Cool local cafe? You can’t do better …

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Willow Wine Cafe, 126 Williamstown Road, Kingsville.

Our regular martial arts routine has been dispensed with on account of a niggling health issue.

And if we’re not exactly licking our wounds after a tough week, we are not in the mood for the sort of galavanting around the west that is our usual Saturday staple.

So we’re very happy to be walking to lunch.

But there’s a wrinkle – instead of ambling towards Yarraville village, we are headed in the opposite direction.

Willow Wine Cafe has been set up in what was once the Fisher cricket bat “factory”, the place’s flanelled history still proudly worn on its side-street mural.

This is very familiar territory for Bennie, as he was once – when much younger – outfitted here with custom-made bat and pads.

The half-hearted innings that was his cricketing career ended long ago!

 

 

The place, with its dining area looking out on to Williamstown Road’s passing parade, has been done out in a really lovely, bright and relaxing way.

 

 

We take up pews at the window bench and proceed to enjoy a terrific lunch.

 

 

I earnestly warn Bennie against ordering the pulled pork sanger ($15), given the rank and serial disappointments he has, um, enjoyed in that regard in the past.

He proceeds anyway – proving, in the process, his father’s gloomy outlook to be comprehensively unwarranted.

Between the covers of his milk bun are generous serves of superbly tasty pork and most excellent aioli slaw, with pickled jalapenos and potato chips on the side.

 

 

My toastie special appears, at first blush, to be less worthy of the $14 price tag.

But the proof is in the eating.

And I know after just a few mouthfuls that this could be used as a template for the perfect toasted sandwich, with bread still softish yet sporting a top-notch crisp exterior.

Inside are Salt Kitchen mortadella, burratine and radicchio.

The cheese is oh-so-rich, melted and stretchy.

 

 

Our matching 5 Senses cafe lattes ($4) are just right.

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.

 

One word – cannoli

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Cannoli Bar, 23 Riviera Road, Avondale Heights.

Down an otherwise unremarkable Avondale Heights residential street a wonderful surprise awaits.

A once-was-a-corner shop has been turned into a chic, cheerful – and already very popular – cafe of the Italian variety.

 

 

Savoury offerings appear to be down to these good-looking pizza slices.

 

 

There are a plethora of sweet treats on hand – all, we are informed, baked and/or assembled on the premises.

But the place’s focus is a bit more singular than even that – as its name attests.

 

 

Yes, cannoli – fresh-filled after being ordered.

We try two at $4.50 each – one each of nutella and pistacchio.

I reckon they are beyond awesome.

Though Bennie is less impressed.

The fillings are creamy and a way less solid than, for instance, the cannoli offered at T. Cavallaro & Sons in Footscray.

I love the whole experience – including the fact that they are fragile and more or less explode upon being handled.

Who cares?

Goes with the territory!

Our cafe lattes are every bit as good, with just the right amount of bitterness.

Canoli Bar is open Wednesday to Friday 8am-3pm and Saturday and Sunday 8am-4pm.

 

 

Bowled over

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Coracle Cafe Restaurant, 63-65 Anderson Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9315 1411

Yarraville village’s long-standing Chinese restaurant has gone.

Truth is, it went some time ago and Coracle has taken a while to arise at the same location.

The place is beautifully fitted out, mostly in blacks and whites and pale wood, with the big windows letting the light pour in.

In the months leading up to its unveiling, the name alone conveyed little information about what would be the nature of the new place … so the outcome is a bit of a surprise.

Let’s call it, definitely for want of a better phrase, Asian fusion.

Sure, as you’d expect, there’s a nice, tight list of breakfast items on the menu; and there’s brunchy things such as Vietnamese-style poached salad and “Super Green Gyoza”.

There’s banh mi, too.

Yes, $10 is a whack more than you’ll pay for banh mi in Footzcray or St Albans.

But the ones we see being inhaled around us look fabulous.

The more substantial heart of the menu, though, is the line-up of seven Coracle Bowls.

Yes, these are by way of the poke bowl trend – but Coracle’s efforts transcend just about all else we’ve tried.

On the one hand, the Coracle kitchen crew appear to with work the same basic toppings for each bowl offering, with individual tweaks as advertised.

On the other, there are super smarts at work here that kick our meals – three bowls over two visits – up and into the realms of magic.

The bento bowl ($17) is brilliant in every way.

The foundational success of every Coracle bowl very much appears to the prosaic nuttiness of the brown rice bases.

(Though Bennie’s mileage in this regard is not so extensive as that of his father …)

But here, the excellent toppings complete the job by sheer dint of quality and – equally important – by their deft apportioning.

Dressed salmon cubes, kale in sesame oil, two kinds of pickle, tobiko, broad beans, seaweed salad and more – all taste as mighty fine as they look.

Bennie enjoys his Korean bowl ($16.50), with excellent bulgogi beef.

Though he opines that more by way of starker flavour and texture contrast would’ve made him even happier.

The vegan bowl ($16.50) is very good, too, though what are listed as “tempura seasonal vegetables” are quite a long way from crunchy battered.

We are having such a fine Saturday lunch time we go the whole hog with the Coracle brownies ($6).

These don’t look anything special, especially as the melted marshmallows atop are rather unsightly and add nothing at all.

But the eating of what is both moist and chewy is of immense, top-quality choc pleasure.

The brownies are sluiced down with very good cafe lattes ($4).

It’s early days yet, but I strongly suspect Coracle will become one of our regular local haunts.

Wow.

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

The burned-out shell of Little Saigon Market casts rather a glum metaphorical shadow across Footscray central, so we love it that Small Graces and some of its neighbours are mounting a fightback by bringing life and sunshine to Byron Street and surrounds.

We enjoyed our debut meal there last year and have returned several times since – mainly for salad hits.

So we definitely pay attention when informed a dinner service is being launched.

Not only that – we are invited to try it out (see full disclosure below).

Thus it is with keen anticipation and high expectations that Bennie and I front up for dinner.

Here is the brutal CTS call: Our expectations are not met.

Instead, they are exceeded in grand and delicious style.

Really.

Just about everything we try from a brilliantly chosen selection from the deep dinner menu (see below) is a righteous hit, with a few provisos noted below.

A salad of beets, grapefruit, radicchio, hazelnuts and goats cheese (top photo, $14) is enjoyed by us both, but especially by Salad Boy Bennie.

La Hoguera jamon serrano and garlic-fennel salami are wonderful and served with pickles.

They come with …

… luscious warmed olives and …

… inhalable chargrilled bread.

Carrots, salsa of carrot tops, pecorino pepato and seeds ($13) are a sublime veg offering.

Squid ink croquette with gralic aiolo and sorrel/pea croquette with preserved lemon aioli ($4 each) are, for us, duds.

We have no problem with their striking ugiless.

But they are too salty – even for us, two lads who had expressed to Small Graces’ Bec our fondness, upon arrival, for salty restaurant food!

Also somewhat visually unappealing is this dish of cauliflower, currants, fermented grapes and macadamia nuts ($15).

But in this case the result is an intriguing winner.

This pile of lentils photographs as dull.

It’s not.

It’s one of the night’s high sensations.

Lentils, quince and mints ($12) are moist, succulent, rather sweet and a tremendous pulse dish the likes of which we’ve never before encountered.

And we’ve eaten a LOT of pulses.

And the vegetables keep coming.

Brussel sprouts, jerusalem artichokes and Manjimup truffle ($15) are al dente and a big hit with Kenny; Bennie, no so much.

Our evening’s sole outright meat hit comes from hanger steak, burnt onions and bearnaise ($20).

We adore that juicy meat and its onion foil.

The sauce is good, too – but we consider its richness a bit jarring and unnecessary.

There’s a handy list of desserts on the go for dinner here – including fabulous-sounding ricotta gnocchi.

Sadly, they will have to wait another night as the Socceroos and their date with destiny await, so we head for the door.

The inner west is blessed to have Small Graces doing its dinner thing.

It joins the likes of Jack B. Nimble and Cheeky Chewies Cafe in serving up flash food without vertiginous price tags or stuffiness.

And there’s a heap of dinner-time scope in which vegetarians can frolic.

There’s booze on hand at Small Graces, which is now open for dinner Thursdays-Saturdays.

CTS thanks Bec, Diego and their crew for taking care of us.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Small Graces as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We were served a broad range of dishes from the joint’s new dinner menu. Small Graces management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

Vegan cafe shines

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One For The Crow, 9 Commercial Street, Maidstone. Phone: 0420 275 747

One For The Crow is located in a rather sleepy strip of shops – other than a cafe, there’s dance and martial arts operations and a few others more anonymous.

Its neighbourhood – in and around Dobson reserve – is itself rather sleepy.

And certainly not known for commercial activity of any kind.

But the west – inner, outer, inbetweener – is all changing so fast, so why not residential Maidstone for a cafe?

One For The Crow is vegan – though we are very happy to see regular milk available for coffee purposes.

And it is very, very kid-friendly.

It’s a lovely place, with a modest plant nursery going at the front and a handful of outdoor tables.

For all its vegan-ness, our menu (see below) choices are the sort of thing found in cafes all over.

 

 

My friends chooses the Thai curry veg pie ($6).

It is, of course, a Ka Pie – and it goes down a treat.

She likes the pasta-pesto-spinach salad ($5), too.

Though she is firmly of the opinion a sprinkling of crumbled feta would make it even better.

 

 

My waffle dish ($16) is good.

It comes with house-made nutella, maple syrup, caramelised banana and soy ice-cream.

 

 

A most excellent soba noodle bowl ($16) – enjoyed on a previous, reconnaissance visit – rather more reflects One For The Crow’s vegan credentials.

It’s packed with marinated tofu, broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, spinach, pickled daikon and kimchi, and dressed with a tahini-miso concoction.

Every mouthful is a delight.

 

 

Our coffees are fine, too.

One For The Crow appears to have quickly made itself an indispensable and treasured part of its community.

The locals have every reason to be stoked.

 

Sanger champs

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Butcher 128, 128 Roberts Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9318 0975

Yarraville is a big suburb.

For several reasons, much focus falls on the maze-like collection of streets in and around Anderson and Ballarat.

But Yarraville stretches a long way towards Geelong – well, to Cemetery Road anyway.

And certainly to Roberts Road, where Butcher 128 is located.

Perhaps its far-flung location is why it’s been off our radar for so long.

Even now, it’s pure happenstance that takes Bennie and I there for a quick Sunday meal.

Much of the previous tenant’s infrastructure has been kept in place – hence the name – and combined with contemporary cafe gear.

There’s a beaut covered outdoor area and play space down the back.

It’s busy in the brunch/lunch peak hour, but the staff are smiling and efficient.

One side of the menu (see below) is mostly dedicated to breakfast fare; we mine the other.

Bennie’s The Meat Hook ($15.50, top photo) is superb.

Right from the first bite, he’s nodding in enthusiastic acclamation of its braised pork belly, BBQ, Sriracha mayo and cabbage/herb slaw.

My The Baron ($14) is just as good.

The house-made salted beef, tender and thinly sliced, is about an inch thick.

It’s joined by cabbage slaw, Swiss cheese, pickle and house mustard sauce.

The bread is the just the right light, perfectly toasted, to house it all.

There surely can be no matter better argument for positing “mere” sandwiches as bona fide meals than our 10/10 pair.

So impressed by the sandwich department, I return a few days later for a bowl dish from the breakfast side of things.

XO crab ($18) has egg noodles, a fried egg, crispy shallots, house XO sauce and a soft shell crab.

It’s a modest serve and a light meal.

And it’s very dry, though the sauce flavour is happily present.

Best of all is the soft shell crab – easily the best I have had.

Well, in Melbourne anyway.

It’s crisp and sweet, and thus a far cry from the drab specimens that have helped make us un-enamoured of this particular specialty.

Our coffees, over both visits, are crazy good.