Wow.

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

The burned-out shell of Little Saigon Market casts rather a glum metaphorical shadow across Footscray central, so we love it that Small Graces and some of its neighbours are mounting a fightback by bringing life and sunshine to Byron Street and surrounds.

We enjoyed our debut meal there last year and have returned several times since – mainly for salad hits.

So we definitely pay attention when informed a dinner service is being launched.

Not only that – we are invited to try it out (see full disclosure below).

Thus it is with keen anticipation and high expectations that Bennie and I front up for dinner.

Here is the brutal CTS call: Our expectations are not met.

Instead, they are exceeded in grand and delicious style.

Really.

Just about everything we try from a brilliantly chosen selection from the deep dinner menu (see below) is a righteous hit, with a few provisos noted below.

A salad of beets, grapefruit, radicchio, hazelnuts and goats cheese (top photo, $14) is enjoyed by us both, but especially by Salad Boy Bennie.

La Hoguera jamon serrano and garlic-fennel salami are wonderful and served with pickles.

They come with …

… luscious warmed olives and …

… inhalable chargrilled bread.

Carrots, salsa of carrot tops, pecorino pepato and seeds ($13) are a sublime veg offering.

Squid ink croquette with gralic aiolo and sorrel/pea croquette with preserved lemon aioli ($4 each) are, for us, duds.

We have no problem with their striking ugiless.

But they are too salty – even for us, two lads who had expressed to Small Graces’ Bec our fondness, upon arrival, for salty restaurant food!

Also somewhat visually unappealing is this dish of cauliflower, currants, fermented grapes and macadamia nuts ($15).

But in this case the result is an intriguing winner.

This pile of lentils photographs as dull.

It’s not.

It’s one of the night’s high sensations.

Lentils, quince and mints ($12) are moist, succulent, rather sweet and a tremendous pulse dish the likes of which we’ve never before encountered.

And we’ve eaten a LOT of pulses.

And the vegetables keep coming.

Brussel sprouts, jerusalem artichokes and Manjimup truffle ($15) are al dente and a big hit with Kenny; Bennie, no so much.

Our evening’s sole outright meat hit comes from hanger steak, burnt onions and bearnaise ($20).

We adore that juicy meat and its onion foil.

The sauce is good, too – but we consider its richness a bit jarring and unnecessary.

There’s a handy list of desserts on the go for dinner here – including fabulous-sounding ricotta gnocchi.

Sadly, they will have to wait another night as the Socceroos and their date with destiny await, so we head for the door.

The inner west is blessed to have Small Graces doing its dinner thing.

It joins the likes of Jack B. Nimble and Cheeky Chewies Cafe in serving up flash food without vertiginous price tags or stuffiness.

And there’s a heap of dinner-time scope in which vegetarians can frolic.

There’s booze on hand at Small Graces, which is now open for dinner Thursdays-Saturdays.

CTS thanks Bec, Diego and their crew for taking care of us.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Small Graces as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We were served a broad range of dishes from the joint’s new dinner menu. Small Graces management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

Vietnamese brilliance

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Co Thu Quan, Shop 11-12, 10 Droop St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 1451

CTS HQ is, I suspect, like most westie households that like to get out, about and on the fang.

We go in cycles and ebbs and flows.

For instance, the quite recent times when we seemed hellbent on tracking down every curry house in the west actually seem a bit like fading memories.

Seems like we’ve had enough biryani for the time being!

But what of Vietnamese tucker?

Ah, pretty much the heart and soul of western suburbs food.

Yet so deeply interwoven is it into all our lives, it’s a bit easy to take it for granted.

Not that we don’t eat it regularly and even weekly.

We do.

But when it comes writing and posting about it, well not so much in recent times.

So it gives me giddy pleasure to wax enthusiastically, passionately about Co Thu Quan.

The original version of this eatery was tucked away in Little Saigon Market, becoming one of the victims of that institution’s sad, fiery demise.

Now – after opening branches in Richmond and the CBD – they’re back!

The new Footscray restaurant is on the Droop Street side of the Westville Central building, in the shopfront previous occupied by the sadly short-lived Issan Thai Street Food.

There have been changes.

The original Co Thu Quan was all about snack-style street food.

This new place, done out in nice dark wood and all abuzz with zippy, cheerful service, has a vastly expanded menu.

Instead of light snacks there’s a plethora of noodles, salads, vermicelli, rice, soups and much, much more.

And it’s all – or almost all – cheap, cheap, cheap. Think under $15.

And while you can order pho here, there are so many other glittering, intriguing choices, it would be folly to do so.

Here, by their many dozens, are dishes you’ll not find elsewhere in Footscray or the west.

Yet, by and large, there is very little on the massive menu that is bracing or confrontational for those less adventurous or not much inclined towards the intestinal.

Hoi an chicken rice ($12) is a simple, light, refreshing and superbly enjoyable take on the universal chook/rice combo.

There’s a lot more shredded chicken atop that rice than the above photo suggests.

Clear shrimp dumplings ($10) are wobbly parcels stuffed with shrimp and ground pork.

They’re fun to eat, but a tad shy of the flavor explosions I was anticipating.

Nat enjoys slurping on his water spinach crab noodles ($12).

Immersed in its chicken broth and freshwater crab paste are rice noodles, pork and crab meatball, pork sausage, fried tofu, tomato, water spinach, congealed pork blood, topped with fried shallot and green onion; tamarind sauce on the side.

Now that’s a meal.

Asked to describe it in three evocative words, he proffers pungent, salty and sour.

For me, Vietnamese crab noodle soup is an uncharacteristically rash choice.

It costs $27 – a ridiculous amount to pay for a single bowl of soup noodles.

But I utterly adore it and have no regrets about paying for it.

Fresh crab of this quality is usually only consumed in communal settings, so I revel in my singular enjoyment of the chunky shellfish bits.

But just as good is the hearty, delicious chook/crab soup in which the tapioca noodles, a single prawn and fresh mushrooms happily swim.

We plan on spending much time in the rest of the year exploring the Footscray Co Thu Quan menu.

Indonesian for the west

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Spice Klub, 4/203 Ballarat Road, Footscray. Phone: 0439 159 417

There are many interesting things for us to try when we return to Spice Klub.

On the menu (see below) are noodles, rice, desserts and more.

But it’s going to be tricky.

Because I simply can’t see us hitting Spice Klub without ordering the beef rendang.

It is brilliant – and I strongly suspect those with a deeper knowledge of and experience with Indonesian food will concur.

Called here rendang sapi, it costs $13 and is served with plain rice.

In modern parlance, this meat would be referred to as “smashed” or even, heaven forbid, “pulled”.

But let’s go old-school and refer to it as cooked down.

It is meat of high quality; no gristle or globs of fat here.

It’s quite sweet, has a nice chilli kick and is just sufficiently oily for the recipe to work.

Best of all, the flavour is a full-on orchestral blast of blended spices.

Gosh.

 

 

Bennie and I do good with the rest of our meal, too, though unsurprisingly not quite as spectacularly.

(We are guests of management – see full disclosure below.)

Lumpia semarang (chicken and prawn spring rolls, $10) are gorgeously lumpy in a way that denotes house-made food.

The chunky prawn and chicken mince inside, quite fishy in flavour, is equally rustic.

Our rolls are served with nice tamarind sauce with a strong whiff of ginger.

 

 

Nasi bakar ayam ($13) is “BBQ rice” cooked in banana leaf and studded with boneless chicken pieces.

It’s served with a crunchy mix of toasted coconut, chilli and salt, along with a sticky soy/chilli concoction.

It’s enjoyable, though probably better categorised as an entree than as a main.

Despite Spice Klub’s official address being on Ballarat Road, it’s actually on the strip of shops on Gordon Street familiar to all in the inner west as home to … not much.

But now there’s a cool Indonesian joint in place, hopefully we’ll be more frequent visitors to the neighbourhood.

Bizarrely, given the technicolour multitude of food riches in Melbourne’s west, Spice Klub is – as far as we can ascertain – our only Indonesian restaurant.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Spice Klub as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We ordered whatever we wanted. Spice Klub management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

 

French for sandwich

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Small French Cafe, 157A Barkly Street, Footscray.

For a few years now, Stefan Armentano has been running Small French Bar on Barkly Street in Footscray, bringing a wonderful touch of all sorts of French food and wine to the already wondrously diverse Footscray table.

Now he’s spread his wings – but not very far.

His new cafe/sandwich shop is directly opposite his restaurant.

Fittingly, it’s called Small French Cafe.

Fittingly – but somewhat inaccurately.

Tiny French Cafe might have been more appropriate.

Inside, there’s room for some high stools, a coffee machine and a display cabinet – and that’s about it.

Outside are a couple of tables and chairs.

But who cares about the scale of enterprise?

Let’s feel the quality … which is very fine.

 

 

The substance of the blackboard menu is all about baguette sandwiches, the varied line-up of five all priced at $9.50.

 

 

I go for the saucisson with salami, cheese, cornichons and butter, while …

 

 

… Bennie opts for the canard with duck confit, greens, grain mustard and cornichons.

This is simple and tasty eating that is right up there with the many other cheap lunch options in this neighbourhood.

Best of all is the bread – oh my!

This not your usual crusty baguette.

Stefan tells me it’s what called “pain aux cereals“.

“It is a whole-grain bread, typically the first alternative choice instead of white bread in France for sandwiches,” he says.

It’s wonderful!

Wonderful and chewy.

Meal of the week No.41: Victoria Hotel

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The announcement that the Victoria Hotel was introducing a Tuesday curry night claimed our attention.

And to be honest, we’re not sure why – with so many very affordable and often excellent curry options close to the refurbished pub (43 Victoria Street, phone 8320 0315).

Nat and I surmised that it might have been because we had such a fine time during our initial visit to the Middle Footscray establishment.

That visit’s favourable impression having since been reinforced by favourable feedback from friends and readers who had visited the place.

As well, based again on our enjoyment of the food previously, maybe the pub’s curry operation – hopefully – would provide something above and beyond the offerings of the local curry shops.

Whatever – we’re up for it!

So how do we go?

Pretty good, actually.

We’re offered two curry packages – paneer and peas makhani or kadai chicken.

We both go chook.

The curry meal deals cost $18 and come with a good-size bowl of chicken curry, rice, a fistful of papadums and red onion slaw.

Kadai, also known as karahi, is a simple curry made with many of the expected spices and capsicum.

Ours is mild and quite tangy.

We like that the boneless chicken has seemingly been chargrilled before being wed to the gravy.

The rice and papadums are fine.

The red onion slaw?

A bit disappointing.

We have been looking forward to an alternative to the frequently served (elsewhere) hard nobs of commercial mango pickle.

Our red onion mix is OK, but I would’ve loved a bit more tartness and zing.

Putting aside the likes of dosas, biryanis and thalis, if you ordered the components of our meal for dinner just about anywhere in West Footscray, it’d cost the same $18 or more.

Meal of the week No.40: Jazeera Cafe

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We’ve been aware of Jazeera Cafe (16 Paisley Street, Footscray) for a long time, but simply haven’t gotten around to visiting until now.

No doubt because we’ve established such a happy groove in going to Racecourse Road, Flemington, when we desire Somalian food.

Which is often.

However, recently CTS friend Juz has given Jazeera a couple of goes – and his feedback has been heartening.

So here we are.

I suspect there may be a menu available here … but our ordering is reduced to admirable, happy simplicity.

“Can we get some dinner here tonight?”

“What sort of food do you want?”

“Somalian food!”

“OK!”

And with that – and a big smile – our server disappears into the kitchen.

That’s fine by us.

We understand that on a low-key week night, we’re going to get what’s actually in the kitchen – or nothing at all.

As it turns, what we are provided is what we would’ve ordered anyway – soup, lamb, rice.

 

 

The soup is thicker than we’ve become used to elsewhere – more like a cream soup or a chowder.

It’s fine, but doesn’t have the zesty, lemony tang we love so much.

 

 

Our rice platter is most excellent.

It could be described as “lamb three ways” – there’s a stew, a sort-of Somalian bolognese atop the spaghetti and a big, meaty piece of braised/baked sheep meat.

Bennie has already eaten elsewhere this night, so our $15 meal does fine for both of us.

And as ever, it’s the fabulous, fragrant rice that crowns our dining as top notch.

 

Mexican chicken for Footscray

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Los Pollos Flame-Grilled Chicken, 230 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9396 0368

There was a definite ripple of excitement that hit the inner west as it became know that a Mexican chicken joint would stepping up to take over the premises formerly inhabited by Burger Business.

Somehow – between checking out the business’ Facebook page and website, and then talking with a few folks – I convinced myself that Los Pollos was part of a franchise deal.

It seems that is not the case, though it certainly looks the part if management care to move in that direction and move into other locations.

They make their own corn chips, but when we ask, we’re told the tortillas are brought in.

So how does it stack up – some real-deal Mexican tucker; or just another Tex-Mex place a la Guzman y Gomez?

A big step up from Taco Bill – or on a par?

Well, it’s definitely more Tex-Mex than La Tortilleria – and that’s fine by us.

 

 

After we order, we adjourn to the lovely garden space out back.

 

 

Bennie is very impressed with his Super LP Burrito with grilled chicken, rice, beans, salsa, queso tasty, pica de gallo, guacamole and jalapeno crema ($16.50).

He offers his dad a taste, after which I, too, conclude this is better than similar offerings you’ll find at similar places elsewhere.

And, yes, it eats bigger than it looks.

It comes with a handful of corn chips.

 

 

My half chicken combo with two sides, two salsas and six tortillas ($18.95) is more of a mixed bag.

I like the chicken, even if it doesn’t provide the sort of lip-smacking joy for which I have been hoping.

Bennie, after consuming a drumstick, disagrees with that modest assessment.

It’s different – not Nando’s, not your average Aussie charcoal chook.

The salsas are lovely – though having requested one medium and one hot, I find them similar in the heat/spice department.

The sides – red rice and roasted potatoes – are OK, but on the lacklustre side.

The word “roasted” led me to expect spud chunks with more crackle than has arrived.

You’ll eat fine at Los Pollos, but it’ll pay to keep those expectations grounded.

Check out the Los Pollos website – including menu – here.