Team CTS does BBQ – again



Le Bon Ton, 51 Gipps Street, Collingwood. Phone: 9416 4341

Are regular readers discerning a trend here?

Yes, it seems we’re methodically – without actually meaning to – checking out Melbourne’s outlets for BBQ and other things to do with the American South.

This is driven largely by besottedness with that part of the world in general.

I’d have to say, after several tremendous meals, my skepticism about what is possible and available in Melbourne in this regard is evaporating; Le Bon Ton continues that trend.

Our pursuit of this food is driven, too, by the simple fact we love it to pieces.

In this case, “we” refers to an extended CTS “A” Team that numbers six and involves Bennie, myself and four great pals who also love getting on the fang.

We wish another “A” Team member, the fabulous Nat Stockley, who would fit like a glove into this happy aggregation, was with us!




Le Bon Ton is in a former pub in the back blocks of Collingwood.

It’s a big place rather extravagantly set up, with a lot of time – and no doubt money – spent on creating a Southern aura.

It works.

The place rambles just like some old-school New Orleans restaurant, with many rooms and a beaut outdoor dining area out back.

We figured arriving relatively early on a Friday night would see us right in terms of snagging a table.

We are wrong.

The place is jumping and packed.

No matter – after a brief cocktail-and-chat interlude that actually seems just right, we are seated and thereafter very well taken care of.

Most of our group went with the $49 banquet set-up just a few weeks previously at Meatmaiden, and ended up being happy with the results.

At Le Bon Ton, we baulk at their comparative offering of the Southern Pride deal for $59, not so much because of the cost but because we simply doubt our combined capacity to eat that much food.

So we go our own ways, ordering a couple of dishes to share and getting sandwiches and a meat offering based individual preferences.

This turns out to be a winning approach for us – and allows us scope to go with a couple of pies at the end of our meal.




The original inspiration for our Bon Ton outing was fried chicken.

Here it’s served as an entree of “Southern style buttermilk soaked tenders with cracked pepper white gravy” for $16.

We get two serves that allow us one piece apiece of very good, beautifully seasoned and coated chook.




Based on a recent visit here by two of our party, we also go the chili cheese fries ($15).

As all our food arrives pretty much at the same time, the photographic situation is intense so this rather blurry photograph is all I’ve got to show you of these delicious, decadent pimped-up spuds.

We get two orders of these, too. One would’ve done.




With the arrival of the brisket (half a pound of grain-fed Riverina Angus beef for $21) we wonder just how Melbourne’s BBQ emporiums who sell their smoked meats by weight go about maintaining consistent portion sizes.

Surely there’s not someone in the kitchen weighing up individual orders?

In this case, the serve seems very, wonderfully generous, so much so that the person whose meal it ostensibly is happily shares it with rest of the table.

Thanks, Eliza!

It’s very, very fine.




The Le Bon Ton cheeseburger of “150g Wagyu beef patty & crispy bacon w/ onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles, spicy ketchup & aioli” comes with a price tag of $16 and disappears down the gob of its owner in a flash.




Two of us select the brisket sandwich of “pit smoked chopped brisket with damn good BBQ sauce & slaw” ($16) – and what a sloppy, tangy, spicy joy it is.

Mine certainly eats bigger than the photo seems to suggest.

The “debris” of meats and dressings that tumble from my sandwich are far from being the least of the pleasure had.




Through our BBQ explorations, Bennie has developed a profound fondness for pulled pork.

He devours the Le Bon Ton version – “pit-smoked pulled pork with white onion, jalapeno, sharp cheddar & special sauce” ($16) – with relish.

It, too, is bigger and more hearty than first appears to be the case.




With a view to dessert, the Pie Mistress in our midst goes for the lighter delights of Gulf-style crab cakes with streaky bacon, bell peppers, celery and Old Bay aioli ($16.5).

She reckons they’re good and crabby. The sample I am afforded tastes lovely with a herbal blush that is familiar yet mysterious.




With such an amazing spread laid out before us, the otherwise fine buttermilk biscuits ($8.50 for three and served with chipotle and honey butter) seem something like bridesmaids.




Then it’s pie time!




What to choose, what to choose?

The Le Bon Ton pies are individually baked items that cost $12.

We collectively find the …




… chocolate and peanut butter mousse pie and …




… the banana cream pie to be utterly wonderful, though in truth the former seems a little on the bitter side to me.

We’ve made pigs of ourselves.

The food and the service have been grand.

The financial damage?

The $35 per person we pay is outstanding value.

Eschewing the temptations of hanging out all night in cocktail mode, we waddle into the night.

I skip breakfast before getting down to writing this story.

Check out the Le Bon Ton website, including menu, here.

In a lovely piece of serendipity, just before departing for Collingwood I had unwrapped a new CD arrival that has this tune as its first track:


Wabi Sabi Salon



Wabi Sabi Salon, 94 Smith St, Collingwood. Phone: 9417 6119

A trip across town to visit Books For Cooks allows an opportunity to have a look at a neighbourhood that was once as familiar to me as any in Melbourne.

The area around the nexus of Smith and Gertrude streets in Collingwood/Fitzroy has certainly changed a lot since I lived in the area after moving to Melbourne in the late 1980s.

There’s not a trace, so far as I can tell, of the Eastern European vibe that was then a bit part of Gertrude St experience.

The area has even changed a bit since the end a few years back of a radio gig that saw me visiting – and eating – on a weekly basis for decades.

There’s an intriguing range of retail establishments.

And there’s eating houses – lots and lots of them.

And while there’s a few closed at Monday lunchtime, most are open and doing brisk business.

I choose one such and proceed to be knocked out by the quality of the meal that unfolds.


Wabi Sabi Salon is a long-time Smith St resident and feels like it.

There’s no stainless steel here. Instead, there’s funky old floorboards, Japanese adornments on the walls and deep, cool shadows.

I’m tempted to say it feels like old, authentic Japan, but as I’ve never been to that country I’d be crapping on.

But you get the drift … it’s got a nice lived-in feel.

As with its neighbouring joints, Wabi Sabi is quite busy for a Monday, and as ever there’s a constant stream of regulars stopping by the counter at the front to obtain takeaway sushi rolls.

I vaguely recall a few concerns about service and lengthy waiting times from previous visits, but have no such problems this time.

I yearn for a lightish meal, so order the vegetable bento ($16). More than that, I do something very unusual for me – I order it with brown rice.


My lunch starts with a very fine bowl of miso soup – studded with a lightweight quotient of seaweed and chewy tofu, it’s of just the right temperature and boasts intense flavour.

My bento (top photo) is even better.

In fact, it’s superb – and puts to utter shame bentos shoved out all over the city in the sort of cheap ‘n’ cheerful “Japanese” joints found in alleyways and food halls.

A crunchy, fresh salad of leaves with a few small tomato pieces and a smooth, creamy sesame dressing.

Two crisp gyoza-style dumplings that are both cold and delicious.

A small bowl of slithery buckwheat noodles in tangy dressing, joined by an even smaller serve of some sort of vermicelli matched with the same chewy tofu found in the soup.

Nutty brown rice topped with black sesame seeds.

And, finally and best of all, a wonderful stew of carrots, beans, lotus root, broccoli and several large chunks of incredibly lovely tofu, soft and silky on the inside and with slightly crusted outsides, all swimming in a light broth that is eventually mopped up with the rice.

I’m not too proud to request a spoon for just that purpose.

Check out the Wabi Sabi website, including full dinner and lunch menus, here.