Classy Thai for Footscray

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Issan Thai Street Food, 10 Droop Street, Footscray. Phone: 9689 9404

Footscray central – ahhh, so much wonderful food, so many lovely people.

Apart from the central themes of Vietnamese and Ethiopian tucker, I can think of at least half a dozen other food varieties without even trying.

But Thai?

Nope.

Never has been hereabouts – or not in my 15-year memory of western living.

The nearest Thai restaurants have been in West Footscray, Seddon and Kensington.

With the arrival of Issan Thai Street Food, that is no longer the case.

 

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And by adding another strand of diversity to inner Footscray, I think Noi and her hubby Vince are being very smart indeed.

As well, they’re adding some welcome life to the mostly moribund-over-the-years Westville Central building.

I know that in the wake of the Little Saigon fire, there were suggestions that Westville Central could – even if only temporarily – play a similar role.

I am not party to the commercial or real estate dynamics involved, but it is good to see some life around the place.

After a solo visit by myself for reconnaissance purposes, a happy group of seven CTS pals hit Issan and have a swell time.

We find the service fine and the wait times appropriate for the food we ordered.

The sharing platter som tum tard (top photo $18.90) is a doozy – a big mound of excellent spicy green papaya salad is surrounded by pork crackling, chicken wings, wet-smooth noodles, bean sprouts and chargrilled diced beef.

Even the hardboiled egg halves are superbly done, with the yolks gooey, not runny.

 

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Our order of satay tofu ($6.90), fuelled by the intense curiosity of three members of our group, doesn’t impress greatly – I think we have been expecting tofu a little more crusty and crunchy. This is OK and the peanutty sauce is good.

 

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The pork skewers of moo ping ($10.90) are outstanding.

The meat is perfectly cooked, packed with chargrill flavour and served with a zingy tamarind-based sauce.

 

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Our serve of Penang curry with beef ($15.90) is of modest proportions but all good.

Here, it’s the deeply, richly flavoursome sauce/gravy that is the hit, with some of us continuing to mop it up with rice long after the curry’s main protagonists have gone and other dishes have arrived at our table.

 

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Pad thai with chicken ($13.90) is a fine version of this popular dish.

 

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The chicken salad of larb gai ($13.90) really impresses with its freshness and tang.

 

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Likewise with the equally sexy moo narm tok ($13.90) – sliced grilled pork with lemon juice, herbs, chilli and toasted ground rice.

My photo here doesn’t adequately convey the fatty, chargrilled gloriousness of the dish!

At Issan, you’ll find not much by the way exotica, offal or regional specialties.

But our general consensus is that the Issan fare is a considerable cut above what is generally found in your typical suburban Thai restaurants.

We double ordered several dishes – the moo ping, the larb gai and the moo narm tok – and ate substantially and satisfyingly well.

Yet the bill for seven of us comes to a few cents under $20 each.

 

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Trugo thrills

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yugo6

 

Footscray Summer Cup, Footscray Park Bowling Club, 1 Hoadley Court, Footscray.

This was the second social play day of the revived Footscray Trugo Club I attended.

 

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As with the first, it was held at the Ballarat Road home of the Footscray City Bowling Club – the trugo club’s temporary HQ while the club’s proper home at Buckley Street moves through the red-tape process.

 

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It was a hot day, so I was by no means sure I’d be up for anything approaching serious competition or socialising.

But settle in we all did, for a most enjoyable afternoon.

 

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Some temporary shelter helped – a lot!

 

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The bowls club bar was operating, which gave me a chance to check out the gorgeous old-school decor.

 

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After the set-up, practice hits and a few people coming and going, four teams of four players each got down to it.

 

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The gripping, nail-biting final was won 18-17 by the Olympic Doughnuts over the Go Ruts! line-up.

 

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The Footscray Trugo Club will be holding social days on the fourth Sunday of every month.

It’s good fun – and no previous experience is necessary!

Check out the Facebook page here and the blog/website here.

 

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Indian flavor explosion in Footscray

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sankranti1

 

Sankranti Australia, 250 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9041 9899

Sankranti has been open a few weeks, and in that time I’ve enjoyed some nice food south Indian – pooris, a biryani.

But I’ve left it to do a story for the weekend the restaurant is doing a three days of special menus in celebration of the festival after which it is named.

On the plus side, for me that means a beaut – and very photogenic – feed.

On the down side, a one-off vegetarian feast can not be taken as representative of the regular menu.

So let’s look at it this way – my Saturday lunch meal may not be what you’ll get on a regular visit here, but it is representative of the care and love that goes into the Sankranti food.

 

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The Saturday Sankranti deal costs me $29 (see details below).

Quite a bit for a vegetarian thali, eh?

Well, no.

I’m happy to pay up and eat, such is diversity of tastes and textures, some of them familiar, many of them new to me and even challenging.

Latha talks me through some of the particulars and rituals normally involved with eating this sort of festive food.

 

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I even give the traditional eating order a go – sweets first, soup and yogurt last.

The sweets don’t look very appetising, do they?

Not so – they make lovely eating, though in quite a different way from more familiar Indian sweets such as kulfi.

But a lifetime of culinary indoctrination of the soup/mains/sweets school is hard to kick.

And the effort of mentally trying to match new and interesting names with specific dishes tumbles into the realm of information overload.

So in the end, I just go with my own flow and enjoy the dazzling array before me.

I especially like the rasam, the deep-fried and battered okra, the spicy coriander rice and the rice and vermicelli pudding that is payasam.

This has been a humbling reminder that for all the Indian food I eat, in terms of regional diversity and a fabulously rich food culture, I am a mere beginner.

 

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Indian yum cha, anyone?

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Tiwari Tea House, 1/578 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 8529 5960

According to a recent story in one of the papers, the growth of skycscraper canyons in central Melbourne has been a thoroughly unplanned, haphazard process.

I figure much the same can be said for the flowering of Indian food in West Footscray and, to some extent, the surrounding areas.

I doubt that, 10 years or so ago, a bunch of ambitious Indian business people sat down and said: “Righto, we’re going to take over Barkly Street in West Footscray!”

Cities and their neighbourhoods often move in mysterious ways and, equally often, it’s only in hindsight that patterns can be perceived.

Count us among those who see what has developed in West Footscray as quite fabulous – something worth celebrating.

We have our favourite food there and favourite places, depending on our whim of the moment.

 

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One thing we do look for is a point of difference.

Tiwari Tea House has that in spades.

While other Barkly Street eateries feature chaat – savoury Indian snack-type dishes – this place does nothing but.

The food is all vegetarian.

Four of us get into the menu (see below) and come away happy, and perhaps even feeling refreshed from eating snacky things so devoid of the heavy spicing and meatiness we often enjoy hereabouts.

 

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As the name makes clear, this place is also much about tea – so we go with that flow, Bennie and I having the masala chai ($9.95 for two), while our pals Julian and Christine have black ginger tea.

This seems rather pricey for a couple of cups of chai.

We find it enjoyable, but wish we had ordered after our food started arriving – or even at the end of our meal – as we are pretty much done with it even before we start eating.

Maybe we’re missing something in terms of Indian chaat-eating and tea-drinking rituals and protocols?

No matter – we enjoy all our food, and love some of it a lot.

Big hits are our vada pavs ($6.95 each, top photograph).

Looking like tall, chubby burgers, these are bread buns stuffed with wonderful potato patties.

The potato is heavily infused with turmeric, but otherwise mildly seasoned.

That’s a lot carbs, right?

Yet the overall effect is much lighter than we may have been expecting and the flavours hit the spot.

 

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We have two sets of crispy cutlets ($8.95 for two), served with dipping sauces of the tamarind and green chilli variety.

Leastwise, I think that’s what the sauces are – and I could certainly be missing some of the specifics.

The spinach-cheese cutlets are on the dull side.

No such problem with the mixed vegetable varieties – they’re both stuffed with a mix that is colourful and tasty.

 

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These cute guys are dahi puri ($7.95 for six) – a close relative of the more familiar pani puri.

So closely related, I suspect, that I struggle to tell the difference, apart from the inclusion of yogurt – though there’s no doubt these sev-topped flavour bombs are delicious!

 

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Aloo tiki chat ($8.95) is another big hit with all of us – we should’ve double ordered!

Yes, more potato.

Here, the spud rissoles appear to be even less seasoned, yet – nice surprise! – have a semblance of chargrill flavour.

They’re topped with a sticky jam/chutney, tomato, raw onion and more sev.

These are very, very nice.

I can see myself dropping into Tiwari Tea House with some regularity – when I feel like Indian flavours, but am not up to confronting a full-on biryani or some such.

 

 

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Memorable moments with Mietta’s mafia

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Amy, Gifta and Mietta.

 

Selam Authentic African Restaurant & Bar, 127 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 8383 2560
Small French Bar, 154 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 8479

A few years ago, Mietta Gibson began what has become a family tradition.

Each year, as Christmas approaches, she takes the sisterhood portion of her family out on a surprise adventure.

One year it was a Middle Eastern cooking class, another it was gift-wrapping for a charity.

And on another occasion, the whole crew attended a filming session of The Project.

This year, she began plotting and scheming many months ago, with no firm ideas in mind other than “western suburbs” and “food”.

Mietta, you see, lives on the Mornington Peninsula, her entire family lives in the eastern suburbs and she was keen to expose them to some different aspects and perspectives of Melbourne.

She was not having much joy in terms of online research – until she stumbled upon Consider The Sauce.

(Frankly, given our substantial online footprint, I’m surprised it took her so long!)

Anyway, in mid-October I received an email with the header “Seeking your help”.

A few emails back and forth, and then we were happily chatting on the phone.

And just like that (sound of fingers snapping), the deal was done – Team Consider The Sauce would proudly show these gals our backyard and we’d all have an absolute blast!

And so it turned out …

 

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As Mietta and her crew exit Footscray station, she has no trouble picking me out of the crowd; we meet up and make the whole round of introductions.

With her are her sisters Eliza and Natalie, her niece Matisse, her mum-in-law Kate and – all the way from France – her friend Iris.

What a happy, garrulous crew they are!

At this early point in our evening, no one involved except Mietta and myself have any idea about what is in store – the happy gasps and grins as our gameplan is explained to them are gratifying!

Then we’re off – first stop Littlefoot, Bennie and I explaining the familiar streets and places and faces as we go.

 

 

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After “looseners” all round, we pretty much retrace our steps to Selam on Nicholson Street.

There we enjoy a truly fabulous Ethiopian meal.

Nothing edgy or unexpected, mind you – it’s simply beautifully cooked and presented Ethiopian tucker.

Lentils three different ways; terrific salad; cabbage and excellent greens (silverbeet, I think).

And in the centre of our two platters is the dry derek tibs of pan-friend lamb pieces – so good!

Best of all, though, and by general acclaim, is the lamb soup – which I foolishly forget to photograph.

This zingy lamb broth – a bit like an Ethiopian version of the standard Somalian offerings at such places as Deli Afro – is a sensation, each of our bowls liberally studded with wonderful bone-in lamb meat.

 

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Mietta and her friends – for whom the western suburbs, Footscray AND Ethiopian food are all vivid new experiences – take to the Selam fare and non-cutlery eating with gusto and delight.

Truth be told, I chose Selam for our outing pretty much on a whim and because I liked the look of the place.

But chef/proprietor Amy has done us proud and the way she and daughter Gifti have looked after us has been superb.

 

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The cost? Including all that terrific food, some wine, a few beers and sundry soft drinks – just under $20 per head.

Amazing.

But we’re not done yet … dessert is on the menu.

Actually, Footscray at 9pm on a week night is not particularly auspicious for dessert.

But before our evening began, I’d worded up Stefan at Small French Bar that we might descend upon his establishment later in the evening.

 

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It’s a bustling, cheerful scene that greets us as we enter.

It’s crowded, but room is found for us.

 

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Naturally, we ignore the savoury aspects of the menu.

We ignore, too, the sorbet option.

What we do order is three portions apiece of the other three desserts …

 

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… fondant au chocolat …

 

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… creme brulee …

 

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… and profiteroles.

Gosh, they’re beaut – and we’ve ordered just the right amount for us all to have a good taste of each dish.

There is much happy sighing and clinking of spoons on crockery.

 

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For Iris, who has been away from France for two months, this is all a profound treat.

She says the place even smells French!

What a truly memorable evening we’ve enjoyed.

There was something about the nutty randomness of Mietta’s original email approach to us that appealed enormously to CTS.

And that hunch has been vindicated.

We hope to see these folks over our way again!

 

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Footscray eats goss 2/12/16

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Ascending the stairs to The Creators Lounge (116a Hopkins Street), my cynicism seems boundless.

I mean, really …

A brand new mega-hipster haven right in the guts of Footscray.

Combining a cafe (jaffles, loaded fries, poutine) with a barbershop, and with a retail outlet and podcast studio to come.

 

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All of it located right above the venerable Foostcray institution that is Nhu Lan, king of banh mi.

My resistance begins to crumble when proprietor Josh provides exactly the right answer to my question …

Q: Can people bring their Nhu Lan banh mi’s up here to eat?

A: Yes!

 

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The Creators Lounge Proprietors Johnny (not the in-house barber) and Josh.

 

Josh comes from a background of radio work with the likes of Fox, MMM and 3AW – hardly known as prime hipster breeding grounds!

He tells me, BTW, that the Nhu Lan folks are actually their landlords here and that the first-floor premises were once a yum cha place.

I suspect that must’ve been many years ago.

 

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Next question …

Q: Why would I consider getting a buzz cut here for $20 when I regularly get one right across the road for $8?

A: Josh tells me being in the hands of Johnny The Barber is a whole trip all on its own and worth every cent.

Hmmm, I’ll take that on board.

 

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My cynicism pretty much disappears completely with the arrival of my lunch – the haloumi sandwich, which shares the sanger list with the likes of a reuben, turkey bacon club and a bacon & egg.

At $12, this is about three times the price of a Nhu Lan banh mi – but it’s also very good, with lovely, pan-seared cheesy flavour mixing it with beetroot, tomato, spinach and mayo.

A most excellent $3.80 cafe latte seals the deal – I really do like this place!

 

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The Creators Lounge is a big, open space with live US sport on the telly, a pool table and very many comfy, lived-in leather sofas.

 

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Josh tells me they’ll have tap beer on some time soon after Christmas, but that the place’s vibe will remain more “chilled out” than a regular bar.

 

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The coming retail outlet will sell – among other things – shaving gear and beer gear.

 

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Meanwhile, elsewhere in Footscray …

The corner site of the former HM Quan appears to have found a new tenant, with a fit-out seemingly underway.

 

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A few doors along, long-standing Ethiopian eatery Awash is “under new management” with “renovations in progress”.

 

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On Leeds Street, the premises that formerly housed Korean joint Snow Tree has become a massage business.

 

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A little further along Leeds, what was for many years Vietnamese stalwart Tan Truc Giang is now Huong Viet and offering vegetarian and vegan fare.

Bennie and I checked out the menu, finding many interesting items, with tofu and mock meat in much evidence.

 

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On the corner of Droop and Nicholson streets, the former convenience store that for several years housed highly regarded Sen has come full circle – and is once more Ha Long!

 

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On Barkly Street, and opposite Lentil As Anything, another new cafe is taking shape.

Going by its website, it’ll be offering old-school cafe fare including breakfasts, burgers, schnitzels and a kids’ menu.

An unplanned review

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newebi22

 

Ebi Fine Food, 18A Essex St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3300

A “whoops, wrong day” scheduling misunderstanding meant I could not take Tony and his son, Nick, to the Somalian place I had planned for them as I’d had lunch there about six hours before.

So off we went, ending up – after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on my part – in Essex Street.

CTS has written bout Ebi a number of times – the last more than a year ago when new management had recently taken over.

But we’re happy to do so again in order reassure readers that things are running smoothly and Ebi is still, well, very much Ebi.

The menu, and the specials board, appear to be unchanged.

 

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The staff are smiling and engaging.

At first, early on a Saturday evening, we were seated outside, but it was a little on the chilly side so when bar stools became available we were happily ushered inside.

Most importantly, the all-important attention to details – things such as a crisp lotus root chips and the many kinds of pickle – remain very much in evidence.

I turned my back on the superb Ebi fish and chips I have been eating here for years and chose instead the chicken katsu curry rice bowl ($17).

 

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It was sooooo good – pretty much the best Japanese rice-bowl meal I’ve ever had.

Rich curry gravy boosted by a tantalising just-right whiff of bonito flakes, lots of pickles and lots of perfectly cooked, crunchy chook, the equilibrium between rice/gravy/chicken balanced so all “run out” at precisely the same time.

My friends’ choices of the fish-three-ways bento and the chilli prawn bento (both $19) seemed the usual Ebi spot-on.

What a gem this is – small, friendly, neighbourly and miles from any of the established food strips.

I really enjoyed seeing somewhere so familiar, however briefly, through the eyes of visitors to the west.