Birdcage Cafe – opening today!

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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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Strong contender in the westie burger stakes

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Burgernomics, 286 Ballarat Road, Braybrook.

These days, it seems, Wednesday night is burger night for Consider The Sauce.

So off we trek to Ballarat Road in Braybrook.

We’ve tried Burgernomics previously – a few days after the joint opened – but it was all too busy and crazy.

On a lovely mid-week night, things are a lot more orderly and we’re keen to see what’s on offer.

What we find is a small, tidy fast-food cafe with a fairly typical menu of burgers and variously souped-up fries – think cheese, bolognese, nachos and so on.

The small crew on hand are upbeat, smiling and doing a top-class job.

Turnaround time – from ordering to eating – is about as brief as possible and thus way shorter than some places we could mention.

 

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While I mostly disapprove of the many leaning towers of customised burgers I see splattered across social media these days, I choose not to deny Bennie when his eyes light up at seeing the blackboard Burgernomics special of the Bulldog Burger ($14.90) of beef, fried chicken, double cheese, bacon lettuce, tomato, mayo, BBQ sauce.

 

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In truth, while his Bulldog Burger is substantial it is still a burger of manageable proportions.

Bennie’s unsure about the compatibility of the cow ‘n’ chook – but is thrilled with his burger nevertheless, and particularly the wonderfully crisp and big slab of chicken.

He downs the lot.

My own Baconator ($10.90) with extra beef patty ($3), too, is excellent – though the extra patty is hardly warranted given I don’t quite manage to finish eating my meal.

The beef is plain but good and all the trimmings and dressings are fine.

We’ve become a little cynical about the use of brioche – or brioche-style buns – in burgers, finding them often either dry or used as an excuse to go small.

These are both fresh and of regular burger dimensions – yay!

Our “beer-battered” fries ($3) are fine but somewhat superfluous given the girth of our burgers.

 

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So … we’ve enjoyed a very good burger dinner.

But as Bennie says: “They’re only burgers.”

So we’re not going to claim “best in the west” status for the Burgernomics fare.

But we are happy to include them among our short list of faves in the west alongside Burger Business, Gemelli and Zigzag.

 

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Bros on show

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Two Bros On Blyth, 51a Blyth Street, Altona.

Two Bros On Blyth in Altona has gone from agreeable neighbourhood cafe to something much grander.

A second storey has been added.

A much larger downstairs kitchen has been installed.

There’s two menus in place – see them both at the Two Bros website here.

A good deal of thought and creativity has been put into both.

Lunch runs to such attractive options as smoky spice rub chicken wings with bourbon BBQ sauce ($15 for half a kilo, $24 for a kilo), pulled pork and beef melts ($15), and reuben and cubano sandwiches ($16).

 

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But we’re here for dinner, my company on this occasion being Nat Stockley and his niece, Yaya.

Yaya is living away from her Thai home while she studies in Melbourne. She appears to be taking to Melbourne and its myriad ways with aplomb.

And given the company she’s keeping, it’s no surprise she is becoming a pro eater.

Eating Tim Tams for breakfast – like that.

I think it’s fair to say that she and I enjoy our meal more than her uncle – but overall we all have an enjoyable time of it.

 

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The upstairs dining room is far from ostentatious, but with its hanging greenery and roomy feel is a pleasant, tanquil space in which to dine.

The only downside we find is that our table is too small for the multiple dishes we order and which arrive simultaneously.

We order one entree, two sides, one of the big sharing-for-two mains and a dessert.

With a couple of non-booze drinks and a coffee included, the bill comes to a few bucks over $100, which I consider good value.

The service is fine.

 

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Lamb ribs ($16) are excellent – and significantly more meaty than other versions I’ve eaten recently.

The impact of the advertised salsa verde is negligible but the mild, tasty chilli concoction also included is worthy compensation and the cumin seasoning on the meat itself is ace.

 

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Hand-cut chips ($7) are good though there is only the scantiest trace of the listed “togarashi salt” seasoning. But I love the subtle pungency of the wasabi aioli.

 

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Broccolini with toasted almonds and preserved lemon butter ($7) takes care of the veg component.

 

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The dinner menu features three big, meaty share dishes – for two, the pork shoulder and brisket; for three or four, the whole braised lamb shoulder.

Our pork shoulder with chipotle adobo and coriander sports a heavy layer of fat, but I like it a lot.

The tender meat and its marinade/sauce have a fruitiness that is beguiling and overall this dish is a nice change from some of the drab pulled pork offerings that have come my way in recent years.

One of our trio grumbles a bit about the $48 price tag, but I figure that this dish is listed as a share deal for two and that $24 per person in that context is fine.

 

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Dessert?

Let’s indulge!

Chocolate brownie ice-cream sandwich with hot fudge sauce, Yaya’s selection, is a doozy.

It looks, somewhat necessarily, messy on the plate – and gets much messier very quickly.

But there’s no denying the intense pleasure to be had from the brownie’s crunch, the black-flecked vanilla ice-cream and the sticky sauce.

It’s worth every cent of the $12 we pay.

 

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Retro burger genius

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Skipping Girl Take Away, 70 William Street, Abbotsford. Phone: 0474 837 612

Skipping Girl Take Away is located a long block away from the hustle and bustle of Vietnamese Victoria Street.

But in metaphorical terms, it’s a long way removed.

As with parts of other intense inner-city locales – Richmond, Collingwood, even Footscray – these back streets of Abbotsford bespeak days of an older Melbourne.

 

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The Skipping Girl shop isn’t 1900s ancient, though when proprietors Eyal and Nolan took it over it had long been unused and was an utterly grimy rathole.

But instead of gutting the place, they peeled back and scrubbed away the dirt, leaving the old takeaway shop pretty much as is/was.

 

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The essential configuration of grill, deep fryer, servery, customer seating, floor coverings and mirrors has been retained.

This fits in perfectly with their gameplan of approaching their food offerings with an old-school ethos that evokes takeaway joints of earlier decades that have over the years ceded quality and importance to newer trends and tastes – but with class and quality way beyond supermarket patties.

 

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They appear to be succeeding admirably, having been open a couple of weeks.

The signs are everywhere – there’s plenty of skipping girl mementos and artifacts.

 

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And there’s not an old-school takeaweay joint on the planet that offers the range of sauces and dressings these guys do.

If there’s necessarily a level of artifice in the marriage of old-school takeaway shop with a contemporary, hip approach, it is done so seamlessly and cleverly that I have no problem embracing it without inhibition.

 

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Especially when the food is as excellent as we enjoy, our selections brought to our table housed in army ration tins.

We choose from the freshly delivered “new” menu (see below), which is split into two sections – “burgers” and “more awesome burgers”.

As you do.

 

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Bennie goes for the Blue Moon ($18), which is the double beef (with two patties, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, Skipping Girl sauce) with blue cheese added.

 

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It’s two-handed dynamite, with the blue cheese coming through strong but in the sense of aiding and abetting rather than overwhelming.

This is a most excellent burger.

 

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I enjoy my fish burger ($15), but feel the delicate flavour of the lemon-and-pepper-dusted blue grenadier is swamped a bit by overt generosity in the pickle department.

There’s not a burger alive I want to eat without pickles, but in this case about half or less of what I’m delivered would’ve been fine.

Still good, though!

 

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Nat is happy with his regular beef burger ($13) with bacon but finds the bun not quite to his complete liking. Too dry, I think.

 

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We share a regular serve of triple-cooked chips ($6).

They’re excellent, especially towards the bottom where the smaller, crunchier ones live!

They’re served with a really fine house-made tomato sauce. Nat reckons it’s a bit like an Indian kasundi – he’s right, but we’re told the sauce also has a homegrown component in the form of wattleseeds.

 

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Eyal and Nolan, who have long histories in the Melbourne eatery/hospitality game, are intent on doing something different.

They’re also having a whole lot of fun.

Check out Skipping Girl Take Away and you will, too.

Skipping Girl Take Away is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-9pm. Cash only though there is an in-house ATM.

 

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Wonderful impromptu Italian

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Pier 71 Bar e Cucina, 71 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 8598

Bennie and I have an engagement in Altona – the launch party for a new place.

In truth, we’re not sure how – or if – this will work for us.

It’s a week night with school and work the next day, and it remains to be seen whether CTS will get enough of a look-see at the food to generate a story.

We get through the security cordon, stride up the stairs and find that, nope, this isn’t for us – it’s all about people standing around drinking, Bennie’s in his school uniform and we just don’t feel comfortable.

This place will have to wait for another day.

So around the corner we go, still chasing a dinner feed, to throw our lot in with Pier 71 Bar e Cucina.

This turns out to be an ace move on our part, as this very cool Italian has until now escaped our notice, even though it’s been around for a couple of years.

It’s all about casual Italian – something along the lines of Ovest in West Footscray or Mascalzone in Williamstown: Big on pizzas, pasta and salads, not so gung-ho about steaks and pricey seafood.

 

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The place is roughly split into three areas – a communal table at front, what amounts to a long hallway of both booth and table seating adjacent the kitchen/serving areas, and a flexible alfresco area out back.

We eat very well and find the service and timing fine for a busy mid-week night.

 

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Pizza Napoletana ($17.90) is as good as we could hope for – simple, very fine and expertly done.

There’s stacks of anchovies – good for me, not so good for Bennie!

 

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The chips that accompany our “hamburger (Italian style)” ($18.90) are superb – hot, crisp, plentiful.

The fried discs of chorizo atop seem something of an affectation to us, though, and our first conclusion is that we’d be happier if that effort had been put into putting more heft into our burger, which seems rather smallish for the price.

Bennie makes rude comparisons with the burgers we get elsewhere, but after eating I conclude he’s being unfair – because, as is so often the case, this eats bigger than it looks.

 

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And it is indeed in the “Italian style” – the meat is much more finely minced than is the case with burgers generally, be they old-school Aussie or the American style.

It’s a delight with its capsicum, onion, mozzarella and sauce.

We go for it in terms of indulgence by sharing the tiramisu ($10.90, top photograph).

It’s a dreamy, rich fantasy – much stiffer in terms of consistency than we’re used to, the booze-tinged cream a thing of grinning decadence.

Check out the Pier 71 Bar e Cucina website, including menu, here.

 

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Great food, coffee? Industrial strength!

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Container Cafe, 4/2 Roussos Place, Truganina. Phone: 0466 148 762

Across the great swathes of the industrial/commercial west, there seem to be cafes at least every couple of kilometres.

These days, all but the most rigourously old-school seem to make some effort to provide a variety of food.

Some of it is even healthy – salads and the like.

Still, some habits die hard and there are traditions to uphold.

Recently, at the cafe nearest to the Star Weekly Keilor Park office, I saw a trucky being served a mountainous bowl of extremely creamy pasta carbonara.

His pasta was topped, at his request, with a large amount of roast pork – and crackling!

 

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And I reckon most of these hundreds of places would cop complaints if the stalwart potato cakes and deep-fried, nuggety-hard dimmies weren’t on hand.

Despite all this, I am nevertheless expecting something different from Container Cafe, even though it is set in the industrial wilds of Truganina.

This place is being run, after all, by the same crew responsible for the very cool Yarraville cafe Woven, which has been turning out fine tucker for a few years now.

But upon entering the place for the first time, what do I see?

 

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Yup, potato cakes and dimmies.

Turns out, in this sort of joint in this sort of place, some things just have to done.

The Container Cafe lads came to this conclusion during research that entailed checking out the competition for many miles round – and just like that competition, they, too, will be opening at 5am.

But as I look around the “container”, I discover plenty of good signs that this is not just another tradie-style eatery.

For one thing, space dictates that there is no bain marie here – so most everything is prepared fresh.

In a heated display cabinet on the counter, there are Ka Pies!

 

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And alongside the cafe-regulation HP Sauce is a range of hot sauces.

Finally, there is the Container Cafe menu (see below).

Wow!

Plenty of carb/grease standards should they be desired – but plenty else besides, including a hot line-up of burgers and sandwiches with high degrees of Woven DNA running through them.

 

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My southern fried chicken burger ($11.50) is a killer – maybe even the best chook burger I’ve eaten.

The thigh meat is crisp on the outer, and oh-so-very juicy and delicious on the inner.

My outstanding burger is completed with terrific rough-cut slaw, very good melted cheese and pickles.

The crinckle-cut chips ($3.50) are hot and fab, though a tad too salty even for salt-addict me.

 

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The Cuban sandwich is another outright winner – superb value for $10 and getting extra points straightaway for being made with the appropriate, Cuban-style bread.

The innards are wonderfully gooey mix of melted gruyere, pickles, pulled pork and ham.

 

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My cafe latte ($3.50) is beaut.

From what I’ve seen on two visits, Container Cafe is already a hit with workers in the surrounding area – and why wouldn’t it be?

In finer weather, though, I fully expect to see this place attract a wider crowd from a broader area.

There’s a heap of outdoor seating that will make Container Cafe a fine food destination and parking is a breeze.

And the food, and the attention detail and pricing, certainly take care of business in  style.

Though you can get dimmies or potato cakes if that’s your go.

As well, as a post-lunch drive brings home to me, while residential Truganina is still some distance away from Container Cafe, and on the other side Dohertys Road, there is a lot of construction going on, meaning a lot more people looking for affordable good food and coffee.

And neither are thick on the ground in Truganina to date.

Container Cafe is open 5am-3pm Monday-Friday, though that could change depending on demand; EFTPOs facilities being installed this week.

 

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