Bank on it

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Vault Cafe Bar Restaurant, 13 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9041 3361

Consider The Sauce’s senior partner spent much of last year’s grand final day in and around the Vault.

Given that sort of context, you’ll be unsurprised to learn I was way more concerned about where the next beer and the next goal were coming from rather than about chowing down.

But I did notice that there were many happy customers enjoying a range of food – mostly, IIRC, burgers and the like.

Maybe, I thought, the latest outfit to inhabit the old bank on the corner of Ballarat and Canterbury streets has shaken of the bad location karma that had seen a couple of previous businesses come and go.

It took us a while, but we’re back to find out.

We’re doing so early on a week night on which a couple of special offers are going around.

But even without them – a burger deal with drink for $18, parmigiana for $15 – we reckon the Vault is a good thing.

 

 

There’s nothing ambitious or innovative going on here.

It’s a cosy (and warm) room, the staff are on the ball and we eat well for very little outlay.

We’re not sure how anyone would go here with some of the more exotic fare, but for your more straightforward offerings, the Vault is reliably feeding people and making them happy.

Think of it as a pub-not-pub.

 

 

I check to make sure the parmas on offer – there are four – are made with real-deal chicken.

They are.

And how.

My traditional outing is as thick as any I’ve had – yet is still superbly juicy throughout.

This is top-shelf parmigiana – big, even a little crisp around the extremities, the flavour of the ham and tomato sauce coming through in turns.

Criticisms?

The chips are fine but could’ve been hotter.

And with such a magnificent star of the plate, all that was needed salad-wise was some simple leaves, tomato and cucumber.

Those three are all present, but so are plenty of things – including sweet potato and eggplant – that put this salad in the try-too-hard bag.

Still, at $15 this is a red-hot bargain; I’d happily pay full whack.

(Bargain parma nights at the Vault are Tuesdays and Wednesdays).

 

 

Bennie reckons – from an ultra-hardcore, fussy, expert perspective – his southern fried chicken burger ($16.50, $18 Monday-Thursday with a pot of beer or cider) doesn’t reach any ecstatic heights.

But he is well pleased anyway.

There’s a nice slab of chook in there, along with sriracha mayo slaw, plenty of pickles and cheese.

He allows me a sample – and its tastes good.

He gets the same chips as accompanied the parma.

 

Meal of the week No.38: Magic Mint Cafe

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Magic Mint Cafe is one of those old-timers in the Puckle Street precinct – been around so long, it’s easy to overlook.

I’d have continued to do so – thinking it’s not open for lunch or that the food would be old-school average, and thus not of much interest – had not the ever diligently researching Nat Stockley discovered otherwise.

So on the basis of pikkshas he’d sent of an earlier lunch he’d enjoyed at the place (9 Hall Street, Moonee Ponds, phone 9326 1646), I am very happy to join him for another.

And for our purposes, lunch is the key – the lunch special list includes a nice line-up of curry dishes that are accompanied by dal, rice, naan and a papadum.

The same sort of deal is offered for biryani or chicken sizzler.

All of them cost a few cents under $15, that fee also covering a glass of wine or a soft drink.

Which would count for nothing if the food was average or worse.

But that’s not the case here – the food is significantly better than that found at many places offering similar deals.

The boneless chicken is plentiful in our curry bowls, submerged in a lovely gravy, the appealing tartness of which has me thinking it’s like a vindaloo without the heat factor.

The dal is wonderful, simple and earthy.

If anything, it is our naan that best express the difference between our lunches and your typical curry-and-rice quickie around town.

These naan are fresh, pliable and shimmering with a ghee coating.

$15?

A very swell deal!

CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival No.1: Searz wrap

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CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival No.1: Searz,  39 Challis Street, Newport

Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

For sure, I thought, most of the attendees at Searz would go for the bento of miso-braised baby back ribs.

I was wrong.

The ox-tail ravioli in a laksa broth won the day by a comfortable margin.

 

 

I was among those who enjoyed them – they were very, very fine.

As was everything else.

 

 

Thanks to Gopi and Joyce (in the kitchen) and Michael and Reyner (out front) for ensuring a lovely evening was enjoyed by all.

 

 

Thanks to all the various friends and regulars who fronted up for the first CTS event in about a year.

It was fun to be doing it again.

 

 

Thanks, too, to the half-dozen guests who’d probably never heard of Cosnider The Sauce but who – as Searz regulars – knew a very good thing when they saw it!

 

 

THE MENU

Sharing plate as starter
Panko crumbed oyster.
Cured salmon with wasabi pea puree.
Peking duck samosa with pickled cucumber.
Sweet baby corn soup with chervil oil

 

 

Main courses (choice of one)
Ox-tail ravioli in a laksa broth.
Miso-braised baby back ribs in a bento box.
Vegetarian biryani, raita, cauliflower pakora, mango chutney and papadum.

 

 

Desserts (alternate drop)
Katafi wrapped banana fritters with vanilla panacotta.
Mixed berry croustade wtih coconut icecream.

 

 

Old-school fish and chips

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The Little Chippy, Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre, Point Cook. Phone: 7379 7065

Is there a word for what happens when restaurants tart up old-school food?

Hipsterised, yuppified, gentrified – like that, but meant specifically for food?

I enjoy eating in pleasant surroundings, but the CTS ethos holds that our dining experiences are about the food and the people who make it, with daylight between them and the likes of decor, ambience and on-trend.

But there is one of our fave kinds of food where the opposite is true.

We love new-school fish and chips.

We like the crisp, shiny places; we like the effort that is made with salads and the like; we love that often there is a variety of fish and other seafood available, matched by different methods of having it cooked.

And we absolutely love that such places tend to operate as restaurants proper – and that means tables, chairs, and crockery and cutlery of the non-plastic variety.

We have no interest in revisiting the “good old days” of fish and chips.

But for some people, that does hold appeal.

And a sub-set of such people involves those for whom old-school fish and chips ideally have a particularly British bent.

The Little Chippy could’ve been created for them.

 

 

It’s old-school from the ground up.

Mind you, half the menu (see below) is dedicated to burgers and the like.

But the other half of the food list tells the story.

No potato cakes or dimmies here.

But there is curry sauce and mushy peas and battered sausages.

The place is done out in minimalist takeaway style, with in-house eating restricted to pozzies available at the window bench and its tall stools.

Oddly, the servery and prep area is obstructed from customer view.

I’m not sure what that’s about – we all love watching our food prepared; it almost seems like part of the admission price.

But I’m definitely up for giving it a go!

And if that’s the case, I am may as well go whole hog.

So I order the North Atlantic cod with chips ($16), with a tub of Little Chippy’s coleslaw ($3) on the side.

It’s been a long time since I settled in for a fish-and-chip feed wrapped in paper!

 

 

I like the chips – there’s plenty of them and they’re defiantly old-fashioned and a long ways from shoestring fries and beer-battered chips.

The fish?

Well, it’s a mixed bag.

I can tell just by looking at it that there are going to be problems.

I’m right – sure enough, as soon as I try to pick it up, it falls apart into several different pieces, with some of them losing their batter in the process.

I’m unsure if this is a characteristic of this particular fish species, or if it’s something to do with the fact that as an import, it’s presumably been frozen.

Whatever its cause, it’s not something I want to see in my fried fish and detracts from my enjoyment.

The fish, however, is very nice indeed – mild of flavour, well cooked and with just the right amount of al dente meatiness.

 

 

The surprise of my meal is the coleslaw.

What looks like a regulation version of the gloopy and over-dressed takeaway joint salads found the length and breadth of the land turns out to be superb – fresh, crunchy, a little on the lovely salty side and a bargain at $3.

I can understand the attraction Brit-style F&C has for some people.

But we’ll be sticking to new-school.

 

Barbecue comes to South Kingsville

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(Photo: NAT STOCKLEY)

 

Burn City Test Kitchen, 31A Venron Street, South Kingsville. Phone: 9043 9554 (open days after noon)

Burn City Smokers has been one of the hotter and more well-known names on the Melbourne barbecue scene for quite a while.

But that has been based on activities of the festival and catering variety.

Now Burn City has a bricks-and-mortar thing going.

Open for a few weeks is the shop front of the Vernon Street kitchen they’ve been using for a year or so.

Replacing an Asian eatery, the place is done out in a way that manages to be both cozy and hipster spartan.

It’s early days here.

We’re told menus proper are on the way, but in the meantime a prominently displayed blackboard does menu service.

It’s not a full menu and the outfit’s website (here) warns the food line-up will be changing regularly.

See the list from which our Friday night meal was chosen below.

As well, the hours are limited – Friday dinner, Saturday lunch and dinner, and Sunday lunch and late lunch.

 

 

Despite all these provisos, the place seems to have made many friends.

Nat and I see plenty of Uber bags and other takeaways going out the door, and the locals with whom we share the communal table at the front are enthusiastic.

As are those we chat to at an outdoor table as we’re on our way home.

Do we share their enthusiasm?

Yes.

There’s a couple of mis-steps in our meal, but nothing that diminishes our happiness at the prospect of returning – especially as this is an evolving situation.

 

 

A side of fries ($7) is fine, though I wish they’d been hotter.

 

 

A salad of broccoli, almonds, pickled red onion, chilli and garlic ($7) is a great idea, but the sum is less than the parts.

Largely this is because it doesn’t really come together as cohesive whole and the broccoli florets are too big and undercooked, for my taste anyway.

 

 

Chicken and potato salad ($18) is good – I like what I eat a lot, though I don’t think Nat is as impressed.

The smoked chook – even the breast – is moist and very good, while the seeded mustard-dressed potatoes are fine.

Truth is, though, our chicken dish has been ordered merely for diversity purposes with a story to write.

Had we been left to our own, non-blogging devices, we both would’ve ordered the beef short rib ($25, top photo).

This is, on the list from we’ve been working, the sole, really heavyweight barbecue offering – aside from the “in bread”, cheaper sandwiches.

And it’s a doozy.

The “12hr smoked beef rib” is crusty, musty, salty and delicious, the meat tender and excellent.

Accompanying, a bit unusually, are honey carrots.

I love them, even though they, a bit like the earlier broccoli, are tad too much on the al dente side.

For what’s it worth, the “in bread” efforts we see going by look very worthy of exploration.

As do the baked pasta and bangers and mash being enjoyed by the friendly locals at our table.

Yes, it’s licensed.

Nat describes the wine list as concise, considered and put together with assistance by someone with some knowledge.

 

CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival 2: Sankranti

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TO BOOK FOR THIS EVENT, GO HERE.

CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival 2: Sankranti

 

Venue: Sankranti, 250 Barkly Street, Footscray.

Date: Tuesday, June 20, from 7pm.

Price: $30 per person (covers food only).

 

Indian restaurant Sankranti has quickly become a firm CTS favourite.

We are slowly working our way through a menu, one that contains lovely takes on familiar dishes as well as more than a few of the less familiar.

So we are very much looking forward to trying more of both at the CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival bash on Barkly Street.

Will you join us?

As with our first event, the menu for our second – niftily framed by the Sankranti crew – is a doozy.

 

MENU

Kebab platter – tandoori lamb, tandoori chicken, stone-cooked beef, fish tikka. Vegetarian options available.

Spcial manchow soup.

Mini idly shots with assorted chutneys.

 

Three varieties of naan – garlic, sesame, Sankranti special naan; half a piece each.

Four varieties of Sankranti special curries:

Gutti vankay (stuffed eggplant).

Gonkura chicken (Sankranti’s signature dish).

Tomato dal.

Goan fish curry/beef saagwala.

Choice of one biryani – vegetable, chicken or goat.

 

Sankranti dessert platter:

Paan kulfi.

Mini-chocolate brownie.

Chef’s special dessert.

 

TO BOOK FOR THIS EVENT, GO HERE.

 

Fig & Walnut – winter menu

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Fig & Walnut, 11-13 Bellairs Avenue, Seddon. Phone: 0433 574 194

Since its early days, covered by us here, one of the loveliest things to observe about Fig & Walnut in Seddon is what a relaxed and lovely retreat it has become.

It all fits with relaxing ease – including the superb garden area outside.

Fig & Walnut has become one of our regulars, for coffee mostly and sweet treats, with the occasional more hefty meal included.

So we’re only too happy to accept Vera’s invitation (see full disclosure below) to take her new menu for a spin.

 

 

New menu?

Perversely, I ignore it and go for one of the revolving specials – Brazilian seafood soup ($17, top photo).

With its sprigs of coriander, I firstly think this going to be a dish with an Asian bent.

But, no, this seems firmly in the Mediterranean mold despite its South American attribution.

The sensational foundation is a tomato-based broth that is extremely deep in flavour – it’s simply brilliant.

In it are blobs of fresh tomato and red capsicum.

In it, too, is generous bounty of seafood – medium-size prawns of superb, large-size flavour; pipis and mussels; and several nice chunks of barramdundi.

This is high-quality seafood cooking, especially given the price.

 

 

Danya’s vegan bowl ($19) is a bit of an odd choice for us, but we like it a lot anyway.

Somehow, the apparently disparate ingredients come together to create a satisfying whole.

At its base are a heap of cold noodle and a fine house-made satay sauce, abetted by bok choy and eggplant.

Even the pumpkin, normally a no-go area for us, plays a handy role by being so tender that it seems to become part of an extended dressing/sauce, with chilli shavings adding just the right amount of zing.

 

 

Rob is plenty happy with his crushed avo with Meredith goat’s cheese, pomegranate syrup, toasted seeds and two perfectly cooked poached eggs ($19).

It’s a fine variation on a theme that shows no signs whatsoever of fading from the cafe scene.

 

 

Fig & Walnut is a sweet treat haven, though it takes a different tack to most places by putting the accent on an oft-changing range of smaller offerings instead of a line-up of regular cakes.

For example, these almond crescents.

We’ve all had them before – but rarely are they of such crumbly freshness and lemon-scented joy.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Fig & Walnut as guests of management. No money changed hands. Our food was a mix of items chosen by management and mains chosen by CTS and guests. Fig & Walnut management did not seek any editorial input into this story.)