WeFo cafe overload? Not yet …

1 Comment

dumbo1

 

Dumbo Melbourne, 11 Argyle Street, West Footscray. Phone: 9078 2645

Like Lot 10 Eatery, Dumbo is a new arrival in the WeFo neighbourhood.

They join West 48, Pod @ PID, Brother Nancy and Jellybread.

This is some fairly intense cafe action.

But saturation point?

Not yet, it would seem.

Dumbo appears to have found its own niche rather quickly.

 

dumbo2

 

The old building next to Footscray West Primary School has been extensively revamped.

Much of the limited space is taken by the kitchen and serving area.

In the main customer space, there’s a big communal table and a handful of smaller types.

On my first visit, the “new paint” vibe was still going on and the mix of Motown and other R&B – just the sort of finger-snapping grooves that would normally have me happily bobbing my head – was unpleasantly “boomy”.

At a second visit, both had gone and all was good.

The menu (see below) has plenty of takes on the usual line-up to keep the breakfast fans happy.

From that list, the baked Moroccan lamb clay pot ($16) strikes us as something that could also do handy lunch work.

The lunch list itself has just three dishes – and CTS tries the lot.

 

dumbo10

 

Pearl couscous salad with herbs, tomatoes, Lebanese cucumber, chilli herb oil, blackened chicken and green pepper relish ($18) is super.

The chicken, moist and juicy, smacks of cumin and more in the seasoning department.

Best of all is the fabulous, tangy green pepper relish.

No mere garnish this, it is provided in sufficient quantity to really give the dish a hearty flavour bomb.

 

dumbo6

 

The quinoa zucchini salad with sun-dried tomatoes, dill, goats cheese, shallots, beetroot and smoked trout ($19) is lovely yet doesn’t quite have the same impact or striking delineation of flavours.

It’s undeniably constructed from top-notch ingredients all round, but is a little bland for my tastes.

Or maybe it’s this simple: Memo to self – never order anything that involves quinoa.

 

dumbo7

 

Eating at cafes such as Dumbo often means CTS has to re-calibre expectations in terms of taking on board that meals such as the above salads are not the massive mounds of biryani or pho we habitually consume.

And that $18 or $19 is the going rate for such fare – and we’re fine with that.

 

dumbo8

 

Dumbo’s brioche burger ($19) with “chorizo patty”, bacon, Swiss cheese, jalapeno cream cheese, caramelised onion and thin chips with harissa mayo on the side, however, does seem to fall short in the value for money department.

The verdict from Tony is that the quality is there but the quantity is less than generous.

But then again, maybe comparing a cafe burger with what is available at the many ritzy burger joints around is unfair.

We have been interested to see what precisely “chorizo patty” meant.

Would it be a patty all of re-formed, smoked, porky sausage meat?

Or would it be a beef patty with some chorizo meat included?

It is, as far as we can tell, the latter.

 

dumbo9

 

My cafe latte ($3.80) is outstanding and perfect in every way; and I suspect Tony’s double espresso is likewise.

 

dumbo4

dumbo5

dumbo3

Footscray soul food

1 Comment

star5

 

Somali Star Cafe, Footscray Hub (arcade between Nicholson and Albert streets).

The Footscray Hub arcade mostly seems wonderfully changeless in its lively Africaness.

But it’s only ever had, to the best of our knowledge, a single food outlet among its various hairdressers, clothes shops and more.

These days that shop goes under the moniker Somali Star and is, I reckon, at least the third incarnation of that food space.

It’s a small – there’s two simple booths so seating is restricted.

But most customers are of the takeaway variety and come and happily go for the sambusas.

 

star8

 

The sign saying “the sambussa is back” is, we reckon, a bit misleading.

Because we’ve had these African versions of the samosa from here before – but never like this.

 

star1

 

Oh no, these are bigger and better by quite some margin …

 

star2

 

… and, in the case of our lamb number, absolutely delicious, the flaky pastry generously stuffed with minced meat, onion and herbs.

And at $3.50, they’re a superb, dead-set bargain.

Effectively a light meal all on their own, it’s a sure thing these henceforth will feature at least once a week in CTS work/school lunches.

But while our sambusa is profoundly enjoyable, it is a holding pattern – pretty much – for our more substantial plates.

 

star6

 

Unlike its predecessors in this space, Somali Star has a wall-mounted menu, from which we are happy to make our selections.

We’re warned there’ll be a wait time of about 15 minutes. But we don’t mind that as we very much enjoying the moment.

That wait time stretches to more than 20 minutes but we continue to care not – even when one of dishes is forgotten, or did not register in the first place.

What we get is unfussy, very enjoyable Somalian food.

 

star3

 

Pasta/beef ($12) displays the Italian influence on north African food.

The noodles go just right with a sauce that is a bit like a Somalian version of spag bol.

Both are excellent.

The salad bits on the side are fresh and zingy and the commercial chilli sauce is added at our request.

 

star4

 

The rice/lamb ($13) comes without adornments – maybe because it has been rushed once the friendly realised our order for it had gone awol.

We’re familiar with Somalian rice being cooked in stock, seasoned with the likes of pepper and cardamom and served with slivers of onion.

This rice is quite different, pan fried (I think) with onion and small meat chunks.

The lamb is something else.

Normally, when eating lamb in neigbourhood/street food places, be they Indian, African or other, we are used to getting lovely meat that is nevertheless sporting its fair share of bone, fat and/or gristle.

We don’t mind that at all, as the quality cooking of the meat itself invariably outweighs the extraneous bits.

We admire the cooking skill that makes such delicious food out of the cheapest cuts of meat.

In the case of this here Somali Star lamb, we get all the cooking skill and none of the rest – save for the single, visible bone piece.

The meat is very simply cooked/grilled, and – as far as I can tell – unseasoned.

But it is so wonderful, tender and yummy that I reckon a heap of much flasher eateries/pubs/cafes would be happy to serve it and charge a whole bunch more in the process.

Soul food is a term bandied about a bit these days, often in tandem or alongside BBQ food of the American variety.

Given my interest in American roots music and culture, I find that appealing.

But when such food is served in trendy places and the prices hurt, it can seem like something of a pose.

Let’s think, instead, of Footscray soul food, western suburbs soul food as a bowl of pho.

Or a WeFo biryani or dosa.

Or a couple of plates of cheap, delicious Somalian food at Somali Star.

 

star7

Very tasty in Footscray

4 Comments

vietk6

 

Viet Kitchen, 110 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 8528 1112

Viet Kitchen is right in the very heart of Vietnamese Footscray, sharing a block of Hopkins Street with such popular places as Sapa Hills and Bun Ta.

In our search for the Good Stuff all over the west, we do sometimes overlook what is right in the midst of the inner west.

So it’s taken us a while to get around to Viet Kitchen, despite receiving a few reader recommendations in the past year or so.

We end up awfully glad we’ve made the effort as we enjoy a really excellent meal.

Though things get off to humourously shaky start when our server assumes Bennie is my grandson.

Hah!

That was a common occurrence when my son was quite a lot younger and I was already old.

But now, when I’m not much older and he’s taller than me and still has plenty of growing to do?

No matter – my outrage is all of the mock variety.

Like its neighbours, Viet Kitchen makes a bit more of an effort than formica tables – it’s a sweet space.

Many of the customers seem to be regulars and we find the service and wait times to be fine.

 

vietk2

 

We like your regular spring rolls as served across the west as much as anyone, but my understanding is that in terms of the wrapping/pastry used they are an adaptation devised by the Vietnamese diaspora.

So when we spy the more authentic cha gio Viet Nam, we pounce with glee.

These chopped-up six rolls ($10.80) are fine, with a stuffing of seafood, pork and mushroom.

As good as those served at Xuan Banh Cuon in Sunshine with slightly different accessories?

Maybe … a matter of individual preference, I think.

 

vietk1

 

The spicy beef noodle soup is a sinus-blasting hoot.

And, yes, it IS spicy – though no more than any experienced Footscray food trawler will be able to handle.

The “beef” tag is somewhat misleading, as it refers only to the broth on which the dish is based – also in the bowl, along with brisket, are slices of pork and pork “ham” (sausage).

With the attending greenery – its variety a nice change from the standard herb/sprouts mix that comes with pho – this a straight-up, all-out winner.

 

vietk4

 

Most Vietnamese restaurants in the west, it seems and based on our wide-ranging adventures, only serve their various coleslaw offerings in large, family sizes – as with the “farm chicken” ($23) version served here.

So once again we pounce when we see a smaller portion of the rare beef rendition ($10) on offer.

It’s a zingy, tangy, crunchy wonder, with the plentiful and very good marinated beef still pink.

Our only wish?

Even more peanuts to really send the textural contrasts into overdrive.

 

vietk3

 

The Vietnamese pancake (with seafood, $16) is another successful order for us.

Despite the wetness of the rather bland filling (small prawns, calamari, fish, sprouts), only some of the large pancake becomes soggy – and it all gets devoured with yet another variation in the greenery/herbs department.

 

vietk5

Footscray’s new spicy place

Leave a comment

spicychef5

 

Spicy Chef, 359 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 7224

This was something of an impromptu CTS gathering that came together very easily.

A spare Sunday night, a new Indian place to try, who’s in?

So it was that six of us gathered with just one aim in mind – to take for a spin the Spicy Chef opening special of biryani, starter, salad and drink for $11.95.

We had good meals but I suspect there’s plenty more to explore at Spicy Chef in the coming weeks and months – certainly the pricing (compared with other Footscray Indian places) is very reasonable on the menu proper across the usual range of curries and dosas.

 

spicychef6

 

The best thing about our meal deals was that they were served on thali trays and that constituted excellent all-round meals for one.

Like many people, perhaps even most, I usually struggle to go even close to finishing a regular, inevitably huge serve of biryani.

So having a smaller portion mixing it with a starter and salad (even if it is just some slices of carrot and cucumber) and a drink thrown in is a fine thing.

Perhaps other restaurateurs could take this idea and run with it!

Our biryanis were uniformly fine, with good raita and spicy gravy on the side and enough fried onion strands to make the rice dishes sing.

We mostly chose goat biryani and it was good, with quite a lot of meat that came from the bones quite easily.

The starters didn’t quite reach the same standard but were OK, ranging from onion bhaji (top photograph) to …

 

spicychef2

 

… egg bhaji to …

 

spicychef4

 

… eggplant fritters to …

 

spicychef3

 

… chicken 65.

This latter was Bennie’s choice and he probably did the best of us.

 

spicychef1

West Footscray and the winds of change (2)

10 Comments

wefo215

 

Could West Footscray eventually rival Footscray proper – not only in residential terms but also in terms of commercial activity and what I’ll simply call buzz?

I’ve been pondering this for a few weeks, spurred on by a couple of stories written by my Star Weekly colleague Benjamin Millar.

The first concerned the 501 Receptions site on Barkly Street.

When the news broke almost a year ago the paperwork was in on an attempt to get permission to build almost 200 apartments on the site, the general understanding was it was the reception centre owner who was going to do the developing.

Now, as Ben reports, the site is on the market.

The second story concerned the revamp that is going to happen at West Footscray station to accommodate the Melbourne Metro rail project.

And never mind that the station could hardly be more shiny or new as it is!

That, I reckon, makes the mostly vacant land at the CBD end of the station (top photograph) area very valuable, strategically and otherwise.

 

wefo216

 

The land, owned by VicTrack, is home to the Western Emergency Relief Network and the fine people who sail in her.

 

wefo213

 

Right across the road, the building and land that once housed a motor mechanic outfit, has a for sale sign out front.

 

wefo214

 

It lists among the property’s virtues town planning permits for a “4 level complex comprising 30 apartments and 2 shops”.

 

wefo212

 

Right next door to that is Potters House church.

One whisper I’ve heard is that rezoning efforts are being made for this land.

Maybe some residential development is in the longer term future there.

But my understanding is that the church, on a site that was once a sugar factory, has a lease that has about five years to run.

 

wefo211

 

Banbury Village, meanwhile, is seeming more like a regular part of the neighbourhood rather than the closed-off bubble it has seemed for several years.

This is because there are now a number of village roads fully connecting to surrounding streets such as Barkly, Cross and Warleigh.

 

wefo22

 

Switching our gaze to the other side of railway tracks …

I’ve been told the reason there’s a monster hardware store there is because there are toxic soil concerns for much of the land in the area, rendering it unsuitable for housing.

 

wefo21

 

The means the area bounded by the Geelong Road, Geelong Street and Sunshine Road will presumably stay as a home to some fairly gnarly industrial undertakings – rubber, iron and paint among them.

 

wefo23

 

Another whisper I’ve heard is that the council is keen on preserving the jobs capacity of the properties on Sunshine Road from the bus depot up to the wool stores.

One of the wool stores, the one that runs parallell to Roberts Street, is used for I know not what – but when I choose that route to get to work there are always many, very large trucks coming and going.

The other wool store is being used as storage depot/warehouse for Dimmey’s and the associated import/export business, Starite.

Beyond there is a surprisingly large amount of residential neighbourhoods about which it is easy to forget.

A lot of the older houses in this area – bounded by Sunshine and Paramount roads and Stony Creek – were built after World War II by a developer named Hansen, using many recycled materials because of war-time shortages.

 

wefo217

 

His company name and/or motto is still emblazoned on one the Tottenham shops – the one that housed a sub-continental grocery for a few years.

 

wefo27

 

I learn the above information from Evan, who I meet when step foot – for the first time – into the Tottenham mobility scooter shop.

Actually, Evan runs three business on the premises – Mr Mobility, Hamilton Street Antiques and Mr Mannequins.

If I had been previously aware of these diverse enterprises, it was only very dimly.

 

wefo29

 

So I am knocked out the range of old stuff Evan has in here – this is easily the most impressive antique/vintage shop I’ve seen in the western suburbs.

The antique side of the business is named after Hamilton Street in Yarraville, where Evan was located before moving to the Tottenham shops 25 years ago.

 

wefo28

 

In the course of good old chinwag, Evan tells me the bottom has fallen out of the antique biz, mostly – he reckons – because of Ebay.

As well as many houses in the streets behind the Tottenham shops, there is a very big vacant lot – on Cala Street, right next to Opera Australia Props & Scenery Hire.

But perhaps there are soil issues there, too?

 

wefo26

Fine burgers in Footscray

Leave a comment

business7

 

Burger Business, 230 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 9396 0368

The talk in our home for a few hours leading up to our Friday night dinner outing is about Indian.

But when the appointed hour arrives and we’re heading for Footscray, I unilaterally change my mind.

Truth be told, I’m not really into chowing down on another Indian meal tonight – we DO eat a lot of Indian and Sri Lankan food.

This is a decision with which Bennie happy to go along with once he realises burgers are on the menuĀ  – obviously, our period of burger burnout of some months previous has abated.

 

business4

 

Burger Business is one of two newish burger joints that have sprung up in Footscray – perhaps hoping to tap into the sort of burger-crazed sentiments that have made 8bit such a hit.

It’s on a stretch of Nicholson Street that is quite gloomy at night and not generally famed for its food or street life.

But maybe that is changing – Burger Business joins a handful of African places down here where it WOULD be good to see a more robust street vibe happening.

We have no expectations or knowledge of Burger Business one way or the other.

 

business5

 

It looks and feels like its based on a ritzy burger joint template.

Indeed, as we await our meals, I whisper to Bennie: “This place looks just like a Grill’d!”

Hunters & Collectors are blasting from the sound system, duly followed by another iconic Australian rock anthem.

I fill Bennie in on the alternative chorus of the latter: “Don’t bore me shitless …”

Whatever our hopes and expectations, we proceed to enjoy very good burger meals – and leave Burger Business thinking we’ve lucked into cool Footscray secret that comes without the crush of crowds that may be encountered elsewhere.

 

business3

 

Bennie enjoys his bacon feast ($11.90) with beef, smoked bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, aioli and ketchup.

 

business2

 

But allowed a taste of my chilli burger ($10.90) – with beef, aioli, cheese, roasted peppers, red onion, jalapenos, chilli sauce and lettuce – he happily avows that my sandwich is superior.

It IS bloody good!

The chilli quotient is negligible beyond the pickled jalapenos but all the very good ingredients and condiments – including nicely flavoursome beef and juicy roast capscums – work together to create an excellent burger.

Our small serves of regular fries and sweet potato fries are beaut, the latter having the same crisp exteriors as the former.

Our burgers and fries have been combo-ed with drinks – so our Friday night feast has cost us a most admirable $15 each.

Upon completion of our meals, we are given a small brownie each without charge.

They’re more fudge than brownie and OK rather than wonderful – but still, it’ a nice touch.

 

business6

business1

business8

All you can eat Japanese

9 Comments

okami17

 

Okami, 84 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9078 0888

As we depart Footscray’s new Japanese establishment, I ask Bennie what he made of our meal …

“It was a bit shopping centre,” he replies after a moment of pondering.

“But it got better as it went on.”

He’s right on both counts.

Okami replaces 1 + 1 Dumpling Noodles on Hopkins Street, right in the guts of Footscray.

It is a sister restaurant to establishments in Hampton, Caulfield and Wantirna.

The place has been done over in a rather nice and sleek way.

Ordering a la carte can be done at Okami, which is a dinner only eatery and also (perhaps temporarily) cash only.

But judging by the number of patrons in the place on our Monday night and those I observed a few nights earlier on a packed-house Saturday, Okami Footscray is already a big hit based on its all-you-can-eat deal for $29.80 per person.

So that’s what we do, too.

The result is one of our more unusual dining experiences.

 

okami18

 

How does it work?

This is not a buffet.

Instead, patrons order from a separate all-you-can-eat menu (see below) that nevertheless seems to feature just about everything the restaurant serves.

The line-up is long and features many well-known Japanese dishes ranging from starters through to ice-cream.

Some of meatier and more substantial dishes are offered in two sizes, though pondering portion sizes seems odd in this context.

The first thing we want to know is: Once we’ve ordered, is that it – can we order no more?

Our waitperson is ready for that: Yes, we can order as many times as we like.

We end up ordering twice for savouries and once for sweets.

 

okami10

 

Bizarrely, the menu comes with the following warning: “Please Do not Waste Food, Any Food Waste Over 200g May Charge Extra.”

Wow, I wonder how that works.

If a table has been unable to consume all it has ordered, what do the staff do – wheel out the scales?

It comes across as a bluff and a warning, one that surely would be very difficult to enforce.

And if it was, who decides what the “extra” charges are – and on what basis?

We order a stack of smaller dishes and larger ones to share that range from awful to delicious, largely progressing as per Bennie’s summation from not good to better to very good in order of arrival.

And arrive our selections do – in such quick succession we struggle to keep up.

Several of the garnishes and salady bits are overbearing and/or lame.

 

okami3

 

Seaweed salad has all the flavours we expect but is drab.

 

okami4

 

Sushi is edible but dull.

The nigiri is too hard and too cold, and I doubt very much if it has been made fresh for us.

This is where Bennie’s “shopping centre” quip is most relevant.

 

okami5

 

Though the same can be said of our seafood tempura.

Freshly fried, yes, but lacklustre – a couple of vegetable pieces and a prawn for each of us.

 

okami6

 

The eggplant salad is topped by a profusion of carrot strands.

The cross-cut eggplant is a mix of crunchy and chewy but falls a long way short of the sort of melt-in-your-mouth sensations we expect of this dish.

 

okami7

 

There is little that is overtly seafoodish about our prawn gyoza but they taste fine, though the outer edges of the pastry are too chewy.

 

okami8

 

Chawan mushi is tiny and lacking any seafood, chicken or other – but the custard does have good flavour.

 

okami9

 

Miso soup is unmemorable.

 

okami11

 

Bedraggled leaves are draped over four pieces of beef carpaccio that taste wonderful – this marinated meat is Bennie’s favourite part of the night.

 

okami12

 

Miso beef is fine and tender, though the miso sauce is not a an integrated part of the dish and the meat is a tad overcooked for my tastes.

 

okami13

 

Now we’re cooking!

Or rather, deep-frying!

The batter on our chicken karaage is quite thick but overall this dish pleases us.

It’s hot and fresh; the chicken is tender though not particularly flavoursome.

 

okami14

 

The chicken katsu also delights.

The coating is crisp and hot, and the tangy sauce makes the whole lot sing.

 

okami15

 

Cold soba (buckwheat) noodles present as a mess but are lovely, the vibrant sesame dressing nicely abetting the pickled ginger and bean sprouts.

 

okami16

 

Green tea and black sesame ice-creams are both described on the menu as homemade.

We know not if these are actually made in-house – but we really enjoy them anyway.

Have we enjoyed our dinner?

Yes, but …

Have we got our money’s worth?

Yes, but …

Have we left any potentially surcharge-liable food?

No.

Long-time CTS readers will be aware that notions such as plating, presentation, decor, ambience, elegance, style and class don’t feature very high on our list of eating-out criteria.

But experiencing the Okami all-you-can-eat deal makes us realise that when it comes to Japanese food, they have a big role to play – even for us.

Okami mileage will vary depending on individual customer concerns.

For most people, we suspect a satisfying time can be had through savvy ordering, even if the food often seems rushed and wanting more refinement.

But there’s no doubt that for many, Okami will be a popular and regular feasting point.

Indeed, it already is.

 

okami1

okami2