Meal of the week No.29: Hellenic Hotel

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After participating in the opening rituals of Hellenic Hotel, I am super keen to try on the joint’s upstairs bar $15 daily specials.

So much so, I bound up the mid-week stairs.

The bar area – excluding verandah – is quite compact, featuring three tables for two, a couple of tall tables with stools and a communal table, also with stools.

The bar menu (see below) features a range of snacky-type dishes through to those with a bit more heft, such as 1/4 HH chicken for $17.

There’s a daily special allocated for each day (also on the menu below) – and based on the excellence of my Wednesday beef stifado, I definitely want to try them all.

My beef stew is marvellous.

The serving is of a good size and the sticky stew features not only heaps of very good beef chunks but also halved baby onions and carrot.

They all sit atop a bed of barley that is puffed up yet still nicely chewy.

Topping all is a fistful of of fennel salad that provides nice contrast.

It’s a delicious lunch and very good value for $15.

 

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Retro burger genius

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Skipping Girl Take Away, 70 William Street, Abbotsford. Phone: 0474 837 612

Skipping Girl Take Away is located a long block away from the hustle and bustle of Vietnamese Victoria Street.

But in metaphorical terms, it’s a long way removed.

As with parts of other intense inner-city locales – Richmond, Collingwood, even Footscray – these back streets of Abbotsford bespeak days of an older Melbourne.

 

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The Skipping Girl shop isn’t 1900s ancient, though when proprietors Eyal and Nolan took it over it had long been unused and was an utterly grimy rathole.

But instead of gutting the place, they peeled back and scrubbed away the dirt, leaving the old takeaway shop pretty much as is/was.

 

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The essential configuration of grill, deep fryer, servery, customer seating, floor coverings and mirrors has been retained.

This fits in perfectly with their gameplan of approaching their food offerings with an old-school ethos that evokes takeaway joints of earlier decades that have over the years ceded quality and importance to newer trends and tastes – but with class and quality way beyond supermarket patties.

 

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They appear to be succeeding admirably, having been open a couple of weeks.

The signs are everywhere – there’s plenty of skipping girl mementos and artifacts.

 

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And there’s not an old-school takeaweay joint on the planet that offers the range of sauces and dressings these guys do.

If there’s necessarily a level of artifice in the marriage of old-school takeaway shop with a contemporary, hip approach, it is done so seamlessly and cleverly that I have no problem embracing it without inhibition.

 

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Especially when the food is as excellent as we enjoy, our selections brought to our table housed in army ration tins.

We choose from the freshly delivered “new” menu (see below), which is split into two sections – “burgers” and “more awesome burgers”.

As you do.

 

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Bennie goes for the Blue Moon ($18), which is the double beef (with two patties, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, Skipping Girl sauce) with blue cheese added.

 

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It’s two-handed dynamite, with the blue cheese coming through strong but in the sense of aiding and abetting rather than overwhelming.

This is a most excellent burger.

 

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I enjoy my fish burger ($15), but feel the delicate flavour of the lemon-and-pepper-dusted blue grenadier is swamped a bit by overt generosity in the pickle department.

There’s not a burger alive I want to eat without pickles, but in this case about half or less of what I’m delivered would’ve been fine.

Still good, though!

 

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Nat is happy with his regular beef burger ($13) with bacon but finds the bun not quite to his complete liking. Too dry, I think.

 

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We share a regular serve of triple-cooked chips ($6).

They’re excellent, especially towards the bottom where the smaller, crunchier ones live!

They’re served with a really fine house-made tomato sauce. Nat reckons it’s a bit like an Indian kasundi – he’s right, but we’re told the sauce also has a homegrown component in the form of wattleseeds.

 

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Eyal and Nolan, who have long histories in the Melbourne eatery/hospitality game, are intent on doing something different.

They’re also having a whole lot of fun.

Check out Skipping Girl Take Away and you will, too.

Skipping Girl Take Away is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-9pm. Cash only though there is an in-house ATM.

 

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Meal of the week No.28: Little Advi

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What an ornament to Yarraville is Litle Advi (16 Ballarat Street, Yarraville, phone 9689 0004).

Not as obvious or trendy as many of the other options – but those in the know know just how good, delicious, healthy, fresh and affordable the food here is.

And the serves are very generous.

Others go for the zucchini fritters or the kebabs or wraps.

But I am mesmerised by the salads.

In this case, a medium serve (three for $11.50) of potato salad; a number consisting of lentils, barley almonds, honey and currants; and an incredibly oozy, unctuous ratatouille variation with chickpeas and a strong whiff of cumin.

All are superb.

I occasionally get Bennie a small serve (two for $6.50) for his school lunch.

Lucky boy!

Or, rather, lucky young man these days …

Wonderful impromptu Italian

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Pier 71 Bar e Cucina, 71 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 8598

Bennie and I have an engagement in Altona – the launch party for a new place.

In truth, we’re not sure how – or if – this will work for us.

It’s a week night with school and work the next day, and it remains to be seen whether CTS will get enough of a look-see at the food to generate a story.

We get through the security cordon, stride up the stairs and find that, nope, this isn’t for us – it’s all about people standing around drinking, Bennie’s in his school uniform and we just don’t feel comfortable.

This place will have to wait for another day.

So around the corner we go, still chasing a dinner feed, to throw our lot in with Pier 71 Bar e Cucina.

This turns out to be an ace move on our part, as this very cool Italian has until now escaped our notice, even though it’s been around for a couple of years.

It’s all about casual Italian – something along the lines of Ovest in West Footscray or Mascalzone in Williamstown: Big on pizzas, pasta and salads, not so gung-ho about steaks and pricey seafood.

 

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The place is roughly split into three areas – a communal table at front, what amounts to a long hallway of both booth and table seating adjacent the kitchen/serving areas, and a flexible alfresco area out back.

We eat very well and find the service and timing fine for a busy mid-week night.

 

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Pizza Napoletana ($17.90) is as good as we could hope for – simple, very fine and expertly done.

There’s stacks of anchovies – good for me, not so good for Bennie!

 

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The chips that accompany our “hamburger (Italian style)” ($18.90) are superb – hot, crisp, plentiful.

The fried discs of chorizo atop seem something of an affectation to us, though, and our first conclusion is that we’d be happier if that effort had been put into putting more heft into our burger, which seems rather smallish for the price.

Bennie makes rude comparisons with the burgers we get elsewhere, but after eating I conclude he’s being unfair – because, as is so often the case, this eats bigger than it looks.

 

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And it is indeed in the “Italian style” – the meat is much more finely minced than is the case with burgers generally, be they old-school Aussie or the American style.

It’s a delight with its capsicum, onion, mozzarella and sauce.

We go for it in terms of indulgence by sharing the tiramisu ($10.90, top photograph).

It’s a dreamy, rich fantasy – much stiffer in terms of consistency than we’re used to, the booze-tinged cream a thing of grinning decadence.

Check out the Pier 71 Bar e Cucina website, including menu, here.

 

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Phi Phi 2 … cool for lunch

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Phi Phi 2, 31a Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone 9077 2466

Following a superb dinner enjoyed by Bennie and myself at the flash, new Phi Phi 2 in St Albans, it’s a pleasure to return for lunch with the Urban Ma.

What a hoot!

It’s almost like experiencing a different restaurant – a matter, well, of day and night.

Mind you, the number of patrons is fewer – word that Phi Phi 2 is offering a welcome point of difference from the rest of the St Albans precinct may be taking a while to get around.

But the staff are many and on the ball.

The menu (see below) is succinct and like nothing I’ve ever before seen.

Asian-fusion?

Maybe – but if so, quite different from that being excellently purveyed by West of Kin in Braybrook.

Some dishes are outright Asian in concept and execution; others have European/Western breeding imbued through with Asian flavours.

We start with a couple of serves of bao ($8 per serve).

 

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They’re both very good, with pungent (wasabi?) dressing.

Though the pork belly duo (above) are a bit tricky to eat on account of the piggy bits being difficult to bite through; cut them up in the kitchen, I reckon.

 

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The duck duo – labelled “Quack Attack” on the menu – is bettter, the duck being moist and perfect.

 

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Jacqui’s “Mother Ducker” ($14) – sliced roast duck risotto with bacon, mushroom and pumpkin cooked in duck broth – is fabulous.

And a prime example of the aforesaid combination of Western themes imbued with Asian flavours.

 

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My fish burger ($12, not on the menu but joining the “Dark Night” beef burger) is fine – though I should’ve asked for the cheese to be omitted.

The fish – hoki, I am informed – is lovely and joined by onion rings and dressing in a black bun.

It is, as you’d expect eyeballing the above photo, a very messy thing to eat.

But is very good.

 

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My understanding is that Phi Phi 2 is serving lunch Mondays through Fridays but that may change because of the day fare’s popularity.

 

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The Urban Ma is enjoying her lunch; her daughter seems a whole lot less impressed with proceedings – particularly with the photographer.

A BBQ dinner of two halves

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Chinese BBQ, 301 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 6929

With I Love Dumplings having successfully transported itself down the road to the old bank building on Racecourse Road, its old premises have duly become Chinese BBQ – though they are both run by the same management, going by the receipt I receive for our meal.

Its is, clearly, dedicated to Asian-style BBQ – though this is more strictly in the Chinese tradition … as opposed to the Viet vibe of the superb meal Bennie and I recently enjoyed at Phi Phi 2 in St Albans.

I am looking forward to a good mid-week feed in which I can ponder the differences!

For company I have CTS trooper Marns, a woman of robust appetite and great sparkle.

 

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The menu (see below) is roughly divided into two parts – skewers and BBQ.

We’re told the minimum for skewers is $20 so we order freely – shrimp, calamari, lamb, chicken, Chinese cabbage, enokis, broccoli, lotus root.

They cost per skewer ranges from 50 cents to $2.50.

From the regular BBQ we order ox tongue ($15), corn ($6) and potato ($6).

 

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The latter follow the arrival of the glowing coals for our BBQ set-up and very sesame dipping sauce, kimchi and marinated sprouts.

Then we’re off …

It’s heaps of fun.

 

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The ox tongue, frozen so it can be thinly sliced, cooks the fastest, and is a treat.

The vegetables take quite a bit longer and I am a little dismayed to that some of the spud slices initially turn black.

But it all comes good in the end, the potato browning up nicely and the corn being delicious.

In fact these humble husk discs turn out to be one of the highlights of our meal – so good to have barbecued corn that is also juicy.

Such is not always the case!

Then it’s on to our skewers … and it’s at this point that our meal and evening goes a bit nutty, maybe even a bit haywire.

 

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The skewers are brought to our table all dunked in a bucket of what we take to be some sort of marinade.

We quickly make happy by throwing some on the grill.

Only to be immediately told – no, no – that’s not how you do it.

The skewers, we’re told, have already been cooked out back – steamed, apparently – and are ready to go.

Oh.

That would explain, perhaps, the flare-up when Marns puts some of the meat skewers on the grill.

We’re a bit non-plussed but soldier on.

Some of what we have – the Chinese cabbage, the lotus root – is far from impressive.

Some – the easily-peeled shrimp, the broccoli – is good.

The broth/soup/marinade in which the skewers have been bathing has oil, chilli (mild by request) and no doubt many other ingredients, the nature of which I am unable to learn from the staff because of language issues on my part.

The lusty, musty and only (for me) partially attractive seasoning recalls in large part some of the flavours much earlier enjoyed – again without being much the wiser – at a Moonee Ponds hot pot joint.

 

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Look, the confusion can be largely attributed to us – it says plainly on the menu (if in rather small type) that the skewers are “hot & spicy pot” food.

On the other hand, it seems very natural that customers only a little familiar with this kind of food, such as we two, would grab a table at an eatery with “BBQ” in its title and “skewers” on its menu … and put the two together in our minds.

No harm done and we have an otherwise enjoyable meal.

But the dunked skewers haven’t provided the sort of charred, smoky tastes for which we came here.

Perhaps a bit more explaining of the place’s food and ordering routines by the staff to new customers is needed here.

Our meal, including two cans of soft drink, comes in at a very reasonable $60.

 

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Meal of the week No.28: Shinmai Tasty

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Returning to Shinmai Tasty (44 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong, phone 9317 3830) for the first time since hitting the place with a gaggle of pals, I am intent on nothing more than quiet, solo lunch away from the cold.

Most of all, I am intent on having – again – the place’s fabulous soy udon soup chicken.

Instead, I am seduced by the menu’s other wok noodle dish – garlic and ginger prawn yaki udon ($18.50).

Topped with bonito flakes, it tastes every bit as delicious as it looks pretty – though in truth, I detect little by way of the advertised ginger or garlic.

It matters not!

The tips-on prawn tails number five – they are fat, fabulous and of great flavour; they have that terrific prawn poppy thing going on in spades.

The udon noodles, joined by spring onion, capsicum pieces and onion slivers, are covered in a sticky and quite oily sauce.

It’s an excellent lunch in an excellent place.

Once again, I marvel at how a newish establishment – with its cosy decor and magnificent artwork – has created such an attractive and welcoming western suburbs hidey hole.