Meal of the week No.45: El Toucan Cafe

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Yes, we’ve previously – and not so long ago – covered El Toucan Cafe; read earlier story here.

But we reckon this ultra-cool place (at Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre) is well worthy of follow-up “meal of the week” coverage, because …

It’s great.

It’s unique – you can look northside, southside and (yes) even eastside, but it’s only westside you’ll find anything like it.

It’s a real-deal Colombia eatery at a swimming pool and …

… more people should know about it and be happy about doing so.

Since our review visits, we’ve been back a couple of times.

And we watch the El Toucan FB page with anticipation to see what specials are being served each week.

This week it was the turn of churrasco, a butterflied steak with salted potatoes, arepa, salad and chimichurri sauce ($27).

The potatoes – lightly roasted, I think – are fine; as is the salad.

We are not asked about rare or medium for our steaks, but it hardly matters.

Flattened as they are, and done a little shy of medium, they are very tasty and tender, boasting a nice charry flavour.

But the killer quotient come from the chimichurri sauce, made of parsley, oil, salt, a little vinegar and not much else.

It’s a tangily perfect foil for both meat and potatoes.

Vic Market deli underwhelms

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Pickett’s Deli & Rotisserie, 507 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9328 3213

We’ve checked out a North Melbourne pub long on our radar with a view to Sunday roast lunches.

But we’ve found the place barely open and looking and feeling rather morose.

And there’s no Sunday roast – so scratch that idea!

So we move on, ending up at Vic Market and deciding to give the corner deli/rotisserie a go.

It’s replaced a bakery/cafe that had been in place for as long as I can remember.

 

 

Pickett’s is done out in cool cafe style with lots of dark wood. It’s a lovely room with a cosmopolitan vibe.

I go for the half Bannockburn chicken with chips and gravy (top photograph).

The good stuff:

The bird meat is ALL delicious.

And ALL tender in a way rarely attained by most charcoal chicken shops.

The not so good:

My chicken is barely lukewarm and closing in on cold.

The good, thin gravy is even cooler.

Likewise with chips that are limp, tired and way over-salted – and that comes from someone who generally likes some chips with his salt.

Based solely on the bird quality, the price tag of $21 – well above that asked by your local chicken shop – seems reasonable.

But given the overall lack of heat, it becomes less so.

And surely for that sort of price, cracking hot chips are to expected.

 

 

Bennie’s sandwich of barbecue lamb ribs on ciabatta with herb and celery salad, rosemary crumb ($16) works well – it’s a refreshing combination of flavours.

Though he doesn’t get the expected smoky tang of American-style barbecue he is expecting.

It’s almost seems like the meat has been cooked in the Chinese barbecue fashion.

 

 

We share a small serve of one of the salads.

Marinated cucumbers, mint pesto, puffed barley and house made milk curd is fine and zesty and the serve is generous for $7.

Given its superb location, Pickett’s will doubtless continue to do well.

But we’re hardly going to change our Vic Market routine from borek and bratwurst.

 

Vego buffet wins

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Pandu’s, 351 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 8307 0789

Just recently, the Lost Footscray FB page sported a photograph of the Middle Footscray portion of Buckley Street – taken before the houses there were demolished.

And there it was – the original Pandu’s.

When I showed the pic to Bennie, he proclaimed: “That place was cool!”

Pandu’s, since then, has moved on to swisher, more roomy premises on Barkly Street – and we remain sporadic customers.

Truth is, though, the spicy buzz we used to get from Indo-Chinese food has faded.

Instead of the dry, crunchy, zingy stuff we firstly loved, our experiences of recent years seem to have been more of sodden and gloop.

But the expanded Pandu’s spreads its menu far wider – there’s biryanis, dosas and much, much more.

Including a bargain-priced weekend breakfast/brunch vegetarian buffet we are keen to try.

It’s beaut – and at $10.99 a super deal.

And it’s a hit, too, with the Indian community – closing in on 1pm on the Saturday we visit, Pandu’s is doing brisk trade.

 

 

The food is arrayed in a row of cookers and other containers.

There is – this is a buffet, after all – heaps and heaps of it.

Some of it is familiar, some not so.

The staff are working hard so the run-through explanation we are given passes in a bit of a blur and I struggle to take it all in.

Certainly, the three of us go nowhere near trying all that is on offer.

 

 

Partly that is because we’re old and wise enough to discard the ever-present buffet temptation of going hog wild and loading up our plates, though we all make second visits to the line-up.

Being a huge fan of both pooris and papads, I revel in a bottomless supply of both.

And the smooth, pale yellow vegetable curry that teams with the pooris is a treasure.

 

 

Plain, unstuffed dosas are part of the Pandu’s buffet set-up, but they are brought around separately by the staff – thus avoiding sogginess!

 

Ripper pasta place

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Pentolina, 2/377 Little Collins Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9606 0642

The place, the space, the back story, the food and the company …

Consider The Sauce’s supremely enjoyable visit to Pentolina evokes many memories.

For starters, so to speak, I recall imbibing a bowl of pasta at the same address many years ago – about 20, I think.

That, too, was a specialist pasta house.

These days, under the guidance of husband-and-wife team Matt and Julia Picone, old-school pasta is still very much the go, though the place certainly looks very different.

 

 

It’s classy and stylish, without being overbearingly so.

Matt was a barista at Pellegrini’s for the best part of two decades, and it is that sort spirit and vibe they are trying to foster at Pentolina.

And succeeding.

Justin is my CTS companion for this adventure.

We figure out rough timelines that strongly suggest that not only had we both enjoyed several – and maybe many – coffees made by Matt, but that we were also quite possibly sitting side by side while doing so on occasion.

Are we happy to be here as guests?

Yes.

(Full disclosure below.)

 

 

Taking up pews at the window bench – good for watching the passing parade outside and for the taking of photographs – we are happy, too, to leave our leisurely lunch in the hands of the staff in the form of the $60 a head “feed me” menu.

 

 

We start with cured swordfish, fennel, grapefruit and pomegranate ($21) and …

 

 

… beef carpaccio with truffle cream and parmesan ($19).

There’s little for me to say about these – except that they are wonderful, simple, fresh and prepared with superb ingredients.

And they’re just the sort of thing we feel like.

 

 

We discover that we both have  something of an aversion to the oft-leaden arancini.

So we love these smaller cousins – Alessandra’s suppli (rice croquettes) with saffron and grana padano ($9).

They’re light and fluffy and beautifully fried.

 

 

Then it’s on to the pasta – all house-made.

Squid ink spaghetti with vongole ($28) is lovely, though the simple sauce of white wine and garlic (I think) is quite dry.

 

 

Matt’s spaghetti bolognese (ragu with beef, eggplant, zucchini, vermouth, $21) is good, too, though I think – nostalgic for the lusty gusto of the Pelligrini’s version – we both find it muted in both texture and flavour.

 

 

In that regard, the simple, righteous rigatoni amatriciana ($23) of pancetta, napoli, fresh chili and olives is a dead-set bullseye – and the pasta hit of the day.

The pasta, however, is just a tad too al dente for my tastes.

But let’s not quibble – this is ace.

 

 

Cannoli with ricotta, citrus and raisin ($3 each) are light and champions of their kind, with quite an unusual flavour and very crusty casings.

 

 

Justin confesses to not being much of a fan of panna cotta.

But even he is impressed by the Pentolina version with fresh berries ($13).

I love it to bits – so delicious.

I’ll use Justin’s pithy message to me later in the day as a summation: “Ripper lunch and ripper company!”

To which I’ll add: “Ripper place!”

(Consider The Sauce dined at Pentolina as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We enjoyed a range of dishes chosen by the staff as part of the $60pp “Feed Me” deal. Pentolina management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

Excellent barbecue

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Houston’s Barbecue, 46 Concorde Drive, Keilor Park. Phone: 0434 434 303

Keilor Park, home of the Star Weekly office, is on the edge of a sprawling area of inter-connected industrial estates hugging Melbourne Airport.

Around here, there appears to be a tradies-style cafe on almost every block.

Good food?

Way more sparse.

One of our locals, for instance, has rotating bain marie offerings of beef vindaloo, satay beef, beef ragout and so on.

And they all taste the same.

In this place I have seen a beefy trucker gleefully tuck into a vast bowl of super-rich cream sauce with a pasta garnish – all gracefully topped (covered) by a hefty chicken schnitizel.

Such grotesqueries are not uncommon around here.

But each to his own.

And business is business.

As previously noted here at CTS, no matter how much such operations may wish it to be otherwise, in most cases they simply must do the potato cake and dimmie routine.

That’s why myself and a handful of colleagues continue our weekly curry run to get wonderful Sri Lankan goodies from Spicy Corner in slightly further afield residential Tullamarine.

And that’s why I and most of my Star Weekly colleagues pack lunches – in my case, especially earlier in the week.

And that is also why the opening of a bona fide barbecue joint just around the corner from our office – a two-minute walk, no need to get in the car – seemed so surreal.

Still does.

 

 

Houston’s Barbecue is located in the premises of Fury and Son Brewing Company.

And it’s open only on Fridays.

Of course, I was VERY interested in checking it out – for both CTS purposes and as a break in the Keilor Park eats routine.

However, initial visits – several months ago now – left very mixed impressions.

For example, brisket burgers and beef hot dogs that were OK – but not really nailing it.

I can sympathise.

This is a new operation – a very unique one, operating in an unusual (to say the least) location.

There had to have been doubts about whether it would even draw sufficient numbers, especially at Friday lunch-time, and about what would or would not work.

Some fine-tuning, tweaking and settling-in time has definitely been in order.

I returned a couple of weeks ago – and was mightily impressed.

The menu has been constantly revised.

For the in-a-hurry, keep-it-cheap lunch crowd, there are still burgers and punters can still customise meals by ordering 100-gram meat portions and sides.

But the introduction of substantial – and, yes, pricier – platters has seen Houston’s Barbecue reach new heights.

Heights that deserve to make it a destination for a wider audience than merely those who work nearby.

 

 

This platter was superb.

Two hunka-chunka slices of wonderful spicy-crusted brisket.

An excellent cheesy, greasy smoked sausage.

Just the right amount of good coleslaw and pickles.

And – oh, yes! – none of that brioche nonsense; instead, two slices of perfect white, sliced bread in true barbecue joint fashion.

Entirely delicious – and worth every cent of the $18 I paid.

 

 

Returning a week later, I have an even better time.

The menu has changed again (see latest incarnation below).

For CTS purposes, I am happy to splash out in a way I hope doesn’t become too much of a weekly habit!

This beef short rib conglomeration costs $25 and it’s a doozy!

The chips are just OK – maybe less crisp and hot than I would like on account of me being the day’s first customer.

Slaw and pickles as previously enjoyed.

And I would’ve appreciated that white, sliced bread again – and as seen on new photos on the Houston’s Barbecue Facebook page with this platter.

But forget all that – what about the meat?

My single, hefty rib is amazingly good.

Less fatty than many barbecue beef ribs I have eaten, it’s meat is tender, plentiful and heavenly.

The spicy crust might be too salty for some tastes, but I love that as well.

As for doubts about the commercial viability of the singular location and one-day-a-week opening hours, I couldn’t be happier to observe that Houston’s Barbecue is a hit.

In industrial Keilor Park.

How about that?

Houston’s Barbecue is open on Friday from noon until 10pm – or until sold out!

Check out their website here.

 

Westie eats goss 06/09/18

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With several apartment blocks in the throes of construction, Footscray-on-Marybyrnong will undergo a population boom in coming years.

Truth is, though, the area has had apartment dwellers in their hundreds in residence for many years, so it’s perhaps a little surprising that more businesses haven’t been stepped up to service them.

Maybe some kind of tipping point has been reached?

One outfit looking to take care of these folks is Harry and Larry’s General Store at 4 Yewers Street.

Ambling up for a look-see, cynical me was ruminating along the lines of: “Yeah, yeah – organic cola and not the regular kind; and lots of over-priced ‘gourmet’ products!”

I was wrong.

Some real smart thinking has gone into stocking Harry and Larry’s.

In a modestly sized yet appealing and light-filled space, they’ve stocked an amazingly comprehensive line-up of stuff.

Products run from the everyday to, yes, your more gourmet and specialty lines.

But the general impression I gain is that the prices are very competitive.

For instance, the likes of regular-line tinned tomatoes and cannellini beans seem only a little pricier than barn prices – and less expensive than in some supermarkets I can think of.

 

 

Harry and Larry’s is being run by Victoria Lukacs (left) and Jo Harvey, who plays a role at the adjacent Slice Girls West and Back Alley Sally’s.

 

 

Goodies in-house include fine cheese such as Marlo organic brie and camembert …

 

 

… to myriad hot sauces and condiments.

 

 

There’s a nice mix of cheaper and classier pasta.

 

 

Loo paper and …

 

 

… fur-baby necessities?

Of course!

 

 

Vegan-friendly condoms?

I don’t even know what that means!

 

 

There’s a kitchen shared with Slice Girls West, so the grocery store serves up a range of sandwiches.

 

 

And there’s a nice spot set aside should you wish to consume your sanger on the spot.

 

 

There’s enough fresh fruit and vegetables on hand to meet most needs.

If we lived locally, we’d be shopping here at least a couple of times a week.

As it is, I suspect it’ll become something of a regular shopping haunt anyway …

 

 

In Williamstown, a new place named Porters – on the corner of Nelson Place and and Ann Street – is being fitted out as we speak.

It’s part of the new Waterline Place apartment set-up and you can keep tabs on progress at the joint’s Facebook page.

 

 

Now this is exciting!

On the location of the former fruit/veg/organic deli on Vernon Street in South Kingsville is coming a Middle Eastern restaurant called Dukkah.

 

 

Operating with aplomb at the site of the old Fisher cricket bat “factory” in Kingsville is the appropriately named Willow Wine Cafe (126 Williamstown Road).

 

 

It’s run by the lovely Ellen, who will be a familiar face to many based on her long stint at the Plough Hotel.

 

 

The main dining space cleverly harnesses the old building’s verandah to create a wonderful summery feel.

 

 

At the moment it’s operating until 7pm Tuesday-Sunday, but later closing hours are being negotiated with local residents.

 

 

Is there any tougher strip than Gordon Street in Footscray?

Sadly, Indonesian restaurant Spice Klub has already closed.

Taking its place is Karlaylisi Restaurant, which is serving up Uyghur cuisine.

The menu is very long and features many, many pastry/dumpling dishes, cumin lamb skewers, tongues, house-made noodles, chillis and much more.

We’ll be taking it for a run very soon!

 

Westie eats goss 29/08/18

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The transformation of Sims in West Foostrcay is proceeding with gusto.

This photo shows the area of the former deli and home of refrigerated and frozen products already being drastically revamped.

I’m told the store upgrade will take place over about seven stages with a completion date of early next year.

 

 

Plans and “artist impressions” of the new look are on display in the store.

 

 

They include an in-house coffee bar.

 

 

It seems, though, that the iconic meaty mural on Barkly Street will be a victim of the revamp.

 

 

Going up in Werribee – in the location of longstanding but now closed Mondells Cafe & Patisserie on Watton Street – is District 3030.

This Vietnamese shot in the arm for Wyndham is an expansion project of the successful and popular District 3429 eatery in Sunbury.

 

 

What was once Cheaper By Miles in the Nicholson Street mall in Footscray is being turned into a fried chicken establishment – another one!

The fitout is well underway, so this photo has become of historical significance!

Check the Wing Wing Chicken + Beer FB page for progress reports.

 

 

 

On Nicholson Street proper, Karibu Cafe has been operating since about the start of the year – and has escaped CTS attention for that long.

Under the broad banner of East African food, this place serves injera-based feeds.

But it also – oh yes! – serves Somali rice-style dishes.

We are keen to try!

 

 

Also on Nicholson Street, a talkative local tells me the long saga of Cafe D’Afrique has been caused by a “cracked wall”, but that we should see some visible action there in the coming months.

 

 

After being up and running for what seems like just a few months, Elementary 15 on Leeds Street in Footscray is already “closed for renovations”, according to the sign in the window.

They may like to effect some remedial work on the signage while they’re about it.

 

 

Inspired Cafe on Anderson Street in Yarraville has closed and is being transformed into a burger shop – another one!

This Hardings Burger Joint will presumably be a sibling for the one in Brunswick West and another in Coburg that was destroyed by fire in July last year.

 

 

Dee Dee Thai Cuisine has opened 10 Pratt Street, Moonee Ponds, just off Puckle and home to several eateries of the Asian persuasion over the years.