Reception centres of the western suburbs – part 2

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When, a little over a year ago, CTS ran a story about reception centres of the western suburbs, it won a lot of readers.

As explained then, it was inspired – largely – by the derelict building on Sunshine Road in Tottenham.

I’d always assumed it was a reception centre.

But when I stopped to photograph it, I wasn’t so sure – it seemed a mite small.

Back then, a reader assured me of its reception centre credentials and that it was destined for new life as the new location of the long-standing Happy Receptions on Union Road in Ascot Vale.

And now?

Lo – it has become so!

It’s bright and shiny and new and very big.

So far as I can tell, none of the original structures remain in place.

As I park, the owner is quickly on to me – i.e. wondering what the hell I’m up to.

He relaxes, but remains guarded, as I express my interest.

He tells they’ll be opening in a couple of weeks and there’s already a stack of bookings.

There’s actually two reception facilities.

The one on the left, unfinished as yet, appears smaller, but the owner tells me it’s actually bigger.

The reason for the move from Ascot Vale after 40 years?

There’s a real problem for guest parking there.

And, of course, the land is very valuable.

Destined, the boss tells me, for apartments.

Gee, what a surprise!

I’d love to do a fly-on-the-wall story of a typical reception centre wedding/celebration Saturday night: The staff, the cooks, the band, the food, the guests, the lot!

Have put it one outfit, but they never got back to me.

This guy was pleasant enough, but sufficiently reticent for me to think he’s not a good candidate!

See original story here.

 

 

Fine dumplings

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MC Dumpling, 106 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9191 6511

Putting aside my gentle ribbing about the “Scottish ancestry” of Hopkins Street’s new dumpling purveyor, it turns out there is method in their method.

MC Dumpling, you see, stands for My Chinese Dumpling.

But more than that, this place does embrace a fast-food look and process.

And that, as in this case, can be good.

What it means here is bright, clean surrounds; brisk service with a smile; and freshly prepared and very affordable food (see menu below).

 

 

But it is the dumplings that are definitely the go here.

These steamed pork and chive numbers, for instance, are fabulous at $9 for 16.

Fresh-as, not too big, kinda dainty, juicy/succulent – even if there was little by of discernible chive vibe.

 

 

Ditto with these lamb and leek dumplings – same number, same price, same good impression.

 

 

We fare slightly less impressively with the sides.

These chicken ribs normally cost $3, but are being presented to customers free with any order as an opening celebration.

We don’t know how long that’ll be the case!

They’re well fried and ungreasy – but tasteless.

Or rather, taste not of chicken.

 

 

Actually, ALL the sides cost $3 – including these corn fritters.

They’re a variation on the more familiar spring onion pancake and are OK.

 

 

For the price, these tender slabs of deep-fried bean curd are very nice.

There’s more to explore by way of sides here.

And the dumplings – and the place – appeal as happy additions to Footscray central.

 

A pub reborn

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Victoria Hotel, 43 Victoria Street, Footscray. Phone: 8320 0315

Like several others in Melbourne’s inner west in recent years, the Victoria Hotel has undergone a rebirth.

Often a lot of the interest and conjecture surrounding such enterprises is about whether the necessary makeover can be achieved while maintaining a down-to-earth pub feel.

Our visit to the Victoria Hotel leaves us with a strong belief that those behind it have achieved just that – and with elan.

In regards to this pub, I have a particularly personal perspective.

Before our now long and happy life in Yarraville commenced, we lived in Seddon.

Middle Footscray was our train station and Hart’s – as it was then known (and doubtless still will be by many …) – was our local.

We were, for a lot of that time, a TV-less household.

So I spent much time across the road at the pub, most of it watching games of the Melbourne Storm and All Black varieties, rubbing shoulders with many types born, like myself, on the other side of the ditch.

In those days, we ate there on just a few occasions – with no great enthusiasm. 

 

 

From that perspective, I can only marvel at – and enjoy – the change that has been wrought.

They’ve kept the basic superstructure in place and it shows.

There is much dark wood and a central, rectangular bar surrounded by high tables and stools, with regular tables at one end.

There is a single TV screen (not turned on during our visit) and the TAB facilities that dominated the place’s previous incarnation are no more.

The old dining room is still in play, and adjacent to that an outdoor area has been created by leaving much of the old look that was uncovered in the makeover just as is, including …

 

 

… some nifty old-school artwork.

Here’s the bottom line: This place still reeks of pubbiness in a way that, for example, the Plough – a couple of blocks up the street – does not.

Likewise, the menu (see below) entices and excites us with what seems like a very savvy mix of pub tucker combined with deft tweaks.

The price range is right in the pub zone, too, and thankfully there are none of those over-priced and silly nods to multiculturism that result in noodle dishes that cost in the high $20s.

There’s a nice crowd in on a rainy Thursday night – most of them families – as we explore.

 

 

As you’d expect, the garlic bread ($8) here is not your usual sloppy, foil-wrapped loaf.

Here, the good bread is sinfully dripping with butter, tarragon, parsley and chervil.

 

 

Nat loves his black pudding and pork scotched egg with watercress and apple chutney ($14).

I am afforded a sample taste, finding it to be tasty but – OMG – preposterously rich.

 

 

The spring vegetable and samphire fritters ($13) are a light delight, expertly fried and served with cucumber and mint yogurt.

I have to look up samphire when I get home – according to Native Tastes of Australia, it’s a “native succulent also referred to as sea asparagus, swamp grass, salicorne, glasswort, pickleweed and sea beans”.

Had we known our fritters would be so similar to the bhaji we regularly eat in Indian joints, very much including the seasoning, we may not have ordered them.

Still, very enjoyable.

 

 

It’s a night out, so I am happy for Bennie to go on his usually chosen hamburger way.

But he spies a couple of the double cheese burgers ($22) going by and worries that one of them will not be up to his sharp appetite.

Instead, he asks: “Can I have a steak?”

Sure!

He’s very happy with his 250-gram $30 rump, cooked medium rare and served with fine salad, anchovy butter and triple-cooked fries.

 

 

Nat and I both go for the pork schnitzel with kohlrabi remoulade, the same triple-cooked fries and grilled lemon ($25).

Now, I like beautiful food, but regular readers will know appearances on the plate are not a high CTS priority.

But it’s both surprising and beguiling to find our meals so determinedly monotone – lets call it dijon mustard yellow.

A splash of colour would not go amiss!

The key is in the eating, however – and in that regard, Nat and I enjoy our meals very much.

The pork is quite thick – i.e. not hammered into wafer thinness – and juicy with wonderful piggy flavour.

The salad – effectively a slaw – adds just the right touches of contrasting textures and tastes.

And kudos to the Victoria Hotel crew for taking care of their own fries business in such a homely and fine way.

Bennie and I had originally intended going on a mains-followed-by-dessert journey, but went in another direction when we discovered there is no coffee machine in the house.

Fair enough – and perhaps, for some, that may enhance the place’s pub credentials.

But we can’t come at sweet treats minus espresso.

No matter – the three of us have had a swell time in a venue with enormous and immediate appeal.

 

The rice is great, of course

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Somali Dish, 264 Racecourse Road.

When it comes time – in about a week or so – to collate the now traditional round-up of this year’s CTS highlights, there’s no doubt the Somalian food of Racecourse Road will be right at the top of the list.

It has given CTS – including Bennie and myself and various friends along the way – a lot of pleasure.

And now it seems this fabulous community of restaurants is on the cusp of richly deserved recognition beyond the local neighbourhood and even the inner west, with a Melbourne Food & Wine Festival scheduled for New Somali Kitchen.

In the meantime, what could be better in terms of building on the Somalian buzz than a new eatery?

Nothing at all.

So Bennie and I are only too happy to step into the latest arrival, Somali Dish.

It’s run by another husband-and-wife team, Ahmed Qahira and Sadia H Abdi, and is situated down towards the Quiet Man end of the strip.

I enjoy talking with Ahmed, whose pre-restaurant life seems to have been largely involved with community service of various types.

And he seems to enjoy our enthusiasm for and interest in the food being laid on here.

 

 

And terrific it is, too.

This classic federation-style platter costs us a grand total of $13 each and we love it to bits.

The rice is brilliant in the Somalian way, while the pasta sauce is even drier the usual with crumbly (but lovely) meat.

A super jumble of peas, carrots, onion and capsicum is abetted by fine salad.

And the lamb is all yummy and comes from the bones very easily.

We’re even served a couple of those sponge-like Somalian falafels.

This crew is just getting started, really, and in time the fare here will hopefully mirror the photos adorning the frontage, which portray – beyond our rice offerings – a range of snacky things and even lasagne.

 

 

Greek revival comes to Seddon

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Meat The Greek Souvlaki Bar, 105A Victoria Street, Seddon. Phone: 9077 9369

A funeral, a priest, a church, an olive tree, senior citizens on the street or tending their gardens, products on the shelves of IGA in Yarraville or Sims in WeFo …

For newly arrived residents or casual visitors, the Greek heritage of the inner west – particularly in Seddon and Yarraville – can seem, no doubt, near invisible.

Look a little harder, though, and it’s right there all around us.

So the opening of a trio of Greek eating establishments is not so much something new as a continuation of deep heritage.

We have no news about the schedule of the Brother Hood Yiros & Grill off Buckley Street.

We do know Eleni’s in Yarraville is, after a slow start, coming along nicely.

Progress views on what looks to be a spectacular fit-out have been available for the past week or so to passers-by on Anderson Street in Yarraville.

But it’s Meat The Greek in Seddon that is first cab off this particular rank.

We – CTS No.1, good mate Justin and his colleague Dayna – hit it on opening day, along with a good number of like-minded hungry and curious souls.

And a very nice lunch we have, too.

I feel obliged to record here the minor wrinkles we experienced.

But given the place had been open barely an hour, I also recommend taking no notice of them.

Indeed, Facebook reviews strongly indicate the Meat The Greek crew is already running right up to speed and doing fine.

 

 

The place is done out in simple, bright and cheerful cafe fashion.

The menu (see below) is just how we like it – succinct and listing very low prices.

Our souvlakis (all $9) –

 

 

… chicken for Dayna and …

 

 

… pork for Justin and I – were excellent.

These were very much in the Greek street food style, so are not really in your two-fisted, bulging-with-meat bag.

But the meat is fine, abetted by a handful of chips and good dressings and salady bits, all stuffed in that puffy-style pita.

They were good value for $9.

 

 

Are feta chips a new or an old thing?

We don’t know, but we reckon it’s a brilliant concept.

These ($5.50), though, could have been a bit hotter.

 

 

This was Dayna’s first experience with saganaki.

She found it salty.

But, of course, saganaki IS salty.

This one ($9) seemed to have been a bit of a rush job.

As well, by the time the last souvlaki had reached our table, a half hour had elapsed.

But – as noted above – we were happy to be opening-day forgiving given the quality of our lunch.

We’ll be back – and I know Bennie will love this place.

 

CTS v Uber: And the winner is …

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Ethiopian feast from Ras Dashen.

 

As is clear from even the most cursory look at the CTS archives, we much prefer hitting the road and eating out to eating in, cooking or having food delivered.

We have such a mind-boggling treasury of great food within short journey confines, the food is ALWAYS better straight from kitchen to table – and we get, often, to meet the people who make it.

Before the advent of Uber and the somewhat earlier whizz-bang delivery apps, we did sometimes indulge in home delivery.

Pizzas from Motorino, for instance.

But truth be told, though pizzas seem to have been pretty much a foundation food when it comes to home-delivered food, we found the process really did affect the quality.

But now there’s Uber – and like many people we know, we are occasionally using it.

(The impression I get is that some are using it way more than occasionally!)

What is the attraction, over and beyond the other delivery apps?

The app, of course, is very slick and the photos gorgeous.

But most important, I think, is the geographically restricted catchment for any given address.

Obviously, this diminishes Uber for some who lack coverage.

But for us and many others, we must choose relatively local – and that’s a fine thing.

Obviously, there are broader issues involved with Uber and the like.

But on a micro, more local level, it works.

We even have a good CTS pal who drives/delivers for them who has suggested I do likewise.

As is well known, Uber takes a fair old whack from the eateries, but as the above linked story also illustrates there are advantages for them – most importantly, perhaps, the non-necessity to hire drivers themselves.

And often, customers demand it.

We have worked at finding what works for us – what is affordable, what we actually want to eat, what mirrors as closely as possible a restaurant experience once the food is plated.

For starters, we just won’t be doing fish and chips (despite some happy experiences with Dough! in Newport) or hamburgers.

Just not good travel potential going on there.

And we’ve found, in terms of Indian food, the likes of dosas and pooris are soggy dead losses.

By contrast, we’ve found biryanis to be a winner.

We’ve had chicken biryani from Sankranti, Dosa Corner and Spicy Chef – and they’ve all been good and affordable.

We’ve had some fine Vietnamese from Phu Vinh in Footscray.

The broken rice with pork chop, shredded pork, fried egg, meatloaf and pickles was truly spectacular.

But THE best we’ve found is Ethiopian.

So far, only two Ethiopian eateries service our area – Ras Dashen and Abesha.

We’ve ordered beyaynetu veg combos from both and enjoyed them, a key being that the injera is already moist and kinda soggy so the delivery process simply can’t do bad.

But in each case, the lentils (two kinds) and the familiar Ethiopian veg of carrots, spuds and beetroot have been delivered in the same container.

This is no biggie, really, as the dishes soon merge served on a platter.

 

 

However, last night I twigged that, with Ras Dashen at least, there is another way – the meat mains can be customised.

So for our Tuesday night dinner we had lamb tibs well done ($13), one extra piece of injera ($1), a small serve of both lentils ($3 – bargain!) and khey whot (spicy beef stew, $6) and side salad ($3.50).

Initially, we thought we may have over-ordered and not got enough injera.

We were wrong on both counts.

What a magnificent feast it was!

And at $31.50 (including $5 delivery), very little different from what we would’ve paid had we got in the car!

 

Chicken biryani from Spicy Chef.

Sushi train? No! It’s hot pot train!

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Viet Hot Pot and BBQ, 6/68 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 8578 1763

This interesting new addition to the Footscray scene is at the parking lot right at the end of Hopkins Street, facing Franco Cozzo and Centrelink.

It’s an unlovely location; a couple of previous businesses here made little impression, with vast interior of the room seeming rather gloomy.

 

 

The new owners/proprietors are trying very hard to make it otherwise, with a substantial makeover finding the space much brighter and livelier.

As for food, well they’re keeping their bases covered there, too.

Yes, as the name implies, there’s hot pot and Viet-style BBQ.

But for lunch there’s a $15 line-up of pho and hi tieu soup noodles

And there’s even a short list of Viet-meets-West steak, chips and salad, mostly also priced at $15.

 

 

We leave the BBQ option – which appears to operate in the same fashion as the excellent Phi Phi 2 in St Albans – for another time, presumably a night visit when we’re prepared to spend a bit more freely than for a quickie mid-week lunch.

We – CTS Thing 1 and Thing 2 and our good pal Justin – go instead for the lunch deal on the hot pot buffet.

This costs $32 per head for dinner, $35 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights – and $25 for lunch.

We figure, or hope, this will be a tasty bargain.

So it proves to be – though we have a few quibbles.

The way this works here is a new one for me.

They use a conveyor belt – familiar from the sushi trains around Melbourne – to deliver the hot pot items.

Each diner has their own adjustable hot plate, on which is placed their soup of choice.

 

 

I go for the spicy. It has the same deep and mysterious seasoning I am familiar with from other hot pot joints, but is only mildly spicy.

 

 

Justin and Bennie go for the laksa and enjoy it.

 

 

We are also provided our own individual bowls of seafood – a couple of good-sized prawns, a won ton, a scallop and a big chunk of blue swimmer crab. The crab and prawns are pre-cooked, but still good.

 

 

From there, it’s on to the very many conveyor belt goodies.

There’s green veg of various kinds, as well the likes of corn.

Straight-ahead meat is down to sliced beef and pork.

 

 

There’s fungus of several varieties.

There’s surimi of various shapes and sizes.

There’s noodles.

 

 

There’s more seafood – I find the mussels, which look like they may be chewy monsters, are actually nicely tender; and the small pipis are good, too.

There are many things that appear to be starchy and carby.

And there is offal.

We think.

Because when it comes to many of the offerings – notably those of what we presume are of the starchy, carby and gutsy variety – we are very much left wondering.

We ask for help, but not even the staff member who appears to be the floor manager offers much by way of enlightenment.

This is a bit disheartening.

 

Justin is his usual affable self; Bennie is still practising his serial killer stare. Kudos, though, for his laksa-proof attire.

 

But we do eat well and very affordably.

Though the overall impression is of quality that’s not quite up there like a more ritzy, and pricey, hot pot night out on the town.

But that’s what you get for $25.

And I have more than enough confidence in the adaptability of Vietnamese cooking to be looking forward to trying one of this place’s steak ‘n’ chips meals.