Care To Share?

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The Care To Share project is a fine community initiative that aims to “connect residents with local refugee communities through simple acts of sharing”.

There are three strands to this project started by westerners Bree Anastasi, Danielle Entwistle, Kerry Sanders and Nikii McCoppin – two of them involve food, so naturally CTS pricked its ears up.

The Welcome Table sees “families from the inner west of Melbourne to open their homes and dining tables for one evening to a local refugee individual or family” for the purposes of eating, sharing and conversation.

CTS, on account of the restricted space of our tiny pad, had to beg off from this one – as excellent an idea as it is!

Cooking Conections will see “cooking classes delivered by members of the refugee community to individuals from the inner West” at the Yarraville Community Centre.

Our interest in this aspect of the project was rewarded by a request that we host those events we are able to – a request we were very excited to agree to!

The three Cooking Connection sessions thus far planned are:

Tuesday, June 17, 6-9pm – Vietnamese
Vy Cardona, Vietnamese foodie extraordinaire will take you on a culinary journey – and you’ll learn to make beef pho, rice paper rolls, spring rolls and lotus root salad.

Saturday, June 21, noon- 2.30pm – Afghani and Iranian
Jamshid and friends will share some their stories and some of the staple dishes of their Afghani homeland. Qabli pulao, Afghan biryani and the sweetness of sheer pira may be some of the lunchtime delights.

Sunday, June 22, noon-2.30pm – Ethiopian 
Abdi from Konjo restaurant in Footscray will take your tastebuds on a sub-African journey – their famous kitfo, tibs, injera amongst others –  and hopefully their specially roasted Ethiopian coffee makes an appearance, too!

Consider The Sauce truly will be hosting the last two of those.

There is a maximum capacity of 12 guests for each session.

Tickets cost $48 per person and all ticket monies go towards costs associated with holding the classes. Yours truly and the chefs are volunteering their time.

Visit the Care To Share Project here, or you can go straight to the booking page here.

And you can read the story written by my Star Weekly colleague Benjamin Millar here.

The third aspect of the Care To Share Project is I Hear You, “an art installation comprised of letters, pictures and various story telling mediums contributed by individuals of the local refugee community that are participating in ESL classes”.

It will run at the Footscray Community Arts Centre from Thursday, June 12, to Sunday, June 29.

Rickshaw Run 2014

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A whole weekend fuelled by Vietnamese iced coffee, freshly-squeezed sugarcane juice and love …

Last year, I volunteered for a couple of shifts pulling a rickshaws, Bennie joining me for one of them.

This year, we are up for way, way more.

As much as we can get, in fact.

Why?

Well, our continuing adventures with Consider The Sauce and projects such as The Westies: Dishes of Distinction and the CTS Feasts are only strengthening our commitment to and love for the west, its food and its people.

As well, this year the Rickshaw Run is being co-ordinated by our great pal and partner in the Westies, Lauren Wambach of Footscray Food Blog.

We’ve been eagerly anticipating this night and the days ahead for many weeks.

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Getting set for the first night.

Several months before RR14, Lauren had suggested I would be perfectly suited for the role of meeter-and-greeter at our guests’ first stop – D&K Live Fish for fresh oysters.

And so it was agreed.

Turning up at about 5pm after my regular (paying) gig, I take in the scene and then get busy familiarising myself with my job.

Lemons, napkins, time schedule, touching base with David of D&K, oysters … tick, tick, tick, tick tick!

Am I nervous?

Only a little – the simple truth is can’t wait to get into it.

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Maribyrnong mayor Grant Miles gives rickshaw pointers on opening night.

And then it’s on!

I handle my first group, and then another, and then another – and so the night unfolds sweetly and with intense pleasure.

I find I am getting a real kick out of sending our guests on their way with smiles all round.

I develop a spiel that takes in the western suburbs, their many marvels and their incredible food, with plugs for the Westies awards as I go.

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My first group at D&K make short work of their oysters.

I soon discover that in each group of eight, there are some who oyster and some who don’t.

I let them sort it out for themselves.

A week or so before the run, Lauren had tipped me that a group from my NZ hometown of Dunedin would be passing my way.

But that is meant to be on Sunday arvo.

So I am utterly gobsmacked by what happens halfway through Friday night.

There I am, settling into my “welcome to the Rickshaw Run” groove and happily entertaining a wonderful group of gorgeous gals.

Then, with the conversation being focused on oysters, one of them asks me: “Have you ever had Bluff oysters?”

Here’s how the conversation unfolds:

Me: “I’m Dunedin born and bred – of course I’ve had Bluff oysters!”

She: “So are we!”

Me: “What?!”

She: “We’re all from Dunedin!”

Blimey!

Then unfolds a fabulous conversation and gales of laughter.

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From the left, Pip Gardner, Nicole Hesson, Maureen Williams, Sheryl McCammon, Barbara Anderson, Kenny, Alison Glendining and Karen Dalzell.

All of these women are about the same age as me, and the degree of separation between them and myself in terms of connections between friends, family and business is way below six degrees.

Here’s more conversation with the same chick, Barbara, who asked me about Bluff oysters:

Barbara: “So King’s High School – did you know Geoff Anderson?”

Kenny: “Yep – he was pretty much in the same class as me all through high school. His old man was deputy principal. He was a cranky old bugger!”

Barbara: “I married his son!”

Cue more uproarious laughter …

(Confession: My somewhat jaundiced memory of my high school years paints all the King’s High School staff – including those who were young and female – as “cranky old buggers”!)

Thank you, beautiful Dunedinites – I loved meeting you. Where were you in my teenage years?

In the meantime, my newly teenaged son has been having a ball and making himself useful at the same time.

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He’s bonded with Duncan at Toh’s Bakery and is stepping right up in terms of serving the Rickhshaw Run guests banh khot as they listen to the fabulous drummers of Wadaiko Rinko Noriko Tadano.

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As Friday night winds down, we head to Sen for a feed with our similarly ecstatic fellow volunteers.

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Then it’s home for some well-deserved sleep before arising and doing it all over again.

Fronting on Friday, I had been tired from a hard day’s work and wondering how I was going to get through the Rickshaw Run night.

By the end of it, I’m outrageously high on natural love juices.

I struggle to bed down for the night – and I’m not alone.

Lauren texts me in the morning: “I took ages to go to sleep!”

I get there eventually, despite the racket emanating from our next door neighbours’ party and their hideous taste in music.

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It’s fabulous to return to the scene on Saturday morning and watch our wonderful event unfold as the Saturday Footscray street similarly comes to life.

I happily swing into action at the “oyster bar”.

By this time, I am embellishing my spiel with tales of events and people who have already passed my way.

As well, depending on the group, I am finding there is sometimes a lot of interest in food blogging, how it works and my own personal journey.

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Adding to the fun and colour are periodic episodes involving some Footscray locals who think they know a good thing when they see it.

On several occasions I am obliged to explain that, no, the oysters are not for general public consumption and are actually part of a paid, ticketed event!

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Rickshaw passengers Tony and Rosa are offered sweet treats from their own business!

With the lunch rush over, I am able to wander around a bit and take in the greater Rickshaw Run picture.

For a lucky few groups on Saturday afternoon, their journey includes the impromptu generosity of canoli, beignet and biscotti from Cavallaro’s.

Wonderful!

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Then it’s time for us to go on our own Rickshaw Run.

I had been somewhat reluctant about this, seeing as both of us have been having such a swell time in our volunteer roles.

But we’re food bloggers, too, and duty calls … and the truth is we are looking forward to a yummy break and seeing life from the other side of the rickshaw.

We have a real nice time with Kylie, Gee, Sean, Paula, Jenni and Temple.

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We are delighted to be hauled around by our good friend Jane.

As with all other Rickshaw Run punters, our adventure includes making our own rice paper rolls at Sen and hu tieu soup noodles at Phong Dinh.

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As the day’s oyster action winds down, Lauren summons me to Sapa Hills for the dinner shift.

There’s a bottleneck of rickshaws happening.

Sapa Hills is mad busy so there is only one table available for Rickshaw Run purposes.

A suitably assertive marshal is required.

To my surprise, I find I enjoy this role, too!

It’s simple – explain to the guests what the situation is and that they have precisely 20 minutes from the time they are seated to enjoy their bun cha ha noi, charcoal grilled pork with vermicelli and herbs.

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After I’ve done my best to make everyone involved in the flow of what is, after all, a glorified progressive dinner, things move along nicely.

Long and his crew do their bit by making sure the food is on the table pretty much as soon as their guests are seated.

There is one group, though, that is uncomfortable with being given instructions and perhaps even with the whole Rickshaw Run arrangement.

One member of this group gives me a “death stare” of epic proportions.

That’s OK, lady – I love you, too!

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Out on the street and during this logjam, I witness a truly heartwarming scene.

As four rickshaws and their passengers await their tasty time in Sapa Hills, I see all eight guests deeply engaged in conversation with their haulers, who include our friend Georgia.

No way could this be defined as “killing time”!

We give the volunteer meal session at Sen a miss and head for home once more, tired but very, very happy.

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Sunday dawns beautiful, sunny and just right for a whole lot more of the same.

Today the rickshaw haulers are to include a beefy, friendly bunch from the Footscray Rugby Union Club.

At the “oyster bar”, I have long since done away with asking people their names. But I do persist with finding out from whence does every individual customer come.

They come from all over Melbourne – and in terms of the west, I am surprised how many emanate from West Footscray and Williamstown.

They come from all over, actually. From New Zealand, of course, and quite a few from Britain.

But it is only with my second last group that I meet my first North Americans – and even they’re Aussie residents.

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Halfway through our final day, I find my own passion and enthusiasm completely unflagging.

But Bennie is starting to feel a little jaded and bored.

So I am grateful to Lauren’s hubby, Paul, for whipping him away for a few hours to be in another place with other faces.

Hot food at the Croatian Club, if you don’t mind!

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My expected post-oyster Sapa Hills duties fall through on account of there being another ultra-keen volunteer raring to go.

And it’s too early to wait around to enjoy the camaraderie of the Sen volunteer shebang.

So it’s over for us.

Damn.

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A week or so before Rickshaw Run 2014, I became involved in some undignified dickering over the placement of the CTS logo relative to others on the official event T-shirt.

The matter was easily resolved.

But I later reflected on the episode with dismay, horror and revulsion.

It was a glimpse of the sort of ego-driven ambition that sometimes made monsters of myself and my colleagues in our big-time newspaper days.

I don’t want to go down that road again.

So I am profoundly grateful to the Rickshaw Run and all who sailed upon her for a timely reminder of what it should be all about.

I loved every single minute of it and enjoyed meeting with and talking to so many wonderful people from all over the west, Melbourne, Australia and the world.

****

The photographs below constitute by far the biggest ever pic spread attempted on Consider The Sauce.

They are published in chronological order as our one night and two days of the run unfolded.

As I actually had a job to do and there were simply so many people and events going on all the time, I unhappily dispensed with the idea of taking names for captions.

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This Sapa Hills vegetarian alternative – eggplant done in the same way as is frequently accorded chicken ribs and calamari – was the best dish of the weekend for me!

CTS Feast No.4: Slurp!

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Pho House, 318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

It’s a thrill to contemplate that with the successful completion of the fourth Consider The Sauce Feast, a tradition has been established.

Long may it continue!

The fourth gathering took place at what has already become a favourite of ours.

Pho House adds just the right Vietnamese touch to Racecourse Road in Flemington, rounding out one of Melbourne’s best foodie strips.

So much quality and fun is such a small package!

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CTS Feat No.4 had some familiar faces from earlier escapades – namely Alistair and Michelle and their gorgeous daughter; and Charles, who brought along his daughter, Celina.

I was very excited to meet Pauline, a regular commenter on CTS with whom I enjoyed discussing Yarraville shopping and how to get kids to eat interesting, Pauline was accompanied by her pal, Sarah.

Also seated at our bubbly table was Jill from Spice Bazaar and her friend Angela.

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We were joined by a former colleague of mine, Corrina, and her partner Dave. So cool to have such a good mate from my previous life make an appearance!

Last but not least, we also enjoyed the company of my favourite food blogger in the whole world (other than myself) and Westies co-conspirator, Lauren of Footscray Food Blog.

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We started with samples of real nice and freshly made spring rolls and rice paper rolls before moving on to the soup dishes.

For the mains, everyone went the bowl route, with no one choosing the rice plate options.

Save for two customers, we all went for pho of various kinds involving a wide variety of beef.

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My own plain rare beef small was just fine.

There was much happy slurping done.

Pauline and Sarah went for the seafood curry laksa, which has a rather lovely story behind it.

When I had earlier asked Talina why she had laksa on the menu, she told me it was actually a carry-over from the previous inhabitants of the premises, the much-loved Vy Vy.

So another tradition continues!

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The girls enjoyed their laksa very much, and having dug it myself several times in recent weeks I can vouch for its excellence.

It’s mildly spiced and very creamy, but it’s the seafood that is the biz.

Apart from a plethora of surimi such as fish balls and fish cake, Talina’s laksa has fresh fish, a not very common laksa occurrence, and fat, bursty prawns that are very high on prawn flavour – also not a very common laksa occurrence.

Thanks to our Consider The Sauce friends for the company and thanks to Talina and her staff for taking care of us on what was an already busy night, even without us taking up so much space!

PS: Alistair, I can insert a close-up photo of the top of your noggin if you so desire.

See previous review here; the Pho House Facebook page is here.

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Consider The Sauce Feast No.4: Pho House,

318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

Wednesday, Janurary 29, from 7pm.

Menu:

Assorted Pho House entrees and snacks.

Choice of pho, laksa or rice dish.

Soft drinks.

Pho House on Urbanspoon

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Spring rolls for which to die

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Xuan Banh Cuon, 232 Hampshire Road, Sunshine. Phone: 0422 810 075

Regular Consider The Sauce readers may be familiar already with Xuan Banh Cuon.

The restaurant’s signature dish, pork and prawn banh cuon, was chosen as one of the inaugural winners of the Westies: Dishes Of Distinction, the exciting western suburbs food awards initiated by Consider The Sauce and Lauren Wambach of Footscray Food Blog.

See Westies stories here, here and here, and Lauren’s review here.

Since then, we’ve become regulars.

It’s fair to say Xuan Banh Cuon is our go-to Vietnamese joint in Sunshine and perhaps the entire west.

We love the points of difference, the friendly welcome, the freshness and diversity of the food – and its healthiness.

I’ve eaten a good deal of banh cuon there by now, and really enjoyed some of the other dishes, too.

I’ve loved the red specialty noodles with prawn, pork and homemade fishcake.

And the bun thit nuong (vermicelli with chargrilled pork) is a sinful delight.

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There’s still plenty of scope for CTS to explore here, but on the occasion of our first actual review of this splendid establishment, I’d like to rave about the spring rolls.

More specifically, the northern-style spring rolls with vermicelli (top photo).

These rolls are quite different from the familiar spring rolls served in Vietnamese places all over the West.

We’ve all had plenty of them – and enjoyed them.

But the contrast with these beauties is stark indeed, so great are they in terms of textural and flavour delight.

In order to nail the details, Carson, Nathan and other members of the Xuan Banh Cuon extended family who happen to be present gather around me for a round-table discussion.

The casings are made of rice and called banh trang. We settle on “rice glass” as an acceptable English variation.

They’re delicate and slightly crunchy.

Inside the rolls are bean shoots, mushroom, glass noodle, carrot, pork and prawn.

Sounds so simple, nothing too flash, eh?

The eating tells a very different story.

Especially when the rolls are mixed in with the chilli dressing/sauce and the gathered herbage.

If you order pho at Xuan Banh Cuon – and you can – you will get the usual and familiar accessories.

Order spring rolls, banh cuon or thit nuong, though, and you’ll get a much more lively and diverse mix – including lots of mint and coriander.

Delicious!

Xuan Banh Cuon on Urbanspoon

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CTS Feast No.4: Pho House

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NOTE: THIS FEAST IS NOW FULLY SUBSCRIBED! NO MORE APPLICATIONS, THANKS!

Meet Talina!

She’s the boss lady at Pho House, the lovely joint that is adding even more diversity to Racecourse Road in Flemington.

You’ll be unsurprised to learn, given the name of her restuarant, that she is proud of her pho.

Very proud.

And she wants CTS readers to try it!

So in conjunction with Consider The Sauce, Talina and her Pho House crew will host the fourth Consider The Sauce Feast.

Talina really, really does want you to try her pho.

But, OK, if you insist, the lucky punters who gain feast seats can opt for a laksa or rice dish.

As well, there will assorted Pho House entrees and soft drinks.

If you fancy a beer or wine, you will be expected to pay for them yourself.

Pretty much the same ground rules as applied for previous CTS Feasts …

  • No restrictions this time around on those who have attended previous CTS dinners.  
  • First in, first served.
  • There are 10 places only available.
  • Fellow food bloggers welcome to apply but they will not be given preference.
  • No more than two places to be claimed by any applicant, though “singles” will also be accepted.
  • There will be no charge for food or soft drinks, but guests will be expected to pay for their own alcohol.
  • Applications only to the email address posted elsewhere on this site. Attempts to gain a seat by commenting on this post will be ignored.

Consider The Sauce Feast No.4: Pho House,

318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

Wednesday, Janurary 29, from 7pm.

Menu:

Assorted Pho House entrees and snacks.

Choice of pho, laksa or rice dish.

Soft drinks.

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See earlier story here and the Pho House Facebook page here.

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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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Seddon banh mi

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Waldies Bakery, 168 Victoria Street, Seddon. Phone: 9689 3806

Seddon, it could be argued, is becoming a little too cluttered with cafes.

So we reckon it’s cool there’s an alternative at hand.

Not that it looks like a new arrival – Waldies Bakery looks pretty much the same as it ever has.

As does the line-up of pies and cakes and so on

But there’s new management.

New management that’s offering banh mi.

So it is that Sara whips us up a couple of Viet sangers.

It’s real soon after Christmas, so instead of the advertised half-dozen fillings, we have a choice of only two – grilled chicken and grilled pork.

So we get one of each.

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The rolls are less crusty that you’ll routinely get in Footscray central and have a mottled outer that is referred to by a certain franchise bakery chain as “Tiger bread”.

But they’re fresh-as and taste good.

The fillings are of a regulation, good banh mi variety.

We enjoy our rolls, but immediately notice the absence of fresh chilli.

Some is brought to our outdoor table by Sara and there’s no such problem with the third roll we order to split.

We reckon Waldie’s banh mi offerings will likely get better as the holiday season recedes and range available expands beyond what greeted us this week.

Banh mi is, after all, one of those things that thrive on high turnover.

As well, the new management folks may come to understand that while they’ve moved into a well-known cafe strip, there are plenty of people around who will want – and demand – the full-blown banh mi experience.

Chillis and all …

The Waldies price is $5 – more than you’ll pay in Footscray or Sunshine but less than for a sandwich just about anywhere in Seddon.

Waldies Bakery on Urbanspoon

Getting Roll’d at Highpoint

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Roll’d, Highpoint, Maribyrnong

We’ve only observed the unrolling of the Roll’d phenomena through the media, but it’s been easy to be impressed.

Here’s some brilliant entrepreneurial spirit at work packaging genuine Vietnamese tucker into the template of the sort of franchise concept that is proving good food and fast food don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

But now there’s a branch office installed in one of the Highpoint food courts, the matter is no longer an abstraction.

We approach with an open mind but resolve to cut this mob absolutely no slack whatsoever when drawing comparisons with what’s available on the real Vietnamese streets of Footscray or Sunshine.

We order a bowl of mixed chicken and beef “Uncle Pho” ($9.90) for me and the “Street Elite” combo ($11.90) of a cup of mixed pho, a BBQ chicken banh mi and an iced tea for him.

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THE HALF EMPTY VIEW

All the implements and containers – chopsticks, spoons, bowl, mug, sauce tubs and (of course) the serviettes – are disposable.

There’s not a thing that’s reusable about our lunches.

The bread roll used in creating Bennie’s banh mi is OK but also a tad on the doughy and squishy side.

It’s not crusty like a banh mi roll should be.

It more resembles the sort of bread rolls served up by the Subway branch right next door.

What’s more, had it been purchased on its own, it would’ve cost us $7.20 – in other words, about twice the amount the same order would cost in ‘Scray central.

The meat in my pho is drab and there’s no accompanying plate of bean sprouts and herbs, while the dish as a whole lacks zing.

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THE HALF FULL VIEW

On the other hand … the proof here is in the seeing, smelling and tasting.

Cracking Bennie’s baby open, we discover the banh mi looks the part, smells the part and tastes wonderful.

This is real-deal banh mi of surprisingly high quality – and the uncrusty bread and price be damned.

The same goes, with somewhat lesser impact, with my pho.

Most importantly, the broth is dinkum although a little on the sweetish side for me.

But nevertheless, this really is pho – albeit at the average-tending-to-medicore end of the pho scale.

And at $9.90, it’s priced somewhat closer to ‘Scray than Bennie’s banh mi.

Bennie’s mug of pho is of a pretty decent size for soup that’s part of a combo deal.

THE VERDICT

It’s all about perspective, about – literally – where you’re coming from.

In this instance, we headed to Highpoint specifically to eat at Roll’d.

We’ll not be doing so again.

Why would we, when the same food done so much better and cheaper is easily available?

Ahhh, but if we happen to be at Highpoint on other business and food is desired … we’ll be happy to sup at Roll’d once more.

Because it’s better than everything else that surrounds it in the shopping centre’s “atrium” food court and is right up there with Dumplings Plus as the best available at Highpoint in general.

The full Roll’d menu and pricing can be viewed at both the company’s website and Facebook page.

Roll'd on Urbanspoon

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Vietnamese gumbo?

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Bun Ta, 108 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 4130

Bun Ta is a brand spanking new Footscray joint.

Sort of … see below.

It has a dish I have never spied on a Vietnamese menu before now.

I know this because, being a fan of almost everything to do with New Orleans and South Louisiana, had I ever before come across something described as “Vietnamese gumbo rice vermicelli soup”, nothing at all could have prevented me from ordering it.

So I pounce on it at Bun Ta, despite eliciting only the most vague descriptions of the dish and its protein protagonists, and a gentle warning that it is of “strong flavour”.

As I soon discover, the “gumbo” is presumably meant to be “jumbo”, as in the fat chopstick-defying noodles.

Oh, how wonderfully Westie – stitched up by a linguistic menu glitch, and ending up with a damn fine lunch anyway!

Such menu snafus are, of course, one of the routine pleasures of eating out in the west.

They’re good fun and I mean no mean-spiritedness in pointing this one out.

But sometimes you just have to laugh and go with the flow.

As it is, I really like my bun mam kho ($10).

It comes across as a Vietnamese take on tom yum – the broth is slightly sweet, slightly sour, slightly spicy and all delicious.

It’s made, I am subsequently told, using fish sauce and lemongrass among other ingredients.

The slithery noodles are joined by pork belly, fish, squid and prawns.

But this is not a meaty affair – these ingredients have a gentleness about them that is in harmony with the whole, which includes some in-bowl greenery and much more on the side.

It’s a real nice alternative to the more familiar (in these parts) pho or hu tieu dishes.

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Bun Ta is actually the much-loved stalwart Huy Huy given a new name and a swish new look.

The ownership, I’m told, is the same, and I’m guessing much else is as was.

But still, this sort of rejuvenation is good for everyone and I suspect Bun Ta will become just as revered at its earlier incarnation.

The new place has four kinds of coleslaw for $12-14 and three kinds of pancake for $13 amid many familiar dishes.

One main that catches my eye is bo ti me – rare beef with tamarind ($15). But it’s only served as a main, so will have to await another visit with a fang friend for company.

I will return soon, as well, for their “7 toppings broken rice”, which is gaining the most raves of the Bun Ta social media action I have seen.

The Bun Ta Facebook page is here.

Bun Ta on Urbanspoon

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Handy addition to Racecourse Rd

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Pho House, 318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

Flemington’s Racecourse Road is one of our favourite haunts.

One thing it did lack until very recently was a straight-up hardcore pho place.

Which probably accounts for Pho House being ultra-packed on the couple of times I’ve ambled past in the week or so since it opened.

No such problems early into a Saturday lunch session, with plenty of tables to spare.

Pho House is all regulation, though the dark-stained wooden chairs and the decor in general give the place a classy feel.

The orange-polo-shirted staff are plentiful, happy and on the ball.

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They do a few things differently  here, however.

For instance, rice paper rolls come in pairs for $5. As well, the “side dishes” portion of the menu has some dumpling entries, spicy salt calamari and even beef stew with bread rolls – all far from your standard pho joint repertoire.

They’re even doing laksas, though not on the day I visit.

One novel twist of which I heartily approve is the use of big metal spoons in the Asian style instead of the usual stainless-steel tablespoons.

Extra good for robust slurping!

Another point of difference – the pho varieties come in only two sizes, regular and large.

Being of substantial appetite, I order the large beef/chicken combination ($11.50), not caring much one way or the other if I will be getting my orthodox order of sliced beef/sliced chicken or something more elaborate.

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What I do get is a sort of compromise.

The chicken is all of the simple, sliced variety, but joining the really super rare slices of beef are some tendon, beef ball segments, sausage and even a couple of hard-boiled chicken eggs.

The broth is of strong flavour and blessedly unsweet.

It’s all really, really top-shelf stuff, making for a very fine pho experience.

I’ve been enjoying my lunch and the new Stephen King book so much that it’s only upon departing that it finally dawns on me that this handy addition to the Racecourse Road scene has come with a subtraction.

The premises that Pho House inhabits was formerly the home of that long-standing and much-liked veteran Vy Vy.

I wonder what’s happened to Tiffany and her family?

Pho House on Urbanspoon

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What a find in Deer Park!

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Western Pho, 2B Burnside St, Deer Park. Phone: 9363 0022

Think western suburbs and Vietnamese food and almost all of us will automatically think Footscray, followed by Sunshine and St Albans.

But Deer Park sports a Vietnamese gem.

Western Pho is a gorgeous little family run business situated just off the main Deer Park shopping strip.

It’s a first restaurant adventure for Phi and his wife, Ha, who does most of the cooking.

They’ve been up and running since taking over the premises from the previous operators about five months ago, and some time before that the place was a (mostly takeaway) Chinese establishment.

That heritage shows in the comfy old-school decor, which is these days adorned by a plethora of food photos.

The service is super friendly and caring.

And judging by the number of familiar locals coming and going, it seem Western Pho is playing something of community hub role as well.

Based on my most enjoyable lunch, I reckon just about everything on the menu would be worth trying.

It’s a long document, listing more than 100 items and boasting prices at the lower end of what you’d find in Footscray.

They’re all there – well most of “them”: Pho and other soup noodles, vermicelli, fried noodles, Chinese-derived dishes, one-person rice plates, rice paper and spring rolls, satay skewers and much more.

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I really dig it when Vietnamese restaurants provide small-serve portions of soup – it enables one to get a soup hit without dedicating a whole meal to it.

Western Pho has six of them, all but one of them priced at a very groovy $4.

The broth of my wonton soup is a little too sweet for my taste, but is still fine and hot.

The three tender-yet-pleasingly-chewy dumplings are joined by a couple of good pork slices and various bits of greenery.

Sometimes soggy, soup-laden lettuce leaves are just the ticket!

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Western Pho’s coleslaw, Phi tells me, is normally served “unspicy” but he’s happy to add some chilli slices to my order of the prawn and vegetable rendition ($11).

They’re the cream on what is a very good version of Vietnamese coleslaw.

The vegetables are so fresh and crunchy that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover my salad had been made from scratch in the kitchen.

There’s a lot of medium-sized prawn tails that have been split in two length-wise. They, too, are very fresh and quite delicate. But their flavour is so very, very mild that I rather wish I’d opted for the chicken or pork versions.

Joining the red chilli slices are plenty of roasted peanuts and fried shallots, with the whole dish basking in a pleasant but not particularly tangy dressing.

Deer Park punters are lucky to have such a cracking Vietnamese eatery in their ‘hood.

They do home delivery, too!

Western Pho on Urbanspoon

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Backyard Vietnamese and a huge flying octopus

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Weasels Garden Cafe, 8 Murray Street, Abbotsford. Phone: 9410 0214

It’s been an ordinary sort of week.

No actually catastrophes, but the senior partner of Consider The Sauce has felt harried and frazzled, and a bit down on life to boot.

All of this was exacerbated by the sudden arrival on Friday morning of explosive lower back pain.

The last occasion of such a severe episode – a few years back – saw me attempting to soldier on and ending up in an ambulance.

So this time, Bennie and I know just what to do.

Nothing.

More particularly, the cessation of all normal activity.

So … no work, no getting paid for work (such is the life of the casual employee), no driving and – hence – no school for the boy. (Mind you, Bennie’s teacher is happy for him to miss a day of schooling for some quality home/dad time …)

Happily, all that horizontal rest and sleep pays profound dividends, so the next day finds me well on the way to wellness.

Not fighting fit mind you, so not up for anything too tumultuous or strenuous – so that counts out the Ethiopian festival in the mall.

But we ARE up for a leisurely drive to Richmond/Abbotsford, especially as we have a hunch our destination will provide not just fine food but also a tranquil, beautiful setting in which to enjoy it.

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Weasel’s Garden Cafe is, well, a garden cafe set in a Victorian home on a residential street about a block from the intense Vietnamese vibe of Victoria St.

After we’ve ordered, I get talking to the other person taking photographs of the lovely garden that features chillis and lemons and much else besides.

This is Jen, who is part of the family responsible for this newish business.

She tells me it is the brainchild of her sister, Linh, a keen gardener after whose cat the cafe is named, while their mum, Phuong, does the cooking.

The cafe has been open about five weeks, with most of the customers being just plain old Australian, with only the occasional visit from those of a more Vietnamese Australian persuasion.

Jen reckons that’s down to Richmond no longer being residentially affordable for the wider Vietnamese community, even while Victoria St remains one of Melbourne’s most storied Vietnamese precincts.

I reckon it could be down to Vietnamese folks being unused to chowing down in such a setting.

Could be we’re both right.

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Jen also tells me there was only one formal objection to the opening of the cafe on a residential street.

That makes sense – after all, this is not a night-time joint and, besides, who wouldn’t want a lovely garden cafe serving coffee and Vietnamese food on their street, or even right next door?

Weasels Garden Cafe is working on several fronts – breakfast, coffee, Vietnamese food (see menu below).

But we’re definitely here for the latter, of which there are half a dozen offerings.

We drove here vaguely assuming we’d be supping on pho, but as it turns out we end up splitting a couple of very different dishes.

Bennie opines that what we’re served is very much your standard Vietnamese tucker of the kind we’d be served much closer to home.

He has a point – though the point is only so sharp.

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Grilled chicken with fried egg and rice ($12.50), for instance, IS standard issue, but all is freshness and the chicken is intense with marinade flavours and free of skin, gristle or fat. The egg is runny and perfect.

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Marinated pork with lemongrass, ginger, salad, herbs and vermicelli ($12.50) is just as fine, with the presence of celery and red capsicum making it stand out.

We enjoy our lunch very much, especially in such a grand setting. If we have any wistful desires they would be along the lines of wanting a little more chilli oomph and sharper, more robust flavours in both dishes.

By this time we are loving the joint so much we have easily abandoned the idea of stopping somewhere in Carlton for gelati, and dig in right where we are for coffee and a sweet treat.

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My cafe latte and his hot chocolate are just right.

Our gluten free rock crackle ($3) seems to be weirdly misnamed – world’s best hedgehog would probably be more accurate.

It’s both light and incredibly rich, and studded with puffed rice and (I think) dried raspberries.

It’s more substantial than it looks, too, so much so that my normally ardent sweet tooth son does not finish his portion.

By the time we’re done with Weasel’s, our only regret is that it’s on the wrong side of town.

This place has us hoping that some westie entrepreneurs might take up the challenge.

After all, we have hundreds of cool ethnic eateries in our wider neighbourhood and a growing numbers of fine cafes – but, as far as we are aware, none that combine both with quite this level of harmony and style.

As we depart, little do we know our day’s adventures are not yet completed – for we have yet to meet Tony The Kite Man.

Tooling home and driving alongside Royal Park – something we’ve done thousands of times before without finding cause to stop – Bennie spies something mysterious and thrilling in the sky.

So this time we do stop.

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In the middle of a wild paddock behind the hospital and high in the sky, what we find is a kite.

And not just any kite – this is the biggest by far either of us have ever seen.

It’s at least 50 feet long and in the form of an octopus.

Even better, instead of the tentacles being flat, plain cloth, they’re inflated by the wind.

It’s a magnificent sight!

We get talking to the kite’s flyer and owner, Tony, as the darkening sky threatens an afternoon apocalypse.

At some point, the kite shakes free of its moorings, so we all run off in pursuit.

Well actually, the other two run … I walk gently.

The kite is on its way to a gentle landing, but luckily Bennie apprehends its line spool before it becomes embedded in a tree.

As our new friend and kite expert quips: “All trees love kites and getting a kite out of tree is mostly impossible.”

The impending rain nixes out combined efforts to get the kite flying again, but somehow I’ll think we’ll be back some Saturday afternoon soon to see Tony in action.

As Bennie points out as we move on homewards, there’s something both marvellously exciting and sublimely peaceful about kites.

They’re good for the soul.

And crook backs.

Weasels Garden Cafe. on Urbanspoon

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Linh, owner of Weasel the cat and Weasel’s the cafe.

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More room, pho sure

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Pho Hien Saigon, 3/284 Hampshire Rd, Sunshine. Phone: 9311 9532

Pho Hien Saigon has long been a great place.

A great place that delivers great food with service that is efficient and consistently prompt yet always friendly.

Unfortunately it’s because of the above factors that getting a seat or table here has often been tricky, especially during any of the joint’s many peak hours.

So it’s really neat to discover that these days there’s a whole lot more room – double, in fact, with the restaurant expanding to take in the adjoining property.

So now it’s double-fronted instead of single-fronted.

And all of it worthy of a quickie write-up.

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As previously noted, I usually visit this fine eatery to eat just a single dish.

For today’s impromptu, early, post-footy lunch, I mix it up by ordering a medium $9 bowl of pho.

It’s excellent in every way.

The broth is strong and flavoursome.

The sliced beef is far from raw and already pretty much cooked by the time my bowl is placed upon my table, yet it retains an overall pinkness I’ve never before seen in pho.

The  equal measure of brisket is fat-free – something also unusual in pho.

The herbiage, sprouts and fresh red chillis are all just right, too.

Pho Hien Saigon on Urbanspoon

Test drive for a hip new food truck

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lil nomnoms’ opening launch party, Rubix @ Tetris Studios, 36 Phoenix St, Brunswick

There’s some good and even very fine tucker to be had from Melbourne’s food trucks.

There’s some medicore and crap food to be had, too.

But food is just part of what is going on here.

As we found during last summer, grabbing some choice goodies from one of these mobile vendors and then adjourning to the parks adjacent to which they’ve parked is a sublime delight.

Yet even in mid-winter the many food trucks are hard at it.

The mostly youngish entrepreneurs behind all this activity know it’s about more than food, too.

It’s about creating a buzz, a vibe, a sense of occasion; it’s about branding and hipster-style marketing.

And it’s about creating a sense of anticipation.

It’s routine these days for a new food truck enterprise to start spreading the word weeks and even months before actually hitting the road.

I’ll happily admit to be as engaged with this process as anyone, even if I do wonder at times if yet another shiny new food van/truck blinds me to the fact that better and cheaper fare can often be had at real bricks-and-mortar eateries.

I didn’t, however, find out about Lil’ NomNoms through Facebook.

Rather, I received an email inviting me to their Saturday arvo launch party at a suitably grungy inner-urban venue down a Brunswick dead-end.

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The 100 or so guests who front up on a chilly and wet day seems to be a mix of friends of the business, punters only too happy to get in on the ground floor and enjoy a seven-course feed for $15, and a handful of bloggers invited on a complementary basis, of which Consider The Sauce is one.

Roping in Nat Stockley for “plus one” duty is a no-brainer – he loves this stuff just as much as he digs hamburgers!

Given the venue, I am half expecting the meal to be a sit-down affair.

But no, the food is dispensed from the nicely-liveried Mercedes van and distributed to guests canape-style.

It seems clear after a while that the Lil’ NomNoms’ crew has under-estimated the challenge posed by feeding this many people … at the same time.

They’re working very hard, but the various courses are slow in eventuating.

As well, due to a technical hitch, there will be no pho today.

No matter – it’s a happy occasion, and in the end I try four of the seven courses promised.

So how is the food?

Well, even taking in to consideration this a showcase event and trial run, and that portions sizes, pricing and quality may vary when the van goes public … this is very good food.

In fact, it’s as good as any food truck fare I’ve yet enjoyed in Melbourne – and far, far better than most.

The key is the terrific freshness of the produce used.

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Item: Goi cuong cha gio (rice paper roll with vegetarian spring roll, lettuce, Vietnamese mint, coriander and perilla). Fresh as can be and with spring roll crunch and texture that is as much about sound and sensation as flavour. Wonderfully tightly bound so they stay intact right up to the last mouthful.

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Item: Banh hoi thit nuon (roast pork belly on a bed of cos lettuce, rice noodles, cucumber, coriander and mint). Oh, wow – a vividly fresh and brilliantly textured flavour bomb. Cursing that I only get one of these!

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Item: Goi ga nuong (Vietnamese BBQ chicken salad). Lovely, tender and flavoursome chook over rustically chunky and beautifully dressed vegetables. Again, the freshness is noteworthy.

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Item: Banh mi ga nuong (banh mi slider filled with grilled lemongrass chicken, cucumber, spring onions, pickled carrot/daikon, coriander, truck-made mayo and chicken liver pate). These are good without reaching the heights of the previous three courses we’ve been offered. The filling seems very similar with the ingredients of the chicken salad. Here’s one case where comparisons with any of your local banh mi joints are unavoidable.

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Early on in the piece, Nat and I choose between rubbing shoulders with the gathered masses in the slightly warmer interior or hanging out at the venue entrance, getting cold but having first dibs on the food as it exits the van.

We choose the latter, and meet some fine folks in the process.

They include Henry and Mai, from Roxborough Park, paying guests and foodies to their cores.

These are my kind of food hounds. Why buy a kebab from a kebab shop when insisting on a sit-down plate of meats, salads, dips and more is so much more satisfying? Why get takeaway F&C when eating in helps ensure a repast of far greater excellence?

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And we meet a couple of high-spirited types in the form of Stacy, who I take it is part of the extended Lil’ NomNoms family, and Lil, Point Cook resident and soon-to-be food blogger.

Good luck!

The Lil’ NomNoms’ truck is scheduled to be hitting the streets in a couple of weeks, with engagements at Brunswick Bowls Club among the plans and Maribyrnong one of three municipalities on the radar.

Check out their Facebook page here.

And check out Nat’s handy guide to Melbourne’s food trucks at Urbanspoon here.

Our meal was provided free of charge by the owners. The Lil’ NomNoms crew neither sought nor was given any editorial control of this post.

Lil Nom Nom's on Urbanspoon

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A thorough ribbing in Sunshine

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Queen’s Rose The Sun, 229 Hampshire Rd, Sunshine. Phone: 9310 2887

In our pursuit of lunch in Sunshine, we’ve run into dead ends as a couple of likely prospects failed to eventuate.

We’re loitering on Hamsphire Rd in a “what to do, what to do …” mood when Bennie says: “What I really feel like is fried chicken!”

What he specifically means, I know, are those chicken rib thingies, and – more specifically yet – those to be had from a nearby Chinese eating establishment of which we are fond.

But as we are standing right outside Queen’s Rose The Sun, I say to my offsider: “I know a place that does terrific fried chicken ribs!”

So in we go …

It’s been at least a year since I have visited this lovely Vietnamese joint.

So I’m a little disappointed to see the wonderful old-fashioned decor has given way to a more contemporary version of old-school – standard Viet eatery, including a garish neon sign above the entrance to the kitchen that seems to have about a 1000 different way of unveiling the restaurant’s name.

Bennie and I try counting them, but fail …

The walls are wonderfully festooned with food photos that seem to include quite a few that do not feature on the longish menu and some that also seem quite exotic.

But we’re not in an adventurous mood today – comfort food is the go.

So I choose – by pointing at one of the be-walled photos – “chicken free range noodle soup” ($9.50).

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I am expecting a hu tieu dish.

So I am bemused to find that what I am provided is pure-bred pho – pungent broth, rice noodles, coriander and green onion garnish, chilli ‘n’ lemon and sprouts and basil on the side.

Not that I’m complaining – it’s all good.

As for the free range chook, well … the chicken meat really does seem to be more flavoursome and meaty than might ordinarily be the case with such a dish in such a restaurant.

But – purely by happenstance, I’m sure – my chicken pieces have all come from the most boney part of a bird, and eating them is a fiddly business.

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For the second time in a week, Bennie has aced his dad in the ordering stakes.

His “tomato rice with spare rib chicken five spice sauce” ($9.50) is wonderful, and the handful of crispy fried ribs among the biggest I have ever seen.

He happily makes use of the seasoned salt, although I step in before he gets too carried away and spoils his lunch.

He hoovers it all up – rice, soup he describes as good and unsweet, and the spicy, tangy jumble of onion and capsicum that accompanies the ribs.

It’s easy to overlook Queen’s Rose The Sun, situated as it is in the narrow end of Hampshire Rd and thus away from the wider part of the thoroughfare and its congregation of Vietnamese eateries.

But if we lived in the immediate neighbourhood, it’d be our go-to place for sure.

See Ms Baklover’s story at Footscray Food Blog here.

Queen's Rose The Sun on Urbanspoon

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Cairnlea pie shop does excellent Vietnamese

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Vic Pies Cafe, Shop 6, 100 Furlong Rd, Cairnlea. Phone: 9361 2188

Vic Pies, situated in Cairnlea Town Centre, sells pies – and, of course, other likeminded pie shop savouries and sweeties.

But there’s something else going on here … I see one outside table adorned with really good-looking rice paper rolls as a staff member whizzes by me bearing a plate of pork chop and broken rice crowned by a glistening fried egg.

Yes, no matter what Vic Pies Cafe’s original focus, it has gradually become also and as well a purveyor of Vietnamese and Asian goodies, as the photos arrayed on the walls attest.

I’m meeting CTS pal Jacqui, Cairnlea resident and perpetrator of the lovely blog Urban Ma, in which she covers food (including westie haunts), fashion and more with style.

Our plan to eat elsewhere is thwarted by the place in question being unopen, but it all turns out for the best, as our Vic’s repast is swell.

And how cool, how Melbourne is it to be able to order bo kho in a pie shop?

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The beef stew ($12) is simply wonderful.

It seems like a relatively new batch of stew – the carrots are intact yet still tender, while the onions are quite crunchy.

There appears to be two kinds of beef – big fat-free chunks and smaller pieces with some fat. Both are good.

The broth is nicely spicy and quite viscous.

The baguette that accompanies is wonderfully fresh, and bigger and crustier than I’m used to being provided in Footscray, Sunshine or St Albans.

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Jac’s beef claypot (also $12) is good, too, and seems like a pretty healthy option as well.

There’s lots of crunchy vegetables along with the beef, all flecked with chilli bits and sitting on top of a rice bed.

Both our meals are too spicy for Baby D.

So he gets what babies get.

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Sorry, bub – maybe next time.

Or, more likely, not for a good few years!

The Vietnamese alternative at Vic Pies Cafe strikes us as a real winner in a shopping centre and neighbourhood not overly burdened with ace eating options.

Vicpies Café on Urbanspoon

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Don’t judge a book by its noodle box cover …

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Footscray Noodles In A Box Cafe, 83 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 8882

What?

I reckon that would’ve been a common reaction when many citizens realised Footscray mall was to become home to a noodle box establishment.

In a neighbourhood teeming with outstanding noodle options, it did seem like a food faux pas indicating unimagination running wild.

So now that it’s been up and running for a while, what’s the story?

Is it more than the signage might suggest?

The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes!”

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Sure, there are noodle box stalwarts such as wonton noodle soup and “chew kawi teow”.

And doubtless, it’s possible to order them in a box.

(I hate them, by the way – food killers!)

But this Sunday lunch time, when the cafe is one of the very few mall businesses actually open, the place is busy with customers, several of them hungry types of the Asian persuasion tucking in to big bowls of soup ‘n’ noodles.

As well, there’s other stuff going on here – affogato, chips, breakfast. And I bet they do a killer coffee.

I’m partially hankering for laksa, but spying the hand-written specials list at the serving counter, I have no hesitation in ordering pho.

What better way to see if these folks can rise above the baggage that goes with noodle box associations of mediocrity?

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My one-size-fits-all, $10.50 beef pho is fabulous.

Joining the lean sliced beef are slices of a fattier cut, beef ball discs and even some brisket.

The broth is a deepish brown with heaps of flavour.

Black pepper from the beef balls combines with red chilli slices to really give this soup bowl a hefty spice kick. I subsequently discover the chillis used are a shorter, hotter variety than is normally the case.

Given the quantity of meat, it’s a serve far larger than I can complete – if they sold small, medium and large, I’d order small.

Still, it’s been a killer lunch, with smiling, friendly service a bonus.

Footscray Noodles In A Box on Urbanspoon

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Sang’s Takeaway Food Restaurant

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Sang’s Takeaway Food Restaurant, 136 Mitchell St, Maidstone. Phone: 9318 8188

Sang’s is situated on the Mitchell St strip that houses Los Latinos and in a premises that once accommodated an Asian eatery of an entirely different kind.

The space has undergone a cheerful transformation to become a pretty nifty Vietnamese joint with a cleverly constructed menu and chefs-in-white all a-bustle.

Open just a few weeks, Sang’s is celebrating its arrival by running a hefty 20 per cent discount until May 25.

That’s code for, “Get your skates on!”

Sang’s has six kinds of rice paper rolls at $4 for a pair; there’s seven kinds of beef pho, all for $10.

A similar number of rice and broken rice meals cost the same.

I love Vietnamese chicken curry – especially the one I score in St Albans, though we sometimes grab takeaway when the dish is available at Minh Hy.

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So scanning the Sang’s list of bun/vermicelli, my attention is grabbed by the chook curry variety – also $10. This is a twist on a dish usually served with rice or – even better – a crusty bread roll.

In this case, the usually runny curry gravy/soup is subsumed by the softish mound of vermicelli, which in no way diminishes my enjoyment.

Nor does the fact the chicken pieces are small and on the bony side.

The chilli heat is quite high for Vietnamese chicken curry and the tender spud and carrot bits are happily joined by a plentiful amount of basil and coriander. I love it when coriander becomes more than a mere garnish!

Anther non-standard dish that leaps out at me from the menu is Vietnamese pancake, while I’m betting the Singapore noodle and pad Thai will be worthy of exploration, too.

Sang’s seems ideally positioned to be successful – I reckon the locals in the immediate neighbourhood must be delighted.

If eating in, I suggest grabbing one of tables to the rear to avoid the nasty gusts that gallop through the wide gap between door and floor at the front.

Sang's Takeaway Food Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Rickshaw Run, take two

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Rickshaw Run, Feasting In Footscray/Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Footscray Central

Sen, 74-76 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 4450

Another day, another volunteer stint on the Rickshaw Run – is it really worth another story?

Well, yes, actually – as this proves to be quite a different experience, and in many ways a more enjoyable one.

I have Bennie with me for starters.

I’ve already warned him that he’s not big enough – yet – to manhandle a rickshaw with two adults aboard. But I figure he’ll be useful anyway.

Wrong.

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He’s quickly dragooned into oyster duty by Jessica and Aleshya, with whom he spends the rest of the night goofing off.

I figure his internal logic goes something like this: “Hmmm – hard choice. Follow my sweaty old man around or hang out with these two cool pop culture mavens?”

If he new what “maven” actually meant, of course …

Oh well – off I go, helping my fellow volunteers haul two groups of 10 guests around all the usual spots.

There seems to be more time this outing to get to know my colleagues.

Among them is Eve, who regularly posts on westie food haunts at Conversation with Jenny and with whom I swap notes for the rest of the evening.

And steering the rickshaws is notably easier as, early on a Sunday evening, the footpaths are much less crowded.

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The previous week, there had been only three of us sharing our complementary volunteer meal at Sen.

Tonight, there’s a whole table of us – including deputy mayor Grant Miles – and a jolly time is had by all.

When we first moved to the west, this place was called Ha Long and it was our habitual Vietnamese stop in Footscray, so it’s rather nice to be back in such familiar – if spruced up – surrounds.

Sitting next to me is Leo (short for Leonor), who is Filipino. So, of course, we discuss Filipino food and this blog’s ups and downs with it, before moving on to Korea and beyond.

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Several of those around me order diced beef with tomato rice.

It looks sensational, with oodles of fluffy red rice liberally flecked with egg, heaps of rough-cut pickles including cabbage and gorgeous, glistening beef that elicits many “oohs” and “aahs”.

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Bennie orders a really ballsy duck and vermicelli dish.

The soup that accompanies is REALLY unlike anything I have ever seen or tasted in a Vietnamese restaurant.

It’s dark, mysterious and – for me – cloyingly rich. Bennie ignores the mushrooms and slurps it up anyway.

And he raves about the rest of it all the way back to the car.

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I order banh mi bo kho (beef stew) with bread roll, but end up making do with the noodle version.

It’s good, but I suspect this is a rather new batch of stew in which the flavours and ingredients haven’t fully merged.

The no-bone, no-fat meat is wondrously tender, though, and I enjoy my bowl of goodies very much.

Will we be putting our hands up for Rickshaw Run duties next year?

You bet!

Sen on Urbanspoon

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Rickshaw duty

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Rickshaw Run, Feasting In Footscray/Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Footscray Central

Being typically Consider The Sauce early for the 11.30am check-in time for my first experience of rickshaw pulling allows me the opportunity to get the inside scoop of these marvellous vehicles.

Deputy mayor Grant Miles, today in fluoro-vested blue-collar mode, tells me that after a long search, a single job lot of them were found in a small Chinese town, where they were dismantled and packed into a container for Melbourne.

Here they were re-assembled and fitted with bearings.

And now they’re a seemingly excellent and permanent fixture of the Footscray scene as the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival rolls around for another year.

This year’s Rickshaw Run sold out in a couple of days, but there’s still plenty of scope for volunteers, so I plan on making myself useful – and doing it all again in a week’s time with Bennie.

I’m told that in the previous year there were stacks of volunteers, so each rickshaw puller stayed with the same couple of guests for the whole run.

Today, there’s more to-ing and -fro-ing.

And even though the run travels no further than a block from the registration point near the corner of Leeds and Byron streets, a good deal of concentration is required.

A loaded rickshaw takes more grunt to get moving – and stop – than I’d figured.

And manoeuvering along crowded footpaths and avoiding clashes with people, especially children, and retail displays and signage is tricky.

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First stop for punters – even before they board their rickshaws – is D&K, where they feast on icy, freshly shucked oysters.

I never knew!

Apparently, this delicious trick can be done any old time – with prices ranging from about $9 to $13 a dozen depending on size.

I’m so there!

My first passengers are Cathy and Anita (top photo), who are followed by Wendy and Lucy, and then Mike and Dosh.

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I enjoy asking them all how their Rickshaw Run is going as the day progresses.

And I tell them: “If an oxygen mask should drop down in front of you, make sure you place one on your own face before doing the same for your children!”

First stop after oysters is Little Saigon Market, where guests get to sample such exotic treats as mangosteen, rambutan and dragon fruit.

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At Sen Restaurant, Rickshaw Run punters make their own rice paper rolls.

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At the corner of Hopkins and Leeds streets, they receive a massage while chomping on bo la lot – beef in vine leaves – and taking in some rowdy Vietnamese music.

I grab a skewer of bo la lot at $3.50 for myself. So good and chewy, with a heavy garlic hit and sublime chilli afterburn.

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From there, it’s on to Sapa Hills for bun cha Hanoi (grilled pork, noodles, salad and dipping sauce) at Sapa Hills and, finally, Dong Que for traditional spring rolls made with rice paper.

A big part of the day have been the wide smiles and guffaws of laughter coming from many amused locals as we’ve made our way around Footscray.

Maybe some of that’s due to the inherent post-colonial humour of having people with pale skin – in my case, very pale – hauling rickshaws around streets on which brown skin is very much the norm.

And for just a moment, on our last run along Hopkins Street, I see, hear and experience these so-familiar streets, sights and aromas through a visitor’s eyes.

So very, very cool!

Yet someone had said to me earlier in the day: “I’ve never eaten much around here – I’ve always been too scared!”

It’s been a fine experience.

Rickshaw Run volunteers still needed! Contact president@footscraytraders.com.au

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