Food trucks – Altona, Williamstown readers have your say!

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Disclosure – the two reporters who filed this Maribyrnong/Hobsons Bay Weekly story about food trucks in the west are colleagues of mine; I am quoted in the story and the newspaper has used a photograph provided by CTS.

But I confess to being bemused by the comments in the story by the spokeswomen for both the Altona Village Traders Association and the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce.

Of course, it is the job of such groups to promote and protect the businesses they represent.

But the idea of “running food trucks out of the town” seems a little, um, confrontational.

There are places we like to eat in and shop at in both Williamstown and Altona. We will discover more.

But I can only go with what numerous residents and readers from both suburbs have told me in the years CTS has been operating – that while there is plenty of choice, people in general think there is much that is “average”, over-priced or both.

So Altona and Williamstown readers, what do you think … food trucks, do you want them?

 

 

 

 

 

Bits and pieces

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So how’s this for an eye-grabbing sign in Racecourse Road, Flemington?

Nope, can’t say I have … tried camel meat, that is.

Right next door, in the Grand Tofu, I ask Suzanne if she has.

Nope.

In fact, she seems surprised there is even such a sign gracing the halal butcher shop right next door.

What the Grand Tofu, Suzanne, Stephen and their crew do do is serve up a sperb chicken laksa.

Look, I’m quite fond of the two more famous Malaysian eateries just around the corner.

But I don’t like queues and they’re always so busy.

The Grand Tofu is frequently busy, too – but the staff always find time for a bit of a chat or at the very least a warm welcome.

Which can’t always be said of the competition.

And then there’s that chicken laksa (oh my!) – and much more besides.

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Providorable is lovely foodie haven in Williamstown – you can read about it here.

Providorable proprietor Kelly recently posted the following on her business’s Fcebook page:

“Good morning everyone, I’m feeling this morning I need to write this post. I think a lot of the local shop keepers this week would say that things are looking brighter for Xmas sales after a very quiet winter. I urge everyone to support local business. Supermarkets are trying to shut down small business, this is where you get the personal service with product knowledge, not in a supermarket. Also, WHY have the council allowed two farmers markets per month in Willy? Do you realise that now there are two it takes business away from your local shops that are the ones that pay the rates & rents to make strip shopping be still available? Have you questioned any of the stall holders at farmers markets about where some of their products come from? There are genuine items being sold but some are not from their own farms being sold direct to public. Yeah, have one a month but why 2 every two weeks … you go and buy fruit and veg, it affects your local fruit shop, same as butcher, dog treats, coffee shop, jams and relishes etc etc. PLEASE SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS. By this market being there every two weeks, you are supporting outsiders who don’t pay the huge rents and rates we pay. OK rant over lol and enjoy your day. Williamstown has wonderful shops and fantastic shopkeepers. Keep us all in willy for years to come please.”

What do you think?

We’re quite fond of visiting farmers markets.

But in truth we rarely buy more than a coffee and maybe a snag or other eat-on-the-spot treat.

Fruit, vegetables and other produce?

Hardly ever.

But we do enthusiastically support and enjoy the hell out of our local shops and delis, be they in Williamstown, Altona, Seddon, Footscray, Sunshine or beyond.

Revisiting an old Willy pal

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Burger Culture, 3 Cole St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 7156

Burger Culture, situated opposite Santorini Greek restaurant just off Nelson Place, pre-dates the likes of the now common Grill’d burger chain.

In fact, it was the first place Bennie and regularly hit to get our hands on affordable American-style burgers, different from the Aussie style and without setting foot in a pub.

We had many fine meals there.

But somewhere along the way, we ventured elsewhere, and I recall that on our last visit we were a little underwhelmed in particular by the thinness and mediocrity of the beef patties.

So I’m interested to check the place out again in what is an impromptu lunch in terms of venue.

Jacqui of Urban Ma and I had headed this way with a specific eat shop in minds, but it’s closed so we make do in a locale loaded with eating options but precious few really good ones.

And while what we get at Burger Culture will not win any awards, we nevertheless really enjoy our lunches.

The interior is bustling with lunchtime activity, so we grab an outdoor table even though it’s a rather chilly spring day.

For me, it’s the culture classic (above, $7.50) with “lean beef, tomato, lettuce, onion, tomato relish and culture mayo” with bacon as an extra.

For Jac, it’s the New Yorker (below, $11.90) with “lean beef, caramelised onions, swiss cheese, tomato, lettuce, tomato relish and culture mayo”.

The first and best thing that impresses me about my burger is the patty – this one has a real nice, real beefy texture and flavour, and the bacon is fine, too.

But I envy Jacqui’s more diverse and interesting sandwich – there’s mustard as well as the advertised ingredients.

What impresses both of us most about our meals is that combo deals encompassing chips and a can of soft drink are offered for a mere $3 extra.

This means that, cost-wise, Burger Culture combo deals pretty much end where Grill’d stand-alone burgers start.

That’s good!

Our chips are just OK, though – we reckon they could be hotter and little more well done. But we consume them happily with little plastic tubs of tomato relish and chilli mayo that cost us 50 cents each.

The Burger Culture website is here.

Burger Culture on Urbanspoon

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Meat-free but even Garfield would dig it

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The Pickle Barrel, 60 Ferguson Street, Williamstown. Phone: 9399 8338

The Pickle Barrel prospers without the groovy factor sported by other coffee/breakfast/lunch places in Williamstown and the wider inner west.

It does so, from what I’ve been able to gather as a sometime customer for a quick coffee and/or lunch, by providing good, solid food, excellent coffee and good service.

The place seems habitually busy, yet there are always plenty of staff members on hand to handle the load.

It’s a smallish cafe, with a limited range of takeaway produce and deli lines, three small tables along one wall, two more larger, communal tables and high stools facing the windows.

The outside tables are always popular, even in winter, and there’s always newspapers on hand.

There’s longish lists of both breakfast and lunch fare, but the main stock in trade are the numerous and good-looking flour-based options – wraps, paninis, baguettes and other sandwiches.

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Today, though, I take a punt by opting for the unmeaty version of the lasagna dishes on display (both $9.90).

What a handsome slab of stuffed pasta it is.

Beneath a nicely toasted cheesy cap are multiple pasta layers sandwiching plentiful amounts of ricotta, potato (I think), zucchini and more – including a tomato-based sauce so deeply, intensely coloured and flavoured that I have to eyeball the display cabinet again to make sure I haven’t been presented the meat lasagna by mistake.

It’s all fantastic and hearty and tasty – so much so that I easily forgive the fact my meal slides from lukewarm to cool at the centre of what is, after all, a very generous serving.

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Before I depart, I tumble into another serendiptous conversation with a complete stranger.

But Megan is a writer and West Footscray resident, so we become fast pals as we gleefully compare notes on mutual places, people and topics of interest.

Despite not being a Willy local, Megan regularly travels here for The Pickle Barrel’s coffee, of which she is a huge fan.

So … I order one for myself and a repeat for her.

She’s right – my cafe latte is superb.

The Pickle Barrel on Urbanspoon

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Providorable – all sorts of nice things in Willy

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Providorable, 46 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9399 9355

Consider The Sauce had been aware of Providorable, but it took Miss Biscuit, Julia, to actually get us to check out the Williamstown shop.

Before getting around to an actual visit, I found myself becoming more and more impressed with the regular updates Providorable proprietor Kelly posts on her shop’s Facebook page – they’re full of passion for the goodies she stocks.

A visit to the Ferguson St emporium confirms the sincerity of those updates, with Kelly pointing out some of the high-quality products and their suppliers for which she is most enthusiastic and which you may struggle to source elsewhere in Melbourne (or our side of it anyway).

Products such as …

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… McGrath dressings from Albury and …

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… Arthurs Creek oils and condiments and …

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… she-tea from Daylesford (the tea is imported but the packaging and gorgeous artwork are done in Victoria) and …

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… lovely fruit-studded nougat from The Sweet Boutique in Brighton.

Mind you, Kelly is also has some delightful imported goodies as well, such as …

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… Harney & Sons tea from New York and …

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… fabulous Mazet chocolate in various flavours from France.

Providorable maybe isn’t the kind of place you’ll go to “stock up”, but for just that particular product or luxury item you seek or deserve, it’s a treat.

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Garage Classics Of Williamstown

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Kenny’s lotto win car – a 1962 Jag: Lean, mean, green, close to the ground and looking like it’s made to go fast …

Garage Classics Of Williamstown, 400 Kororoit Creek Rd, Williamstown North. Phone: 9391 7559

Garage Classics Of Williamstown has been open about a year – in that time we’ve doubtless driven past dozens, maybe even hundreds of times.

And maybe that’s wherein at least part of the problem lies.

Leigh Goodall, who founded the business with wife Helen, tells me the plan of running the museum in tandem with a cafe open five days a week for breakfast and lunch has proven unsustainable.

From the end of April, the museum will be open only to group bookings and the food side of the business will cater to those groups and other functions.

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Leigh Goodall with the museum’s 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

So you’ve got about two weeks to get in there, have a look around and grab a bite to eat.

And you should.

You really, really should.

Because while the museum itself is quite compact in size, I’d rate it one of the most fascinating attractions in the entire western suburbs, and even Melbourne, packed as it is with more interest than it’s possible to take in in a single visit.

There’s myriad vehicles, of both two-wheel and four-wheel varieties, along with hundreds of other items.

As well, my lunch – chosen from a longish menu of sandwiches and house-made goodies such as sausage rolls – is a doozy.

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The “New York Reuben” ($12.90) finds pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing inserted into a flattened and beautifully toasted loaf.

Oh my, it’s fantastic!

And there’s a spicy pepperiness about my sandwich that’s possibly attributable to the pastrami crust and the Worcestershire sauce in the dressing, though Helen is a tad cagey about the dressing’s other ingredients.

Admission to the museum costs $5.

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The museum’s shop area has these gorgeous vintage picnic sets for sale.

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Stag’s Head – beer every day

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Stag’s Head, 39 Cecil St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 8337

Whatever the merits or otherwise of Williamstown as a food destination, we very much enjoy cruising the suburb’s back streets, especially those around the beach and its station.

There are heaps of lovely old homes and buildings to be eyeballed and the area seems to be defying whatever gentrification and “progress” is taking place nearby on Ferguson St and Nelson Pde.

One such building is the Stag’s Head, first built in the 1860s and reconstructed in 1887.

It’s a golden oldie and feels like it, even if the current management, fit-out, locals and food aren’t quite of that vintage.

It feels oh-so-comfortable, right from the threadbare carpet and bar full of nick-nacks through to wooden floors seemingly springloaded with age and comical signage.

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Even better, there’s a perpetually free pool table. Maybe it costs that little because at either end there’s walls that get in the way of sensible cue management.

Whatever – one of our games is abandoned because of the arrival of our lunch and Bennie beats his father in the other on a mere technicality (sinking white off black).

There’s a more formal dedicated dining room and a sunny courtyard, but we’re happy to perch on bar stools for our lunch visit.

The menu is compact, runs to two sides of A4 and includes “old favourites” such as chicken parma and  porterhouse for $20, three salads for $15-18 and five lunch dishes for $12.50 apiece.

From the lunch list we choose salt and pepper calamari and fish tacos.

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Bennie’s calamari is really fine – tender, mildly seasoned and of extreme yumminess when dipped in the lovely aioli.

Only problem is, for a lunch dish it’s light-on, with only a small rocket salad with a few parmesan flakes to accompany.

Maybe the key here is to make sure of a dish’s heft before ordering if one is keen of appetite.

In any case, Bennie for sure could’ve done with an equivalent serve of the chips that come with my tacos.

As it is, he makes do with a bag of beer nuts from behind the bar.

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My fish tacos are wonderful.

The fish – hoki from New Zealand – is mildly flavoured but goes beaut with the tomato salsa, red cabbage, chilli sauce and coriander.

The taco shells are, I suspect, store-bought. But I’m cool with that, especially as each taco maintains its structural integrity right down to the final tasty mouthful.

With the good chips on the side, I really enjoy a lovely light meal that seems priced just right at $12.50.

By the time we leave, I’m wishing the Stag’s Head was our local.

Stag's Head on Urbanspoon

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Rose of Australia Hotel

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Rose of Australia Hotel, 54 Ferguson Street, Williamstown. Photo: 9397 6259

Exterior that emits classy vintage vibes, a narrow hallway leading to the dining room and even more narrow hallways leading elsewhere, friendly service – the Rose is doing its bit to maintain and preserve the tradition of old-school pubs in the western suburbs.

We’d eaten here once before our mid-week visit on a typically wintry Melbourne spring evening, but that’s just a hazy memory from when Bennie was a fractious toddler.

He was often a Very Naughty Boy in those days. Well, extremely trying anyway …

The classic exterior appears to have not changed at all; not so with the bistro.

We’re told the current management has been in place for about five years and the current dining room fit-out for about five months.

It’s still old-school, mind you, and we love the comfy booths arrayed along on side of the room.

So we grab one.

The menu is straight-up pub tucker, though in this instance Bennie is going to have survive without the burger he desires.

My chicken parmagiana ($18.50) is real fine – a thickish slab of flavoursome, juicy chicken topped with the regulation cheese and ham, with the biggest flavour hit coming from a fine tomato sauce.

It’s a much more substantial parma than is conveyed by the above photo.

The chips are fine, too, but I wish there was whole bunch more of them. The salad component is OK but struggles to avoid being labelled “garnish”.

Bennie has never before ordered a mixed grill.

This proves to be not the best place for him to break that particular duck.

At $19.50, it’s described to us as various meats, other bits and “warm potato salad and onion gravy”.

It’s fair to say Bennie’s never seen anything like it.

Nor have I, for that matter.

There’s heaps of smallish but delicious pieces of steak, bacon rashers, a fried egg and a goodly sausage, all smothered in dark gravy. And none of the lamb chop or cutlet we have been expecting.

The salad in the middle has a serious case of caper overkill. I’d imagined spud salad and mixed grill to be quite a workable combo, but what with the gravy and all … it just looks wrong.

Bennie’s a bit overwhelmed, and even resorts to asking for his barely warm meal to be heated up, not that it makes much difference to him.

Despite the unhappy, blameless mishap with the mixed grill – we did, after all get, exactly what was described – we like the Rose.

The Tuesday curry night – choice of one of two, with raita, house-made roti, rice, pickle and papadam for $15 – appears to be particularly worthy of future investigations.

Rose of Australia Hotel on Urbanspoon

Crowded House

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Crowded House, 48 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 5526

With its copious amounts of vintage wood, open kitchen and hip vibe, Crowded House no doubt is a magnet in an area of many worthy but often uninspiring eateries.

Thankfully on this Saturday lunchtime, the feeling is far from being one of trendier-than-thou, with a cheerful hubbub surrounding many happy tables of folks, including a lot of families, tucking into various meals and post-noon brekkies.

We find the service terrific and the wait time for our meals pleasingly brief.

We’re only after light meals, so I steer Bennie away from the more substantial fare and towards the blackboard menu of paninis and bagels.

He does good with his panini of “bacon, egg, jacks cheddar and mayo” ($9.50). The mayo looks decadently scrumptious.

He rates his classy, sophisticated BLT variant “yum out of 10″.

Seeing as the soup of the day, parsnip and carrot ($13.50), is being served with “artichoke chips”, I am expecting something a little sexy on the side to join the Phillippas toast.

So I am disappointed when the chips are more like shavings that act as little more than a garnish. 

The soup is fine – it has good parsnip flavour and tastes quite peppery.

But the admission price doesn’t seem to equate to particularly good value for money, especially when I see some of the more substantial meals about us.

We specifically eye with envy the “tempura calamari salad, chorizo, roasted capsicum, olives, roquette, fetta with lemon and olive oil dressing” and the “lamb koftas with traditional tabouli, hummus, labna and pita”.

That both these and half a dozen other meals (see menu below) are selling for $17.50 would seem to constitute a sooper dooper bargain.

Next time, you bet!

Flat-screen TVs: Nope.

We depart happy to have spent time in this cool cafe, if a little wistful about menu items untried.

Next job for the day is to deal with the messy result of some inept, clumsy parking skills by our driver – that would be me.

It’s at this point we discover our new(ish) car lacks a jack.

Oh how we wish we’d done the flat-tyre business before lunch – then we could’ve enjoyed supping as we waited an hour or so for the RACV …

Crowded House on Urbanspoon

Mr Roast Carvery & Salad Bar

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Mr Roast Carvery & Salad Bar, Shop 7 Coles Centre, 19-21 Douglas Pde, Williamstown. Phone 9397 7878

Being in a meaty mood and with other shopping endeavours taking me to Williamstown, I ponder a visit to Mr Roast, tucked away at the rear of the Coles complex on Douglas Pde.

I’d stuck my nose in on previous occasions, only to be dissuaded by the rather soul-less vibe and not particularly attractive meats and salads on display.

So today’s the day curiosity will be assuaged.

We’d been tipped to the existence of the Caroline Springs Mr Roast outlet by the bloke who sold us our car. He no longer works for that dealer and we have no idea what the phrase “good food” means to him.

Mr Roast sells chicken, beef, pork and lamb in styles and sizes ranging from rolls ($7.50) and kids meals up to more expensive Mr Roast Meals and Scalloped Potato Meals, both of which sell for $11.95 for a one-person serve.

After asking the “what’s hot” question, I opt for the roast pork meal, with spuds and peas, obtaining a swap of coleslaw in place of pumpkin.

Yes, yes, coleslaw and roast pork are perhaps not a natural fit – but anything is better than pumpkin. (Hi Mum!)

My meal, on real crockery and with metal utensils, is brought to my table with a gravy boat on the side.

The meat is not the super tender I’d been led to expect but it’s a huge serve and really tasty. I make happy with the gravy to make up for the slight dryness.

The gravy tastes good but I don’t want to think about how it’s made or what with.

It’s in a congealed state when it arrives and cold even before I finish my lunch.

It’s a sunny but nevertheless cold day and the doors/windows out to the Coles carpark are wide open, so the rest of my meal is likewise chilly by the time I finish.

There’s so much pork on my plate – I try hard to eat it all, but fail.

The thankfully small serve of crackling is crackly, utterly delicious and sinfully salty.

By contrast, two meager and undistinguished half roast potatoes and what seems less than half a cup of peas seem a bit miserly. The peas are not of the canned variety, but their dull green colouring hints that they may be close cousins.

Reads like a litany of disappointment, doesn’t it?

Funnily enough, though, the sum is much greater than the parts and I enjoy my lunch very much.

Best bet at Mr Roast is to get there soon after the food is ready, as I suspect it will become less appetising as the day wars on.

The Mr Roast website is here.

Dappa Snappa Fish Cafe

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Dappa Snappa Fish Cafe, 203 Nelson Place, Williamstown. Phone: 9943 4109

There are only hazy memories hereabouts of the days when fish and chips resided at the cheaper end of the cheap eats spectrum.

These days a decent F&C feed will always cost you more than a bowl of pho just about anywhere you go.

This situation is exacerbated in my own case because – creature of some habits that I am – ordering F&C without coleslaw is something of which I am simply incapable.

In this case, a minimum serve of coleslaw costing $5.50 nudges the cost of my lunch – including  a can of soft drink – above $16.

I know, I know – $5.50 for coleslaw? Sounds a bit steep, doesn’t it?

But I have a hunch about this salad.

It looks good.

It tastes better.

A whole lot better.

Fact is, this is the best F&C shop coleslaw I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

It’s stupendous in its perfection.

Perfectly dressed, crunchy but not too crunchy – I’m almost giggling with the sheer enjoyment of it as I slurp up every last shred of cabbage.

The chips are fine in an old-school way and hot, but receive a healthy shake from the salt dispenser.

The fish – blue grenadier – is better again. Of a good size and with a nicely crunchy batter, the fish flesh is juicy and very flavoursome.

The tartare sauce is almost as good as the coleslaw – delicious, fresh and creamy.

This is a winning fish luncheon.

Dappa Snappa boss man Mehmet has been open only a couple of weeks when I visit.

He’s enjoyed a ripper Queen’s Birthday Monday, but is mostly hoping to survive the winter by looking forward to bumper spring and summer crowds.

I reckon he’ll do fine.

There’s F&C alternatives at either end of the Nelson Place food strip, but smack bang in the middle – where he is – there’s much food that is awful, over-priced or both.

Mehmet’a joint is done out in typically breezy fish cafe style, with exposed bricks on one side and a cute seaside scene on the other, and plenty of seating inside and out.

While our immediate neighbourhood continues to lack a sit-down F&C establishment, Dappa Snappa is likely to receive multiple visits from us.

I’ll be interested to hear of Bennie’s verdict on the hamburgers.

Bonus points, too, for the provision of real crockery and metal cutlery!

Dappa Snappa Fish Cafe on Urbanspoon

Casa Italica: Out with the old, in with the new …

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Despite being fond of Casa Italica, it’s not been a frequent haunt for us – much like the rest of Williamstown.

I am surprised, then, when in the neighbourhood to discover the place has been gutted and a major building operation is underway.

However, the two young builder blokes I talk to assure me Casa Italica will still be present when the works are completed.

There’s apartments being built – and a carpark to service them.

And the Casa Italica space looks like it’ll be a whole lot more roomy and expansive.

This is pretty exciting, as the previous configuration was a little on the pokey side, and was perhaps even hampering the sort of service and products and eats they were of a mind to offer … in a neighbourhood in which such expansion will surely be a winner.

Hot Wings

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134 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 0146

Want to know what Australia eats on a Saturday night?

Forget your fancy pants cooking and lifestyle shows, glossy magazines, newspaper reviews, food guides and food blogs.

Sit, instead, at one of the few inside tables at Hot Wings in Williamstown at the start of rush hour … and watch an amazing, ceaseless flow of customers come and go.

These are not groups of teens fuelling up for a night of movies or mayhem, or couples of any age grabbing dinner on the way home from a day out.

Nope, almost without exception these are parents popping in to grab obviously family-sized meals for family-sized families.

Think of this same scene unfolding at all the good chicken shops across Melbourne, then Victoria and then Australia – it’s amazing to contemplate.

There’s no doubt this is spectacularly unhealthy food.

But I doubt it’s any worse than, say, fish and chips, which seem to have acquired a patina of righteousness in the past decade or so, or the unfood of the franchises.

I doubt even that a chicken shop feed is much more of a no-no than the kebab and dips approach, or the whole five-course deal at a French establishment.

In any case, these places are hugely popular – a mainstay, for better or worse, of the Australian family food routine.

I’d love to know more about them.

When did they start? Where did the inspiration come from?

Are there equivalents in other countries, apart from the fried chicken of US fame?

You still find quite a broad spectrum of people running such businesses, but my impression is that these days they are dominated by folk of the Chinese persuasion.

And then, too, there’s hybrids – chicken ‘n’ pizzas, chicken ‘n’ burgers, chicken ‘n’ F&C, chicken ‘n’ kebabs, chicken ‘n’ the lot.

There’s nothing hybrid about Hot Wings – it’s a classic of the genre.

It’s all here – the scalloped potatoes, deep-fried chicken if you’re perverse enough to desire such, the gravy, the salads.

A couple of the salads look like they’ve been mayonaised to death, but there’s a decent looking Greek salad and even – wow! – a tabouli.

When the mood strikes me for this kind of food – about once a year – I prefer to head for the shop in Racecourse Rd, Flemington, or some other place that does eat-ins with metal cutlery and real plates.

But as I chow down at Hot Wings, I have no regrets – as what I experience is a peak chicken shop meal.

Timing is vital in visits to such food outlets.

If, when you enter, a new batch of chips is on the way and the final, bedraggled remnants of the previous lot are sitting there looking unlovely, head for the door … walk around the block or go somewhere else.

Tonight, I’m in luck – the chips are fresh, hot and wonderful.

The downer of having to use plastic cutlery is substantially decreased by the juicy quality of my half bird – even the deepest part of the breast meat is moist, requiring no help from gravy or such like.

This, in my experience, is a rarity.

As is coleslaw that is neither gloopy with or drowning in mayo.

That said, this one doesn’t quite back up its good looks – it’s plainly on the dull and bland side.

Kasim’s Indian Cafe, Sirens

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Kasim’s Indian Cafe, 44 Mason St, Newport. Phone, 9399 483

Sirens,  Beach Pavilion Esplanade, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 7811

It takes some cajoling to get Bennie off the sofa and away from the TV and PlayStation this Friday night.

In the end, we experience a role reversal – with Bennie energised by the magic combination of beach + boy and his dad wanting to head for home.

To get things rolling, though, I make a concession – instead of heading for the wilds of Deer Park or Taylors Lakes, we stick closer to home, intent on checking out a typical suburban Indian eatery, the windows of which we’ve peered through a number of times but never previously entered.

We’re interested in exploring the theory that by mostly limiting ourselves to the cheaper end of the Indian spectrum – at, say, Consider The Sauce favourites such as Classic Curry in Sunshine – we are depriving ourselves of an occasional repast that is richer, sexier and more celebratory.

So it is with metaphorically loosened wallets that we hit the Willy road.

Our straightahead Indian meal is indeed more expensive than our usual – but not by a lot.

We’re hungry and waste no time in ordering lamb bhuna gosht ($13), aloo gobi ($11.50), plain nan ($2.90) and rice ($4), and “kuchumber salad spicy” ($4).

We suspect Kasim’s, with its plain but nice enough dining room, does most of its trade in takeaway. We’re the only customers, but as we are paying and leaving a young couple saunters in followed by a Muslim family comprising mum, dad, two daughters with iPads and son with PSP/DS.

We hope they have a better time of it than we do.

Our meal is edible.

We eat it.

But – oh dear – it’s truly spectacular in its mediocrity.

The salad – a mix of finely diced tomato, lettuce, cucumber and carrot – is not in the least bit spicy.

The aloo gobi seems like leftovers.

The bhuna gosht meat is tender, has textural variety courtesy of green capsicum and onion, and is the best thing going in our meal.

The nan is very average for the price.

The final bill of just a touch over $40 is fine for two mains, three side dishes and two cans of soft drink, but our wallet-loosening experiment is a failure.

Did we order the wrong dishes? Any Kasim’s regulars out there?

It’s still early in the night and Bennie is happy enough to humour his father’s interest in sweeties and coffee/hot chocolate.

The esplanade/beach precinct of Williamstown used to play a major role in our outings, one that has faded.

Mind you, we’ve never taken the plunge by getting on the fang at Siren’s, daunted by the high prices and the fear its fare will tainted by the same fodder indifference that infects nearby Nelson Parade.

It’s all very well to say that as food bloggers we should keep open minds and chance our arms on occasion, but as full-fare payers we are tugged, too, in the other direction, towards caution and conservatism.

Tonight, the place is close to packed and very busy. But still, we fear that has more to do with the superb beachside location than anything coming out of the kitchen.

What we have done many, many pleasant times is hit Sirens for coffee and Greek-style biscotti – and that’s just what we do tonight.

It turns out to be a thrilling half-hour or so.

The proximity of beach and sand brings Bennie alive.

There’s a classic Willy sunset on hand, thunder clouds and lightning in the other direction, and a rainbow between them.

The floor manager is bemused by our insistence on doing coffee imbibing out on the deck because everything is sopping wet.

That’s cool, mate, we’ll stand.

The choc-dipped bikkie is less impressive than we recall from previous visits; the shortbread number much better; our hot drinks are very good.

As dad calls stumps on the outing, Bennie shouts from water’s edge: “I want to stay here!”

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Tai Hoong Cafe

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197 Nelson Place, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 5781

Does the Vietnamese food found in Melbourne’s restaurants lessen in yumminess the further it gets away from Footscray, Sunshine, St Albans, Victoria St and Springvale Rd?

Sadly, based on our mid-week jaunt to Tai Hoong, it is tempting to draw just such a conclusion.

This is doubly disappointing.

For one, we’ve had some cracking meals here in the past.

For two, one of the dishes we’ve enjoyed most is one we order to share on this occasion.

The bo luc lac ($13) seems a pallid version of the lively dish we’ve enjoyed previously, even if those visits were a while back.

The runny fried egg is good, as is the rice.

The beef is tender but a tad gloopy with some sort of soy sauce, one that seems to have a vinegary flavour to it. Mind you, for all we know this could be a proper and authentic variation, and it is quite tasty. The onions are a little under-done.

There’s a complete absence of garnishes, cucumber, tomato or any sort of greenery. Perhaps we only realise how integral such items are to a dish such as this when they’re missing.

We’re mighty hungry, so wolf the lot – but this falls into the category of just OK.

The chicken curry with rice – also $13 – is considerably better.

The bowl holds a surprisingly large amount of tender, boneless chicken pieces and – so pleasingly – an even greater number of luscious potato cubes.

Still, despite the inclusion of a handful of curry leaves, the flavour and taste factors are so middle of the road as to define blandness, putting this also into just OK territory.

Tai Hoong remains a pleasant suburban eating house, and while the prices we pay are $3-4 higher than those in Footscray for the same fare, we hope the ordinariness of our meal is an aberration.

After our meal, and still feeling a mite hungry, we head along Nelson Place with the idea of indulging in a sweet crepe and coffee hit.

We are shocked to discovery the crepery has been replaced by a Croatian restaurant.

The menu is of mouth-watering nature and includes all sorts of seafood, wild boar and apple strudel. It’s pricey, but we make a mental note for future reference.

We make do with a cone apiece – choc caramel for him, chocolate gelati for me – from the Ice Cream Shoppe next to Tai Hoong.

As we window shop the other end of Nelson Parade, Bennie comments about the number of joints hereabouts that have signs advertising “$17 specials” for the likes of parmas, steaks and the like.

Hmmm, moving right along … and homewards bound.

Tai Hoong Cafe on Urbanspoon

Novel Kitchen

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80 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9399 8437

With a 4pm work start, a long ‘n’ lazy newspaper-reading caffeine-fuelled breakfast seems just the ticket.

First stop is a new and groovy-looking joint in Newport Bennie and I had noted the previous weekend.

As I enter, I realise it’s much bigger than it appears from outside. It’s jam-packed and noisy. Intensely so. The communal table in the middle is the domain of a big mum’s group and their offspring.

Erm, no thanks – maybe some other time when it’s not rush hour in Toddlerville.

Next stop is Casa Italica, but I soon depart when I realise they aren’t set up for the kind of brekky of which I am desirous.

So it is that by sheer randomness I find myself just a few doors along at Novel Kitchen.

And what a happy accident it turns out to be.

It’s a cosy but not exactly personality-packed cafe that specialises in organic goodies, more specifically take-home meals. The range of salads – many of them featuring pulses and grains – for $8 seem like a pretty solid deal.

But I have more immediate concerns on my mind.

From the breakfast menu I choose the $12 free range omelette with tomato, spinach and fetta.

It’s a thing of brilliance, with the filling ingredients abundant and in equal portions.

The omelette sits atop a slice of toast, the pair of them matching each other almost precisely in dimensions. Good job!

The fetta superbly adds some bite and tang, as does the tomato relish that sits with some nice rocket leaves on the side.

It’s a such a fine and harmonious package that the bacon I ordered as an extra seems out of place and a needless expense.

Two excellent coffees and a quick whip through one of the Melbourne rags on hand and I’m pretty much done.

Novel Kitchen impresses as a bit of a Willy secret and a tidy alternative to the more frantic and well-known options in the vicinity, regardless of one’s ardour for organic ingredients.

Maybe next time I’ll go for one of the daily soups!

Novel Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Casa Italica

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88 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone:  9397 5777

We stumbled upon Casa Italica while looking for a post-lunch coffee after a visit to Wild Rice, also in Ferguson St.

I’d returned once seeking soup, only to find none available.

This morning, while going about my business, I have been developing a lust for minestrone.

I’m in luck – there’s two soups on, and one of them is the one that has been on my mind.

The vegetables are chopped much more finely than I am familiar with in this soup, either made at home or out and about. But they’re all present and accounted for, cooked through but far from mushy.

My soup bowl requires a little at-table seasoning and I use all the little bowl of grated parmesan provided as my meal progresses. But together with two excellent slices of crusty buttered bread, it gets better with every mouthful until all is gone.

It’s deceptively filling and worth every cent of the $10.95 I pay for it.

Casa Italica is a temple to all things Italian situated in a lovely old building. Stacked and shelved in every nook and cranny are condiments of all sorts, tomatoes every which way and a pasta selection that appears to rival that of Mediterranean Wholesalers in Sydney Rd.

At first blush I take many of the meals listed on the blackboard menu to be little more than lightweight cafe fare.

But the plates I see around me – which include arancini and fab-looking pies – appear very fine indeed, the salad quotient looking hearty and handsome, and containing greenery and beans at the very least.

No soup for me next time.

I linger over a good coffee ($3) and a deliciously moist piece of pistachio biscotti ($2.50).

As I am taking photographs of the exterior, one of the establishment’s coffee customers, on noticing my Grateful Dead hoodie, ventures out for a bit of chat about the local music and food scenes.

Larry tells me Casa Italica is one of his regular caffeine haunts, but he seems to share our bewilderment about the food scene hereabouts.

Ferguson St, Nelson Parade, Douglas Parade – so many cafes and eateries, so few highlights.

“Nelson Parade is like the Gold Coast,” Larry quips. “We mostly go to Footscray to eat.”

Wild Rice

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Shop 18/11-19 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 5484

On leaving Wild Rice after a really fine lunch, we troop up Ferguson St for a coffee at what turns out to be a hidey-hole of the Italian variety that we resolve to explore in further depth at the earliest possible opportunity.

As well, well-known Italian chef Rosa Mitchell is busy injecting Sicilian zest into the Hobson’s Bay Hotel, just opposite Wild Rice, though the prices we scan in the display menu outside put that joint into the “special occasion” bracket for us.

So maybe we’re being a touch harsh in our long-running disdain for Willy as a dining destination.

Still, it remains odd to us that a suburb so stuffed with eateries should have found so little place in our hearts, compared to, say, nearby Altona and Newport.

We’ve liked Wild Rice for a while, though, and are always pleased to return.

After visiting Snowballs Ice-Cream, we’d headed for Altona for a Viet/Sino place that turned out to be closed for Saturday lunch.

Further rambling was rejected in the interest of a safe bet in Willy.


Wild Rice is a swell Thai place with an elegant cafe-style vibe quite a way removed from that of many low-price places we frequent.

The service, we’ve found, is always swift and smiling.

The night-time a la carte list would stretch our budget – salads around the $15 mark, curries and stir fries from about $16 to $20 and up depending on your choice of protein.

So naturally, we head for the “lunch specials” list, which is available from noon to 5pm.

This features pad thai, tom yum and red curry noodle soups, and fried noodles for around $13-15.

But again, and happily for our wallets, we are drawn to the cheaper dishes.

Bennie will never say “no” to satay of any kind, so says yes here to the chicken stay and rice ($11.50)

The meat on his four skewers is a little hard to remove from the wood, but he loves it anyway. The satay sauce is a on the skimpy side, but tastes grand – it has a really distinctive flavour that speaks, we presume, of some real care and lack of shot cuts in the kitchen.

The rice and salad bits are good.


My “savoury pancakes” ($11.50) are actually a single rice flour pancake of the kind familiar to us from its counterpart in Vietnamese restaurants.

This one is a blast and half. It’s bloody good, with Bennie casting envious glances as his dad barely suppresses moans of pleasure. The stuffing is a just-right mix beans sprouts and minced pork. The salad quotient, provided by lettuce, carrot strands, mint and fresh coriander, is likewise near perfect. The whole dish is set off by being dressed with a beaut housemade sweet chilli sauce.

We really like the way both our meals treat the herbs as more than just a matter of garnish – the coriander and mint are sufficiently copious to make them full team members.

A couple of commentators at the Wild Rice entry on Urbanspoon opine that the restaurant is the “worst Thai food in the West” and “Thai food for people that don’t want the authenticity”.

The first comment is, I feel, on pretty shaky ground.

The second quip? I simply don’t know enough about Thai food to offer an authoritative judgment. But based on the non-bottle flavour of Bennie’s satay sauce and the simple, profound pleasures of my pancake, I suspect Wild Rice may actually be among the most authentic Thai places going around.

Wild Rice on Urbanspoon

Steampacket Hotel

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13 Cole St, Williamstown. Phone 9399 9600

I was in it for the company – which was all to the good, as I’m hardly enamoured with pub food.

Especially after our recent disappointment at the Ashley.

Our most local “local”?

Yikes!

But this was a fun night out – $12 steaks and free entry into that night’s trivia quiz.

My three dining partners – Deb from Bear Head Soup, her bloke Dave and Ms Baklover/Lauren from Footscray Food Blog – had heaps of good things, mind you, to say about the Station Hotel in Footscray.

And between the four of us we fancied we had enough all-round general knowledge – and few areas of arcane expertise up our sleeves – to put in a good showing in the trivia.

My previous visit to the Steampacket had been about five or so years before – to see my mate Ashley and his pals from the Louisiana Shakers pounding out some of their old-style New Orleans jazz.

Like so many pubs in the west, it has undergone change – although not so much as to completely ruin the place.

And there are no pokies!


The place was packed on Thursday’s steak/trivia night – and therein lies the biggest criticism we had.

The noise level was very, very high.

For most of the night it seemed to be at almost rock concert levels, forcing tablemates to shout instead of converse.

Indeed, such was the racket that we – cocooned in the pub’s dining room – were utterly unaware there had been a no doubt loud and raucous thunderstorm outside until I split for a few minutes to move my potentially ticket-attracting car.

The Steampacket boasts an inviting menu and a blackboard of specials at the rear of the dining room. It covers a broad range of steaks, seafood, pastas, salads, burgers, parmas and so on. If I return with Bennie in tow, it’ll likely be for the $11.90 main meal specials that are served on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6pm – see poster below for that week’s line-up.

But as pre-trivia repast, our entire table ordered the same meal – medium rare porterhouse. There are other, more pricey cuts available as part of the Thursday night deal, but none over $20.

We were all pleased with our meals – they did what was expected, if without sending us into raptures.

Steaks of a decent size and little on the chewy side. Yeah, yeah, I know – what did we expect for $12?

My chips were on the flabby side, and I could’ve done with more of them, and the salad bits and pieces were a tad straggly.

But the onion gravy I asked to be served on the side came in a little bowl, and was sweet and delicious for dipping into it every forkful of beef.

Yes, tartare sauce does float in beer.

The trivia was something else.

Bracing ourselves to be quizzed on all sorts of wide-ranging topics, we were instead assailed with probing queries on what amounted to little more than bogan pop culture.

We even had to take a punt on one of five entrants in a pot-skulling contest. We got that one right.

Still, we far from disgraced ourselves – or should that be the other way round, given that we did quite well and considering the general nature of the questions?

Dave stepped up with a few sports answers, and I opined – correctly – that if Winston Churchill had a third nipple I’d have known about it.

In the “sink or swim” section, and basing our answer on the fact that oil floats, we correctly guessed that tartare sauce would float in beer.

The trivia guy proved it – and then got a punter to skull the result. Heck, I don’t think he got any points for his for his brave efforts, either!

But mostly it was a matter of movies, TV programs, pop music and celebs that I’d barely heard of, let alone seen or heard.

When I returned the next day to take some pics, the staff said the previous night’s line of questioning should not necessarily to be taken as normal, and that the trivia quiz differed from week to week.

The Steampacket Hotel website is here.

Steam Packet Hotel on Urbanspoon

Top Of The Bay

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1 The Strand, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 7404

Nice summer day, looking out over the bay towards the CBD, enough wind to keep the flies away, chish and fips – what could be better?

Top Of The Bay delivers all that, depending of course on the weather to come up with the full house.

If my most recent lunch there fell a little short of meals we’ve had there previously, it does nothing to diminish it in our eyes.

It’s one of the good ones of Willy, a suburb I can’t help but feel is a bit of an under-achiever.

Ferguson St, Nelson Pde – so many eating places, so much mediocrity.

Gems are hard to find, or such has been our experience of a decade-long fairly thorough exploration of the area.

In any case, Top Of The Bay was doing a roaring trade for this Sunday lunch hour. The service and waiting time were appropriately slick and efficient.

The bill for my fish of the day (bream), chips, three calamari rings and a can of that Coca Cola stuff ran to a more than reasonable $12.70.


The oil from the fish had seeped through to spoil about a quarter of my chips, the rest of them being just on the right side of good.

The calamari was battered, rather than being the more familiar crumbed variety.

Nothing wrong with that in my book – it hardly makes any sense to get squeamish about batter when you’re on a fish and chips mission.

But in this case that batter was voluminous and the calamari rings very thin, so the whole deal was out of whack.

The fish was the star,  the batter crunchy and adhering to the marine matter with admirable stubborness, the flesh tender and tasty. The whole fillet did start to disintegrate as I worked from one end to the other, but I loved every salty, greasy, delicious mouthful.

Maybe the slight flaws could be attributed to the rather frantic trade they were doing while I was there.

Any quibbles were easy to dismiss, as it was something of a miracle that it was sunny but warm rather than broiling, and that there was indeed enough wind to keep the flies at bay without the necessity of keeping one hand on my meal and belongings to stop them being swept into the bay.

At Top Of The Bay, where all eating is done outdoors on the tables provided or across the road and closer to the water, such factors have as much to do with the quality of the experience as anything cooked up in the deep friers inside.

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