kim Quynh is a mixed Viet/Sino joint that is across all the usual soups, noodles and rice dishes, with a menu that as usual has more formal sharing dishes of the Chinese variety towards the rear of the menu. Unlike most such places, it does pho, too.

After some reckless ordering the previous week at Dong Ba in Footscray, resulting in a meal unsatisfactory for us, we keep it simple and conservative by both ordering dishes we’ve had many times elsewhere.

Bennie goes for the tomato rice with stir-fried marinated diced beef (com bo luc lac, $10).


It’s damn fine.

The beef is lovely – so tender! The onions do that clever trick of being both crisp and sweet. This dish can sometimes be really heavy on the oil, but this is not such a one. The rice, laced with eggy bits and a few peas, has a nice nutty flavour.

The accompanying bowl of chicken broth is only lukewarm but good, while Bennie loves judiciously using the seasoned salt and lemon slice as his meal disappears.

Stupidly, though, when I photograph his meal I include the fish sauce/chilli/carrot concoction that is actually meant to go with my banh hoi bo la lot (grilled beef in vine leaves with fine rice vermicelli, $12).

My lunch looks a little on the dull side at first blush, but it, too, is fully satisfying.

It’s all there – crunchy peanuts, lettuce, herbs, spring onions, cucumber, carrot, bean sprouts.

The stubby bullets of beef wrapped in vine leaves are a little smaller than I am familiar with, but they are of delightful chewiness and pronounced cow flavour.

Substitute non-meat spring rolls for the beef and I reckon you’d have a perfect – and supremely healthy – vegetarian meal.

As there are options for these dishes closer to our Yarraville pad, it may be that visits to Kim Quynh will be rare for us.

But if we lived in its vicinity, we’d be steady regulars.

Chu Nam quan

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65 Alfrieda St, St Albans. Phone: 9364 5880

By the time I make it to the bustling Viet precinct of Alfrieda St, a sublime appetite is upon me.

First stop is Cairnlea, where I am keen to pursue some unfinished business at Kabayan Filipino Restaurant.

To my dismay, I discover it’s no longer there, being replaced by an Indian joint I deem to pricey for a quickie Sunday lunch.

Just around the corner and a few doors away, though, a shop in the process of being overhauled has a big sign bearing the Kabayan name, so maybe it’s merely moving house.

I figure some tangy, tasty Vietnamese tucker will do just fine, but on the way to Chu Nam Quan I stop by at not one but two Filipino groceries also bearing the Kabayan name, hoping to ascertain the restaurant’s fate.

At the first, I consider the staff are a tad too busy to trifle with me.

A few doors away is Vardar, at which Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog had a  fine old time a month or so ago. The sign on the door says, yes, they’re open for Sunday lunch, so up the stairs I go.

No they’re not.

(Aside to my buddy Roger: See, mate, I’d love to list the operating hours of the places we review, but even when there ARE stated hours, there’s no guaranteed they’ll be adhered to. Use the phone …)

At the second Kabayan grocery, right in the St Albans hub itself, I meet a bloke who turns out to be Mr Kabayan himself. He assures me his restaurant will be up and running at its new Cairnlea premises in a few weeks. We’ll certainly keep y’all posted on that.

So Chu Nam Quan it is.

Bennie and I, in our progressive exploration of Alfrieda St, marked this busy place down as one of supreme interest in our previous week’s jaunt to sup at Just Good Food. As well, a comment contributor at Footscray Food Blog had raved about it.

It is one of the rare places the trades in pho and a whole other range of soups, noodles and Chinese dishes.

I am aware that in ordering the tom yam soup in a Viet place I am taking a punt. But the truth is I’ve had me some fine tom yam soups in non-Thai places. And I really dig the idea of getting a taste of that irresistible flavour for a starter price.


My tom yam is emphatically not Thai – or not purely Thai.

Yes, it has that flavour, but it is viscous like Chinese soup – think chicken and sweet corn or, more appropriately, hot and sour.

Packed with lovely small prawns and chopped bits of calamari, tofu, carrot, broccoli, snow peas and red capsicum, it’s delicious – and at $4 quite a handy light meal all on its own.

This appears to be a fine thing, as I am initially disheartened by what appears to be a rather miserly chook portion that arrives with my order of rice with charcoal chicken (com ga nuong, $9).

But in this case at least, appearances deceive.

The chicken is more than substantial enough – and is right up there in the flavour stakes, too.

And like any punter who has eaten out Viet-style in the west with any regularity, I have had this dish many, many times.

The pickled bits of cabbage and carrot are joined – fabulously – by celery.

The dipping sauce is much spicier than I am used to, packed with long, fine strands of more carrot swimming around like the tresses of a punk hippie.

As both parts of my meal arrive more or less at the same time, the bowl of chicken broth that comes with the rice is barely warm by the time I get to it, but is too sweet for my tastes in any case.

Chu Nam Quan is a busy place – I reckon in the time I was there they turned over every table at least once.

Some of the meals I see being ordered and devoured around me look amazingly scrumptious, so we’ll be back.

For a moment, I wish there was some foolproof way of divining exactly the right dishes to order when trying a restaurant out for the first time.

But hit and miss is all part of the fun, eh?

Chu Nam on Urbanspoon

Just Good Food

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Please note: This restaurant is now called Quang Thao and the phone number is 9366 5686. All else, based on a brief non-eating glimpse, appears to be “as you were”.

28 Alfrieda St, St Albans. Phone: 9310 9881

St Albans is such an unknown quantity that picking a place to eat is a bit of a lottery, but we resolve to not stress at all about where we’re going to eat or what we’re going to eat there.

As it is, a few seconds after ambling on to Alfrieda St, our choice is more or less made for us as we spy an emporium whose splendid name we had noted with approval on a previous visit.

Just Good Food?

Sounds good to us!

In we go to a bright and cheerful room, to be greeted by efficient but friendly staff – table, menu, order are all organised with cheerful briskness.

For this Saturday lunch shift, a couple of tables of folk are already chowing down.

Just Good Food is a hardcore Chinese place on a street dominated by a Viet vibe.

I reckon they probably turn on some splash-up and pricey seafood for dinners, and the few steamers we see about the place suggest there is yum cha to be had, too.

But for lunch, the usual range of rice and noodles seems to be the go, so we go with that flow by both ordering two-roast combos at $9.

“I want to try duck,” says Bennie – so duck he gets, accompanied by barbecued roast pork on rice.


Of the many unexpected joys that doing Consider The Sauce has conferred upon us, that it has become such a delicious father-and-son project is paramount.

Moreover, Bennie insists on reading each story just after it is posted, playing a vital proof reader and sub-editor role by pointing out mistakes, keeping his eyes peeled for likely looking fang venues and – in this case – taking some of the photos.

I order the barbecued roast pork, too, with soya sauce chicken in egg noodle soup.

As more food exotica enters our neighbourhood, Chinese roast meats can almost be seen as old-school in the same vein as steak and black bean sauce, but sometimes they simply hit the spot perfectly.

This is one of those times.

Our meats are very good indeed.

The pork is a deep pink and as lean as any I’ve seen. The soya sauce chicken is moist and juicy, even the meatier segments which can sometime be on the dry side, although as ever care is vital for any one of a certain age with a multi-thousand dollar dental investment to protect. Beware of them bones, folks!

Bennie likes his duck, especially once he works his way past the more bony bits – mind you, for a lad who digs chicken feet, a bit of skin and gristle is hardly hard labour either.

He makes appreciative noises about how the meat juices have soaked into his rice, while my soup is hot, a little peppery and light on the grease. Along with the meat, we both gobble up our bok choy pieces, making us feel all virtuous.

And then we’re done. What a beaut lunch – and just what we were looking for.


Just Good Food is one of those places that has multilingual signs festooned around the wall. From them we learn that they have live barramundi for $23.80 and oysters for $1.50 a pop. As well, there is a list of about 20 basic yum cha items costing between $4 and $5, though whether they are housemade or not we know not.

So it seems that Just Good Food may be quite a find.

While our meats were very good indeed, I’m not about to confer on them “best ever” status or anything like that.

But the service and warmth of welcome does put Just Good Food a cut above, especially from a certain Footscray place that boasts a similar lineup but from where he have long since stopped supping due to a frequently belligerent attitude.

As we approach the front counter to pay, we are spared the common routine of explaining where we had sat and what we had eaten,  a cheerful “$20.50 please!” greeting us instead.

In such places and at such times, it is a mistake to confuse a welcome briskness with a rude brusqueness.

The staff are completely at ease with our photographic efforts and even allow us a peek of the giant ovens out back from whence the meats emanate.

As we stroll back to the car, we are blessed and awed by witnessing what we subsequently discover is an amazing sun dog (photo below).

Yummy – some kind of Saturday lunch, eh?

Just Good Food on Urbanspoon

Victoria’s Best Kebab House

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8 East Esplanade, St Albans. Phone: 9364 4433

Ambling into the Vietnamese hub of St Albans, I have a persistent mantra pounding in my head: “Lunch, noodles, pho, lunch, noodles, pho …”

Then I am waylaid by a sign.

Given our undying love for Footscray Best Kebab House, the sign is something of a cross between an invitation and a challenge. Irresistible, in either case.

I saunter up the laneway, and enter through the rear of the kebab house.

I order a standard $12 plate of lamb of the spit.

I may have done better to order one of the grilled-to-order meats – shish, say – for the lamb is edible but average, lacking sparkle.

With the meat I get cacick (cuke/yogurt) and eggplant dips, and both are good – again, without making the senses sing. I also ask for an extra dollop of the chilli dip. This is weird – totally lacking any kind of spice kick, it is nevertheless tasty in a smoky way that recalls Mexican or Latin American food. It’s a winner with the meat and the highlight of my lunch.

The accompanying salad – a finely diced mix of red and green capsicum, carrot and cabbage – nice touch, that – is good.

Victoria’s Best Kebab House? I don’t think so … but if it was just around the corner, it’d probably be my second home.

Victoria's Best Kebab House on Urbanspoon

Cevabdzinica/Central Cafe

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Shop 26/1 Princess St, St Albans. Phone: 9310 7444

This business has closed.

Welcome to a taste of Bosnia in St Albans.

I reckon there’s a tendency for those of us who live close to the CBD to consider the term “western suburbs” as referring to – mainly – Footscray, Yarraville, Altona and a few others.

But those, of course, are just the start of Melbourne’s growing west – there’s a whole world out there!

Happily, Bennie’s place on the playing roster of the mighty West Footscray Roosters necessitated, in the winter thankfully now winding up, many trips into far-flung burbs we would never ordinarily visit. What an adventure!

It was one such Sunday outing that I noted Cevabdzinica down for future exploration.

It’s been open since February and is a dazzlingly bright, fluorescently lit place; it’s red and white style is something like classic American diner filtered through an Eastern European sensibility.

It serves snacky food, and not the heartier cabbage rolls, soups and stews that I had been mentally preparing myself for.

Undeterred, I asked for the hamburger combo; when told that was now unavailable, I settled for the grilled chicken with salad and bread ($12).

It was right tasty, too. The thigh meat was sparingly seasoned, juicy and tasty. It was topped with some grilled red capsicum while some salad bits and pieces sat alongside. The longish bread roll on which the meat was served was good, though a bit on the oily side.

We eat so much food that is heavily spiced that it was a pleasure to enjoy something so plain.

Nevertheless, there was little about my meal that spoke of any distinctive Bosnian flavour or characteristics. For that reason alone, I will likely return to sample the “chevaps” which are served five for $8, seven for $10 or 10 for $13 – and presumably with the same trimmings adorning them.

Bureks in meat, cheese and cheese-and-spinach flavours are available for what seems like a steep $6.

A post-lunch amble confirmed that is a neighbourhood that will be the target and many repeat visits.

For example, just around the corners is a place called  Saraj, the signage of which announces the availability of “Balkan food”. This being a Monday, the kitchen was closed, so I didn’t even to get check out the menu – but I did note that a $10 gulas was listed on the specials board. The gents relaxing outside cast suspicious glances in my direction as I came and went.  My tie-dyed Grateul Dead T-shirt might have had something to do with that.

For example, Alfrieda St, a wide thoroughfare packed with so many Vietnamese/Chinese eateries, butchers, fish places, groceries and so on that I’m a little surprised that it isn’t more regularly spoken of in the same breath as Footscray, Richmond and Springvale.

For example, Cafe U&I, a splendidly named mixed bag that is part Asian tucker, part ’70s coffee bar and part pasticceria – and where I had a perfect coffee.

For example, a Chinese seafood/yum cha establishment boasting the great title of Just Good Food. Can’t argue with that!

For example. dozens more groceries worth a look – not just Vietnamese, but also Indian, Filippino and even Pacific Island.