Sushi train? No! It’s hot pot train!

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Viet Hot Pot and BBQ, 6/68 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 8578 1763

This interesting new addition to the Footscray scene is at the parking lot right at the end of Hopkins Street, facing Franco Cozzo and Centrelink.

It’s an unlovely location; a couple of previous businesses here made little impression, with vast interior of the room seeming rather gloomy.

 

 

The new owners/proprietors are trying very hard to make it otherwise, with a substantial makeover finding the space much brighter and livelier.

As for food, well they’re keeping their bases covered there, too.

Yes, as the name implies, there’s hot pot and Viet-style BBQ.

But for lunch there’s a $15 line-up of pho and hi tieu soup noodles

And there’s even a short list of Viet-meets-West steak, chips and salad, mostly also priced at $15.

 

 

We leave the BBQ option – which appears to operate in the same fashion as the excellent Phi Phi 2 in St Albans – for another time, presumably a night visit when we’re prepared to spend a bit more freely than for a quickie mid-week lunch.

We – CTS Thing 1 and Thing 2 and our good pal Justin – go instead for the lunch deal on the hot pot buffet.

This costs $32 per head for dinner, $35 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights – and $25 for lunch.

We figure, or hope, this will be a tasty bargain.

So it proves to be – though we have a few quibbles.

The way this works here is a new one for me.

They use a conveyor belt – familiar from the sushi trains around Melbourne – to deliver the hot pot items.

Each diner has their own adjustable hot plate, on which is placed their soup of choice.

 

 

I go for the spicy. It has the same deep and mysterious seasoning I am familiar with from other hot pot joints, but is only mildly spicy.

 

 

Justin and Bennie go for the laksa and enjoy it.

 

 

We are also provided our own individual bowls of seafood – a couple of good-sized prawns, a won ton, a scallop and a big chunk of blue swimmer crab. The crab and prawns are pre-cooked, but still good.

 

 

From there, it’s on to the very many conveyor belt goodies.

There’s green veg of various kinds, as well the likes of corn.

Straight-ahead meat is down to sliced beef and pork.

 

 

There’s fungus of several varieties.

There’s surimi of various shapes and sizes.

There’s noodles.

 

 

There’s more seafood – I find the mussels, which look like they may be chewy monsters, are actually nicely tender; and the small pipis are good, too.

There are many things that appear to be starchy and carby.

And there is offal.

We think.

Because when it comes to many of the offerings – notably those of what we presume are of the starchy, carby and gutsy variety – we are very much left wondering.

We ask for help, but not even the staff member who appears to be the floor manager offers much by way of enlightenment.

This is a bit disheartening.

 

Justin is his usual affable self; Bennie is still practising his serial killer stare. Kudos, though, for his laksa-proof attire.

 

But we do eat well and very affordably.

Though the overall impression is of quality that’s not quite up there like a more ritzy, and pricey, hot pot night out on the town.

But that’s what you get for $25.

And I have more than enough confidence in the adaptability of Vietnamese cooking to be looking forward to trying one of this place’s steak ‘n’ chips meals.

 

House of Delicious

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House of Mandi, 326 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9077 3963

Eating at Somalian restaurants involves a similar dynamic to chowing down at, say, the Vietnamese eateries of Footscray or St Albans.

Many places have similar – even identical – menus.

But within those parameters, there can be wonderful worlds of variation and subtle differences.

 

 

For instance, the complementary soup at House of Mandi enjoyed at the first of two CTS visits is quite different from those offered elsewhere on Racecourse Road.

Instead of a mostly clear and tangy lamb broth, here is served a slightly thicker brew, stuffed with not just the expected carrot but also peas and corn, and seasoned – I’m guessing – with a good curry powder.

Different – but just as good.

 

 

House of Mandi has been running for about a year and is under the guiding hand of two husband-and-wife teams – Abdirahman Abdi and Fatuma Yussuf (above), and Yusuf Rabi and Amina Sirat.

The plain facade (see photo at bottom of story) belies the rather nicely elegant interior and friendly vibe inside.

 

 

Those subtle differences come to the fore with this marvellous meal in the “federation” style.

The name is a holdover from colonial days and, in the food sense, means the combination of both pasta and rice.

Here, the rice is laced through with carrot strands and studded with sultanas and whole chick peas.

The basto is cooked in a typically post-al dente fashion and served with a dryish tomato sauce with some minced meat on board.

The lamb shank looks rather unlovely, but who cares when the meat is so tasty and succulent?

Spiced yogurt and a fiery green chilli sauce are served on the side.

Lamb shanks, of course, long ago left the realms of cheap cuts and quite often, in other places and contexts, can be quite expensive these days.

So that makes this shank offering an outright bargain at $15.

 

 

For the subsequent CTS House of Mandi outing, this time with the ever excellent company of Nat Stockley, the soup is just a good – but this time comes with noodles.

 

 

We both opt for the non-shank lamb-on-the-bone in federation style, Nat with just mandi rice, me with mandi rice and pasta.

Mandi, I’m told, is a Yemeni word meaning juice that in the rice context refers to the meat being placed on the rice as it cooks and the juices seeping down and through.

Truth be told, there’s little evidence of that here – but the vibrant yellow rice is still Somalian wonderful, with subtle perfuming.

How wonderful is Somalian food when rice can be served in two such different yet equally toothsome ways?

This sort of lamb is very familiar to CTS, but I’m never sure quite what precise nature it is going display.

Here it is well cooked, some fall apart tender, some not-so-much, but all displaying yumminess of a high order.

There’s even a couple of ribs in there.

Following in the footsteps of shanks, lamb ribs have themselves become trendy in some quarters and, thus, correspondingly expensive.

So, once again (familiar refrain), our meals are sooper dooper bargains at $15.

There’s pan-fried veg under that meat to help liven our meals up even more, along with the familiar yogurt/chilli sauces and a good salad.

(There’s no photograph of the latter – they all turned out blurry; bad food blogger!)

 

Sunshine Turkish is a winner

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Cafe Lakoza, G08/1 Foundry Road, Sunshine West. Phone: 0404 499 031

On the way to Cafe Lakoza, I attempt to get Bennie enthused about our impending lunch by indicating he will be free to order a halal snack pack.

If he so desires.

He doesn’t.

“I’m all done with halal snack packs,” he says.

Hmmm – it seems another teen fixation has fallen by the wayside.

I can’t say I’m upset.

So if an HSP isn’t the go, I suggest we may want to get stuck into the Turkish breakfast feast on offer.

It’s the kind of thing – replete with all sorts of sweet and savoury offerings – we’ve had before in more northern suburbs, but never in the west.

As it turns out, we arrive after the noon deadline for the brekky line-up, so settle for more orthodox Turkish feeds.

Cafe Lakoza is located right next to Found 401, which has become a well-regarded burger stop, and about a block from a fine yum cha establishment.

The place is pretty darn busy for Cup Day; there’s a big family occasion – birthday party? – taking up most of the room.

But we are seen to with smiles and in good time, both in having our order taken and in having our food served.

 

 

Visually, there’s not a lot of difference between Bennie’s selection of mixed kebab platter, with chicken and lamb, and …

 

 

… my own choice of lamb alone.

Both cost $18 and are wonderful value for money.

There’s a lot of food here and neither of us go close to finishing our plates.

All is fine and fresh.

Good dips and salad and rice.

Heaps of meat.

Best of all are the chips – they are excellent.

A rarely noted phenomena: Oft times the best chips you’ll find anywhere in Melbourne are those served in joints of the Middle Eastern and/or Mediterranean persuasion.

The bread we are served, after a short delay on a busy day, is not the fresh-baked Turkish flatbread we are expecting.

It’s more of a bun thing – like a cross between Turkish bread and a regular dinner roll.

It still does the job.

We finish happy chappies – but not before noting that the halal snack packs being served to another table do look fabulous.

It’s a fine thing to have a good Turkish eatery in Sunshine – and it seems it’s already become a popular fixture.

And the location is good, with parking no problem.

A full menu – and there are some less usual items in there – can be found on the Cafe Lakoza Facebook page.

 

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.

 

Bumpy landing

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Montezuma’s Mexican Restaurant & Bar Williams Landing, T23/102 Overton Road, Williams Landing

This year, CTS has indulged in a couple of meals at Melbourne Mexican restaurants with reputations for authenticity.

Such are the continuous, unstoppable, nifty ways humans operate that “authenticity”, when soberly analysed in just about any setting (food or otherwise), is seen to be something of the ultimate straw man.

Origins of pasta, anyone?

Still, we were surprised just how little “wow” we found in those meals.

Maybe true blue Mexican is simply not for us?

And, gosh, tacos that amount to little more than a couple of mouthfuls can, over the course of a hungry meal, add up to more dollars than expected.

 

 

We were forced to acknowledge, somewhat to our surprise, that we actually may prefer the hybrid food usually referred to as Tex-Mex and as served rather well – we think – by our local.

So we are quite happy to rock up to Montezuma’s at Williams Landing.

It’s part of a franchise deal that has close to 20 eateries around the country, though this is the first in Victoria.

It’s located around the corner from the Williams landing shopping centre itself, and right next door to an also-newish Chinese place we have yet to check out thoroughly.

Montezuma’s is decked out, inside, in a predictable fashion and looks inviting in a familiar way.

But it’s a nice sunny day so we choose, for once, to go alfresco.

 

 

Bennie’s full pulled pork nachos appear rather hum-drum and are up there in price at $19.90.

But they work well and he enjoys his meal.

And there’s a heap of very good pulled pork – better than served in many non-barbecue specialist places – under all the usual trimmings pictured.

 

 

A side serve of guacamole ($4.90) and corn chips ($3) are just OK, but we are surprised we have to request hot sauce for our table when we have become so used to having a range of saucy bottles already provided – at all sorts of eating places.

 

 

The Montezuma’s menu is extensive and there are many combinations to be had.

Mine, the #17 Speedy Gonzales, costs $19.90 and comes with a beef taco, chilli con carne, corn chips and salad.

It is dull.

All is perfectly edible, but there’s simply no zing.

The chilli con carne is particularly lame.

Maybe it’s from a fresh batch, but the beans, meat and gravy in no way coalesce.

Worse, that gravy tastes all tomato and no seasoning; no appreciable tang of salt, pepper, chilli, cumin, lemon or anything else.

My taco is of drab food court standard, while the salad is the best of my meal.

A couple of bottles of Jarritos soft drink have pushed our lunch-time bill out to the $60 mark.

And that seems quite a lot for a meal that will be hastily consigned to the most deeply buried files in the CTS memory bank.

Maybe we arrived with unrealistic expectations.

Check out the Montezuma’s website, including menu, here.

Joyfully juicy

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Bird & Burger, 9 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9090 7265

Bird & Burger lives in a premises long previously occupied by a similar operation with different management.

But this new lot are doing more than maintaining the location’s chicken shop tradition – they’re doing so splendidly.

Here be fast food that really is fresh and delicious.

 

 

The interior is mostly black and white, with eat-in seating options down to stools and a bench on one wall and a handful of snazzy ottomans facing the front window and another bench.

There are, however, tall tables and more stools outside.

 

My heart sinks a little when I see the plastic cutlery atop one of counters, fearing these useless tool may be served with my chicken.

But no!

Not only am I supplied with metal cutlery, my meal is presented on a black platter, with chips and coleslaw in similarly angular bowls.

It all looks marvellous.

Tastes that way, too.

The chips ($3.95) are hot, liberally salted and fine.

The admission price of $6.50 for my coleslaw seems, at first blush, a little steep for what I’m thinking is just a side dish to a chicken meal.

But here’s the thing – it is worth every cent.

In fact, I’ll call it right here and now – this is quite possibly the best coleslaw I’ve ever had in a chook shop.

Made mostly of red cabbage, and boasting subtle whiffs of tarragon and dill, it is well dressed without being sopping, has crunch yet is pliable – and is 100 per cent wonderful.

My chicken falls into the “Yes, It Can Be Done” category.

That’s right – even the very heart of the breast meat is as juicy as the rest of it.

My half bird ($10.50) is marinated in the mild chilli sauce that is chosen from a list that also includes lemon and herbs, crunchy creamed peanut and outback BBQ.

All is beaut and succulent.

 

 

The classic beef burger ($12.50) comes from a menu that includes two other beef burgers, five chicken burgers and a lamb edition.

Our burger’s lettuce, tomato, red onion, tomato relish and herb aioli are joined – upon request – by excellent bacon for which no charge is levied.

The beef patty is nicely charry and superbly seasoned with – I’m guessing here, as the staff mumble something about “top secret” when quizzed – oregano and other goodies.

Every aspect of this burger is an outright winner.

If CTS used points, I’d deduct one for the fact that this burger is such a gloriously messy handful that I resort, in the end, to eating it with a knife and fork.

But in this case, I care not because everything is just so damn tasty.

Bird & Burger is a fine establishment.

CTS metaphorically clicks its heels as it saunters back to the car.

Westie eats goss 18/10/17

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As in life, so be Footscray – i.e. change is a constant.

Taking shape on Hopkins Street is this dumpling joint.

Unlike Dumplings & More, a few doors along, this one appears to have Scottish ancestry.

 

 

The long-standing convenience shop on the corner of Leeds and Paisley streets is no more.

Coming in that space soon will be Impasto, dedicated to pizza, pasta, parmas – and pastries and coffee in the mornings.

One of the three partners involved, Mitch, tells they’ll be mostly after the commuter and passer-by trade.

 

 

Around the corner on Irving Street, and next to Thien An, a premises that has seen a handful of businesses come and go in recent years without making much of an impression is undergoing another makeover.

 

 

On Nicholson Street, down towards the university, one Footscray’s veteran Ethiopian restaurants, Harambe, is no more.

I’m told the new crew setting up shop here is also of African persuasion and that their plans include a bar.

Food, too?

I will find out!

 

 

On Macaulay Road in Kensington, what once housed Korean establishment Frying Colours will soon be unveiled as Kensington Food Hall.

The fit-out has advanced considerably since this photo was taken, going by their Facebook page, though no details yet on the offerings.

I’m told the new place shares management with Local Folk, around the corner on Epsom Road.

 

 

Directly opposite on Macaulay, stalwart pub Hardimans has closed its doors.

According to this story on the Pubtic website, the place has been bought by Open Door Pub Co – and they have massive plans for the site, including a thorough renovation that “will embrace a contemporary Art Deco feel, two new bars, a much larger kitchen including an artisan woodfire pizza oven, large ground floor garden area partially covered and heated, stage area, and an outdoor terrace and two function rooms on the first floor”.

 

 

Also in Kensington, on Bellair Street and next to Fruits of Passion, Saigon In Me has opened.

 

 

With its compact list of Vietnamese faves, this will – I suspect – do the locals nicely.

 

 

On Racecourse Road in Flemington, Korean place Gogi Gogi has closed and the windows are sealed over, presumably pending another incarnation.

I’m guessing, too, that manage here will still be with I Love Dumplings, a few doors along.

 

 

At Central West shopping centre in Braybrook, soon to arrive will be The Braybrook Stn, offering a breakfast and brunch line-up.

 

 

Centre management tells me it’ll take up some of the currently boarded-up space directly opposite the Commonwealth Bank branch.

 

 

Now open in Sunshine Plaza is this no-frills operation offering a mix of Burmese and Thai food.

 

 

Mind you, you can also get their takes on dishes from a broader Asian catchment, as well.

 

 

This fine specials board offering of a rich pork curry did me good for lunch at a cost of $10.

The chicken broth was nice and peppery!

 

 

In Cairnlea, in the multi-use building adjacent to the shopping centre, a new Vietnamese/Chinese place has opened.

Sadly, we missed the opening night on-the-house banquet at Kim Huong.

But we hit it a few days later for lunch with the Urban Ma and her kids, so can verify that they’re doing a fine, bargain-lunch job with the likes of …

 

 

… broken rice with pork chop and …

 

 

… crispy skin chicken with wonderfully nutty, chewy “red rice”.

 

 

At Williams Landing Shopping Centre, Montezauma’s has opened since this fit-out photo was snapped.

Judging by the review and photos at the Point Cook Dining Facebook page, Tex-Mex fans will want to check it out.