Cup Day lunch

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Heart Attack and Vine, 329 Lygon Street, Carlton. Phone: 9005 8624

Cup Day and no work?

In some ways a mixed blessing, but an opportunity for fun nonetheless.

So off we tootle to Carlton for some book work.

Within minutes of arriving at Alice’s Bookshop on Rathdowne Street we have scored big time – a first taste of Elmore Leonard for Bennie, the hefty bio of J Edgar Hoover I had been on the very verge of ordering much more expensively just a few days previous.

Then it’s off to Lygon Street to survey the lunch options.

Down one side and up the other, I opine to Bennie that in terms of mediocrity, a Lygon wander is quite similar to doing likewise Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

But there are good places – Heart Attack and Vine is one such, it’s specialty a range of simple Italian-style sandwiches (see menu below).

The staff are in the midst of the breakfast/lunch switch as we arrive, so it takes a little while to get our lunch – but when it arrives we are happy.

 

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The day’s special involves a minted pork snag, onion jam and lightly pickled cucumber, all on a fine, fresh roll.

At $15, it’s fine – but we find the sausage a bit dull.

We are so used to old-school Italian pork sausages of much more radical texture and flavour!

 

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The porchetta number ($15) is significantly better.

There’s a heap of flavour from the finely chopped pork, largely due to the fat and some crackling.

The meat is handily abetted by a zingy salsa verde.

We are a bit bemused by the mustard and “sweet spicy sambal” on the side as they seem largely superfluous.

 

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A shared side of coleslaw appears at first blush as if it may be a tad tired and dry, but that proves not to be the case.

It’s fine and crunchy, though quite heavy on the capers.

 

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‘Rescued’ food in a Carlton pub

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Wendy Hargreaves with FareShare CEO Marcus Godinho and The Lincoln publican Iain Ling.

Fairshare “Rescued” Dinner, The Lincoln, 91 Cardigan Street, Carlton.

FairShare is a very worthy organisation that “rescues” food that would otherwise go to waste and feeds it to hungry people to the tune of about 25,000 meals a week that are distributed to charities.

Its “Rescued” dinner was one of those special events in which I like to indulge every now and then.

Why not?

It ticked all the boxes.

Very good cause, (hopefully) great food and the chance to meet some fine and interesting people.

 

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I confess to having some doubts about the food.

How good can a meal be when it is produced solely from food that is about to be chucked out?

A conversation with FareShare CEO Marcus Godinho soon set me right.

Of course!

There are, it turns out, very many ways in which food falls through the gaps, particularly when it comes to logistics and bureaucracy.

So the food we eat, particularly with the likes of Frank Camora helping out in the kitchen, is excellent and enjoyed by a sell-out crowd that appeared to have taken over all the dining spaces at the Lincoln.

 

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People-wise, the highlight for me is sitting down and chewing the fat – so to speak – with Wendy Hargreaves.

Wendy, a FairShare ambassador, is a fellow foodie about town – check out her website here.

In many ways, she and I are poles apart in our approaches and tastes – but the story of our overlapping interests is a bit more delightfully messy than that.

 

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You see, Wendy and I actually shared office time in my final days at the Sunday Herald Sun.

So awful was that time, for me anyway, that I have no recollection of meeting or talking with Wendy back than – at all.

For several years, however, we have been chatting, sparring, gossiping and laughing courtesy of Facebook.

 

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So this was a lovely chance for the pair of us to compare notes face to face- and lo, unsurprisingly, we found we have a rather complex array of connections and stories in common.

Ears could – or should – have been burning!

Sharing our table were another Fairshare ambassador and foodie/media personage of note, Dani Valent, along with Karen, Carl and David – they were fine company.

The food?

Oh, it was grand!

(See small menu below.)

The highlight?

The slow-roasted Flinders Island lamb shoulder with asadillo, cauliflower/grain salad and an (unadvertised) stew of chickpeas and spinach.

 

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Meal of the week No.21: Tre Bicchieri

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A sizable chunk of my working life was spent working on a metropolitan Sunday newspaper.

That meant 12-hour slogs on Saturdays and perpetual irregular weekends of Sundays and Mondays.

So my current working regime – hard yakka with Star Weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays, two days “off”, Fridays back at Keilor Park, then the weekend – seems like a miracle.

Perfect!

 

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Not, mind you, that I am idle on those mid-week days.

Far from it – I get out and about, usually cramming so much living and blogging and food stuff into two days that it always seems a surprise when I return to my regular gig.

It can be a bit disconcerting but I do love it all.

This week’s Wednesday, for example, involved a morning blog post followed by a journey to Camberwell to meet and talk with a cafe owner disgruntled and dismayed by approaches being made to him by Zomato (and by the nature of those approaches), followed by a haul to Royal Melbourne Hospital for a blood test and then a visit to Williamstown for more food business.

 

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Post-Camberwell and pre-test, I pull into Rathdowne Street looking for somewhere to have a quick lunch.

Upon stepping in Tre Bicchieri (623 Rathdowne Street), I grin with delight as the memories flood in.

This was a frequent lunch spot for me when a regular part of another weekly routine involved a weekly radio show on PBS.

Gosh, it’s a sweet place.

The staff are happy and fully into their work.

Even better, it manages to be oh-so-classy yet at the same time relaxed, welcoming and absolutely non-hipster.

I wish it was in the west.

The general vibe – and much of the produce stocked on the shelves – seems to be Italian.

But the menu (see below) is broader than that.

 

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From the specials board, I choose corn fritters with spinach, avocado, poached egg and zaatar ($18.50).

As with most such constructions, it eats bigger than it suggests upon visual appraisal.

It’s all top quality, though I’m not persuaded that the zaatar – denoting, in this case, the Middle Eastern seasoning mix of  sesame seeds, oregano and more, rather than pita bread baked with the mix on top – is a good match for the salmon.

But the smoked fish does go beaut with the wilted spinach underneath the extremely corny fritters.

I’m eager to be back on the road and taking care of business so don’t linger over a coffee.

But the cafe latte roadie I depart with is perfect.

 

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Carlton ‘que

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Bluebonnet Barbecue @ The John Curtain, 29 Lygon Street, Carlton. Phone: 9972 1815

Driving to Carlton for an impromptu feed, Bennie and I talk about our barbecue adventures.

We love the food genre but generally tend to get gleefully lost among the many other offerings in the west, some of which often have elements that are barbecue of a sort by nationalities other than American.

Nevertheless, over the past year or so – and without having agenda to do so – we’ve knocked off, and overwhelmingly enjoyed, many of Melbourne’s BBQ hot spots.

See posts here, here, here, here and here.

Tonight it’s our turn at Bluebonnet Barbecue, which is operating out of Carlton’s John Curtain pub on account of fire damage to the BBQ business’ Collingwood digs.

 

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The trade union history of the pub seems to have been wholly overtaken by inner-city hipster grungedom in the form of posters spruiking upstairs gigs, gloom, old floorboards and carpet that is metaphorically sticky even if it isn’t physically so.

We grab a seat near the kitchen – we’re super impressed that there’s a paper towel roll on each table!

We splurge a bit, eat well but don’t push it to gluttony levels.

We find the pricing and food quality akin to several of the other Melbourne BBQ places we’ve tried.

In another words, it’s a darn good feed.

 

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Pork baby back ribs (200 grams, $19) and Riverina black angus brisket (200 grams, $22) are both quite fatty but very well cooked and delicious with great flavour.

Our order provides us both a hefty slab of each of the meats.

We ignore the hot sauces on hand and make happy with judicious dabbings of the very good house BBQ sauce.

If anything, though, it’s the sides that are the real stars of our meal.

Too often we’ve found the obligatory slaw at Melbourne’s BBQ places too tricky and trying way too hard.

The Bluebonnet slaw ($8) does wonderful by keeping it simple.

In fact, the mustard seeds in the dressing aside, this could almost pass for the sort of east European cabbage salad served at places such as this one.

Greens in the southern style ($6) – cooked down with chunks of ham hock – are just as fine and have lip-smacking flavour.

We love the fact we’ve been able to have an effortless in-and-out feed here – BBQ should be so casual.

We even got a park right outside the pub!

Check out the Bluebonnet Barbecue website, including menu, here.

Eat Like An Egyptian

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The Stuffed Pepper, 727 Nicholson Street, Carlton North. Phone: 9078 8131

My pal Corinna has a bung foot.

It’s on the mend and she’s hobbling around in the manner of folks wearing moonboots.

But still, it means our catch-up lunch will, of necessity, be in the vicinity of her North Carlton pad.

Her place, the soon to re-open local pub?

Whatever …

But, of course, I scope the neighbourhood out on the magic maps and …

I see you have an Egyptian place nearby,” I say to her.

“We do?” she replies.

You see, the name The Stuffed Pepper conjured up in her mind visions of, well, Italian food – so she’d not taken much notice.

But it’s not.

Italian, that is.

Instead, it is very, very Egyptian – and becoming more so.

Oh sure, there are non-Egyptian items on the menu, but the feedback the wonderful Giselle is getting from her customers is along the lines of “bring on the hardcore”.

So she is, with a love and passion for her food and recipes imbued to her by her mum and dad.

All this is, of course, is music to the ears of Consider The Sauce.

Even better, as of February 28, The Stuffed Pepper will be doing dinners as well as lunches.

Below I have published the Egyptian sections of menu.

 

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Corinna chooses the hawashi (closed Egyptian pizza, $12.90), which consists of ground beef, onion, tomato and capsicum combined with Egyptian spices spread in Middle Eastern bread and grilled until toasted.

It’s spectacular and very different from every other Middle Eastern pie or pizza I’ve experienced.

The meat filling is quite deep and very juicy.

The pastry is anointed with yogurt and very good tabouleh.

Wowee!

 

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I go for the kushari ($13.9), which is described as a delicious Egyptian vegetarian dish consisting of green lentils, rice and tomato-based sauce topped with macaroni and finished with a crispy onion garnish accompanied with a garden salad.

It looks like a simple, humble dish.

It is, but it’s also very sexy.

Giselle furnishes me with a separate bowl of mildly spicy and very good yet thin tomato sauce, which I duly pour over my dish.

I mix the salad in as I go, as instructed.

It’s perfect and just what I was feeling like consuming.

I remark that with its combination of pulses, tomato, pasta and fried onion, my kushari has been like a solid version of the Iraqi soup that has become a feature of CTS Headquarters home-cooking.

Giselle laughs, as that soup is a staple – with variations – right across the Middle East, so she knows exactly what I am talking about.

All the Egyptian food at The Stuffed Pepper comes her family’s store of recipes, and is mostly prepared by her, too.

She even makes her own turshi from scratch, while the falafels are of the green variety, being made with fava beans and herbs.

She does have a cook, Nick, who is helping her out.

She tells me he is of Indian background but is rapidly “becoming Egyptian”.

 

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I really wish The Stuffed Pepper was in the west.

As of the dinner debut, CTS will return with as many pals as we can round up.

Corinna and I only have a small sample of the lunch menu, but’s it’s top rate-stuff.

My mind boggles at what the meat, fish and various ful dishes might be like and how good they might be.

And how about beleela, “a combination of cooked and barley”, which is offered by Giselle in two version?

Check out the Stuffed Pepper Website, including full menus, here.

 

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Brunetti

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Brunetti, 380 Lygon St, Carlton. Phone: 9347 2801

If there had been a red carpet and VIP list involved, we wouldn’t be up the first or on the second.

Nevertheless, we reckon we’re smack bang in the middle of a bona fide Melbourne event – a happening packed with buzz and delight.

It’s the opening day of the ultra-swish new Brunetti and we’ve fronted for breakfast.

So have a lot of other people; everyone, staff and customers alike, is revelling in the moment.

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We know there are those who never had much or any time for the previous Brunetti incarnation in Faraday St, finding it too slick, flash and imposing.

For them, the new premises are likely to be even more problematic – because the new Brunetti is huge, taking up almost the entire space of what used to be Borders and running from the Lygon St entrance to the more formal restaurant space at the Drummond St end.

In between there is everything you’d expect – gelati, pizza oven, biscotti, pastries, cakes and more.

And a raised caffeine hub with two gleaming monster machines already doing grand business.

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Our semi-regular Brunetti visits have almost always been about mid-week gelati treats, takeaway biscotti or breakfast, and doubtless that will continue to be the case.

We’ve never had much truck with the more substantial fare, though it seems it may possible to pursue those avenues in the new place with more ease and perhaps even greater quality.

Because there is a lot of comfortable seating spread along the length of the premises.

The place will still be a madhouse at peak times – in our experience, that means any weekend after about noon in spring or summer.

But there is no denying the spaciousness and style of the new place – it’s like the old Brunetti on steroids.

If you loved Faraday St, you’ll likely love Lygon St. If not … run!

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It’s a special adventure so I let Bennie off the leash – he enjoys not one but two apricot Danish pastries at $4.10 each. They’re fresh and hit the spot.

His two hot chocolates are slightly better than good but don’t send him into raptures. Same thing goes for my two cafe lattes.

My toasted ham, cheese and tomato is a $9.50 dream that has me issuing moans of delight.

Really, it’s hard to imagine how a toasted sandwich could be better – excellent bread uniformly, perfectly toasted; great tasting ham; gooey melted cheese.

When Bennie has a taste, the cheese strands stretch from his sandwich-holding hand to his gob until they snap and bounce happily off his chin.

 

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Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe

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Wok action at Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe.

 

Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe, 157 Rathdowne St, Carlton. Phone: 9347 1739

This restaurant has closed down.

Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe was among my first – maybe even the very first – experience with Asian cheap eats in Melbourne.

The place had been around 10 years before that, too – they hung their shingle out 10 years before I ever stepped through the door, opening for business in 1976.

Nothing has changed.

Oh sure, the prices have crept up – but you can still get a brilliant feed for $10.

The kids have grown up, but the main couple who run the place – he over the woks, she running about taking care of all the other business – seem as ageless as their restaurant.

I suspect there are locals who have been eating here – or taking away – on a weekly basis for decades.

There’s no doubt others, too, such as myself who once lived nearby, have moved on and out, but who still find it worth the drive.

The welcome is wonderfully friendly for all.

There are only three tables – two that can seat four at a pinch, and another that handles two diners.

Better, though, are any one of the half-dozen or stools at the bar, from where you can watch all the cooking action unfold.

It’s such a fixture and monument to great food – in my mind and doubtless the minds of the many loyal customers – that I find it extraordinary that there are no reviews of any kind for it at Urbanspoon and that I am able to find only one other blogger who has written it up.

The “Chinese” in the eatery’s name is a little misleading – yes, they do heaps of straight-up noodle dishes that can be described as Chinese, as well as won ton soups and so on.

But they also do the likes of mee goreng, Hainan chicken rice and laksas.

But here’s the thing – and what make this place and its food so darn magical …

Regardless of the original national identity of any of these dishes – Malaysian, Singaporean, whatever – the folk at Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe do them their way, with individuality and personality, and caring not a whit for any traditions.

It’s almost as if this family restaurant has lived happily since its opening in its own space, going about its business in its own way as the city – and its food – has changed.

Just for instance …

The Singapore fried noodles – which I’ve been led to believe have only the most tenuous with Singapore in the first place – here come with a great brown dollop of peanut sauce on top that is quite unlike anything you’ll find in a Thai restaurant.

Similarly, the Hainan chicken rice is utterly like anything I’ve eaten under that name anywhere. Though, based on my one experience with it, I wouldn’t recommend it anyway.

One of fellow diners is eating a laksa that is a lurid yellow instead of the golden brown you’re more likely to find in Flemington.

Bennie loves the longish snack menu for one simple reason – they’re almost all deep fried!

Poppiah, sui mai (pork and beef), won tons, stuffed bean curd and more – they’re all good.

My two won tons (70 cents a pop) and a beef curry puff ($2.20) are sooper dooper crispy crunchy and astonishingly oil-free

This is a place of long-held routines, so I suspect that just about all those who come here have their favourites and mostly likely wouldn’t even think of ordering anything else.

For me, that’s the beef curry with noodles ($9.80).

It’s rare that in doing more than 200 posts for this blog that I’ve struggled to find the words.

But in casting about for the right ones to do this magnificent meal justice, I’m daunted for sure!

Like some dishes already mentioned, this a Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe dish – and one that is quite unlike any curry I’ve had elsewhere around town.

You could say it’s sort-of in the Malaysian tradition, but without the coconut.

But that doesn’t quite nail it, either.

The gravy is incredibly rich and deep of flavour, but not at all heavy. It has a bit more of spice kick than found in most Malaysian places these days, too

The many beef pieces are almost totally fat-free and fall-apart tender.

And fall apart they do, as the eating progresses, adding to the richness of the gravy.

Likewise, my couple of potato pieces are tender and soaked in the magic.

Three pieces of bok choy sit atop, but soon they’re swimming in it, too, along with some chopped lettuce and bean sprouts buried under heaps of slippery egg noodles.

It’s brilliant!

You can order this with rice if you so desire, and there’s fine chicken curry as well, but I find the bone factor tiresome.

But how stupendously wonderful is it that what could quite possibly be Melbourne’s best curry meal is to be found in a humble Chinese noodle joint?

Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon