Bank on it

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Vault Cafe Bar Restaurant, 13 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9041 3361

Consider The Sauce’s senior partner spent much of last year’s grand final day in and around the Vault.

Given that sort of context, you’ll be unsurprised to learn I was way more concerned about where the next beer and the next goal were coming from rather than about chowing down.

But I did notice that there were many happy customers enjoying a range of food – mostly, IIRC, burgers and the like.

Maybe, I thought, the latest outfit to inhabit the old bank on the corner of Ballarat and Canterbury streets has shaken of the bad location karma that had seen a couple of previous businesses come and go.

It took us a while, but we’re back to find out.

We’re doing so early on a week night on which a couple of special offers are going around.

But even without them – a burger deal with drink for $18, parmigiana for $15 – we reckon the Vault is a good thing.

 

 

There’s nothing ambitious or innovative going on here.

It’s a cosy (and warm) room, the staff are on the ball and we eat well for very little outlay.

We’re not sure how anyone would go here with some of the more exotic fare, but for your more straightforward offerings, the Vault is reliably feeding people and making them happy.

Think of it as a pub-not-pub.

 

 

I check to make sure the parmas on offer – there are four – are made with real-deal chicken.

They are.

And how.

My traditional outing is as thick as any I’ve had – yet is still superbly juicy throughout.

This is top-shelf parmigiana – big, even a little crisp around the extremities, the flavour of the ham and tomato sauce coming through in turns.

Criticisms?

The chips are fine but could’ve been hotter.

And with such a magnificent star of the plate, all that was needed salad-wise was some simple leaves, tomato and cucumber.

Those three are all present, but so are plenty of things – including sweet potato and eggplant – that put this salad in the try-too-hard bag.

Still, at $15 this is a red-hot bargain; I’d happily pay full whack.

(Bargain parma nights at the Vault are Tuesdays and Wednesdays).

 

 

Bennie reckons – from an ultra-hardcore, fussy, expert perspective – his southern fried chicken burger ($16.50, $18 Monday-Thursday with a pot of beer or cider) doesn’t reach any ecstatic heights.

But he is well pleased anyway.

There’s a nice slab of chook in there, along with sriracha mayo slaw, plenty of pickles and cheese.

He allows me a sample – and its tastes good.

He gets the same chips as accompanied the parma.

 

Barbecue comes to South Kingsville

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(Photo: NAT STOCKLEY)

 

Burn City Test Kitchen, 31A Venron Street, South Kingsville. Phone: 9043 9554 (open days after noon)

Burn City Smokers has been one of the hotter and more well-known names on the Melbourne barbecue scene for quite a while.

But that has been based on activities of the festival and catering variety.

Now Burn City has a bricks-and-mortar thing going.

Open for a few weeks is the shop front of the Vernon Street kitchen they’ve been using for a year or so.

Replacing an Asian eatery, the place is done out in a way that manages to be both cozy and hipster spartan.

It’s early days here.

We’re told menus proper are on the way, but in the meantime a prominently displayed blackboard does menu service.

It’s not a full menu and the outfit’s website (here) warns the food line-up will be changing regularly.

See the list from which our Friday night meal was chosen below.

As well, the hours are limited – Friday dinner, Saturday lunch and dinner, and Sunday lunch and late lunch.

 

 

Despite all these provisos, the place seems to have made many friends.

Nat and I see plenty of Uber bags and other takeaways going out the door, and the locals with whom we share the communal table at the front are enthusiastic.

As are those we chat to at an outdoor table as we’re on our way home.

Do we share their enthusiasm?

Yes.

There’s a couple of mis-steps in our meal, but nothing that diminishes our happiness at the prospect of returning – especially as this is an evolving situation.

 

 

A side of fries ($7) is fine, though I wish they’d been hotter.

 

 

A salad of broccoli, almonds, pickled red onion, chilli and garlic ($7) is a great idea, but the sum is less than the parts.

Largely this is because it doesn’t really come together as cohesive whole and the broccoli florets are too big and undercooked, for my taste anyway.

 

 

Chicken and potato salad ($18) is good – I like what I eat a lot, though I don’t think Nat is as impressed.

The smoked chook – even the breast – is moist and very good, while the seeded mustard-dressed potatoes are fine.

Truth is, though, our chicken dish has been ordered merely for diversity purposes with a story to write.

Had we been left to our own, non-blogging devices, we both would’ve ordered the beef short rib ($25, top photo).

This is, on the list from we’ve been working, the sole, really heavyweight barbecue offering – aside from the “in bread”, cheaper sandwiches.

And it’s a doozy.

The “12hr smoked beef rib” is crusty, musty, salty and delicious, the meat tender and excellent.

Accompanying, a bit unusually, are honey carrots.

I love them, even though they, a bit like the earlier broccoli, are tad too much on the al dente side.

For what’s it worth, the “in bread” efforts we see going by look very worthy of exploration.

As do the baked pasta and bangers and mash being enjoyed by the friendly locals at our table.

Yes, it’s licensed.

Nat describes the wine list as concise, considered and put together with assistance by someone with some knowledge.

 

Very socially adept

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Sunshine Social, 64 Glengala Road, Sunshine West. Phone: 9312 0223

Sunshine Social is a hit and hoot and we love it to bits.

This is the biggest thing to hit Sunshine West for years – the adjacent Glengala Road shops barely seem to have changed for the best part of a decade.

In fact, this may be the biggest western suburbs food story of the year.

We bowl up just a few days after opening day, eager to check out the vibe, try the food and see if the widespread community interest and hopes are being fulfilled.

The answer is a rousing “yes” – albeit with a couple of food mis-steps noted below of the very easily forgivable these-are-very-early-days variety.

 

 

The old servo has been done up a treat, the swish fit-out preserving the old-time feel of the building and, best of all, the wonderful roof that once sheltered filling-up motorists from the elements.

It would be easy to describe the furniture, fittings and general ambience as “industrial”, but there is a bit more warmth to the place than that might imply.

As well, even on a busy Friday night, the noise levels are surprisingly subdued.

Three of us have drinks, two starters, three mains with various sides and a single, cheapo dessert and pay just a tad over $100 – so Sunshine Social represents good value for money as well as a whole heap of fun.

We arrive early after having dithered about a later start time involving a bigger assemblage of Team CTS, but are glad we’ve reverted to 6.30pm kick-off as the place rapidly fills up after that.

Sunshine Social doesn’t take bookings – it’s not that sort of place – so while it’s as hot as it is right now and the curiosity factor is high, it would be wise to pick your time with some thought.

Loosely based on the concept of old-school charcoal chicken shops, Sunshine Social goes from there to offer a menu that broadens out to take in some multicultural ideas, all the while offering a cohesive gameplan.

 

 

Marinated olives and chargrilled vegetables ($7.50) are a delightful way to get our meal underway.

It’s a deceptively big serving of beaut olives of various colours and dimensions and long strips of gorgeous red capsicum, zucchini and eggplant.

 

 

We try two of the five dips at $4.5o a pop (punters can get the lot for $16).

I am outvoted in my desire to try the beetroot and whole bean number.

Instead, we get the eggplant and pistachio/pea/mint versions.

The former is rather dry and crumbly but has robust roast cumin flavour.

The latter has little by way of nuttiness, the pea and mint dominating in a smooth operation.

 

 

Given the charcoal chook inspiration going on here, I was only ever going to order one thing – the very same thing that I ALWAYS order in chicken shops: Half a chicken with slaw and chips ($28.50).

The price here is higher, of course, but no more than expected.

The chicken near the various bones is excellent, moist and delicious.

The breast meat is dry – as it so often is, no matter the price.

But it’s not terminally so, and certainly all this could easily be fixed up with a small pot of gravy as per charcoal shop tradition.

The chips are very fine and the slaw – much drier and different in style from the usual – a crunchy, lightly-dressed delight.

 

 

The meat served with Nat’s order of “lamb shoulder with Mediterranean herbs” ($22.50 with one side) is tasty.

But we are both surprised the sheep meat is sliced and more like your regular lamb roast than the fall-apart epic the phrase “lamb shoulder” automatically suggests to us. And there’s not much sign of the advertised herbs, either.

In both the cases of my chicken and his lamb, neither of us feels the sweetish coating (chicken) or sweetish sauce (lamb) do anything to enhance our meals.

Chicken options with more high-powered seasonings taking in lemon, chilli and turbo-herbs would be a good move, we reckon.

 

 

The no-hesitation thumbs-up of the night goes to Bennie’s fried chicken burger ($13.50).

He loves the big, succulent, crisp chunk of fried chicken and gives his burger – abetted by slaw, cheese and jalapenos – an 8 out of 10.

He gets chips with his sandwich and an extra order of slaw on the side that is plenty big enough for both himself and Nat.

 

 

During the course of our meal, we’ve pondered dessert.

But predictably, we’ve loaded up plenty on the savoury segments of the menu, so treats such as choc ripple biscuit cake with peppermint slice shavings and cream will have to await a return visit.

I do grant Bennie his wish for a house-made choc top for $4.50.

He likes it.

You can tell by his unbridled display of passion and delight and enthusiasm for the camera.

We decide that there is nothing else quite like Sunshine Social in all of Melbourne – not that we know of anyway.

Sure, there’s a gazillion hipster burger places and almost as many barbecue joints and similar.

But a self-described “grill” that has no steaks and little seafood?

Nope.

On the basis of community reaction and our experience just a few days into its life, the place will endure and then some.

It is destined to become something of a second home to many.

And next time, we may expand our ordering horizons to the likes of pork ribs, grilled calamari, a range of meat on sticks or Moroccan lamb snags.

Check out the Sunshine Social website (including menu) here.

They’re off – new Flemo burger joint

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Straight Six, 336 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 2333

Based on its proximity to Flemington racecourse, this flashy new burger joint – on the corner of Racecourse Road and Pin Oak Crescent, and right opposite the Doutta Galla pub – has enthusiastically embraced a theme based around horse racing.

Yep, from the name and onwards, it’s all very horsey.

There’s garish, internal neon signs proclaiming “feeling lucky?” and “burgers so good you’d put your house on”.

The burgers themselves sport the names of famous steeds of the past.

And the staff are all wearing T-shirts telling you they’re stewards – just in case you miss the drift.

It all seems a bit, well, lame to me – but then, I’m in no way a fan of horse racing.

 

 

The lack of subtlety doesn’t stop with the repeated racing motifs – the place is, generally speaking, bright and loud, the music overbearingly so.

But, hey, I’m probably not in the focus demographic for such a place.

It’s been open a little more than a week and has been busy the whole time, Uber bags by the dozen heading out the door from day one.

They’ve even had to hang up the “sold out” sign on occasion.

We do the burgers and sides routine with happy results.

There are some unexpected options on the menu (see below) we may take up on a future visit – fish and chips, for instance, or chicken ribs, loaded fries and a chicken/waffle/bacon offering.

 

 

The Phar Lap ($11) is one step up from the basic cheeseburger (the Saintly, $8).

Phar Lap tastes fine with its 120g patty, cheese, Straight Six sauce, pickles, onion, lettuce and tomato.

But it’s made for those of medium appetite only – it’s gone in a flash.

If you’re wanting something with more heft, go for …

 

 

… the Think Big ($14).

Oh yes, this is more like it.

The double 100g patties, double cheese, excellent bacon, spicy Straight Six sauce, jalapenos and onion combine to create a beaut burger.

It eats bigger than my photo indicates!

 

 

A small serve of beer-battered onion rings is generous for the $4 asking price.

They’re well cooked, but oh-so-very-decadently rich and more like beer-battered batter than onion rings!

Good, though, if that’s your thing.

 

 

The chips, small serve for $4, are also a fine deal.

They’re very good.

Perhaps it’s all about – or much about – timing and location.

And perhaps pizzazz, too.

A year or so ago, a burger enterprise arose further along Racecourse Road, folding quietly after a few months having made no impression whatsoever.

Straight Six, by comparison, has been an instant hit.

I may not dig the racing theme, but we have enjoyed our burgers and sides a lot.

 

Poutine? It’s a split decision …

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Mr Griffiths Alibis & Libations, 524 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 3978

We’re in Mr Griffiths for the poutine – a dish we’ve never before eaten.

But we’ve had plenty of loaded fries – and so far as I can tell, the Quebec-derived poutine could be the very first loaded fries.

We  order the regular poutine Рcalled The Drummondville (small $7).

I am perplexed and underwhelmed – the gravy and the curd lumps seem to add nothing to the fries.

And the fries themselves seem lacklustre.

Bennie loves them – cleaning the basket empty after I’ve grabbed a handful of fries untainted by the toppings.

That figures – his eyes invariably light up when he sees the phrase “loaded fries” on a menu.

Mine tend to glaze over.

My argument is simple: Why ruin fries – especially ones as good as those we inhaled recently at Littlefoot – with toppings that make them soggy?

So in fairness to Mr Griffiths, I’d say that even a serve a poutine fan deems of the very highest order would do nothing for me.

 

 

Mr Griffiths is a newish and welcome addition to Macaulay Road.

It’s a cool room, already with a relaxed neighbourhood vibe about it.

Beer is big here and the place is done out in Melbourne black.

It appears to be a hit – a previous mid-week attempt to try the food came to nothing as the place was packed when we tried.

If poutine is your thing, there are variations to be had that include the likes of fried chicken, hot sauce, pickles, onion, bacon, maple syrup and more.

It stands to reason poutine (not offered by many places in Melbourne) is a stronger selling point here than the burgers (sold by every man and his dog).

But as it turns out, our burgers are the highlight of our Saturday lunch – a judgment with which even my poutine-loving son agrees.

 

 

He loves the crisp ‘n’ crunch of the beautifully cooked chook in his Buffalo chicken burger ($12.50) with its Frank’s red hot, lettuce and ranch sauce.

 

 

My Bacon G’s burger deluxe ($12.50) is equally impressive with its beef, bacon, tomato, lettuce, pickles, onion and G sauce. And unadvertised cheese.

Big statement: This is the best bacon I can recall ever enjoying in a burger.

Get this – it’s both chewy and crunchy, it’s thick-cut and its flavour imbues almost every mouthful.

This is something of a rarity, something that should be wildly celebrated.

As Bennie points out, there is nothing extravagant or sophisticated about our burgers.

Indeed, at first blush they appeared to be on the plain and modest side.

But the truth is in the eating – they win because good ingredients have been done well.

Check out the Mr Griffiths website here.

 

Birdcage Cafe – opening today!

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birdcage8

 

Birdcage Cafe Altona, 7 Harrington Square, Altona. Phone: 0414 224 821

Running a little ahead of time, I decide to take the scenic route to Altona’s Harrington Square.

But as I pass Bezirk cafe on Millers Road, I feel a twinge of guilt.

You see, I exchanged email a while back with one of Bezirk’s proprietors with a view to doing a CTS review/story – but we simply haven’t got around to it yet.

Now here I am, heading to another Altona cafe to do the biz on the eve of its big opening!

Oh well …

 

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Happily, after I enter Birdcage Cafe Altona, I discover the couple behind it, Adrian and Cath, are the very same folks who run Bezirk.

Problem solved!

Or rather, no problem at all!

 

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Adrian tells me their initial focus when looking to open a sister joint for Bezirk ran more along the lines of a hole-in-the-wall operation.

But when they found and secured 7 Harrington Square, they decided there was no other way for it than to run with gusto with the greater space at hand.

And a lovely space it is, too.

It’s kinda minimalist, but in a warming way.

 

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There’s a cute kids area.

 

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And these rustic, concrete-topped stools are surprisingly bum-friendly.

The table base is constructed from a papadum machine, maintaining a link with the premisies’ previous carnation as a curry house.

 

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Naturally, Birdcage Cafe is doing a fine line in brekkies, including the likes of breakfast pumpkin gnocchi and apple crumble pancakes.

But with more room, and more room to cook, Birdcage Cafe is going further than Bezirk in terms of lunch offerings, running to – for instance – a Thai beef salad and grilled salmon.

I’m told the menu (see below) testing has all been done and I’m on hand for a sort-of softish opening for friends and family.

So my lunch options are limited to the burgers – no matter.

 

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Now, take it on board that my lunch has been prepared in the knowledge it is to be eaten by a food writer and that I did not pay for it.

That said … IMO this fried chicken burger ($17) is a sensation!

There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about it, but …

A massive slab of crisp, juicy and tasty fried chook; cheese; rough-cut, excellent coleslaw; a single rasher of very good bacon.

Excellent chips on the side.

Really top stuff, it all is.

 

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And so substantial that I have no room left for a chunk of Nutella baklava.

Adrian tells me they’re creating some of their sweet treats in-house, but are sourcing others from local specialists such as Fresh Prince of Baklava.

Also keeping righteous local vibe going are meat from Paddock to Table in Laverton and hams and the like from Sycamore Deli in Altona.

 

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My straight-up cafe latte is marvellous.

 

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Searingly good Friday dinner

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Searz Caffi, 39 Challis Street, Newport. Phone: 9399 2393

Some of our hottest meals are deeply rooted in the most whimsical decisions.

So it is tonight.

Turn left at the end of the street – that means Spotswood, Newport, Williamstown, Altona.

It’s as we’re tooling along Williamstown Road, vague notions of pizza fomenting in our minds, that inspiration strikes.

Friday night!

Searz!

We’ve been to this Newport cafe before, but since then a friend has keenly recommended the joint’s Friday Indian-style specials.

We enjoyed our earlier visit, but so terrific is what we have during our second that we decide there is no better cafe in the west – and we are left with a serious case of dead-set envy because it’s not in OUR neighbourhood.

A big part of Searz’s appeal, for us anyway, is its Asian outlook.

So many other cafes – across the west, across Melbourne – come across as dilettantes when it comes to incorporating Asian influences and dishes into their menus.

Sometimes this results in enjoyable food – but without ever quite nailing the funky spicy factor.

There’s no such problems at Searz – a wide range of deftly handled Asian dishes and flavours are on hand and Asian-ness is the very beating heart of the place.

 

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Take Bennie’s Thai beef salad ($14), for instance.

From our table’s vantage point, we enjoy watching this being constructed, so by the time it arrives we know exactly what’s in it and how it was done.

It’s very good – and in terms of quality, portion size and pure yumminess, leaves most equivalent dishes at your average Thai eateries behind.

I try a piece of the beef and am very impressed – it’s tender, charry, wonderful.

 

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But his salad is definitely aced by my Friday night curry special ($20).

The mix of biryani rice, chicken curry, dal with veg, fried hardboiled egg and apple/mango chutney is simply fabulous.

And while it looks to me, at first, a little light on for the price tag, such proves most certainly to not be the case.

Best of all, each and every component displays most admirable evidence of loving preparation and determination to produce a range of individual flavours.

The boneless chicken is more South-East Asian than Indian, but is superb with its salty, smoky seasoning.

All the rest is every bit as interesting and delicious.

 

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By now, we’re having such a grand time we decide to indulge in dessert.

There’s two on the blackboard – we order both.

Banana nutella tart with banana fritter and chocolate mousse (above) and …

 

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… peach and raspberry croustade with creme fraiche ice-cream and peach/rum coulis are both orgasmic and have Bennie and I doing our usual oooh-ing, aaah-ing, swooning and eye-rolling when presented with such finery.

These are the sorts of sweet treats we would normally only expect in more formal – and expensive – settings.

The price?

$8 each.

Bonkers!

It seems only fitting in a sort of synchronicity way that the pal who tipped us to the excellence of Friday nights at Searz – Daniel of Woven and Container Cafe fame – turns up with his crew as we’re embarking on dessert.

 

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