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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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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