Yarraville cafe tastes fine

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Mantra Studio Kitchen and Bar, 10A Campbell Street, Yarraville. Phone: 0419 329 936

The location and setting of Mantra is both a surprise and just right: In a light industrial conclave way over in the Yarraville back waters near Francis and Hyde.

Inside, the warehouse has undergone a gorgeous cafe transformation.

There’s lots of space, high ceilings and plenty of room to grow.

Which makes me think that Mantra will continue evolving to become something of a multi-faceted community asset.

In the meantime, there is food.

Very lovely food.

The menu (see below) runs to breakfast items such as sweet corn fritters, breakfast ramen and jasmine rice pudding.

Lunch choices range from a falafel burger to what sounds like a delectable salad of heirloom carrots, beetroot hummus, dukkah and sweet potato.

CTS visits twice within a couple of days and has a swell time lunching.

The service is cheerful and efficient and the wait times good.

 

 

Visiting on my own for reconnaissance purposes, I go with the wagyu burger with chilli relish, cos lettuce, tomato, baco and fries ($24).

Now, $24 is quite a lot to pay for a cafe burger in these parts.

On the other hand, this is a terrific specimen of the burger art.

Simplicity is a virtue here.

It’s a two-fisted joy, juicy and redolent somehow of Middle Eastern seasoning.

The chips are good, though those on the outer reaches of the mound are barely luke warm and the rest could be hotter, too.

 

 

For a return visit of the family Sunday lunch kind, Deb gets the same burger with an equally agreeable outcome.

Here, though, she substitutes the regular fries with crumbed eggplant chips.

They are superb.

And hot.

 

 

I’ve already seen enough – and eaten enough – to rather wish the “poke bowl” fad fades away with some haste, seeing as it widely seems to be an excuse for slopping mediocre ingredients in a bowl and charging richly for it.

The Mantra Bowl ($18), by contrast, shows how it should be done and how good such an offering can be.

The ingredients are top-shelf in every way and – just as importantly for this kind of meal – they are beautifully arranged in the bowl with skill and talent.

Rice ‘n’ black beans, heaps of robustly crunchy pickled cabbage, several kinds of mushroom, bean sprouts, tender asparagus – and even a trans-national touch through brown baba ganoush and flatbread: All wonderful, alone and/or together.

 

 

Bennie muchly enjoys his BBQ duck waffle with mango chutney, lychee gel and grilled asparagus ($23).

The meat is juicy yet nicely chewy, though it seems to me his meal would benefit from a greater sauce/liquid component.

He disagrees.

Apart from the  breakfast and lunch routines, Mantra is already happily experimenting with Friday evening events of the “beer and dumpling” and “beer and sliders” variety.

There is some parking available right outside the cafe, while the surrounding streets are subject to time limits.

Be careful!

Check out the Mantra website here.

 

Pub ribs rock

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Commercial Hotel, 111 Watton Street, Werribee. Phone: 9741 2322

Tootling down Watton Street looking for a carpark, I am bemused.

But not nearly as bemused as Bennie and Deb, his mum.

At issue is the nature of our destination – seemingly the sort of pub that would normally struggle, and fail, to gain the attention of CTS.

A confession: I have been seduced by the nice Facebook pictures of the Commercial Hotel’s food, these featuring occasionally in my feed because of the joint’s links with the Werribee Bears rugby league outfit.

I’m not diehard fan of the club, but did venture down there for a couple of games last season.

Even if the pub at hand would normally fall out side CTS paramters, we are – as ever – upbeat and hopeful.

Truth is, had I twigged the Commercial is a pokies venue, this adventure almost certainly would have been stillborn.

Happily, the pokies are well away from the dining room – out of sight, out of earshot and out of mind.

That leaves us to happily enjoy the old-school ambiance.

The Commercial’s dining room feels – from the carpet up – just like a country pub.

As we expect, the menu (see below) is studded with the sorts of dishes routinely found in such places.

But there’s a few nice wrinkles in there, too.

 

 

Deb goes the roast pork dinner ($13).

It’s a beauty, with a heap of good vegetables and more than enough highly porky and nicely cooked meat.

She loves it; the plate is clean when she’s done.

Not just a fine roast dinner, but a bargain as well.

 

 

For Bennie, it’s the pulled pork burger ($20), which tastes a lot better than it photographs.

Oddly (perhaps even weirdly), the pulled meat appears to have been formed into a pattie.

It tastes good to me and he enjoys it.

But it’s fair to say Bennie has just about had it with pulled meat of any kind in burgers; me, I’ve had it with pulled pork period.

So often so mediocre!

 

 

It’s a subjective judgment, but for me the stars of our collective choosing are my BBQ baby back ribs ($33).

There’s two good-size rack pieces in there.

The meat is tasty and tender, and comes from the bones with ease.

I know there’s people out there, for whom gnaw is the desired and happy norm, who will think that no recommendation at all.

Still, for me this is a fine BBQ meal, the pricing of which can put some of the specialist BBQ joints in the shade.

The ribs are handily abetted by a fine slaw.

Really, the only disappointment of our Commercial outing is the chips Bennie and I are provided.

They’re OK – but also under-done and under-salted.

Check out the Commercial Hotel website here.

 

Joyfully juicy

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Bird & Burger, 9 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9090 7265

Bird & Burger lives in a premises long previously occupied by a similar operation with different management.

But this new lot are doing more than maintaining the location’s chicken shop tradition – they’re doing so splendidly.

Here be fast food that really is fresh and delicious.

 

 

The interior is mostly black and white, with eat-in seating options down to stools and a bench on one wall and a handful of snazzy ottomans facing the front window and another bench.

There are, however, tall tables and more stools outside.

 

My heart sinks a little when I see the plastic cutlery atop one of counters, fearing these useless tool may be served with my chicken.

But no!

Not only am I supplied with metal cutlery, my meal is presented on a black platter, with chips and coleslaw in similarly angular bowls.

It all looks marvellous.

Tastes that way, too.

The chips ($3.95) are hot, liberally salted and fine.

The admission price of $6.50 for my coleslaw seems, at first blush, a little steep for what I’m thinking is just a side dish to a chicken meal.

But here’s the thing – it is worth every cent.

In fact, I’ll call it right here and now – this is quite possibly the best coleslaw I’ve ever had in a chook shop.

Made mostly of red cabbage, and boasting subtle whiffs of tarragon and dill, it is well dressed without being sopping, has crunch yet is pliable – and is 100 per cent wonderful.

My chicken falls into the “Yes, It Can Be Done” category.

That’s right – even the very heart of the breast meat is as juicy as the rest of it.

My half bird ($10.50) is marinated in the mild chilli sauce that is chosen from a list that also includes lemon and herbs, crunchy creamed peanut and outback BBQ.

All is beaut and succulent.

 

 

The classic beef burger ($12.50) comes from a menu that includes two other beef burgers, five chicken burgers and a lamb edition.

Our burger’s lettuce, tomato, red onion, tomato relish and herb aioli are joined – upon request – by excellent bacon for which no charge is levied.

The beef patty is nicely charry and superbly seasoned with – I’m guessing here, as the staff mumble something about “top secret” when quizzed – oregano and other goodies.

Every aspect of this burger is an outright winner.

If CTS used points, I’d deduct one for the fact that this burger is such a gloriously messy handful that I resort, in the end, to eating it with a knife and fork.

But in this case, I care not because everything is just so damn tasty.

Bird & Burger is a fine establishment.

CTS metaphorically clicks its heels as it saunters back to the car.

Knockout burgers

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Maple Leaf Meats, Yarraville Gardens

The initial buzz that attended the arrival of food trucks in the west has long since faded.

Trucks still park at Yarraville Gardens and elsewhere, but they have become for us – and no doubt others – just one of many eating scenarios.

For this Saturday lunch, our post-kung fu, food-seeking rambling finds us parking and intent on doing the “truck thing” for the first time in a long while.

We do really, really good.

 

 

After perusing the line-up of vehicular vittles on offer, we opt – for no great reason and with only modest expectations – for Maple Leaf Meats and their cool, old-school truck/caravan.

I say modest expectations because part of our general disinclination to have any truck with this style of food comes down to quite a few disappointments of the mediocre and over-priced food variety.

The Maple Leaf Meats crew goes a long way towards restoring our faith in food trucks and what they offer.

The menu (see below) runs to barbecue offerings such as ribs and wings, but we’re not up for that kind of full-on meatiness or expense (in the case of the ribs), so opt for the burger route.

 

 

My Maple Leaf Burger ($14) is a very fine production with its cheese, pickles, tomato, lettuce and chipotle mayo.

Had I been paying more attention, and not in such a hungry hurry, I may have noted the presence of caramelised onion and therefore opted for another burger selection, caramelised onions being another offering we often find very disappointing and dull.

Here, though, they’re fine – a plus on what is already a fine burger.

Best of all, the patty is of robust and delicious beefiness.

 

 

Bennie does even better with his Smoked Meat Burger ($15).

In addition to the routine fillings, including in this case mustard, this winner comes with “Montreal smoked meat”.

This turns out to be pastrami, which – we’re told – is a Montreal specialty.

But this is not just pastrami – it’s Really Good Pastrami and there’s heaps of it.

This is not merely a matter of the sort of flavour tingle that a rasher of bacon gives to a burger.

So profound is the smoked meat’s impact that it’s more about creating something wholly new and different.

Bennie loves it.

 

 

In tune with the rest of our meal, the small serve of chips ($5) is excellent – each and every one is hot and crisp.

The best part of an hour later, we’re pretty much in Werribee and getting on with our day.

After a longish period of silent grooving to the car music, out of nowhere Bennie emphatically opines:

“Man, that was a good burger!”

 

Williamstown, an interesting arrival

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Bob’s Diner @ Rifle Club Hotel, 121 Victoria Street, Williamstown. Phone: 9367 6073.

One Friday night, and long ago before Consider The Sauce started, Bennie and I ventured into the Rifle Club Hotel, having heard there was a some Thai food going on there.

That turned out to not be the case, and we fled, figuring the establishment – then – was no place for a boy and his dad.

Now we’re back after learning that a crew called Bob’s Diner has set up shop.

Truth be told, this pokies venue is not a good fit for us, but we’re prepared to give it a crack.

The dining room has been done out in basic diner style and, as expected given the the name of the place, burgers are big on the menu.

But there are also such items as poutine, chicken wings, fish and chips – and even a grazier’s beef pie with sauce and mash.

 

 

The chips ($5) come in a good-size serve and are enjoyed by us both.

 

 

My SouthWest Chicken Burger ($12) is an enigma.

Bun, coleslaw, briny pickle all good.

The chicken is crumbed and crisp.

But tastes of nothing.

Is it re-constituted like a chicken nugget?

I can’t tell, but it disappoints.

 

 

Bennie does a whole let better with his cheese and bacon burger ($12).

This is a good, solid burger that is priced right.

Given the dearth of eating options in the immediate neighourhood, Bob’s Diner is sure to be of interest.

But we’d advise savvy scrutiny of the menu and quizzing of the staff.

 

Brewhouse feeds us good

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Two Birds Brewing, 136 Hall Street, Spotswood. Phone: 9762 0000

It’s taken us ages to check out Two Birds Brewing.

As soon as we amble through the doors of this Spotswood brew emporium, we regret that has been the case as we take to the place with alacrity.

There’s a bar/servery at the front and an attendant and cosy drinking/eating area.

 

 

A nice, happy mid-week buzz is going on and there’s quite a good crowd.

It’s warm, but also busy and way too dark for comfortable photography.

So we are very happy to keep on marching through to the brewery proper, which has another area with tables, chairs – and heating.

 

 

It’s all very cavernous and industrial, but we love it – what a place to enjoy a meal and a drink!

CTS doesn’t normally do booze, but this being a brewery it would seem somewhat inappropriate to go without, so I have a very nice schooner of the Two Birds Taco ale, while Bennie is happy to go with his usual Coke stuff.

We are very interested to see how the food will shape up, having checked out the menu before we departed home.

On the one hand, we are delighted to see a list that is so deeply into hipster food of the American style yet unlike anything else we’ve seen in Melbourne.

On the other, we wonder if this will be bar food that is really snack food – we fret, just a little, that we will spend a packet yet nevertheless leave without feeling fully satisfied.

There prove to be so no such problems for us at Two Birds – we enjoy a fine meal and consider the pricing just right.

 

 

House-made pickles ($8) are superb.

Carrot, green beans, celery, zucchini, onion – here is a wonderful fantasia of colours and textures, with each of the vegetables evincing different flavours.

Croquettes ($10 for four, top photograph) present as gorgeous-looking crisp orbs – we can’t wait to grab them.

Their promise is fully realised – inside each of them is lipsmackingly good and gooey mix of macaroni, cheese and pimento, all with just the right level of spice heat.

 

 

We move on to the “bigs” portion of the menu …

By this time we are happy and relaxed in the sure knowledge that the Two Birds experience will leave us well fed.

The one remaining issue to be resolved surrounds what was always going to be Bennie’s main choice – the smoked pork hot dog.

As Bennie himself puts it: “How good can a hot dog be for $17?”

With its fine sausage and dressings of bacon, paprika mustard and ketchup, it hits nice heights in terms of flavour and eating pleasure.

Bennie enjoys the heck out of it, but he does make unfavourable comparisons to the $5 versions to be had at the Wiener Wednesdays at Littlefoot in Footscray.

I tell him that’s harsh and very much a case of comparing apples and oranges.

As he wraps up his meal and licks his fingers, he ponders this.

“I’d happily pay $12 for that,” he says.

Fair call, I reckon.

The kipfler potato salad that accompanies his hot dog is very fine.

 

 

The only problem with my chicken schnitzel “on brioche” is that there is, so far as I can tell, nothing even remotely “schnitzel” about it.

Instead, this a regal, sooper dooper chicken burger that makes me very, very happy.

Around a nice slab of chook are, according to the menu, nothing more than “special sauce, American cheese and lettuce”, yet the flavour impact is way greater than that suggests.

With a lovely dob of that same potato salad, I enjoy my meal and consider it good value for $17.

Check out the Two Birds Brewing website – including menu – here.

 

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.