A is for Alfrieda Street. And awesome.

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Phi Phi Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant, 28 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9366 5686

On a blazing hot Melbourne day, is there any better place to be than luxuriating in the AC-cooled confines of Phi Phi?

Nope.

It’s been a while since we’ve been here for a feed.

The place has had a bit of a makeover and there’s some new faces around.

But all else appears much the same – including the superb food.

We’re in the house to enjoy it with Brimbank councillors Duyen Anh Pham and Virginia Tachos.

We play it safe when ordering – nothing in the way of boundary testing for us during this lunch.

But what we do order is AMAZING.

Virginia originally wanted Vietnamese coleslaw, but is delighted nevertheless with the rare beef salad with lemon juice ($25, top photo).

More in a Thai style than Vietnamese, it’s just as tangy as expected and turbocharged with all sorts of greenery.

The meat is rare as promised and excellent.

 

 

Good thing we ordered the small version of the combination fried rice ($10), as it’s very generous.

It’s also momentously fluffy and studded with many plump and good-sized prawns.

This lives on another planet from fried rice of meh bain marie infamy.

 

 

Silky tofu done in salt and pepper style ($14) is Bennie’s choice – and it doesn’t disappoint.

The tofu chunks are profoundly plump and delicious.

 

 

A large serve of roast pork ($18) is incredible.

But that’s no surprise, as the barbecue meats here are deservedly a source of pride.

It’s all good and mostly tender, with just enough gnarly crunch to keep things interesting.

Phi Phi is a jewel of St Albans and the west.

 

Tina’s turns it on

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Tina’s Dumpling House, 54 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 8851

Tina’s Dumpling House is a major arrival in Altona.

We’d be tempted to opine it is the best eating place in Altona, but …

Unlike just about all other media outlets who comment on Melbourne food – from the MSM through to hobbyists, all with their endless selective/definitive “Top 10” and “Melbourne’s greatest” lists – we won’t be doing that for the simple reason that we haven’t tried all the eating places in Altona.

So let’s just say that the food at Tina’s is very good and the prices and service righteous – so much so that Altona locals will surely ensure its success and residents of the wider west are advised to consider it a destination.

Indeed, in terms of quality for this kind of food, the prices are bang on par with what’s available elsewhere.

As well, most dumplings can be had in variable serving sizes of six or 12 pieces.

Of course, Tina’s is not just about dumplings – there’s a broad range of main courses, rice dishes and noodles available (see menu below).

And, yes, you can get here lemon chicken or sweet-and-sour pork if that is your bent.

Tina’s has taken over a Pier Street premises long home to a previous Chinese restaurant.

It’s a lovely room in which to sup.

The wait time of 15 to 20 minutes for dumplings is re-assuring in terms of knowing a house-made philosophy is in play.

Pan-fried pork-and-cabbage dumplings ($7.80 for six, $11.80 for 12, top photo) are terrific.

All too often, we find the meaty centres of such dumplings have a turd-like toughness – even good ones!

At Tina’s, the fillings are luscious and tender.

Steamed prawn dumplings ($7.80 for four) are just as good, with a full quotient of that essential bursty prawn effect going on.

Steamed BBQ pork buns ($6.80 for two) are, for me, a revelation.

We usually order these for bun fan boy Bennie, while I remain bemused and/or unimpressed.

This plump pair are superb and make a fan boy out of me – like son, like father.

The fluffy/moist buns are stuffed with a more generous than usual mix of hot, sticky chopped pork heavily perfumed with rice wine.

Beef brisket soup noodle is one of our regular choices, but always with egg noodles.

At Tina’s, we stumble into a rendition made with rice noodles, their whiteness imbuing the bowl with a pallidness that suggests bland.

But there’s no doubting the robustness of the broth or the pleasure to be had from the excellent, tender chunks of beef ($11.80).

Food lore tells us that there nothing Singaporean about Singapore fried noodles – just as there is nothing Chinese about egg foo young.

But that doesn’t mean a dish of “Singapore” fried noodles, often less oily than other Chinese wok-fried noodle dishes and with a fetching grittiness delivered by curry powder, cannot be immensely enjoyable and satisfying.

Tina’s version ($11) is a winner – hot, mildly spicy and with plenty of veg, meat and seafood.

And, yep, seafood extender.

Meal of the week No.43: Dumpling Story

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CTS has never been much impressed by the food offerings at Pacific Werribee.

As well, one of the few outlets that may be expected to arouse our interest, if not our enthusiasm, is Dumpling Story – and I’ve long carried some baggage in that regard because of an unfortunate meal endured by someone near and dear to us.

So what am I doing here?

Well, it’s parent-teacher night.

I’ve departed Yarraville in plenty of time to allow for whatever the freeway and weather may come my way … so much so that I’ve arrived with heaps of time to grab some dinner before the business part of the evening unfolds.

That’s a lot happier prospect than trying to find something to eat between Werribee and Yarraville about 9pm on a cold Monday night.

Still, as you’d expect, my expectations are pretty much rock bottom.

I order and wait.

A bit less than 10 minutes later, I am presented with my combination laksa ($11.80).

And am duly knocked out.

I’m not about to proclaim this laksa as a champion of its kind, and maybe my happiness is coloured by my low hopes.

But this is really very good.

Commercial laksa gravy?

Maybe – there are no curry leaves that sometimes are a tip-off that the soup part has been tweaked in-house.

But no matter – this tastes fine.

It’s a big serve.

There’s a hefty amount of good, if somewhat bland, chicken.

Better, there are several delectable slivers of excellent eggplant.

And four plump, tasty and peeled prawns.

And more …

I’ll be much more open-minded about this place – and its extensive and interesting menu – when I’m down this way again.

 

After-school Chinese BBQ

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Williams Landing Wok Wok BBQ and Chinese Cuisine, Shop 24B, Williams Landing Shopping Centre, 100 Overton Road, Williams Landing. Phone: 9972 5692

After perusing the Wok Wok menu, both while ordering and later at home, it’s easy to suspect this story will be doing the place something of an injustice.

So packed is the menu with wonderful Chinese food – especially of the seafood variety – that we suspect it most likely offers one of the really spectacular options for Chinese food in the western suburbs.

But when we visit, that’s not the path we take.

It’s after school; we have a 6pm appointment in Point Cook; we have time to kill; we are hungry.

And Wok Wok is open.

 

 

So we resort to our cheap ‘n’ cheerful default setting in such settings – the roast meats.

But, hey, that works just fine, too.

Because what better way to assess a Chinese place than its house-made BBQ birds of various kinds?

And, golly, what a fine time we have.

 

 

I doubt Wok Wok is a real-deal serious yum cha place, but there is a nice list of dumplings and “others”.

So as we really are hungry, we are happy to start with one of Bennie’ faves – a pair of steamed BBQ pork buns ($7).

They are hot and fresh, with a good and sticky filling.

Though even this good they will always be more favoured by son rather than father.

 

 

We take different yet overlapping routes to our consumption of the roast meats.

Bennie takes the two BBQ combination soup noodle ($14.50) pathway.

 

 

With it come his selections – roast duck and BBQ pork.

 

 

His dad, too, goes the double combination – BBQ pork and soya chicken – but this time with rice ($14.50).

 

 

I get a side bowl of chicken broth on request.

Both our meals have much in common …

The chicken broth/soup broth is hot, tasty, a bit salty (we like it like that) and peppery.

There’s good bok choy on hand to make us feel we’re covering the veg department despite eating sinful food.

And – most importantly – the meats are excellent.

The BBQ pork is a tad tough and chewy, but not enough to be a problem.

Wok Wok is handily located and appears to be on the ball.

 

A fine lunch in St Albans

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New Favorite, 306 Main Road east, St Albans. Phone: 8395 5315

Consider The Sauce has been at 306 Main Road East before.

But that was the best part of six years ago when it was travelling under the name Hong Kong Noodle Bar.

Way more recently, the location has been embraced by new management and launched under a new name, New Favorite.

 

 

For this mid-week lunch, I have the distinct pleasure of being joined by Brimbank councillors Duyen Anh Pham and Virginia Tachos and their equally community-spirited colleague, Dinh Trang.

 

 

Our fun time gets rolling with one of the all-time fave CTS things – complementary soup.

In this case, that means a deeply brown broth of the beef variety – much more mildly flavoured than its intense appearance would suggest.

 

 

New Favorite covers a broad range of mixed Chinese, Vietnamese and “other” dishes, making it an attractive proposition in terms of an alternative to the tight focus on Vietnamese food hereabouts.

The food is cheap and excellent.

And I suspect the same giant roasting ovens are still in play, making this the only – AFAIK – option in the neighbourhood for super Chinese roast meats while Phi Phi, around the corner on Alfrieda Street, is undergoing renovations.

My combo of soy chicken and roast duck on rice ($11.80) is fine, with even the chunkier chook breast meat beinge juicy.

As good, the duck is much less chewy and gnarly than is frequently the case.

 

 

My friends enjoy their selections, too.

They include char kwai teow ($10.80) …

 

 

… mapo tofu on rice ($10.80) and …

 

 

… combination fried noodles ($13.80).

Thanks for the company and conversation!

 

Fine dumplings

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MC Dumpling, 106 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9191 6511

Putting aside my gentle ribbing about the “Scottish ancestry” of Hopkins Street’s new dumpling purveyor, it turns out there is method in their method.

MC Dumpling, you see, stands for My Chinese Dumpling.

But more than that, this place does embrace a fast-food look and process.

And that, as in this case, can be good.

What it means here is bright, clean surrounds; brisk service with a smile; and freshly prepared and very affordable food (see menu below).

 

 

But it is the dumplings that are definitely the go here.

These steamed pork and chive numbers, for instance, are fabulous at $9 for 16.

Fresh-as, not too big, kinda dainty, juicy/succulent – even if there was little by of discernible chive vibe.

 

 

Ditto with these lamb and leek dumplings – same number, same price, same good impression.

 

 

We fare slightly less impressively with the sides.

These chicken ribs normally cost $3, but are being presented to customers free with any order as an opening celebration.

We don’t know how long that’ll be the case!

They’re well fried and ungreasy – but tasteless.

Or rather, taste not of chicken.

 

 

Actually, ALL the sides cost $3 – including these corn fritters.

They’re a variation on the more familiar spring onion pancake and are OK.

 

 

For the price, these tender slabs of deep-fried bean curd are very nice.

There’s more to explore by way of sides here.

And the dumplings – and the place – appeal as happy additions to Footscray central.

 

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.