Ebi Fine Food, 18A Essex St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3300
It’s been a year since Consider The Sauce started and what a fabulous time we’ve had.
Right from the start, though, and without thinking too hard about it or really trying, we have instinctively tried to find our own way, avoiding places and businesses that are too regularly lauded, reviewed and serially blogged, sometimes to excess.
Some things, however, simply can’t be denied.
The pleasures, personality, character, pricing and, well, fine foods make Ebi Fine Foods one of them.
As regulars know, this West Footscray Japanese eatery-cum-fish ‘n’ chip shop is on the diminutive side.
Seating is restricted to half a dozen or so stools facing the kitchen, two two-person tables inside and a couple of bigger tables on the footpath outside.
We’re casual visitors, though, and have never bothered booking. Our early-ish dinner times usually see us right, anyhow.
This night, though, we’re hitting the joint after 7pm, the result of an inspired spur-of-the-moment decision after football practice.
Our luck holds as we gleefully snag the last pair of stools at the bar.
It’s busy, busy, busy.
The place is doing a roaring takeaway trade.
The banter flies between boss man John and regular customers coming and going.
Happily, all this activity falls well on the right side of adding to the experience, as opposed to falling into the simply-too-much bag.
I fancy straying into the Japanese territory on the menu, instead of the fish and chips I’ve had every other time we’ve been here.
Bennie insists on ordering the bento of the day.
So there I am … once again ordering the fish and chips I’ve had every other time we’ve been here.
My large serve ($12.50) involves two mindblowingly scrumptious chunks of the fish of the day, gurnard. The batter is crispy and holds well to the fish, the white flesh of which is superbly cooked, being tender yet also offering just the right amount of resistance to the bite.
My plate of joy is completed by a piece each of tofu and the eggy slice usually found on sushi, two kinds of pickle (preserved and freshly made), some good greenery and lovely mayo for fish and chip dipping purposes.
If the handsome bowl of chips on the side are a few percentage points below the state-of-the-art levels that are routine here, they’re so close it matters not.
Bennie’s bento ($15) is equally fabulous, mostly attended by the same Japanese bits and pieces as my fried platter – with a few different twists.
One is a smallish half-bulb of grilled eggplant with a gooey miso sauce – nasu dengaku. Watching this being sucked up by the lad is profoundly enjoyable, as this is the only place in the entire known universe that Bennie will not only eat eggplant but be thrilled by it.
His slow-cooked boneless beef ribs in red miso consist of two hearty meat pieces that come across as a Japanense version of Italy’s osso buco. A with the fish, the meat is tender but with just the right amount of bitey-ness.
The gravy is sweet, sticky, unctuous, delicious.
Quite apart from the quality of the food and the experience here, the prices are astonishing.
Price is relative, of course – the previous night we’d eaten a rice dish at Pandu’s, one that could feed both of us no problem for a cost of $8.90.
But still …
Fish, chips of this quality, with such lovely trimmings for $12.50? Insane, amazing!
Similarly for Bennie’s bento at a price of $15. You’ll find cheaper bentos in the CBD, but none matching the quality of food found here. And at places such as Kuni’s, you can pay a whole bunch more.
As our dinner activities wind down, from the general banter going on it becomes apparent that for a bloke sitting at one of the tables behind us this is the third dinner here this week.
A small part of me thinks: “Geez, mate, get a life!”
The rest of me is envious.
Here’s a tip:
According to the yet-to-be-completed website address found on John’s business card, it seems he’s soon to go mobile.