Yarraville cafe tastes fine

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Mantra Studio Kitchen and Bar, 10A Campbell Street, Yarraville. Phone: 0419 329 936

The location and setting of Mantra is both a surprise and just right: In a light industrial conclave way over in the Yarraville back waters near Francis and Hyde.

Inside, the warehouse has undergone a gorgeous cafe transformation.

There’s lots of space, high ceilings and plenty of room to grow.

Which makes me think that Mantra will continue evolving to become something of a multi-faceted community asset.

In the meantime, there is food.

Very lovely food.

The menu (see below) runs to breakfast items such as sweet corn fritters, breakfast ramen and jasmine rice pudding.

Lunch choices range from a falafel burger to what sounds like a delectable salad of heirloom carrots, beetroot hummus, dukkah and sweet potato.

CTS visits twice within a couple of days and has a swell time lunching.

The service is cheerful and efficient and the wait times good.

 

 

Visiting on my own for reconnaissance purposes, I go with the wagyu burger with chilli relish, cos lettuce, tomato, baco and fries ($24).

Now, $24 is quite a lot to pay for a cafe burger in these parts.

On the other hand, this is a terrific specimen of the burger art.

Simplicity is a virtue here.

It’s a two-fisted joy, juicy and redolent somehow of Middle Eastern seasoning.

The chips are good, though those on the outer reaches of the mound are barely luke warm and the rest could be hotter, too.

 

 

For a return visit of the family Sunday lunch kind, Deb gets the same burger with an equally agreeable outcome.

Here, though, she substitutes the regular fries with crumbed eggplant chips.

They are superb.

And hot.

 

 

I’ve already seen enough – and eaten enough – to rather wish the “poke bowl” fad fades away with some haste, seeing as it widely seems to be an excuse for slopping mediocre ingredients in a bowl and charging richly for it.

The Mantra Bowl ($18), by contrast, shows how it should be done and how good such an offering can be.

The ingredients are top-shelf in every way and – just as importantly for this kind of meal – they are beautifully arranged in the bowl with skill and talent.

Rice ‘n’ black beans, heaps of robustly crunchy pickled cabbage, several kinds of mushroom, bean sprouts, tender asparagus – and even a trans-national touch through brown baba ganoush and flatbread: All wonderful, alone and/or together.

 

 

Bennie muchly enjoys his BBQ duck waffle with mango chutney, lychee gel and grilled asparagus ($23).

The meat is juicy yet nicely chewy, though it seems to me his meal would benefit from a greater sauce/liquid component.

He disagrees.

Apart from the  breakfast and lunch routines, Mantra is already happily experimenting with Friday evening events of the “beer and dumpling” and “beer and sliders” variety.

There is some parking available right outside the cafe, while the surrounding streets are subject to time limits.

Be careful!

Check out the Mantra website here.

 

Not your usual cake

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The Usual Joint, 32 Furlong Road, Sunshine North.

Consider The Sauce has a liking for short menus.

Compact, succinct, brief.

The Usual Joint, however, takes tight to new heights.

Sure, at this friendly, spacious, new Sunshine North cafe you can get a range of sangers and there’s a display cabinet of rolls and even lasagna.

And there’s marvellous sweets – more on those later.

But they appear to have settled into a  groove of offering just a single lunch-time made-to-order meal – and even then only at weekends.

That’s cool – we can roll with that.

I’m told these meals have and will run to the likes of pho and curries.

But at the first of two visits, CTS enjoys …

 

 

… a lovely serve of won ton noodles for $12.

It’s a simple and soulful, and packed with fine ingredients: A single, plump dumpling, a wafer, a fat prawn, pork both sliced and minced – and good, hot broth.

 

 

At our subsequent visit, we enjoy the wagyu sliders ($15).

Now, we be no great fans of sliders – they often seem too fussy to us.

But these wow with panache.

A big part of the winningness is down to the accessories – cornichons, shoestring fries and a tub of super rich and fabulously yummy Japanese-style potato salad.

But the sliders themselves are no slouches, either.

The rolls are stuffed with well-cooked beef, mushies, beetroot, tomato, lettuce and bacon.

They eat bigger than they look.

And the ingredients, particularly the beetroot, convey a likeness to a regular Aussie burger – only better.

 

 

But there is much more going on at The Usual Joint than the single-offering savoury roster.

The place has quickly become a community focal point, with a happy crowd hitting the place to eat, meet and sup on a range of specialty teas and coffees.

The punters are mostly of the young and Asian variety.

I’m tempted to call them young, Asian and hip – but that might give them big heads and stuff.

As well, there is a very sexy range of sweets.

The highlights in that regard are the crepe cakes.

 

 

Oh boy, these are so good – multiple layers of tender crepes soaked through with your flavour of choice.

Keenly priced at $8, they’re quite filling and superbly inhabit our favourite dessert niche – that of decadence without being sickly sweet.

We love the pandan (above) most of all, but also enjoy …

 

 

… the Thai milk tea and …

 

 

… the matcha.

Our crepe cake slices are matched with excellent cafe lattes.

Best bet is to “like” The Usual Joint on Facebook so you’ll know what’s cooking in terms of those hot meals.

 

Maximum yums

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Blackwood Ridge Cafe & Larder, 812 Greenhills Road, Blackwood. Phone: 5368 6707

There are many interesting eating experiences to be had in the more outlying and rural areas beyond Melbourne’s western suburbs, but CTS has only, over the years, fitfully explored them.

Honestly, most often the greater west seems quite vast enough for us.

But sometimes, things simply click.

In this case, a pal (Hi dale!) posts online some pics of her family’s up-country Saturday lunch – and we are intrigued and excited.

A quick check of the calendar, and we realise a Sunday adventure is definitely on.

We have a full tank of petrol and all current bills are paid – meaning there’s a little wriggle room for something a little more upmarket and extravagant than our regular cheap-eats routine.

So, next morning, off we go!

Along the West Gate, on to the ring road and up the Western Highway … past Bacchus Marsh and Myrniong, turn right.

Into the hills and eventually the depths of Lerderderg State Park.

The gravel-roaded approach to our eating destination is through dense forest, leading me to envisage our lunch may be of the log cabin variety.

But no … the trees eventually give way to a more trimmed and tidy rural scene, with Blackwood Ridge Cafe & Larder, and the associated nursery, tucked into what appears to be a small village.

 

 

The cafe itself is in a modern but cosy building off from the nursery, surrounded by lovely gardens and looking out on to a small lake or dam.

We’re hungry, so waste no time getting into the menu, despite being a bit early.

The menu, no surprise, is cafe-style tucker split into a range of small share plates, two larger share items and a handful of desserts.

 

 

Twice-cooked wedges of potato with herbed mayo ($10.50) are fine and very hot.

The serve eats bigger than it looks – a recurring theme.

 

 

A pet CTS dislike are those dodgy and dull Turkish rolls served in so many cafes.

So I am delighted to learn the Turkish bread listed online as accompanying the shared braised, spiced meatball dish ($29.50) has been replaced by couscous.

All is very good.

The half-dozen meatballs are chewy and fragrant, and – again – offer more substantial eating than appears may be the case.

The currant-studded couscous is marvelllous, as are the salad offerings and the rich, sticky tomato sauce.

 

 

I’m not sure, at all, how my son became such an ardent lover of vegetables and salads.

It’s unreal and wonderful – sometimes he gazes upon a serve of veg with something that appears to be akin to lust.

Such is the case with our blackened carrots  ($12.90), which are an undoubted highlight of our meal.

The baby carrots, in a variety of colours and textures, are served with nigella and sunflowers seeds, and topped with coriander and tahini labneh, all lubricated by honey.

 

 

By this time, we are feeling well fed and pampered indeed, and seriously throttling back our plans for dual desserts to a single.

But what the hey – it’ splash-out time, and it could be a long while until we’re back this way again.

So two it is.

And they’re both puds.

Parsnip pudding ($13.9) has real-deal parsnip flavour to go with its ginger, currants and spices.

It’s served with vanilla crème anglaise and “our own lemon thyme and creme fraiche ice-cream”.

This is the stuff of sweet dreams, the only slight drawback – and the only one of entire meal – being that the ice-cream is rock hard, requiring at first some rather robust chiselling.

 

 

Brioche bread and butter pudding ($14.50) is every bit as good, served with candied blood orange, manuka honey crunch, mandarin crisps and almond praline.

This pair of wonders, and a couple of good cafe lattes, cap off a superb meal in a wonderful setting.

A few months back, after a similarly ritzy meal, Bennie opined that not only did he not really rate “expensive food” but he also thought it money not well spent.

As we depart Blackwood Ridge Cafe & Larder, he’s having some serious second thoughts about that line of thinking.

(And not that this place is expensive, either!)

We recommend a road trip outing to Blackwood very, very highly.

Check out the Blackwood Ridge Cafe & Larder website, including menu, here.

 

Small cafe, big (happy) surprise

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Small Graces, 57 Byron Street, Footscray. Phone: 9912 6429

Sometimes a stroll around the vicinity of the sadly burnt-out Little Saigon Market can present a rather glum prospect.

On a grey, chilly mid-week noon hour, for instance.

My understanding is that the post-fire wheels of bureaucracy are grinding ever so slowly towards a resolution.

But in Footscray, there is always life – and always new life.

The new carparking building has arisen and on its ground floor are several businesses already – a chemist; a hairdresser and (supposedly) a Huxtaburger outlet to come; in an adjacent edifice, a cult tea shop outside which I have already twice seen queues.

And there is Small Graces, a lovely cafe that IS small but BIG on heart.

In the normal turn of events, this place would register on CTS as a place for coffee and perhaps coverage in a westie eats goss story, but probably not much more.

But an approach by Small Graces proprietors Rebecca and Diego changes all that.

Yes, we’d like to take your place for a spin (see full disclosure below).

So it is that sometime CTS correspondent Erika, her son Hugh (both very near neighbours of the joint) and I arrive for a mid-week lunch.

We are knocked out.

 

 

Small Graces is a cosy place and the staff are smilingly friendly and obliging.

The compact menu ranges through the usual eggy outings, soup and blackboard salads through to display sangers and gorgeous-looking house-made sweets.

But our eyes are immediately drawn to the “sides” section of the food list.

Here there be treasure.

We are permitted, nay encouraged, to treat these as a sort of tapas/antipasto option – so we do!

 

 

How good is this?

Clockwise from top (all items clocking in at about $5):

Smashed avo with almond feta and dukkah.

Halloumi, baharat, honey and walnuts.

Chicken, adobo, chicken salt.

Two kinds of pickle – red cabbage and a kimchi-like mix involving carrot.

Slow-cooked pork neck with crackling crumbs.

The first two items here listed are these days, of course, standard cafe fare, but they are rarely presented with this sort of finesse.

The chicken thigh pieces and the sliced pork are miracles of deft seasoning and juiciness.

At first I had thought this light yet fabulously yum spread would need some bread or the like, but …

 

 

… these seriously sexy spuds with garlic and rosemary with lemon mayo on the side ($6) add just the right degree of heft to our meal.

 

 

Meanwhile, a salad of caramelised beetroot with black lentils, almond feta and dill ($8) continues the flow of fresh flavours.

 

 

Young Hugh enjoys his toast with what appears to be a very fine strawberry jam ($6).

 

 

With our fine coffees, Erika and I enjoy this mega-rich caramel slice ($5) – in this case, a smallish portion is a blessing.

More and bigger would be TOO much.

 

 

Then there’s this equally accomplished lemon curd cheesecake ($6.50) of the non-baked variety.

Our very vocal enthusiasm for the “sides” transformed into a main attraction pecking plate could, I suspect, see these items (there are several more we didn’t try) elevated in status beyond mere add-ons.

The food has been outstanding – more like your top-notch casual dining standard.

But even if that doesn’t transpire, we recommend them heartily.

As we do Small Graces in general.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Small Graces as guests of management. No money changed hands. Our food was chosen by CTS. Small Graces management did not seek any editorial input into this story.)

 

Shiny grill time

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DeGrill, Sunshine Marketplace, Sunshine. Phone: 0402 189 860

A small, single-frame cartoon in the Sunday Age a few years back always makes me chuckle when I think of it.

Two blokes are surveying the Sunshine Marketplace shopping centre.

One says to the other: “Wow – this really is the United Nations of bogans!”

I like it because it’s bloody funny.

But I also like it because I like it that Sunshine Marketplace is like that.

We may live in Yarraville, hit the new fried chicken place in WeFo as soon doing so is viable and even frequent hipster places in Footscray proper … but we love all the west and its people and food.

Which is why CTS loves venturing to not only Sunshine, but also Werribee, Deer Park and beyond – and will continue to eat and review and tell stories from well beyond the ribbon that is the inner west.

 

 

So we applaud the opening of DeGrill at Sunshine Marketplace.

It’s a bold and adventurous move – it is situated, after all, right opposite Maccas and right next door to the cinemas.

I could say that DeGrill is aiming for the same sort of focus as Grill’d or Nando’s – but that would be doing DeGrill a disservice.

Because the menu is significantly more broad than such a comparison might imply.

I suspect the menu may have to be tweaked over time to find out what really works in this particular setting.

But over two visits, CTS and friends enjoy some good food and good service at (mostly) good prices.

The style is classy fast food and proper cutlery and crockery are in use, as are fine salt and pepper grinders.

 

 

There are three hot dog options on the menu, two featuring kransky or chorizo.

But the classic ($7.50) is constructed using a standard frankfurter.

So all is regulation here, but its recipient is pleased enough.

 

 

“Crispy” chicken ($9.50) has the wow factor aplenty.

The serve consists of three superbly cooked wings anointed with a tangy sauce.

Very good!

Especially when served with …

 

 

… a side of mash and gravy ($6).

This a rarity is Melbourne in general, let alone in a Sunshine shopping centre.

It’s OK, we all like it – but it’s not spectacular.

 

 

The menu’s “between the buns” section lists nothing that could be described as a beef burger, but based on our table’s orders of the cheese steak ($9, above) and …

 

 

… the only marginally different philly cheese ($9.50), this may be the way to go here.

Both are keenly priced and boast good ingredients and dressings.

The steak is thicker than routinely found in steak sandwiches and, best of all, is so well cooked that biting through for a mouthful is done with ease and without the whole sandwich falling apart.

Big thumbs up for that!

 

 

Under the heading “from the grill”, DeGrill offers dishes such as a flat iron steak ($17 and $26) and chicken ($16 for half, $29 for full).

These and others may fulfill the implied promise of more hefty meals.

Sadly, the beef short ribs ($16) do not.

It’s common knowledge ribs are expensive to secure and are inevitably at the upper end price-wise wherever they appear.

It’s common knowledge, too, the beef ribs can be fatty.

But these are very fatty indeed, and the three segments amount to not much more than a brief meal of not many more mouthfuls.

As well, as per the eatery’s name, these rib bits are grilled and not smoked, as you’d generally find at the numerous barbecue-style places across the city.

The coleslaw ($4.50) lacks crunch – maybe because its main component is savoy cabbage?

It’s under-done in the seasoning/flavour department, too, though some quick work with the salt and pepper grinders soon fixes that up.

 

 

CTS is over the mega shake thing – too often they seem to involve poor quality ingredients and unjustifiably high prices.

This DeGrill brownie shake ($9) defies both factors – good price, nice shake.

We wish DeGrill well.

Maye its arrival will inspire others to hang out their shingle in the same locale.

Thanks to Annie and Ali for helping us with this story!

Check out the DeGrill website – including full menu – here.

Climate for Change fundraiser at Fig & Walnut: The wrap

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CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival No.3: Climate for Change fundraiser, Fig & Walnut, 11-13 Bellairs Avenue, Seddon,  Wednesday, July 19, 2017.

A swell time was had by all at the CTS/Fig & Walnut fundraiser for Climate for Change.

 

 

The food was, naturally, excellent in every way.

So a big round of applause for Vera and her crew for turning it on for us.

 

 

And it was simply terrific to meet and talk with such a broad range of westies.

The final sums remain to be done, but a nice chunk of cash will soon be headed the way of Climate for Change.

So thank you, thank you, thank you!

 

 

And a final thanks to my partners in this enterprise, Vera and Katerina – it was fun!

Read more about Climate for Change here.

 

Climate for Change fundraiser at Fig & Walnut – food preview

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TO BOOK FOR THIS EVENT, GO HERE
CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival No.3: Climate for Change fundraiser,
Fig & Walnut, 11-13 Bellairs Avenue, Seddon. Phone: 0433 574 194
Date: Wednesday, July 19. Time: 6-10pm. Ticket price: $45.

 

There’s just a week or so now until our very special benefit night for Climate for Change.

 

 

As a teaser, here’s a sneak peek at some of the delicious goodies that will be served for our wonderful guests and supporters.

 

 

Vera and her crew at Fig & Walnut really, really love doing this sort of food.

 

 

It’s obvious!

 

 

Please join us – we’d love to see you!

TO BOOK FOR THIS EVENT, GO HERE