A Footscray institution

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Jim Wong Restaurant, 259 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 5971

It’s all very easy to take the likes of the late Jim Wong’s establishment – and the nearby Poon’s – for granted, surrounded as they are by colourful, delicious and affordable options of the more recently arrived Vietnamese, African and even Indian varieties.

They can conjure up, in the minds of the world weary or cynical, mental visions of tiresomely old-school food that has passed its use-by date.

Daggy?

Sure, but as regular readers will know, that has never stopped us.

On top of the funky, spicy, worldly western suburbs tucker that is the very core of our eating-out endeavours, we’re not averse to an RSL or bowls club roast lunch and the like.

So we’re very happy indeed to front for a mid-week dinner at Jim Wong, something that is somewhat belated in terms of the history of CTS.

And a fine time we have.

We love it – the menu, the decor, the furniture, just about everything.

We love it that there is real linen on the tables – and we even love it that we have to request chop sticks.

The food?

Well, mostly we love that, too.

We  like the possibilities evoked by the nicely priced banquet line-up that ranges in price from $25 and upwards.

But the meat courses feature dishes with satay sauce, in which we are not interested.

Likewise, we know – based on unsatisfactory experiences in other places and at other times – not to order dishes with a South-East Asian heritage, so we ignore the Jim Wong offerings of char kwai teow and Hokkien noodles.

 

 

Short soup ($5) is, as Bennie declares, “plain but good”.

Of the two wontons I try, one is doughy, the other is lovely, with the very austere broth being quite different from those found in the nearby Vietnamese joints.

 

 

BBQ roast pork ribs ($8) are fabulous.

There’s only a couple of pieces of bone and/or gristle.

The meat is well-cooked, but nicely short of dry and the flavours are a kick, all abetted by a rich, dark sticky sauce.

 

 

Beef with black bean sauce ($23) is just OK – we’d like quite a bit more sharp zing from the sauce and the price seems a bit steep.

But we eat it all anyway …

 

 

No such problems with the greens with garlic sauce ($13.50).

This is the dish we have been most eagerly anticipating and we are not disappointed.

It is, of course, simplicity itself.

But there’s less oil involved than in many other versions we’ve had, some of which cost more than we’re paying, so this actually seems like a bit of a bargain.

We’ve eaten well and enjoyed what are, for us, unusual circumstances.

And while we’ve paid a little more than we would for an equivalent spread elsewhere in Footscray, we’re happy to have done so, taking on board a tasty reminder of a still-thriving emblem of Footscray heritage.

 

 

Oodles of noodles

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Noodle Queen, 240 Swanston Street, CBD. Phone: 0435 869 777

After a gap of several years, Bennie and I have once again taken up wing chun.

We stopped, after quite a few happy years at Wing Chun Bing Fa Academy in the CBD, for various reasons, most of which I cannot now recall.

We looked at finding a school and teacher in the west, but in the end the depth of the family connection already forged with Sifu Julian and his family and their school won out.

So it’s back to Swanston Street we are heading.

Actually, that’s not true.

The whole shebang is moving from its Curtain House home of many years to new digs on the corner of Victoria and Lygon streets.

 

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Team CTS with Sifu Julian. For more information on Wing Chun Bing Fa Academy, go here.

 

In the meantime, we have really enjoyed getting back into the kung fu drill, including getting on top of the logistics of making two classes a week.

And checking out all the new, funky Asian eateries – including several interesting outfits on Swanston Street around our temporary martial arts destination.

So after a Saturday class, we hungrily hit Noodle Queen.

It’s a long room, nicely done out.

It’s busy, the prices are cheap and the wait times are appropriate for the food involved.

Ordering and paying is done at the cash register, with customers then provided a number.

The food here is from Sichuan – but not in a generic manner.

Instead, at least some of the dishes come from specific areas within Sichuan – regionalism we can applaud!

 

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Yibin burning noodles ($11.80), for instance come from the city of Yibin, in the south-eastern part of Sichuan.

They are fantastic – and Bennie talks about them for days after.

Burning?

Not really, not by our standards anyway – and the dish is given a mere single chilli in the place’s heat grading system.

But the blend of oily noodles, chopped pickles, smashed peanuts and pork mince is full-on delicious.

It gets better as it goes, with the liquids and chopped ingredients gravitating towards the bottom of the bowl, ensuring the last few mouthfuls excel.

 

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From the neighbouring city of Luzhou comes fried diced duck and ginger topping on spicy noodles ($11.80).

Overall, this is good but not as impressive as the Yibin dish.

Mind you, my impressions are coloured by the fact Bennie has first crack at this offering and he scarfs the meatiest, juiciest pieces of duck.

The more bony pieces left for his dad, however, do taste lovely.

But I detect little – nothing, actually – of the advertised ginger topping.

 

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Deep-fried wontons ($5.80 for six) are perfectly cooked and tasty, but largely excess to our requirements.

This is the sort of ordering we fall prey to, not in the interests of immediate gratification, but with a view to making a better CTS story!

Another wing chun class and another meal at the same joint … starts with a smaller, appetiser dish called shredded chicken topping on spicy cold noodles ($4.80, top photo).

This is great!

The same sort of oiled noodles are the base, room temperature rather than cold, with plenty of peanuts and the nice chook pieces making for a winner.

 

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We are seduced by the menu photo of spicy stewed beef with noodle/wonton soup ($13.80).

What we get looks very different – and is simply the Noodle Queen take on the beef brisket/wonton noodle soup we have enjoyed many, many times elsewhere.

Still, it’s a good version, with the beef in strips rather than the more familiar chunks.

 

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Pork and cabbage dumplings with “sceret spicy sauce” ($10.80 for 10) are fab.

They look like they’ll be dry and doughy.

Not so!

They’re, in fact, tender, slippery and quite delicate.

They have less meaty fillings than we might’ve expected, but we feel no sense of deprivation.

They’re super, especially with the sweetish sauce that starts out benign in terms of chilli heat but builds cumulatively as we work our happy way through the parcels.

Bennie loves Noodle Queen so much, I’m going to have to dig my heels when it comes to trying new places for our post-wing chun dining.

 

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Meal of the week No.34: Dainty Sichuan

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Bennie and I enjoyed our visit to Tina’s Noodle Kitchen at Highpoint, but were a little surprised at the full-on nature of the food on offer.

It’s no surprise to find Tina’s has been re-badged under the Dainty Sichuan name and the food brought more into line with what may be commercially viable in a shopping centre.

But there’s good news, based on my mid-week lunch.

The menu now offers such more easily negotiated  dishes, all very affordable and many in combos with rice or noodles.

There’s a tight range of dumpling offerings and things such as eggplant and tofu with rice, egg gravy fish fillet, beef omelette on rice and stewed pork belly with eggplant.

My beef noodle soup ($11.80) is a winner and a larger serve than I can handle – and strongly indicates that while compromises have been made here, this remains food quite a cut above shopping centre mediocrity.

All is very good – the noodles, bok choy chopped for ease of eating, pungent soup, beef not fall-apart tender but of gratifyingly high quality.

Truth to tell, though, this is at the upper limits of what even I can handle chilli-wise.

Still, even that must be counted as a plus in such a context.

 

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A BBQ dinner of two halves

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chinb7

 

Chinese BBQ, 301 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 6929

With I Love Dumplings having successfully transported itself down the road to the old bank building on Racecourse Road, its old premises have duly become Chinese BBQ – though they are both run by the same management, going by the receipt I receive for our meal.

Its is, clearly, dedicated to Asian-style BBQ – though this is more strictly in the Chinese tradition … as opposed to the Viet vibe of the superb meal Bennie and I recently enjoyed at Phi Phi 2 in St Albans.

I am looking forward to a good mid-week feed in which I can ponder the differences!

For company I have CTS trooper Marns, a woman of robust appetite and great sparkle.

 

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The menu (see below) is roughly divided into two parts – skewers and BBQ.

We’re told the minimum for skewers is $20 so we order freely – shrimp, calamari, lamb, chicken, Chinese cabbage, enokis, broccoli, lotus root.

They cost per skewer ranges from 50 cents to $2.50.

From the regular BBQ we order ox tongue ($15), corn ($6) and potato ($6).

 

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The latter follow the arrival of the glowing coals for our BBQ set-up and very sesame dipping sauce, kimchi and marinated sprouts.

Then we’re off …

It’s heaps of fun.

 

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The ox tongue, frozen so it can be thinly sliced, cooks the fastest, and is a treat.

The vegetables take quite a bit longer and I am a little dismayed to that some of the spud slices initially turn black.

But it all comes good in the end, the potato browning up nicely and the corn being delicious.

In fact these humble husk discs turn out to be one of the highlights of our meal – so good to have barbecued corn that is also juicy.

Such is not always the case!

Then it’s on to our skewers … and it’s at this point that our meal and evening goes a bit nutty, maybe even a bit haywire.

 

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The skewers are brought to our table all dunked in a bucket of what we take to be some sort of marinade.

We quickly make happy by throwing some on the grill.

Only to be immediately told – no, no – that’s not how you do it.

The skewers, we’re told, have already been cooked out back – steamed, apparently – and are ready to go.

Oh.

That would explain, perhaps, the flare-up when Marns puts some of the meat skewers on the grill.

We’re a bit non-plussed but soldier on.

Some of what we have – the Chinese cabbage, the lotus root – is far from impressive.

Some – the easily-peeled shrimp, the broccoli – is good.

The broth/soup/marinade in which the skewers have been bathing has oil, chilli (mild by request) and no doubt many other ingredients, the nature of which I am unable to learn from the staff because of language issues on my part.

The lusty, musty and only (for me) partially attractive seasoning recalls in large part some of the flavours much earlier enjoyed – again without being much the wiser – at a Moonee Ponds hot pot joint.

 

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Look, the confusion can be largely attributed to us – it says plainly on the menu (if in rather small type) that the skewers are “hot & spicy pot” food.

On the other hand, it seems very natural that customers only a little familiar with this kind of food, such as we two, would grab a table at an eatery with “BBQ” in its title and “skewers” on its menu … and put the two together in our minds.

No harm done and we have an otherwise enjoyable meal.

But the dunked skewers haven’t provided the sort of charred, smoky tastes for which we came here.

Perhaps a bit more explaining of the place’s food and ordering routines by the staff to new customers is needed here.

Our meal, including two cans of soft drink, comes in at a very reasonable $60.

 

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Yum cha blow-out

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Gold Leaf, 491 Ballarat Road, Sunshine West. Phone: 9311 1863

In the past year or so, CTS has dined yum cha – see here and here.

But as enjoyable as those outings were, in places that run yum cha a la carte and to order and without trolleys, we figured it was time for the real deal.

 

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You know the drill – huge barn of a place, high noise levels, trolleys whizzing everywhere.

 

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So CTS and a bunch of willing pals hit Gold Leaf in Sunshine.

Typically, Bennie and I arrived first and somewhat early.

We were forced to cool our heels with other early arrivers as the staff meal tables were cleared and then – in we went!

 

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Within half an hour, the joint is packed and rocking.

With a group of eight eating madly, I don’t even think about keeping note of individual items and their prices.

Suffice it to say, it really does make a difference – the food here was of a very high standard and the service fine.

 

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We had many of the staples and a few more adventurous things.

 

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Eating the divine roast pork/crackling, for instance, I placed in my bowl some of the attending noodles – only to learn I was eating jellyfish for the first time.

It was lovely!

 

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It was a wonderful experience and the price – a buck or so over $30 per head – equally splendid.

 

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But some things never change …

As we’re wrapping up desserts and wrapping up generally, I notice even more trolleys sallying forth laden with very interesting a delicious-looking items.

No room for them … this time!

 

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Yum Chinese roasts, dumplings

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BBQ Noodle House, Shop 14, 238 Boardwalk Boulevard, Point Cook. Phone: 8375 2356

BBQ Noodle House shares a food-providing strip adjacent Featherstone shopping centre with an F&C place, a charcoal chicken place and a pizza joint.

It looks like a typical suburban noodle shop – the kind where you’ll get very average noodles and dodgy take-away.

But there’s more of interest here …

Chinese roast meats can be bought in Sunshine but only, so far as I’m aware, at a Hampshire Road supermarket – not in a house-roasted sit-down restaurant setting.

There are several such places in Footscray and at least one good one in St Albans.

But on the bay side of the Westgate Freeway/Princes Highway?

Nope.

None at all.

The first thing we note about BBQ Noodle House is the line-up of typical roast beasties – and bits of beasties – hanging up in typical fashion in the window.

The second thing we note, equally approvingly, is the big, tubby roasting oven in the kitchen.

Yes!

 

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Our mixed roast platter ($12) is just fine, with meat juices sluicing up the rice and overcooked but lovely bok choy on the side.

The barbecue pork and roast duck are tender, juicy and tasty – though, predictably, the duck meat near the bone is something of a challenge.

 

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A bowl of chicken broth is brought to us upon request and without extra charge.

It is hot and delicious.

 

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Pork and Chinese cabbage dumplings ($11.50) are winners, too.

Whatever the cabbage component, it has been subsumed into the pork mixture but no matter.

The dumplings are quite heavy, and even a bit stodgy – in a good way.

But they taste fabulous.

And we dig the strands of pickled vegetables that are on hand.

 

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Even the vegetable spring rolls ($4) come up trumps.

They’re well fried and the innards are dark with chopped fungi.

 

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Old-school Chinese winner

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jade1

 

Jade Stream Chinese Restaurant, 62 Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing. Phone: 9748 9666

The, ahem, neighbourhood surrounding Hoopers Crossing station is surely one of most unlovely in the western suburbs.

But there is food.

On the retail strip across the road from the station, this being more of an old-style suburban shopping area, there is a hip cafe and a very nice Indian joint.

Moving towards the city and along Old Geelong Road, one is confronted by a nightmare of roundabouts, asphalt, concrete and warehouse retail as the laughably titled Golden Mile unfolds.

Down the Golden Mile there is food, too – including a cavernous Indian place we have yet to fully explore and a trucked-away outpost of Italian coffee and biscotti.

Back in the area between the station and the Golden Mile proper, the grimness is being enhanced by urban upheaval as Pacific Werribee, up the road, sucks away the customers.

Some businesses are hanging on despite the changes the area is undergoing and the problems of access – the whirling traffic hereabouts is intense.

They include the entertainment/licensed/pokies venue of the Werribee Tigers and a Woolworths.

Also here is a motel that for years has had signs advertising its buffet.

This has long intrigued us – we may not think the area very attractive but it is part of our routine.

So one night, having time to kill before picking Bennie up from his guitar lesson, I step into the motel to find the buffet is very much a sometime thing despite the signage and that only a small menu is available.

The whole vibe is so desultory that I skedaddle up the road apiece to Jade Stream, another business clinging on here.

 

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Ah, this is more like it – that’s what I think as I peruse the menu.

So that’s where we head for dinner.

What are we expecting, hoping for?

Just some smart, tasty Cantonese food – nothing innovative or challenging but something satisfying and of good quality.

And that’s pretty much exactly what we receive.

I’m guessing Jade Stream has been in place for a couple of decades – inside has an air of timelessness and a vibe speaks of a business that knows what it’s about and has a good handle on its customers.

While we’re enjoying our dinner, a handful of tables of various numbers come and go – and all of them appear to be of regulars on friendly terms with the staff.

We like that.

We find the service to be very good.

Jade Stream lays some claim to being a Chinese-Malaysian but mostly this is a straight-up Chinese joint.

 

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Curry puffs ($5.50) are chubby cylinders and seem rather small.

But the fillings are very good – mostly a rich mix of minced meat with some crunch ‘n’ pop from peas.

 

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Short soup ($6) has a very good and flavoursome broth with a bit of a peppery kick.

There are five slithery, delicious wontons – Bennie’s glinty-eyed enthusiasm wins him three, his dad gets two.

 

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Garlic pepper steak ($25.90) also appears modest of proportion but in this case appearances are deceiving.

There’s nothing particularly garlicky about the sauce but it is nonetheless rich and wonderful.

The beef cubes are big, of high quality and superbly cooked – and we appreciate the many chunks of broccoli.

 

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Szechuan eggplant hot pot is a big hit with us and an outright bargain, with the smaller dice of eggplant, peas, pork mince and chilli interspersed with silky, larger eggplant chunks of beaut flavour.

At $18.90, and with rice, it could easily serve as a light meal for two.

So big is the serve that we eat a little more than half, with the rest and the leftover rice going to be Bennie’s school lunch for the next day.

With two serves of rice but no soft drinks, our dinner has cost us a fair $61.30.