Grill time

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GJ’s Grill, 8Street food court, Docklands.

8Street is a new indoor arcade of Asian eateries – it’s pretty much right under the big ferris wheel.

So new is it, we’re here on opening day for the lot of them.

Or, rather, it’s opening day for all the businesses, but we’re here for just one – the purveyor of Philippines eats known as GJ’s Grill.

We’ve tried – once – the original GJ’s in Franklin Street, near Vic Market, with OK if not memorable results.

Very long-time readers will know we have a certain, um, ambivalence about Filipino food.

But we’re definitely up for trying the new GJ’s.

Because we’re in the expert hands of the Urban Ma, Jacqui, hubby Wes and their kids.

They’re big GJ’s fans and besides it’s been way too long since we’ve enjoyed a catch-up.

 

 

And we’re heartened by the knowledge the menu (see below) is all about grilled/roast meats and nothing at all about the braises and so on that often fill bain maries in Filipino eateries.

Great!

The routine is regulation food court – pay at the counter and wait for your number to come up – and the food is served in cardboard containers.

I’m a bit nonplussed that the photos for this story make the food look unlovely, parsimonious and unadorned.

It’s none of those things – we eat well and affordably.

 

 

Bennie has the beef talapa with garlic rice ($14.50).

Jacqui has warned us that the meat will be well done in the Pinoy style.

She’s right, but it’s still good eating.

And this is another of those dishes that could be included in a mooted CTS story about dishes that come with an egg – you know, nasi goreng, com tam (Vietnamese pork chop with broken rice), bandeja paisa (Colombian beans and rice), like that.

Biryani? Well, that means hard-boiled egg – but an honourable mention, anyway.

 

 

With the same garlic rice comes my lechon – crispy skin pork.

It’s excellent – and sinfully rich and fatty; quite like classic Chinese roast pork, but without the seasonings.

Both our meals are lifted in the zing department by serves of atchara – a liquidish pickle concoction made from grated unripe papaya.

 

 

We’re powerful hungry, so also get a couple of the classic pork skewers.

These are awesome and much more generous than we’ve had in the past, so the $5 each price tag is no problem.

The meat is tender, succulent, perfect.

 

 

It’s too rich for me, but my dining companions also share a serve of another classic – sisig ($19).

This is an offalish jumble that is a bit like the topping of an HSP – without the chips!

It’s tricky to gauge how GJ’s and its neighbouring 8Street establishments will go at Docklands.

Parking is a problem here.

But if you’re there anyway, GJ’s is worth checking out for something a little different.

 

 

Lasang Pinoy (The Filipino Cuisine)

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Josephine with the cup she won for having the best food stall at the 2012 Filipino Fiesta at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

Lasang Pinoy (The Filipino Cuisine), 12 Victoria Square, St Albans. Phone: 9364 1174

Whatever hiccups have attended Consider The Sauce’s exploration of Filipino food in the past, we can now happily put them behind us.

And it’s all thanks to a wonderful lady by the name of Josephine, who runs Lasang Pinoy in St Albans.

As much as anything, I think previous encounters went awry through not just sometimes dodgy or unsuitable food but also through a lack of engagement.

Now, I’m not sat saying such engagement was not possible or available in those other times and places.

But I am saying we failed to find it.

And it’s something Josephine supplies heaps of.

She senses right away our interest in her food and her eatery, making sure we are OK with everything and later explaining the dishes we had ordered.

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Her restaurant, situated in a court of mixed businesses about a block or so from Alfrieda St, bears still decor reminders of its previous incarnation as a Bosnian place, though Josephine has tempered it all with some colourful Filipino-themed artwork and posters.

For some weeks I’d become increasingly impressed with the pride and humour with which the restaurant had been touting its goodies on its Facebook page, so I am hopeful.

I’d stuck my nose in a couple of times previously, but this time around – with Bennie and good pal/neighbour Rob for company – Team CTS is determined to eat.

And so we do.

We’re delighted to share the dining spaces with a couple of tables of the Filipino family nature and revel right away in Josephine’s hospitality.

After getting a rundown on the contents of the bain marie – and studiously avoiding the more challenging (pork liver) dishes – we settle in for a tasty feast.

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Pork BBQ skewers – look black and burnt; are not.

Made with meat marinated in brown sugar, soy, vinegar, salt and pepper, they unsurprisingly taste unlike any pork skewers we’ve previously eaten.

They’re tangy and yummy. They’re also the only part of our spread that Bennie likes, the rest of it being a little too odd for him. He’s excused and granted permission to grab another skewer, pretty much leaving the rest of the meal to Rob and I.

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Beef kare kare, made with beef, canned banana blossom that looks like artichoke, eggplant and green beans, is my favourite.

The meat is quite tough but delicious, the broth and vegetables fine. Except for the disappointing eggplant, which seems woefully undercooked by my reckoning.

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Pork adobo is a simple dish packed with flavour from soy, vinegar and garlic.

I love the dark, sweetish broth, and the tender meat, too, after easily removing the fat.

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Fried tilapia, from Thailand we are told, is fish plain and simple.

Rob and I both like it a lot, making short work of the flesh, which comes away from the bony frame quite easily.

All our meal choices go well with a small side dish of pickles that are both sweet and sour.

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There’s quite an array of Filipino desserts on hand, but we restrict ourselves to sampling a single cheese roll. This appears to be another variation on the universal theme of fried dough. It has quite a strange flavour and is not as decadent as it appears.

After talking some more with Josephine, she lets us have a taste of her wonderful iced melon juice before turning Rob and Bennie on to a sugarcane brew of some kind.

I happily sit that one out.

Summarising our meal, Rob nails it – some of it has been unusual for mouths used to the other national flavours of South-East Asia, and maybe we could’ve ordered smarter; but we’ve had a plenty fine enough time of it to be interested in a return visit.

Especially considering the welcome and service.

And in terms of Consider The Sauce and Filipino food, that constitutes a breakthrough.

Even if the food does its level best to defy my photograph attempts to show it in a good light. It tastes better than it looks – honest!

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After showing Rob some of our favourite westie haunts, we stop off at Sweet Grass Bonsai Nursery & Cafe in Footscray West for relaxing, chilled-out mocktails – Black Widow for Bennie (he just can’t go past Coke and ice-cream) and tangy Sun Up and Bora Bora for Rob and myself.

What a grand day we’ve had!

 

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Dahon Tea Lounge

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Dahon Tea Lounge, Shop 5, 111 Cecil St, South Melbourne. Phone: 9696 5704

Other business having necessitated a visit to St Kilda Rd, it’s a satisfying to stop in South Melbourne on the way home and finally get around to a visit to Dahon Tea Lounge.

It’s here I’ll renew my sometimes rocky relationship with Filipino food.

The place is done out in a comfy yet quite sleek cafe style.

Things start very well.

A single skewer of BBQ pork ($2) is just right – tender meat, smoky flavour and an easily acceptable level of oiliness.

The delight and pleasure in the ability to order a dish containing okra mean I pay scant attention to the rest of the menu options, ordering instead pinakbet with rice ($9.20), the former described as “Filipino vegetable stew with okra, bitter melon, snake beans, pumpkin and eggplant”.

Reflecting on my meal as I write, I figure there’s only really two viable scenarios here.

One is that this is a typical, average, good or even excellent version of this Filipino staple and that fundamentally this is a dish not for me.

The other is that it is simply awful.

I am thoroughly underwhelmed.

There seems to be little impact by way of garlic, ginger, onion or shrimp paste.

And there seems to be little or no overall harmony in my meal – just a bunch of vegetables carelessly slapped together.

There is very little of the okra that triggered my order.

If this were to be served in a vegetarian cafe, it would be ridiculed.

The most abiding presence is a nasty bitterness – caused not only, I suspect, by the bitter melon but also by the undercooked eggplant.

I can go with the flow of slightly cooked beans and even pumpkin – but undercooked eggplant?

I subsequently look at a lot of photos, read a lot of recipes and even watch an interesting cooking video, and realise that, yes, what I have been served very much resembles a real-deal pinakbet.

Filipino food and me – seems like we could do with some sort of mediation. Or a mutual pledge to stay well clear of each other.

Or maybe next time I simply need to order one of the good-looking Dahon baguettes.

Or anything else on the menu.

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Chadz Chickenhaus

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Chadz Chickenhaus, 475 Ballarat Rd, Sunshine.

It seems I may have hit Chadz Chickenhaus at a not particularly auspicious time.

There’s quite a few people milling about the front counter/bain-marie, waiting for various takeaway orders. Progress seems to be slow even though staff members are rushing here and there.

Despite having a somewhat rocky relationship with Filipino food, to me the bain-marie contents look pretty good.

But I stick with Plan A – I’ve come here to try their butterflied chicken and chips.

A little under half the tables are occupied, but all of them are littered with debris from previous meals and previous patrons.

Plates, bowls, cutlery, cans, straws, chicken bones and all sorts of food are all over the place – including on the floor.

After I place my order – half chicken chips with a can of soft drink ($10) – things look up as a young man starts to slowly clear the mess away. Slowly but methodically.

He gives it away, though, after clearing every table except mine. The floor stays the same.

I am summoned to the front counter to pick up my meal.

The serviette dispenser is empty.

The chips are poor and not hot enough, and the sweet, sticky sauce from the chicken has about half of them sodden.

I eat most of them anyway, on account of being hungry.

The chicken is just OK – far short of the sensation for which I am hoping. A bit tired and scrappy, lacking zing.

It’s tender enough, though, and the sauce is quite nice.

Average is the word.

As I leave, the scraps of my lunch join those of the table’s previous tenants.

Loving the sort of food we do at Consider The Sauce, and the kind of places that produce it, we learn to not be too fussy, to go with the flow and happily accept and even expect and joyfully embrace ups and down of various kinds with good humour and optimism.

We don’t like, want or expect fine dining or the service levels that go with it.

But … maybe just a bad day, eh?

For a different perspective on Chadz Chickenhaus, check out the review at Footscray Food Blog.

 


Kabayan Filipino Restaurant And Asian Groceries

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Cairnlea Town Centre, 100 Furlong Rd, Cairnlea. Phone 8390 1346

In its relatively short life, Consider The Sauce has written about just two Filipino eateries – Kabayan and Kowloon House.

Yet because of the nifty, superb blogging platform provided by wordpress.com, and some additional data from StatCounter, I know for a fact that the entries on both those Filipino western suburbs joints, along with Filipino food and restaurants in general, generates more interest and search engine terms than just about anything else.

The interest comes from all over the world, but mostly from the Philippines – of course! – and Melbourne.

And each time we’ve been to Kabayan, one or more of the Filipino customers has made inquiries:

“Do you like Filipino food?”

“Are you enjoying your meal?”

That interest and intrigue mirrors my own as I set off to check out the newly revamped and reopened Kabayan.

It’s been moved around the corner to larger premises that allow the incorporation of a modest grocery section.

Other than that, much seems the same as on our previous visit.

This time, though, I give the grilled-to-order meals a miss and try my luck with the pot food arrayed in the bain marie.


And this time, thanks to a young Filipino man who talks me through the dishes available, I have a good idea of what I’m eating.

Here’s the deal – two dishes with rice for $9.50.

I settle on afritada and paksiw.

The chicken afritada is a braise/stew affair, with chook pieces on the bone and vegetables in a reddish sauce/gravy. It’s a sweet dish with a dash of the piquant about it – thus making it a little like your old-school  Cantonese sweet-and-sour concoction, but much wetter.

It’s OK, but the chicken pieces are of negligible flavour.

The paksiw is something else entirely.

From what I’ve since learnt, paksiw is apparently a vinegar-based stew, in my case of pork. The various recipes and info I find online make it sound interesting.

I wish what’s on my plate was half so appealing.

The dish has some tasty gravy that nevertheless seems bereft of vinegar zing, some fine and tender pork – but, oh my, there’s soooooo much fat.

In at least a couple of different contexts – traditional roast pork crackling and Chinese roast meats – I am usually easily swayed into enjoying such decadence.

But in this dish, there is nothing at all crackly or crunchy or alluring about the fat and skin – it’s all flabby, revolting, and mixed in with the sauce/gravy

Gross!

After eating what meat there is, I leave more than half the dish on my plate.


And so I depart Kabayan once more feeling that I am missing something, that I am simply not “getting it”.

Ah well, maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be – still, I find it surprising.

I am far from the most courageous diner around, but I like or love a wide range of cooking that ranges from the Mediterranean and the Middle East to the farthest reaches of East and South Asia.

Given that, I’ve been thinking Filipino food should be a natural fit.

But based on my very limited experience, the textures and flavours – not to mention the fat content! – are just too rich and unappealing for my palate.

Kabayan does fine grilled-to-order meals, of course, but at $12+ even those seem a stretch, given I can easily grab some Viet dishes that are similar, have more vegie contrasts and trimmings, and are cheaper and tastier.

And maybe that’s the rub right there …

Perhaps not so incoincidentally, as I am writing this Ms Baklover – reviewing First Taste at Footscray Food Blog – has opined:

My palate is heavily skewed towards fresh, light Vietnamese, Malaysian and South Indian flavours.

Very eloquent!

And, I suspect, the very reason I am struggling with Filipino food.

Kabayan Filipino Restaurant on Urbanspoon



Kowloon House

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1A Triholm Ave, Laverton. Phone: 9369 4121

One of my fondest (tastiest) memories of my St Kilda years is of a modest little food shop at the Espy end of Fitzroy St.

Cleopatra’s was basically a takeaway joint, though a couple of tables meant it could just about pass for a restaurant – and that’s precisely how I used it on countless occasions over many years.

The family that ran it was delightful and friendly, and their Lebanese food was stupendously fine – I have particularly mouth-watering recall of the chicken skewers and housemade lemonade.

As that end of Fitzroy St became increasingly cluttered with slick restaurants, Cleopatra’s migrated up the road to full restaurant status opposite the Junction Oval. By then I’d moved west, so visits were few.

And then it was gone.

(If anyone knows if the family concerned is still in the food business, please let me know!)

Cleopatra’s and its fine food had, of course, nothing at all to do with the famed empress or the land she ruled.

The name, I’ve always presumed, signalled an earlier and less sophisticated era of Australian foodiness, when citizens needed to be hit over the head with signposts of the most basic and banal and not necessarily all that accurate kind.

Same deal with Kowloon House in Laverton – likewise, it has little or nothing to do with Kowloon. Although it does trade in fried noodles, laksas and tom yum dishes, it’s another Filipino hot spot.


We’d already checked out Kabayan Filipino Restaurant in Cairnlea, and we’re very much looking forward to the Philippine Fiesta at the Melbourne Showgrounds in a couple of weeks.

So my solo trip to Kowloon House, which I’d spied on my many commutes by train to Geelong, on a typical Melbourne spring day (pelting down with rain) was more by way of tuning up.

It’s a cheerful and welcoming place, and whatever it’s dependence on clientele that prefers other southeast Asian dishes, it’s clearly Filipino at heart – as a bain marie of defiantly funky-looking stew dishes and array of groceries attest.

Once again I was confronted with the choice between bain marie and grilled dishes, opting for tapsilog, a rice-based dish that seems to be a breakfast meal that has come to have wider applications.

I liked it a lot.

The garlic rice was fluffy and flecked with egg. The fried egg was perfect. The marinated beef (I forgot to ask what exactly it was marinated in) was black, tough, chewy, but went real well with the little bowl of soy sauce-laced vinegar provided for dipping. And the little bundle of pickled papaya salad added another touch of piquancy.

It was a meal of happiness but also one of dubious healthiness!

The takeaway/catering menu of Kowloon House lists a revolving cast of daily specials: Tapsilob, halo-halo, pinakbet, sisig, caldareta, chicken adobo, monggo, dinuguan, ginatang langka, medudo, okoy, sinigang na baboy, turon.

Having just finished, ahem, digesting Google/Wikipedia explanations for most of them, I realise my Filpino food journey has a long way to go!

Kowloon House on Urbanspoon

Kabayan Filipino Restaurant

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Shop 10/100 Furlong Rd, Cairnlea. Phone: 8390 1346

PLEASE NOTE: More recent review of revamped Kabayan can be found here.

We’ve spied Filipino groceries in Footscray, Braybrook and St Albans, but we’ve never been to the Philippines, and the only Filipino food we’ve seen ready to buy and eat has been that of two stalls in the food hall of the Market That Doesn’t Allow Cameras.

And that food, to cowardly us, has always looked more than a little daunting.

Happily, we had a brief conversation with Adrian of Food Rehab at the Food Bloggers’ Mad Hatter Spring Picnic regarding Filipino food, him telling us that the stuff can sometimes look ugly but taste terrific. He also suggested some dishes for newbies, but I wasn’t on the ball enough to take notes, and gave us the tip on this fascinating eatery out Deer Park way.

We’re happy to have made its acquaintance, and have had some tasty food there, but are still far from convinced we have any sort of handle on Filippino food.

On a weekend lunch, Bennie and I bypass the bain marie and opt for the simple grilled dishes – he ordering the chicken skewers with garlic fried rice ($10.50) and me the pork chop with ditto accompaniment ($9.50).

It’s already been a long day and we’re Very Hungry, so we top up with a couple of segments of Filippino sausage ($1.50 each) and an interesting looking slab of fried eggplant ($5).

Our main dishes are tasty but plain. Bennie’s chicken is beaut – and has a distinct Japanese teriyaki sweetness about it. My two pork chops are a little less tender, but no less toothsome. I suspect the charred rind and fat is meant to be treated as simply part of the meal deal, but I fastidiously set it aside. The rice is OK, but nothing particularly notable.

These two platters are very similar to the meat and rice dishes we find in Viet restaurants, or the Hainan chicken rice and nasi lemak of Malay places, with similar trimmings of cucumber and tomato slices but much less seasoning or spiciness.

Bennie gobbles up the smallish sausage segments, but I find them dull.

In some ways, the eggplant is the star of the day. What I presume is half a large eggplant sliced in half lengthways has been flattened and coated an extremely eggy batter. It all tastes good, and has that delectable smoky tang we associate with eggplant dips of Middle Eastern cuisines. It’s hefty for a side dish – something like a vegetarian steak, in fact – and seems to lend credence to the “ugly but good” theory.

As we amble away quite satisfied, Bennie opines: “That was like Asian food but not really!”

I know what he means.

We would have liked to have known more about the food we were ordering and eating (including the correct Filipino names), but the staff were busy and, perhaps, a little shy or taken aback by our interest. However, whatever our disappointment with our experience here, we are happy to confess it surely has at least as much to do with our ignorance of Filipino food as anything else.

Next time, we’ll revert to bain marie mode. On a previous visit, I’d had a ridiculously oily but otherwise awesome beef stew with spuds and carrot in a sweetish red gravy, and a minced pork concoction with peas and potato. Served with plain rice, the combo cost $9.

On the day of our grilled lunch visit, the bain marie hosts an interesting looking dish of beef tongue with a mushroom sauce, another of beef on the bone in a peanut sauce and a couple of fish dishes.

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