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Coracle Cafe Restaurant, 63-65 Anderson Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9315 1411

Yarraville village’s long-standing Chinese restaurant has gone.

Truth is, it went some time ago and Coracle has taken a while to arise at the same location.

The place is beautifully fitted out, mostly in blacks and whites and pale wood, with the big windows letting the light pour in.

In the months leading up to its unveiling, the name alone conveyed little information about what would be the nature of the new place … so the outcome is a bit of a surprise.

Let’s call it, definitely for want of a better phrase, Asian fusion.

Sure, as you’d expect, there’s a nice, tight list of breakfast items on the menu; and there’s brunchy things such as Vietnamese-style poached salad and “Super Green Gyoza”.

There’s banh mi, too.

Yes, $10 is a whack more than you’ll pay for banh mi in Footzcray or St Albans.

But the ones we see being inhaled around us look fabulous.

The more substantial heart of the menu, though, is the line-up of seven Coracle Bowls.

Yes, these are by way of the poke bowl trend – but Coracle’s efforts transcend just about all else we’ve tried.

On the one hand, the Coracle kitchen crew appear to with work the same basic toppings for each bowl offering, with individual tweaks as advertised.

On the other, there are super smarts at work here that kick our meals – three bowls over two visits – up and into the realms of magic.

The bento bowl ($17) is brilliant in every way.

The foundational success of every Coracle bowl very much appears to the prosaic nuttiness of the brown rice bases.

(Though Bennie’s mileage in this regard is not so extensive as that of his father …)

But here, the excellent toppings complete the job by sheer dint of quality and – equally important – by their deft apportioning.

Dressed salmon cubes, kale in sesame oil, two kinds of pickle, tobiko, broad beans, seaweed salad and more – all taste as mighty fine as they look.

Bennie enjoys his Korean bowl ($16.50), with excellent bulgogi beef.

Though he opines that more by way of starker flavour and texture contrast would’ve made him even happier.

The vegan bowl ($16.50) is very good, too, though what are listed as “tempura seasonal vegetables” are quite a long way from crunchy battered.

We are having such a fine Saturday lunch time we go the whole hog with the Coracle brownies ($6).

These don’t look anything special, especially as the melted marshmallows atop are rather unsightly and add nothing at all.

But the eating of what is both moist and chewy is of immense, top-quality choc pleasure.

The brownies are sluiced down with very good cafe lattes ($4).

It’s early days yet, but I strongly suspect Coracle will become one of our regular local haunts.

Colombian food? Dive right in!

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El Toucan Cafe, Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre, 1 Aquatic Drive, Maribyrnong. Phone: 0400 924 608

You won’t want to go swimming for a few hours after eating bandeja paisa at El Toucan Cafe.

But should you so desire, the facilities couldn’t be closer at hand – El Toucan is located right in Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre, its seating gazing out upon the various swimming pools.

Yes, really.

I could opine that this is western weirdness personified, but really how unusual is it when CTS and its friends not only keep an open mind about where we may find great food, but also do so regularly in quirky locations?

But this is most definitely the kind of adventure that sets the hearts of myself and CTS pal Nat Stockley into a cheerful gallop.

 

 

El Toucan boss Frank Torres keeps the likes of chicken nuggets and burgers on his menu.

As he says, this IS a swimming pool operation and he DOES want to stay in business.

But he’s very proud to be offering a range of true-blue Colombian dishes.

It’s to these we are drawn, as are the tables surrounding us inhabited by Colombian families.

Frank is a Melbourne eatery veteran, having in years past run the likes of El Dorado Grill in the CBD.

Bandeja paisa is something of an informal Colombia national dish.

Frank tells us its roots lie in its evolution as a hearty lunch for early-starting, hard-working coffee growers – which makes it the equivalent of your typical, full-bore Aussie/Kiwi shearers’ spread.

 

 

Nat goes the full bandeja paisa – a huge meal and something of a bargain at $20.

 

 

I opt for the half serve – it’s not listed anywhere, but is available on request.

Even it is a substantial meal and also a bargain at $12.

Everything about this is mighty …

Avocado and chubby tortilla.

Expertly fried egg and rice.

Superbly creamy beans and fried ripe plantain.

And meat – pork belly, chorizo and pulled beef that would match it with any barbecue joint.

The pork belly, as we’ve come to know of South American food, is well cooked, but as delicious as everything else on our plates.

 

 

Empanadas con yuca ($9) are also outstanding.

The three empanadas are made with corn meal, the casings stuffed with beef mince and deep fried.

They are joined by cassava chips that are fluffy and lovely.

On the side is a bowl of aji – a salsa-like dipping concoction.

This dish could constitute a cool and very cheap light meal for those not up to El Toucan’s more full-on offerings.

 

 

On an earlier, reconnaissance visit, I enjoyed sobrebarriga ($22) of slow-cooked beef skirt served with rice, avocado, cassava and sofrito.

This, too, is a hefty and excellent meal.

Though, in contrast to our other selections, in this case the meat is very tender and the cassava – playing the roast potato role – dryish and a little too starchy for my tastes.

El Toucan has specials …

On the day we visit there’s a liver dish on, while a few folks around us are enjoying what look like very good pork ribs – even if, as Frank maintains, they are less specifically Colombian than the likes of bandeja paisa.

Other dishes mentioned on the cafe’s Facebook page include patacón con carne o pollo (fried plantain fritter with shredded chicken), fried snapper, lamb skewers with kale slaw and pulled beef quesadilla.

Important note: For those wanting to try the El Toucan cooking without making use of the centre’s other facilities, there is no admission charge.

Winter hours for El Toucan Cafe are Monday-Friday 9am-8.30pm and Saturday-Sunday 9am-6pm.

Thanks to Nat “Punster” Stockley for the intro!

 

Roast with the most

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Fitzroy Town Hall Hotel, 166 Johnston Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 9416 5055

It’s been a while between drinks in the Sunday roast lunch department for CTS, so I am delighted to step out – and outside the Melbourne’s west – to meet Nat at the Fitzroy Town Hall Hotel.

It’s a lovely place on Johnston Street.

It’s done up nicely, though I suspect it’s life and times stretch way back.

Oddly, I have no recall of it from my early-days-in-Melbourne – my first three abodes here were in Fitzroy.

But then, food was pretty much – but not entirely – mere fuel for me then; I was busy with other things.

Going by the menu and the various blackboards around, this pub is a serious foodie destination.

But we’re definitely here for the roast.

Nat has a strong hunch I’ll be delighted.

He’s dead right.

Most of the Sunday roasts written about in the CTS archives are of the cheap ‘n’ cheerful variety that lob in somewhere in the $10 to $15 range.

But we are only too happy to pay more for real class.

Fitzroy Town Hall delivers.

 

 

Our plates of Diamantina topside wagyu with winter vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy are a dream and worth every cent of the $25 we pay.

All is good; all is – actually – perfect.

Even the water cress fits right, rather than being a mere garnish.

The celeriac remoulade on the left is pungent enough for me to ignore the proffered selection of mustards.

The beef is rare, juicy, stupendously good.

At first glance, I start wondering how much an extra slab of meat would cost.

But it turns out to be very sufficient, especially as …

 

 

… the bowl of sooper dooper spuds we share is so generous.

With them come a handful of Yorkshire puds.

And even these are winners.

So often, in my experience, they are akin to fossilised turds.

Here, though, they are light and a boss part of our meals rather than a nod to stodgy tradition.

 

Wow.

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Small Graces, 57 Byron Street, Footscray. Phone: 9912 6429

The burned-out shell of Little Saigon Market casts rather a glum metaphorical shadow across Footscray central, so we love it that Small Graces and some of its neighbours are mounting a fightback by bringing life and sunshine to Byron Street and surrounds.

We enjoyed our debut meal there last year and have returned several times since – mainly for salad hits.

So we definitely pay attention when informed a dinner service is being launched.

Not only that – we are invited to try it out (see full disclosure below).

Thus it is with keen anticipation and high expectations that Bennie and I front up for dinner.

Here is the brutal CTS call: Our expectations are not met.

Instead, they are exceeded in grand and delicious style.

Really.

Just about everything we try from a brilliantly chosen selection from the deep dinner menu (see below) is a righteous hit, with a few provisos noted below.

A salad of beets, grapefruit, radicchio, hazelnuts and goats cheese (top photo, $14) is enjoyed by us both, but especially by Salad Boy Bennie.

La Hoguera jamon serrano and garlic-fennel salami are wonderful and served with pickles.

They come with …

… luscious warmed olives and …

… inhalable chargrilled bread.

Carrots, salsa of carrot tops, pecorino pepato and seeds ($13) are a sublime veg offering.

Squid ink croquette with gralic aiolo and sorrel/pea croquette with preserved lemon aioli ($4 each) are, for us, duds.

We have no problem with their striking ugiless.

But they are too salty – even for us, two lads who had expressed to Small Graces’ Bec our fondness, upon arrival, for salty restaurant food!

Also somewhat visually unappealing is this dish of cauliflower, currants, fermented grapes and macadamia nuts ($15).

But in this case the result is an intriguing winner.

This pile of lentils photographs as dull.

It’s not.

It’s one of the night’s high sensations.

Lentils, quince and mints ($12) are moist, succulent, rather sweet and a tremendous pulse dish the likes of which we’ve never before encountered.

And we’ve eaten a LOT of pulses.

And the vegetables keep coming.

Brussel sprouts, jerusalem artichokes and Manjimup truffle ($15) are al dente and a big hit with Kenny; Bennie, no so much.

Our evening’s sole outright meat hit comes from hanger steak, burnt onions and bearnaise ($20).

We adore that juicy meat and its onion foil.

The sauce is good, too – but we consider its richness a bit jarring and unnecessary.

There’s a handy list of desserts on the go for dinner here – including fabulous-sounding ricotta gnocchi.

Sadly, they will have to wait another night as the Socceroos and their date with destiny await, so we head for the door.

The inner west is blessed to have Small Graces doing its dinner thing.

It joins the likes of Jack B. Nimble and Cheeky Chewies Cafe in serving up flash food without vertiginous price tags or stuffiness.

And there’s a heap of dinner-time scope in which vegetarians can frolic.

There’s booze on hand at Small Graces, which is now open for dinner Thursdays-Saturdays.

CTS thanks Bec, Diego and their crew for taking care of us.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Small Graces as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We were served a broad range of dishes from the joint’s new dinner menu. Small Graces management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

Westie eats goss 14/06/18

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Miles and Colin at Lay Low Bar.

 

Introducing Bennie to the joys of the Brother Hood Yiros + Grill a few weeks back, we had a tasty ball – squatting on the internal bench that is the place’s only seating in an otherwise fully take-away operation.

Happily, we need not wonder how we’d go when the Brother Hood is busy and car or footpath are the meagre options – there’s a bar opening right next door that will welcome yiros imbibers with open arms.

Of course, Lay Low Bar is about more than being a mere seating adjunct of a yiros joint – as Bennie and I discover when we drop in for a mid-week squiz.

The bar – at 93 Buckley Street, Seddon – is one of a row of gorgeous old double-storey Victorians.

I’m told the history of No.93 includes periods as picture-framing shop and a squatters’ residence.

 

 

Proprietors Miles Williamsz and Colin Wood and their crew are closing in on completion of their fit-out, which includes this fabulous mural by Hannah Simpkin.

They’re all about collaboration, including with the fashionable apparel emporium Brixton Pound in the shop front and the Brother Hood, with the laneway at the rear providing easy access to the bar for yiros customers.

The Brother Hood, as well, will be formulating a few specialties solely for the delectation of Lay Low customers.

 

 

Booze-wise, Lay Low’s focus will be on high-quality and unique cocktails, with Hop nation beers also available.

Lay Low Bar will open to the public on July 4.

The mooted hours are 4-10pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, noon-11pm Fridays and Saturdays, noon-10pm Sundays.

For more unfolding news, check out the Lay Low FB page here.

 

 

In Footscray, and tucked behind Huxtaburger, a Taiwanese chicken shop is taking shape.

I’m told Hot Star is owned by the same company that runs the tea chain Gong Cha, the local outlet of which the new chook place gazes upon.

 

 

Around the corner, in the same strip of shops occupied by Smalls Graces, a Chinese eatery will soon open.

 

 

On Paisley Street, just a few doors from the Leeds Street tram terminus, a Japanese restaurant has opened.

CTS will be checking it out pronto!

Very mixed reviews on its FB page.

 

 

Is there life at the Tottenham shops on Sunshine Road?

Yes, no, maybe?

Biryani n Grills appears to be set up to go – but shows little sign of being in use when I have a mid-week morning look.

As one wag put it somewhere on Facebook: “At least it’s not a massage parlour!”

 

Vietnamese brilliance

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Co Thu Quan, Shop 11-12, 10 Droop St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 1451

CTS HQ is, I suspect, like most westie households that like to get out, about and on the fang.

We go in cycles and ebbs and flows.

For instance, the quite recent times when we seemed hellbent on tracking down every curry house in the west actually seem a bit like fading memories.

Seems like we’ve had enough biryani for the time being!

But what of Vietnamese tucker?

Ah, pretty much the heart and soul of western suburbs food.

Yet so deeply interwoven is it into all our lives, it’s a bit easy to take it for granted.

Not that we don’t eat it regularly and even weekly.

We do.

But when it comes writing and posting about it, well not so much in recent times.

So it gives me giddy pleasure to wax enthusiastically, passionately about Co Thu Quan.

The original version of this eatery was tucked away in Little Saigon Market, becoming one of the victims of that institution’s sad, fiery demise.

Now – after opening branches in Richmond and the CBD – they’re back!

The new Footscray restaurant is on the Droop Street side of the Westville Central building, in the shopfront previous occupied by the sadly short-lived Issan Thai Street Food.

There have been changes.

The original Co Thu Quan was all about snack-style street food.

This new place, done out in nice dark wood and all abuzz with zippy, cheerful service, has a vastly expanded menu.

Instead of light snacks there’s a plethora of noodles, salads, vermicelli, rice, soups and much, much more.

And it’s all – or almost all – cheap, cheap, cheap. Think under $15.

And while you can order pho here, there are so many other glittering, intriguing choices, it would be folly to do so.

Here, by their many dozens, are dishes you’ll not find elsewhere in Footscray or the west.

Yet, by and large, there is very little on the massive menu that is bracing or confrontational for those less adventurous or not much inclined towards the intestinal.

Hoi an chicken rice ($12) is a simple, light, refreshing and superbly enjoyable take on the universal chook/rice combo.

There’s a lot more shredded chicken atop that rice than the above photo suggests.

Clear shrimp dumplings ($10) are wobbly parcels stuffed with shrimp and ground pork.

They’re fun to eat, but a tad shy of the flavor explosions I was anticipating.

Nat enjoys slurping on his water spinach crab noodles ($12).

Immersed in its chicken broth and freshwater crab paste are rice noodles, pork and crab meatball, pork sausage, fried tofu, tomato, water spinach, congealed pork blood, topped with fried shallot and green onion; tamarind sauce on the side.

Now that’s a meal.

Asked to describe it in three evocative words, he proffers pungent, salty and sour.

For me, Vietnamese crab noodle soup is an uncharacteristically rash choice.

It costs $27 – a ridiculous amount to pay for a single bowl of soup noodles.

But I utterly adore it and have no regrets about paying for it.

Fresh crab of this quality is usually only consumed in communal settings, so I revel in my singular enjoyment of the chunky shellfish bits.

But just as good is the hearty, delicious chook/crab soup in which the tapioca noodles, a single prawn and fresh mushrooms happily swim.

We plan on spending much time in the rest of the year exploring the Footscray Co Thu Quan menu.

Fried chicken

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The Art Of fried Chicken, 320 Racecourse Road, Flemington.

The Art Of Fried Chicken has taken over two shopfronts that have long been empty since the days they housed two Asian eateries.

They – and the walkway between them that used to lead to the original Laksa King – have been turned into a single premises.

TAFC is a food truck operation putting down bricks-and-mortar roots, though I suspect the building as a whole is destined for development somewhere along the way.

It’s fitting, then, that this new fried chook joint has something of a makeshift vibe about it – less restaurant and more food-truck-without-wheels, with rudimentary seating.

That’s OK by us.

 

 

As well, we’re happy to give them some leeway in terms of assessment as we are visiting in the opening hours of their opening day.

Such is not ideal for CTS story purposes, of course, but that’s how the timing has worked out – post-Saturday morning kung fu, it’s been an easy and choice option.

Plus: We’re hungry.

We arrive about 12.20pm and are served quickly.

About 10 minutes later, the place is a whole lot more crowded; the word is out.

 

 

We ignore the opening day $1 wingettes and rib spcecials.

Of the menu listings (see below), we ignore those under the Things With Bread and the Chicken Without Bones headings.

Actually, we are bemused anyone would order the latter.

Why order breast when you can order Chicken With Bones?

Which is what we do.

What we get:

Three pieces of regular Art Of Chicken ($15, above photo).

 

 

Three pieces of Asian Hot Nashville Chicken ($16).

 

 

Mama’s Vietnamese slaw ($5.50).

 

 

And chips ($5.50).

It’s all pretty good.

Even the chunkier meat pieces are juicy (or at least not dry), though inevitably it’s the bone-dominated items that are the most tasty.

Bennie is disappointed at the mildness of the spice hit in the Nashville poultry, though the spicing appears to be a bit random, as the wing I have gives me a right nice glow.

He rates the chips highly.

Myself, not so much; they could, IMO, be hotter and less greasy.

(Just to re-iterate: This is opening day, so some leeway is in order.)

Perhaps best of all is the Viet slaw – it’s excellent.

If only more chicken places, of all kinds, took this route with their slaw offerings!

The Art Of Fried Chicken is destined to be a Flemo hit.

Will we return?

You bet.

Check out the Art Of Fried Chicken website here.