Which kind of goat curry?

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B&D Kitchen, 57 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9364 5880

B&D is that other end of Alfrieda Street than that at which we usually start our St Albans adventures – but it’s worth the enjoyable walk.

It’s a typical Vietnamese restaurant – friendly, good service, long menu, popular.

As ever our eyes are drawn to the photos and hand-written signs that adorn the walls and wall mirrors.

 

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Wow – goat curry and goat curry!

When I ask which is recommended, I’m told to go for the regular ca ri de ($15).

 

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What we receive is a rich, mild curry dish that almost seems in the Malaysian tradition.

The meat is OK but is on-the-bone fiddly.

And there is a lot skin. Normally I’d be fine with that, but in this case it’s of a rubberiness that is unappealing so we put it aside.

Balancing that is quite a lot of bread-like substance I at first take to be dumplings of some sort but am eventually informed is taro.

It meshes with the curry gravy just right.

Observing the many different kinds of dishes being consumed around us and reading the menu, we feel a tad overwhelmed and lazy – so we order exactly what we desire.

 

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Will I ever tire of eating pho?

No.

As if.

Will I ever tire of writing about pho?

Such appears extremely unlikely.

In this case, our brisket/sliced beef version is a doozy.

The brisket is fatty but wonderful; the sliced beef, thicker than in most places, is succulent.

There is a hefty amount of both, putting the $10 price tag in the true bargain category.

The broth is slightly sweet but fine.

And the accompanying greenery and sprouts are of good, fresh quality.

(This post has been sponsored by the St Albans Business Group. However, Consider The Sauce chose and paid for the food involved and the STBG neither sought nor was granted any access or say in the writing of this post.)

The icing on the biscuits

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Julia’s work – how they’re meant to look.

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My beginner class efforts.

 

Consider The Sauce loves rabbit holes and those who gleefully scamper down them – people who are devoted with joy and passion to their “thing”.

Julia – Miss Biscuit – certainly qualifies.

Since CTS first write about her biscuit decorating pursuits more than three years ago, her dedication has paid dividends.

She’s found the desire for knowledge about her “thing” is so wide and deep that she’s been able to make it her main gig, moving her operations from her Yarraville home to a two-storey headquarters in Seddon.

 

 

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As well, she has become an employer, has embarked on a teaching tour of the Middle East, is bringing specialists from overseas to teach here and has taught many thousands of students and fans herself.

Decorating cookies is never going to something I’ll pursue, but I’m nevertheless extremely grateful for the opportunity to sit in on one of Julia’s beginner classes.

 

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She’s a fine teacher – in this regard, she draws on her background as a speech pathologist. Our class is a mix of information and hands-on practice in the form of decorating nine cookies ourselves.

The information comes in the form of making the base cookies; we are provided three different recipes – Miss Biscuit Vanilla Sugar Biscuits, Gingerbread (Adapted from Bake at 350) and Decadent Chocolate Roll Out Cookies.

The important thing here is that the recipes result in cookies that don’t lose their shape once they’re cut and baked.

 

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Then there is the royal icing itself.

We are led through the basic recipe, then the various consistencies and colours and their uses, as well as the use of piping bags and squeeze bottles.

 

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Finally, there is the matter of piping-bag tips, with some brands being much more favoured than others, and some (the narrow ones) being used for outlining and the wider ones being utilised for flooding, the all-over icing technique that covers whole – or whole parts – of cookies, creating a sort of blank canvas for more ornate artwork and detail.

 

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After demonstrations by Julia of the techniques involved, it’s time to give it a crack ourselves, firstly by trying outling on patterns on paper.

They key to outlining, we’ve been told, is to have tip about inch from the cookie.

 

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I’m surprised at how easy to work the royal icing is.

Mind you, as a rank beginner I do struggle – I try to concentrate on a certain fluidity, a steady hand, some momentum.

Flooding is something quite different – apparently a little easier to do, but I soon find out I have been too sparing in my icing applications.

As we finish the early stages of each cookie, they are set aside so the icing can dry and we move on to the next.

 

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During the lunch break, various of my classmates avail themselves of the cookie cutters and much more available in the shop downstairs.

After lunch, we get back to work by adding details to our cookies.

 

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It’s at this point my outlining technique gets well and truly found out – the lattice-work on my ice-cream cone and cupcake is squiggly where it should be straight!

Still, in the end I am delighted and surprised that all my cookie artwork actually looks recognisably as it is meant to.

 

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The concentration levels have been nothing unusual for me, but the subject of that concentration has been very different – so I am pretty tired by the end of the five-hour class.

But I’ve had a ball.

Check out the Miss Biscuit website here for details of classes, products and more.

 

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Meal of the week No.30: Bao & Pot Cafe

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Eating out – which CTS does often – we partake most of Indian and Vietnamese food.

And that’s only natural, given the western suburbs’ cultural demography.

It’s a toss-up which gets the greater of our attention and bucks!

This year, though, our Vietnamese eating has taken an unexpected turn.

Some of it may be down to the novelty of the new, but no longer are Foostcray/Sunshine/St Albans the centre of our Vietnamese food universe.

For starters, there’s a couple of places opened up within walking distance of our home (see here and here).

For many delightful and delicious points of difference, there’s Hem 27 at the showgrounds (see here and here).

Slightly further afield is Bao & Pot Cafe in Avondale Heights.

Since our initial story, we’ve returned a couple of times.

The bun bo hue (spicy beef noodle soup) is magnificent – and these days there’s a master-stock congee on the menu.

Today I go at Bao & Pot Cafe at a slightly different angle by ordering the Vietnamese pork meatballs ($14).

What I get:

Three big meatballs, crunchy with water chestnut and other secret ingredients no amount of cajoling will get the boss to reveal.

Atop them, a fried egg and a sticky, terrific tomato sauce.

On the side, marvellously fresh and crunchy baguette and a pot of garlic mayo cradling a big dab of chicken liver pate.

My, it’s so good.

When I ask, upon paying for a breakfast offering that has done service as lunch, if this is something that would be served in Vietnam, the answer I receive is the one I should’ve figured out for myself had I considered even for a second the sort of imagination and cleverness that goes on here.

Tomato sauce aside, this great dish is a de-constructed banh mi.

Clever?

Brilliant!

Indian surprise

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Ethnic India, 4/2-6 Kilmur Road, Hoppers Crossing. Phone: 9369 4133

Ethnic India is located on the Golden Mile in Hoppers Crossing, on one of the light industrial/commercial precincts that are offshoots of it.

When I Bennie and I arrive for our Sunday lunch, I get a surprise.

I’d visited on my own several months previously for a quick look and lunch.

At that time, I reckoned Ethnic India must have been easily the biggest Indian restaurant in Melbourne, taking up a whole warehouse.

Through the use of screens and such like, efforts had been made to create a separate restaurant space from the bar, functions rooms, kitchen and so on.

But, basically, it was a huge space.

What Bennie and I find is quite different.

The proprietors have pretty much created a building within a building – all the same facilities remain but they are much more strictly defined.

 

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They include a restaurant space that is the typical flash of some Indian places – including tall-backed chairs so lavishly cushioned that, upon sitting, you feel like you are sinking almost until your chin rests on the table.

On this day, there are a heaps of guests arriving for a catered birthday party out back, but we are the only restaurant guests.

The very long menu (see below) is presented on both sides of two wooden paddles.

We proceed to enjoy a fine light lunch.

Onion bhaji ($8.50, top photograph) are less like the Indian-style onion rings we are expecting and more like pakoras.

They’re good, though, and nicely moist. We take two of them home for Bennie’s next-day school lunch.

 

 

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Cholle bhature is also very good, if a bit pricey at $15 for a snack-style offering.

The chick peas are excellent – they seem fresher than is often the case with this dish and are mildly spiced.

The breads are a tad oily but hot and fine.

 

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The price is ameliorated somewhat by the $15 deal also including this salted “Punjabi style” lassie.

 

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I was fascinated to read this story about biryanis – I had no idea there are so many varieties!

I wish more of them were available in Melbourne!

I think the mostly uniform biryanis we eat in and around West Footscray are of the Hyderabad kind.

The Ethnic India lamb biryani ($15) is a significant contrast.

All is different from what we are familiar with – the seasoning (mild chilli levels); the colour; the inclusion of many currants, cashes and green capsicum pieces; lamb chunks not on the bone but instead of the kind you’d find in a regular curry – most welcome!

There’s a hefty serve of raita on the side to complete a solid offering.

Ethnic India is well worth a try – and parking is a breeze.

 

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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 …