Small cafe, big (happy) surprise

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Small Graces, 57 Byron Street, Footscray. Phone: 9912 6429

Sometimes a stroll around the vicinity of the sadly burnt-out Little Saigon Market can present a rather glum prospect.

On a grey, chilly mid-week noon hour, for instance.

My understanding is that the post-fire wheels of bureaucracy are grinding ever so slowly towards a resolution.

But in Footscray, there is always life – and always new life.

The new carparking building has arisen and on its ground floor are several businesses already – a chemist; a hairdresser and (supposedly) a Huxtaburger outlet to come; in an adjacent edifice, a cult tea shop outside which I have already twice seen queues.

And there is Small Graces, a lovely cafe that IS small but BIG on heart.

In the normal turn of events, this place would register on CTS as a place for coffee and perhaps coverage in a westie eats goss story, but probably not much more.

But an approach by Small Graces proprietors Rebecca and Diego changes all that.

Yes, we’d like to take your place for a spin (see full disclosure below).

So it is that sometime CTS correspondent Erika, her son Hugh (both very near neighbours of the joint) and I arrive for a mid-week lunch.

We are knocked out.

 

 

Small Graces is a cosy place and the staff are smilingly friendly and obliging.

The compact menu ranges through the usual eggy outings, soup and blackboard salads through to display sangers and gorgeous-looking house-made sweets.

But our eyes are immediately drawn to the “sides” section of the food list.

Here there be treasure.

We are permitted, nay encouraged, to treat these as a sort of tapas/antipasto option – so we do!

 

 

How good is this?

Clockwise from top (all items clocking in at about $5):

Smashed avo with almond feta and dukkah.

Halloumi, baharat, honey and walnuts.

Chicken, adobo, chicken salt.

Two kinds of pickle – red cabbage and a kimchi-like mix involving carrot.

Slow-cooked pork neck with crackling crumbs.

The first two items here listed are these days, of course, standard cafe fare, but they are rarely presented with this sort of finesse.

The chicken thigh pieces and the sliced pork are miracles of deft seasoning and juiciness.

At first I had thought this light yet fabulously yum spread would need some bread or the like, but …

 

 

… these seriously sexy spuds with garlic and rosemary with lemon mayo on the side ($6) add just the right degree of heft to our meal.

 

 

Meanwhile, a salad of caramelised beetroot with black lentils, almond feta and dill ($8) continues the flow of fresh flavours.

 

 

Young Hugh enjoys his toast with what appears to be a very fine strawberry jam ($6).

 

 

With our fine coffees, Erika and I enjoy this mega-rich caramel slice ($5) – in this case, a smallish portion is a blessing.

More and bigger would be TOO much.

 

 

Then there’s this equally accomplished lemon curd cheesecake ($6.50) of the non-baked variety.

Our very vocal enthusiasm for the “sides” transformed into a main attraction pecking plate could, I suspect, see these items (there are several more we didn’t try) elevated in status beyond mere add-ons.

The food has been outstanding – more like your top-notch casual dining standard.

But even if that doesn’t transpire, we recommend them heartily.

As we do Small Graces in general.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Small Graces as guests of management. No money changed hands. Our food was chosen by CTS. Small Graces management did not seek any editorial input into this story.)

 

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.

 

 

Get on board

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Station Hotel, 59 Napier Street, Footscray. Phone: 9810 0085

These days, there are a handful of inner-west pubs that appear to aspire to offering very good pub tucker or fare beyond that.

But in some ways, the Station Hotel is the grand old dame of that scene.

It’s been around a goodly while, has had at least one management change of which I’m aware and – more recently – experienced a fire that closed the joint down for a few months.

We enjoy a lovely Tuesday night there, with good service and a happy atmosphere in the mostly full dining room and more raucous goings on in the bar.

We like it very much that the Station aims high but stays a pub.

It’s a birthday night at CTS HQ, so there’s a sense recklessness in the air – this is one of the very, very rare times in which “cheap eats” does not join “melbourne” and “western suburbs” as an automatic tag for a story.

Wheee!

 

 

Good bread and room-temperature butter are complementary; this is mostly for Bennie’s sake – given the weight of food we plan on enjoying, I leave it alone.

 

 

We love cauliflower so have no hesitation in ordering the cauliflower croquettes with romesco sauce ($14).

And are disappointed.

They are expertly cooked, ungreasy and chockers with gooey rich goodness.

But they are largely tasteless and certainly bereft of cauliflower flavour, according to both of us.

 

 

Much more impressive – and tasty – is the tuna tataki with “miso mayonnaise” and pickled cucumber ($19).

Every mouthful is a zingy, ever-lovin’ jumble of top-notch contrasts.

The mayo is confusing, though, as we taste not miso but do detect a nice wasabi tang.

Not that it matters!

 

 

One of us was always going to order steak – and that turns to be, well, me.

That order being in the form of this knock-out “rib eye, 500g Great Southern, (Vic) British breeds” ($55), cooked medium rare.

Now look, as is no doubt obvious from the now many years of CTS, we are not really steak men.

So this proclamation by both of us may not be based on much.

But …

BEST.

STEAK.

EVER.

The meat is quite heavily seasoned and is quite salty, but that’s fine by both me and he, who also gets quite a good go at it.

The spuds and salad are fine, but are largely superfluous to the carnivore carnival – as are the pepper and bearnaise sauces on hand.

 

 

By comparison, Bennie’s pan-fried pork fillet with apple and apricot stuffing on pearl barley and peas with cider jus ($35) is rather demure.

He enjoys it plenty, however, and the meat is superbly moist and tender.

He’s less impressed with the barley base, which seems like a touch of brilliant to his father.

 

 

“Tastes of chocolate and caramel” ($14) is perhaps a tad too fiddly for the likes us apple pie guys, but we enjoy it anyway.

Underneath that dome of “chocolate mirror glaze” is a globe of caramel parfait – not quite ice-cream, not quite cake, all wonderful.

 

 

More appropriate for us is the luscious vanilla panna cotta with a berry and meringue topping and a fresh berry and cream shortbread off to the side.

This being a once-a-year kind of splash-up meal for CTS, we order cafe lattes to be enjoyed with our desserts even though it’s a mid-week evening.

The barista’s first go is deemed unworthy, with the second attempt missing our long-completed desserts by quite some margin.

They’re good, though, and we are not charged for them.

It’s been a fine night, a special night for the CTS lads.

Check out the Station Hotel website – including menu – here.

 

Phat Chicks taste good

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Julian customises his order; further back in the line, beanie-clad Josh is thinking: “Mmmmm – fried chicken!!!”

 

Phat Chicks, 549A Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 9689 3030

The arrival a specialist fried chicken eatery in West Footscray has generated spectacular interest.

Partly this has been because it’s a novelty in an area that largely – though far from exclusively – is Indian when it comes to food.

As well, there’s been a preview story in CTS and coverage in other media outlets.

Unsurprisingly, the word we heard was that Phat Chicks was extremely busy right from the moment the doors opened.

So the members of Team CTS cooled their heels for a week – and even then, six of us hit the place a couple of hours later on a Friday night than would normally be the case in hopes the rush hour would be over.

That ploy works, but only just, with boss lady Jenny squeezing us all on to a four-seater table.

Thanks!

Our crew places three separate orders – for Bennie and I, ours looks like this:

 

 

Minus drinks and the like, and ignoring for this inaugural visit the only greenery/salad available, we all end up paying about $20 each.

 

 

I’m delighted to find the thighs ($4 each) are of the bone-in variety.

These are beaut, though I suspect better is to come than the sesame soy coating we get with these.

 

 

It’s true!

I’m really impressed by our sole breast ($6.50).

Not just because of the chicken and its admirable non-dryness, but also because the ordered spicy coasting is itself dry – unlike our other selections – and delivers a nice spice wallop.

 

 

Like all our chicken, these ribs ($6) are skillfully cooked, though we find there is little by way of the zing and tingle we are expecting from the vinegar part of the “salt and vinegar” coating.

 

 

Another hit!

These buffalo wings ($5) are tremendous – gloriously sopping wet with a zesty Sriracha-based sauce.

So good are they that we completely ignore the blue cheese sauce with which they are served.

(Just BTW, of the other sauces ordered by our table, we all like the pickle-infused Bear sauce very much …)

 

 

For sides, cajun fries ($6.50) and onion rings ($6.5) do us just great.

The serves are generous and the quality high.

Bennie opines that the onion rings are lacking onion flavour.

I disagree, but in any case retort: “Mate, onion rings are just an excuse to eat deep-fried batter!”

 

 

In our collective book, Phat Chicks is a great, big, phat winner.

It’s not just that it’s all about fried chicken – there’s a heap of places doing that around Melbourne.

It’s more that the range of coatings is innovative and delicious, with details such as sauces and sides also excelling.

We reckon it’ll take a few visits for us to be able to zero in on what works best for us.

The vibe during our visit has been happy and the staff members are dealing with such profound instant popularity very well.

And the wait times were briefer than I had been expecting.

As well, Phat Chicks is doing good for beer drinkers – my pint of 2 Brothers Kung Foo rice lager goes down a treat.

CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival No.2: Sankranti wrap

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CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival 2: Sankranti, Sankranti, 250 Barkly Street, Footscray. Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

Well, the Sankranti crew really tuned it on for Consider The Sauce and guests for the second CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival event.

The food was fabulous.

 

 

So many thanks to Latha, Sree, Prasanth, Laya and the rest of their team – they did themselves proud.

The service was well-timed and the portion sizes just right for such a lengthy affair.

Among the many highlights were …

 

 

… succulent tandoori kebab meats, including beef (a first for many of us) and salmon.

Best of all … juicy, smoky chicken.

Oh my!

 

 

Manchow soup – how do they get such a massive, deep and – let it be said – meaty flavour from a vegetarian-based soup?

It remains a mystery!

(Chicken had been added but the base is meat-free, so the question remains legitimate …)

 

 

The curries were all fine, too, particularly the gonkura chicken with its tangy sorrel gravy.

Are they sprinkles – or hundreds and thousands?

Whatever – the topping of the “Sankranti special naan” variously bemused and delighted, usually at the same time.

 

 

The chutneys served with the mini-idlys were fresh and zesty.

 

 

Thanks to all who attended – I couldn’t have been happier.

 

MENU

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

Spcial manchow soup.

Mini idly shots with assorted chutneys.

 

Three varieties of naan – garlic, sesame, Sankranti special naan.

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.

Sticky date pudding

 

Phat & phunky

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Phat Chicks, 549A Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 9689 3030

Consider The Sauce loves the Indian vibe of Barkly Street in West Footscray.

We remember, profoundly, the pre-Dosa Hut, pre-Aangan days on the street when there wasn’t much at all.

It always seems surprising to us that there are those who complain about “too many Indian restaurants”.

And, shoot, it’s not like the Barkly Street precinct, or the neighbourhood in general, is ALL Indian.

However, the diversity factor is about to get a grand boost with the arrival Phat Chicks Fried Chicken, which is taking over the “right-hand side” of Thai Angels and should be open in a couple weeks.

And who better to be leading this charge than Jenny Nguyen?

She’s of Vietnamese family background, born in Hong Kong and raised in our western suburbs – how’s that for westie lineage?

Even better, Jenny is full of high-spirited charm and fun.

 

 

Bennie and I have dropped in for mid-week chat about this exciting new operation, to have a taste of Jenny’s wares and find out about the thinking behind WeFo project.

This is going to be some serious, but fun, fried chicken place – no hamburgers or sandwiches or “other” here.

And there’s no set meals, either.

Punters will customise their meals from the wonderfully simple menu (sadly not quite locked in in time to be published with this story).

The chicken will come in breast, “thunder” thighs, wings, drumsticks and “pimped up” ribs.

The overlapping range of coatings will include original, sweet chilli garlic, sesame soy, cheese, spicy, mi goreng noodles, salt n vinegar chips and chilli chips.

And, yep, those last three are created from instant noodles and crisps being given a good old pounding!

There’s a couple of salads on the list, and sides such as fries (cajun and sweet potato), onion strings and corn cheese.

 

 

We both dug these mi goreng ribs – very nice, very crunchy.

 

 

If anything, though, I loved these “original recipe” drumsticks even more – simple and delicious.

 

 

With the new wave of barbecue places and the like, we’ve tried quite a few variations of mac ‘n’ cheese in the past few years.

And, blimey, many of them have ranged from average through to horrid.

So it was a pleasure to chow down on Jenny’s rendition.

Again, there’s nothing flash or sophisticated here – just simple ingredients beautifully cooked.

Best of all, it’s plenty moist and gooey.

Jenny tells us that while she eats at Vietnamese eateries virtually every week, she wanted to do something different in the western suburbs and has always had a thing for fried chicken.

She wants her new baby to succeed but happily confesses that success, to a significant extent, will be adjudged on whether Phat Chicks becomes a place where folks look forward to going to hang out with her!

To that end, she’s also taking care of business away from the deep-frier.

There’s a couple of old-school video games in the house.

Away from the seated/eating area, is a comfy lounge set-up.

And Phat Chicks will be fully licensed.

Goodies on tap will include Hop Nation pilsner and West City Footscray Ale.

 

 

Other phun facts about Phat Chicks:

  • The bear in the restaurant logo is because Jenny’s nickname is “Bear”.
  • One English definition of the Vietnamese word “phat” is luck.

 

WeFo Ramadan specials

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Dosa Hut, 604 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 8592 4900
Dosa Corner, 587 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 8528 5120

Those of us who love Indian food owe the Dosa Hut crew a big vote of thanks.

As far as I am aware, they were the very first to brings dosas to Melbourne’s western suburbs.

These days, there are five Dosa Hut branches at various parts of the Melbourne.

But the change that first shop in West Footscray helped initiate extends well beyond dosas and extra branches.

It’s taken the best part of a decade, but in that time Indian eating-out in Melbourne has changed dramatically.

Not just dosas, but also the likes of idlis and vadas have become common.

And it’s not just about those dishes, mostly associated with South Indian food – now Dosa Hut, and their many competitors, do Indo-Chinese, biryanis and sometimes even thalis.

What this transformation means is that where once eating in Indian restaurants was once mostly rather formal, and correspondingly expensive, it is now informal and very affordable.

Even those places that would perhaps have preferred to stick with more formal a la carte offerings have been forced by sheer demand and expectations to cater to this market.

And hooray for that, we say!

I still eat at the original Dos Hut on occasion – and was definitely interested in trying out their Ramadan specials.

These include haleem, of which I am not a fan, and a couple of biryanis – lamb shank and “gutti vankaya dum biryani” (eggplant biryani).

Unfortunately, on the day I visit for lunch, the lamb shank number is unavailable.

But fortunately, settling for eggplant is by no means a case of second best.

My biryani ($13.95) appears at my table (top photo) looking pretty much like any other biryani.

Rice, gravy, raita – but no hardboiled egg.

 

 

But the proof is, as always with biryani, is hidden.

For within my rice are to be found two fat, rotund, tender and very tasty eggplants.

This dish makes for a nice change from my usual biryani order of chicken or lamb, though it is of rather high spiciness.

 

 

 

Right across the road at Dosa Corner, they’re also doing haleem for Ramadan.

And another dish I am most eager to try – paya ($9.99, roti $2 each).

This is a soup/stew made with sheep trotters.

There’s not a lot of meat involved, but as is so often the way, the flavour is of immense meatiness, along with being tangy and having a nice chilli burn going on.

In many ways, the broth/soup reminds of the equally meaty-but-meatless broths routinely served at many East African places, of which this Flemington establishment is our current fave.

The couple of pieces sheep trotter?

Well, no, not a lot of meat; but, yes, a whole bunch of gelatinous matter.

Not, in other words, a cup of tea for everyone.

Personally, I love it as something different and delicious.

And I reckon anyone with a fondness for equally fiddly and bony chicken feet will feel the same!