Episodic poultry

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Chicken Episode, 522 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9593 9929

Chicken Episode lives in premises that previously housed a long-standing Indian eatery in Kensington, right next door to Kensington Food Hall.

A younger sibling for an identically named restaurant in St Kilda, Chicken Episode is a tributary temple to pop culture, Korean style.

There’s what seems like thousands of rubber chicken in here.

 

 

And meme-like humour abounds.

I’m tempted to suggest this would be a cool place to bring bored or easily entertained teens – but some of humour on the table place mats is a little on the raunchy side.

Along with fried chicken and myriad burgers, the menu (see below) features some Korean comfort food such as bibimbap.

We can live with the kooky surroundings, but it’s the food that interests us.

We are a little wary.

That’s because we’re dropping in early in the week, early at lunch hour – not, in our experience, the best of times to interact with deep-fried food.

So how do we go?

Well, part truly excellent and part just so-so.

 

 

Bennie’s supreme chicken burger ($14.87) looks a little on the sad sack side.

He likes it well enough and tells me most of the ingredients – including sweet chilli sauce, melted cheese, tomato, ham, caramelised onions – are of a perfectly acceptable standard.

But he finds the chicken coating to be more of the soft kind found on battered fish, his final verdict being that his burger the kind of thing he’d expect to get at his now former high school.

The chips are excellent.

 

 

Unsurprisingly, he is frankly envious of my lunch.

And so he should be – it’s very, very good.

The solo deal, costing an amazing $14.50, consists of the same excellent chips, four pieces of fried chicken, a side serve of coleslaw AND a can of soft drink.

The chicken pieces are ungreasy and wonderful, the coating crisp and powdered with white pepper.

The coleslaw is fine and just the right size for such a meal deal.

 

 

Unfortunately, the coleslaw includes a tine from a plastic fork.

After this too-crunchy ingredient is pointed out to the staff, we receive an apology.

And that’s good enough for us – we never make too much of an issue out of such things or make a play for having the bill waived and/or a freebie future meal.

It will be interesting to watch how Chicken Episode goes on Macaulay Road.

We’ll happily return for more of that fried chicken.

 

Nice in Kensington

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Melba Social, 524 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 2982

Melba Social lives in the premises formerly occupied by Mr Griffiths Alibis & Libations, which closed some time ago.

We don’t know what happened there – its beer, burgers and poutine routine seemed to be going pretty well judging by the people bustle we observed there on numerous occasions.

But … onwards!

Melba Social is up and running just as two other new/newish places – Kensington Food Hall and the revamped Hardimans Hotel – are offering similar offerings, all three joints within a few street numbers of each other.

Of course, we are interested to see what Melba Social tastes like so are happy to accept an invitation taken up by a CTS Team of three (see full disclosure below).

We find the food and service to be lovely, with much of the latter crossing over to very good.

It is mostly straight-up Italian fare here.

Notably, the portion sizes and pricing both serve to generate an impression of good value, that impression given heft by the busy Thursday night of which we are part.

 

 

Three entrees for us (see menu below) …

A trio of arincini ($13) – plump, generous and gooey with mozzarella and mushroom, topped by parmesan and rocket, all residing upon a superb, basilised tomato sugo.

“Freaking hot” buffalo wings ($15) are only mildly spicy and look rather drab.

But the proof is in the eating – they taste very fine and the serve is plenty big enough for all of us to have a hearty go.

Oddly enough, it is the entree with the plainest visuals – “smokey” mushrooms ($12, above) – that most impresses.

The panko-crumbed mushies are quite delicate and so, so juicy and tasty.

The queso sauce is very rich.

 

 

Thursday night is steak night at Melba Social, though one of the three costs exactly that anyway.

Whatever – my 200-gram porterhouse ($22) is top stuff, delivered just right at medium rare.

I’m normally no fan of mashed spuds that render the lead vegetable into a rich puree with only the faintest tuber vibe.

But here the mash goes not that far and is a fine steak friend.

The “cafe de Paris” butter is somewhat excess to my richness requirements.

The coleslaw is finely chopped and a little wilted – that is, just how I like it.

But I find myself wanting more acid or bite. Or salt.

 

 

Julian loves his three cheese gnocchi ($24) with gorgonzola, grana padano and vintage cheddar.

It, too, is a big serve – Bennie and I get a good sample, so fully understand his enthusiasm.

The pasta pillows really are like the proverbial clouds and very wonderful.

Based on his regular experience with this dish at another establishment, Julian wistfully mentions that he would’ve liked to experience some actual bits of cheese in the otherwise entirely smooth sauce.

But even he admits that’s a case of being very, very picky.

 

 

I am trying to wean Bennie off chicken burgers – both for his own good and for purposes of CTS diversity.

But he enjoys the Melba Social rendition ($18), noting with thumbs-up approval that he considers his twin chook chunks to be “expertly fried”.

The shoestring chips are $6 extra, just OK and place the package up there into the restaurant burger combo category. 

 

 

Our minor quibbles about our meal thus far are put behind us as we gleefully devour both desserts on the menu.

They are superb.

Stone fruit and raspberry almond crumble ($10) immediately elicits from me the comment: “This is just like My Mum Makes!”

And that’s all that needs to be said.

 

 

A good deal richer and more decadent is “sizzling” brownie ($15).

The brownie square is bigger than it appears and swims in a sticky sauce studded with blueberries.

The vanilla bean ice-cream that accompanies both desserts is excellent.

Melba Social strikes us the sort of place that will become a cherished “local”.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Melba Social as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We were free to order whatever we wished. Melba Social management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

Meal of the week No.42: Kensington Food Hall

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One of these days, we’ll take Kensington Food Hall and its regular menu for a spin.

We were actually very close to doing so a few months back, but we were waylaid by a very different – and fine experience – at food truck just up Macaulay Road.

And we like the look of the vegan feasts KFH is running.

But tonight we’re here for the $10 Monday paella special.

Kensington Food Hall (520 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone:9078 5248) has taken over the premises formerly inhabited by Korean joint Frying Colours.

It’s been so long since we were in that eating house, that we can’t surmise about how different the new fit-out is.

It is, however, very gloomy (we arrange our own mobile lighting) – though it’s also a cheerful place, with the wall-to-wall ’70s/’80s hits struggling to penetrate the happy hubbub.

Now, when it comes to variations on the universal rice dish, we have our prejudices.

Biryani – oh yes!

Risotto?

No so much.

Paella?

Well, in the past that way has provided us with mostly disappointment.

So we are keeping our expectations well in check.

Happily, wonderfully, that turns out to be entirely unnecessary.

The Kensington Food Hall paella is a smashing winner.

Our serve-for-two is mildly, deftly seasoned with – I surmise – just the right hint of saffron.

It is brimming with seafood – shellfish and calamari – along with chicken and smoked sausage.

Wow – what a score for $10!

 

 

We are having such a fine time, we hesitate not about ordering churros ($12).

Served with two scoops of vanilla ice-cream and choc sauce, they are fresh, fat and fabulous.

We arrived soon after the start time of 5.30pm; when we leave about an hour later, the joint is rocking and very busy – the Monday night paella project is an obvious success.

So we suggest arriving early, as we did, or late.

 

Greek street food – on the street

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Greek Gypsy, 545 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 0423 709 769

We are eating from yucky polystyrene – and it’s all our fault.

Well … sort of.

If we’d made clear our eating intentions – to have our dinner right there, beside the food truck that is Greek Gypsy – we’d have been provided proper crockery.

Oh well …

As it is, we do get metal cutlery as we proceed to enjoy our meals.

And very good they are, too.

The outdoor furniture that accompanies the Greek Gypsy routine may not be any less disposable than the polystyrene containers.

But the food is every bit as delicious and enjoyable as that to be had at the other Greek enterprises that have been unveiled in our greater neighbourhood in recent months – see here, here and here.

 

 

From the compact menu, both Bennie and I choose …

 

 

… open gyro plates ($14), with a mix of lamb and chicken.

The meat is outstanding – both juicy and chewy, the lamb having a slight edge IMO.

Toasted pita goes good with a generous serve of excellent tsatziki.

The salad bits?

Just OK.

 

 

Chips ($5) are just the teensiest bit too oily.

But otherwise, they are hot, crisp and yummy – and, like, the meat, way better than we have been expecting from this food truck operation.

One of the dinner options we had been contemplating this night, just down the road apiece, would’ve run to a minimum of $80 for the pair of us – and quite probably more than $100.

Yet here we are, sitting atop Kensington Hill, having spent a fraction of that and grinning like happy fools as we eat like kings and watch the traffic and the world flow by.

Life is grand!

 

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 – called 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.

 

Meal of the week No.35: Hatch’d

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CTS appears to have hit Hatch’d in Kensington in the aftermath of a rush hour.

The salad bar at the place (497 Macaulay Road, Kensington; phone 1300 428243) is exhausted and the two wooden tables provided for eat-in dining need clearing.

But hey, I figure this is a fine thing.

Surely, it must mean that this joint’s food is popular, and thus good, even on a Monday night.

I soon find out that is indeed the case.

The chips are fresh, though I could live without the chicken salt seasoning.

The coleslaw – the salad bar has been topped up subsequent to my order – is fresh, though some sharper flavours would be handy.

But at Hatch’d, the bird really is the word.

As ever, as in ordering a medium bowl of pho when I know a small offering will more than suffice, I succumb to ordering a half chicken when a quarter would be adequate.

No matter – when I am done there nothing but a pile of bones on my plate.

This is an excellent charcoal chook – juicy, flavoursome, wonderful.

Even the breast meat requires neither stuffing (of which there is little) or gravy (provided at my request in small bowl at no charge) to be enjoyable.

An interesting perspective … a similar meal, of similar quality – but with slightly different seasonings and presentation – would cost at a fancy hipster barbecue establishment at least $10 more, and maybe even double, the $16.50 I have paid here.

While I have been enjoying my meal, a stream of customers – and almost as many Uber food drivers – have come and gone.

 

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Gelati – and lunch, too

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15654

 

1565, 3 Gower Street, Kensington. Phone: 9376 1965

Since first writing about the gelati emporium that is 1565, we’ve dropped in for the odd and very excellent cone or cup.

On a recent visit, we discovered that Kensington joint is doing lunches, too, so I am happy to check it out.

 

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The 1565 lunch routine is the epitome of simplicity …

Soup ($10) with a crusty bread roll.

 

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There’s arancini for $5 ($9.50 with salad).

And those same superb rolls are used in panini ($9.50) – your choice of schnitzel, eggplant or beef.

 

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My beef schnitzel job is medium rather than large, but there’s no doubting the good, fresh flavours and prime eatability of the meat, bread, rocket, roasted capsicum and scamorza cheese.

 

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As well, there is a small but wonderful range of biscotti and cakes, all made on the premises.

Gelati fantasia in Kensington

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1565, 3 Gower Street, Kensington. Phone: 9376 1965

Tootling to Kensington to do a story on Kensington’s new gelati joint for The Age – see story here – I am envisaging little more than the profound pleasures of trying some excellent Italian ice-cold creaminess, meeting the people involved, writing about both and then maybe creating a subsequent post for CTS.

An enjoyable, satisfying day’s work, in other words, for a western suburbs food blogger.

I get all that in spades – and more.

 

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For what I discover is that the crew behind 1565 – brothers Adriano, Alfred and Alessio Acquaro and their mum, Joy – have strong family ties to Pizza d’Asporto and Kiosk by d’Asporto in Williamstown and Impasto Forno Antico in Avondale Heights.

Indeed, the canoli and the like that abet the 1565 gelati and coffee here are supplied by the latter establishment.

How wonderful to discover yet more of the connections and depth of food culture traditions that weave and wander across the west in all sorts of ways!

 

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1565, just off the commercial strip of Macaulay Road, is done in simple, elegant style.

It is named after year gelati was apparently “invented” in Florence.

If, on that basis, you’d expect an approach to gelati that is strong on tradition, you’d be spot on.

 

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But while staying within those parameters, the 1565 crew are doing marvellous things in terms of flavour diversity.

Sure, there’s vanilla, pistachio and coffee.

But there’s also booze in the form of rum and raisin, Prosecco and the sweet liqueur of No.43.

Then there’s poached fig, watermelon and mint, panettone.

 

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I enjoy a wonderful scoop apiece of ricotta and miele (honey) and Nutella with rum baba.

Like orange and fennel, that latter of my two is imbued with textures beyond creamy.

Bennie is equally delighted with his double-banger cone of poached fig and coffee.

1565 is open from noon until late seven days a week.

 

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For all of our 15 years in the west, five of them as food bloggers, we have frequently observed that the Macaulay Road strip looks like it should be a food and drink star.

But it’s never been that.

Under-achiever is a phrase that comes to mind.

Perhaps the arrival of 1565,  joining the cool Korean of Frying Colours up the road and with a new Italian place soon to be unveiled, heralds an upturn in Macaulay Road’s eats situation.

 

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Feeling crabby

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Pacific Seafood BBQ House, 295 Racecourse Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 6688

As a recent dinner with friends wrapped up at our fave Somalian eatery in Ascot Vale, it was suggested we reconvene for a soiree for the Chinese mid-autumn festival with the express purpose of getting gleefully sticky and messy with as much mud crab as we can handle.

The festival Sunday proves too tricky so instead five of us gather mid-week at Pacific Seafood BBQ House in Kensington and have a ball.

I confess this is unfamiliar territory for me.

Do we order one mud crab – they’re priced at $65 – each?

How does it work?

It’s easy – the rest of us reject any ordering duties and leave it all up to She Who Oraganised The Gathering.

Our trust is well rewarded!

 

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As with my previous visit to this newish arrival on Racecourse Road, with another member of our happy group, we are served complementary soup.

We love this tradition, which we also run across in various Asian and African places.

This is plainer than most and reminds me very much of my mum’s vegetable soup, even if it is beef based.

Then it’s crab time!

After consultation with the staff, it’s agreed that two crabs with accompanying noodles and a few other dishes will do us right.

Our crabs are brought, pre-cooking, to our table for our approval – just like a bottle of wine.

They look bigger than in the distorted view offered by their storage tank.

Then it’s off to the kitchen with them!

 

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They return upon a mound of egg noodles ($12 on top of the crab fee) and drenched in a sticky chilli sauce.

It’s all very good.

There is much cracking, sucking, ooo-ing and aaah-ing as the delicious, sweet crab meat is extracted.

It’s a profound pleasure to have one’s fill of fresh crab and bugger the cost.

The two crabs prove plenty – in fact, the final two claws linger on the plate for several minutes before being claimed.

But here’s an interesting thing – the sauce-imbued noodles are every bit as tasty and enjoyable as the actual crabs.

Such good seafood in the company of good pals – absolute heaven!

Happily, the rest of our meal is also very good.

 

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The fried rice ($10.80) is excellent and quite a cut above the regular fried rice we all know so well.

This is studded with good-sized chunks of roast pork and quite a few biggish, plump and wonderful prawns.

 

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Vegetables with bean curd ($19.50) makes sure we get some greenery and fungus as part of our meal.

 

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Our final dish – deep-fried chicken ribs with egg yolk ($22) – comes from the specials colourfully arrayed on the walls.

It’s a relative of the familiar salt and pepper chicken ribs.

But these chook bits are richer – perhaps a little bit too rich but perfectly fitting and yummy for a special occasion feast such as this.

 

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We’ve eaten grandly – for which pleasure the five us pay a few collective few bucks under $200.

So … $40 each for such fine food?

Bargain!

 

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We finish with moon cake pieces – just a nibble for me because, as with another member of our group, I’m not a fan!

 

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Top-notch burgers in Kensington

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Mr Ed, 285 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 6444

“Cafe By Day, Burger Bar By Night” – that’s Mr Ed in Kensignton.

Having checked it out in the former regard – see here – it’s become a sometime coffee spot for me, and perhaps I’ll grab one of their terrific pies or sweeties.

Tonight we’re in the house to check out the burgers.

The previous night, Bennie I had perused the menu – see the Mr Ed website here.

Having looked at the varied ingredients and the prices, Bennie wondered aloud if the Mr Ed burgers would offer sufficient eating.

And well he might …

The prices range from $14.50 to $17.50.

Among the ingredients listed for the nine burgers are pickled zucchini, Hereford beef, bourbon bacon jam, confit baby tomatoes, tomatillo salsa and shredded kale.

Ooohhh – sounds fancy!

But will we get a good feed or dainty, boutique burgers gone in a mouthful?

Actually, at another time and on another visit I might choose to compile a meal just from the very alluring list of sides.

How about rainbow slaw, purple congo/kipfler/bullhorn pepper fry-up or merlot pickled onion rings?

Ahh, but not tonight – on with the burgers!

 

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Bennie goes the Buddha burger of minute eye fillet, soft egg, kassler, oven dried tomatoes, crumbled aged cheddar, house relish, roasted garlic aioli ($16).

He loves it – a lot.

It’s proves to be a very messy proposition but that’s fine, of course.

He loves the way all the varied, high-falutin’ ingredients – including “the nicer than normal ham” and the runny egg – combine.

This burger maven rates it a very solid 8.5 or even 9.

Yes, that good.

Only glitch – and it’s only a very minor one – is he’s unused to having your real, actual meat in such a meal.

He’s (very) used to hamburger patties, whereas this is in effect a steak sanger and he grapples, but only very momentarily, with the eating skills required.

I go the Wagyu beef burger with pickled zucchini, raclette, baby leaves, house relish and mustard mayonnaise ($14.50, top photo) – and it, too, is a doozy.

The beef patty is about an inch thick, well seasoned and delicious, and the dressings and zucchini noodles are wonderful.

 

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For sides, we get a small serve of the home-made fat chips ($4).

My heart sinks a little when I spy what appear to be wedges but … wedge-shaped they may be, but our chips are fabulous.

Once-boiled and once-fried, they have tender, hot innards that veritably scream: “Potato!”

 

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We complete our meal with a mixed pickle plate of jalapenos, carrot, cucumber and cornichons ($5.50).

We both love pickles so we both love this.

The jalapenos are somewhat out of place but the cornichons hit the spot and the carrot and cucumber are true delights that are pickled somewhat in the sweet, delicate Japanese style.

We’ve enjoyed and admired the Mr Ed take on burgers.

We’ve received burgers that don’t see us waddling out of the place having completely stuffed ourselves.

But we consider the quality of the ingredients and cooking and the resultant flavours well worth the money we have paid.

We recommend the Mr Ed burgers to anyone who has become a bit jaded with 8bit and the like.

The service has been fine, Mr Ed is a fine place to spend an hour so and we reckon their burger endeavours deserve greater patronage than the handful of occupied tables we’ve observed this Friday night.

Kensington treat

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Luncheonette, 173 Rankins Road, Kensington.

Luncheonette is a lovely Kensington place I could describe as having “been on our radar”.

But maybe we would never have gotten around to it had we not been happy to accept an invite from pals to join them for Saturday brunch.

As the four of us amble towards the cafe, I see people seemingly waiting outside for a table – and fear I may have to make a complete hypocrite of myself as I’ve just a few hours earlier penned and posted a piece about the lunacy of queues and hopelessly long wait times.

 

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But no, happily we are ushered right to an inside table for four and proceed to make happy.

The place is small but happily the menu is cleverly designed to fit right in with the limited prep space.

Many dishes look enticing.

We go with three sandwiches and an egg dish.

On the way over, Bennie had shown interest in the fact Luncheonette boasts a reuben sandwich.

I’d warned him that generally one gets what one pays for and that for $13 he should not be fronting up and expecting a two-handed monster.

 

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As it turns out, his reuben has surprising heft for the price, with plenty of sliced pastrami going down a treat with the gruyere, cabbage and mustard, and an American style offering of crisps and sliced pickles on the side.

No bad at all!

 

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My club sandwich ($13) does not impress quite so much, though chopped chicken is tasty and beautifully herbed.

I don’t get much of a hit from the promised “crispy bacon”, though …

 

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I hear no complaints from the recipient of the BLT variation, which appears to be bolstered by a good quantity of avocado.

I’d only say that for myself, alfalfa sprouts have no business being anywhere near a BLT … but others’ mileage may vary.

 

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It appears the member of our group who goes the brunch route did the best of us all.

A simple fried egg is served with homemade hash browns, smoked salmon, horseradish cream and cress ($16).

It’s a lightish dish that explodes with a variety of different but fabulously complementary flavours.

 

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Ace cake, minestrone

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Kensington Market, Kensington Town Hall, 30-34 Bellair Street.

From the street, Kensington Market doesn’t appear as if it amounts to much – a handful of stalls, a couple of which doing food: Gozleme, corn, snags.

Once along a hallway and into Kensington Town Hall proper an entirely different picture emerges.

 

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The hall is chockers with a quite diverse range of “maker” goodies – clothing, crafts of many sorts, jam, artwork and much more.

Even better, an adjacent room has a whole of lot of food stuff going on.

There’s nothing too elaborate, mind you – no sit-down meals or the like.

But there’s more than enough for me make myself at home for an hour or so, eat well and meet some lovely folks.

One crew, manning the in-house kitchen, is doing things such as toasties and egg and bacon rolls at extremely low prices.

 

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From them I procure minestrone for a silly cheap $4.

OK, it’s a smallish serve in a polystyrene cup – but gosh it’s the real deal and very good!

 

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I enjoy making friends with Von and her pal Ocea.

Von makes her living cooking for kids so her Von’s Vegan Bake House operation is a weekend thing.

Her range of sweet, baked things is impressive and enticing.

 

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I have a slice of one of her cakes with my coffee.

It seems like a modestly proportioned piece for $6 but this ain’t no airy fairy sponge – it has real heft and is delicious.

 

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From Von I also secure some cookies – don’t they look amazing?

(I find out at home that they indeed are …)

 

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Right next door, I meet Simone and Sam who are here representing St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also of Kensington, and raising money to help feed the homeless.

 

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From them I get – also for taking home – some luscious-looking rice pud!

Even better, they tell me that in a few weeks their church will be holding its annual fete, at which there will be all sorts of Egyptian food on offer.

Unless unforeseen factors intrude, CTS will be there – I can just about taste it already!

The next Kensington Market will be on Sunday, August 16.

Check out the market’s website here and Facebook page here.

I can understand the allure of food festivals.

But every weekend somewhere near you there’s fairs and markets and fetes that do food, too.

It’s a parallel universe I prefer.

Meal of the week No.15: Phat Milk

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CTS checks out the new F&C place in Moonee Ponds.

It’s lunch-time packed.

Worse, there is no provision for communal seating or solo diners – pure folly.

Nothing else in the Ponds appeals so I head on down to Phat Milk (208 Mt Alexander Road) – my first visit since a very enjoyable CTS Feast.

Returning here proves to be a masterstroke of luck.

I’ve a hankering for the burger I’m told they’re now doing but Sean tells me the last one is being eaten as we speak.

This, too, proves fortunate for me – as I now dive into on the Middle Eastern aspects of the menu and emerge an outright winner.

Lamb fatteh ($14) is outstanding.

There’s eggplant there in that lamb mince but it’s overwhelmed.

And the dish is on the monochrome side.

But gosh it eats like a dream and I mop every last bit.

Importantly for such a dish, the proportion of minted yogurt and wonderful pita chips to lamb is bang-on perfect.

Phat Milk is such a cool place – a cafe that always has surprising Middle Eastern slants on a menu that appears to be refreshed regularly.

And the coffee is always perfect.

See earlier story here.

Hot lunch and free soup

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Pacific Seafood BBQ House, 295 Racecourse Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 6688

Let’s hear a big cheer for places that serve soup – soup unordered, soup served simply as part of the dining experience, soup that is a tradition and not added to the bill at the end of the meal.

Safari, the brilliant Consider The Sauce Somalian fave in Ascot Vale, serves sublime bowls of broth almost as soon as you are seated.

On several visits to Kebab Surra in Footscray I have been provided a marvellous lamb-and-vege-and-barley soup – though it seems to depend on just which main is ordered.

Pacific Seafood BBQ House, the newish Chinese place on Racecourse Road that is a sibling to older establishments in the CBD, Richmond and South Yarra, follows the same tradition when a frequent CTS dining pal and I visit for lunch.

Our soup seems to have a what I regard as a rather robust corn flavour, even though there are no corn kernels in evidence, and has what I at first take to be spud chunks.

My companion reckons, no, it’s winter melon.

She’s right.

We also subsequently discover the gratis soup is indeed corn-infused and is a pork broth.

Whatever the details, we love it.

We also love the enthusiasm with which our curiosity about the soup’s contents is greeted by the bloke manning the soup ladle.

 

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From there, ignoring the many specials detailed on wall paper that seem more suitable to night dining and larger groups, we head straight to the quickie lunch list.

We are very happy we do so.

We both order roast meat dishes that cost $11.50.

We rank them as being at the highest end of what is expected from such dishes.

 

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My soya chicken and BBQ roast pork with rice is wonderful.

The meats are moist and, as is almost always the case, more generous of proportion than eyeball or photographic impressions may convey.

The crackling is a crunchy, sinful delight.

The rice has enough soya cooking juices to do the job and the bok choy is fine.

The oil/green onion/ginger mash is very, very welcome though I wish there was more of it.

 

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My friend goes the roast duck with noodles.

The noodles glisten atop a bed of soya juices and bok choy – she fails in the mission of consuming them, as I do with my rice.

The roast duck is expertly done.

The meat comes from the bones more easily than is often the case and the skin is a dark brown and, yes, another sinful delight.

We love Racecourse Road – and now we love it more.

 

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Above average suburban Thai

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Saha Thai Cafe, 431 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9913 3663

To the CTS way of thinking, Macaulay Road in Kensington is something of an under-achiever in the food stakes.

So we’re way happy to be tipped to the existence of this cool Thai joint by colleague David.

It’s not on the shopping strip but across the train tracks and down the hill where things get very commercial/industrial very fast.

Anyone who passes this way with any regularity know how nutty the traffic situation can be.

Macaulay Road seems to be a rat run avenue mid-way between the more usual arterials of Racecourse and Dynon roads.

Nevertheless, in two visits to Saha, there’s been ample parking available on the other side of the road from the cafe.

 

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Saha is a superior version of your typical neighbourhood Thai restaurant – I bet the inhabitants of the residential backwaters around here are very happy about its arrival.

As far as I can see, there is nothing really unusual on the menu, but what there is comes out well done, at good prices and served with smiles.

One could take the view that this a basically a takeaway place that has some capacity to do eat-in.

On the other hand, with its handful of lovely dark-wood tables and white-enamelled chairs, far better to think of it as a casual and cool cafe.

 

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I’m told the veggie curry puffs ($6) are made on the premises but as always it’s hard to actually tell for sure – maybe they mean cooked in-house?

In any case, with their flaky pastry and good fillings, these are beaut.

 

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Yes, the fish cakes are rubbery but in a nice way.

They also boast a nice spice kick and a pronounced tang of coriander.

The sweet chilli sauce is, I think, store-bought but tarted up in-house.

 

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Saha chicken salad ($13) finds a mildly-spiced and juicy chicken mince jumble atop supermarket leaves.

It’s all fresh and works good.

 

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Massaman curry ($14.50) is the spiciest of our selections but not overly so.

The sauce is rich, dark, smooth and sticky, and the beef is beautifully cooked and of good quality.

The disappointments here are the spud chunks – they’re under-cooked.

The beef is more tender!

So-so burger in Kensington

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Jerry’s Burgers ‘N’ Shakes, 482 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 1687

Not too long before we noticed the assembling of a Jerry’s franchise branch in Kensington, our friend The Burger King dined at the Tullamarine shop.

His verdict?

He was and is dismissive.

More recently, another friend – for whom Kensington is neighbourhood territory – implied he and his had a much more satisfying time at the new place.

So I decided to find out for myself.

 

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The Kensington jerry’s is a smallish operation, done out in typical fast-food franchise fashion.

The seating is limited and rudimentary.

I found the service to be good and the prices to be very low.

But there’s the rub – on the premise of “you get what you pay for”, your Jerry’s burger will most likely suffer by comparison with the more pricey likes of Grill’d and other ritzy burger places.

The range of sandwiches – and even salads – is very long (see below), ranging through beef, steak, pork, fish, vegetarian and breakfast items.

 

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I went with the She Hot! burger with beef, bacon, cheese, red onion, Tabasco aioli, lettuce and jalapenos ($7.90) and a small serve of chips ($1.90).

My burger was just OK, and as hinted at above pretty much what you’d expect for cents under $8.

It wasn’t nearly as hot as the number of pepper slices included might suggest.

It was a sloppy meal, with the structural integrity lapsing totally by the end.

Worst of all, the meat patty was bereft of beefiness and redolent of sausage meat.

I wouldn’t go so far as draw a comparison with “pet food”, as one Urbanspoon contributor has done, but you get the picture …

The best part of my dinner were the chips, which were terrific and plentiful.

 

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CTS Feast No.10: Phat Milk – the wrap

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CTS Feast No.10: Brunch at Phat Milk, 208 Mt Alexander Road, Travancore. Phone: 9376 6643. Sunday, November 9, from 11am.

How good and enjoyable was this CTS Feast?

Well, for purely selfish reasons, I’d have to proclaim: “It was the best!”

You see, not only was this the first Feast in held in daylight hours and the first hosted by a cafe, it was also the smallest … well, OK the smallest since the very beginnings of the CTS Feast tradition.

And I know full well that organising and hosting a small number of people is significantly easier and less stressful than hosting a big bunch.

In this case, too, Bennie and I knew about half the guests already and enjoyed the heck out of getting to know those we didn’t.

As we arrived, the Phat Milk crew seemed to be embroiled in a frantic breakfast/brunch rush … but things soon seemed to settled down, and the timing of our massed arrival ended up seeming quite good.

Shaun, our main server, Rose, and the rest of the staff looked after us supremely well.

Bravo!

 

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As our brunch unfolded and the conversations ebbed and flowed, I realised that on top of all the many pluses of the CTS Feasts, they also provide a simply lovely and easy way for likeminded folks to mix and mingle and make new friends in a way that isn’t always that easy in other social settings.

So I was thrilled to see three guests – who had only met for the first time an hour or so earlier – swap details as the event wound down.

And Bennie and I even snagged – and feel very privileged to have done so – an invite for a homecooked Indian meal in Seddon from a lovely couple of regular CTS readers attending their first CTS event.

Wow!

 

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So many, many thanks to Alice, Nelio, Ankitha and Raj, Shamaila, Amanda, Chiara, Lisa, Julian and Christine for making this a wonderful occasion.

The food?

I thought it was outstanding.

 

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As on a previous visit, I went for the purple carrot and sweet potato latke with blueberry-cured salmon, quark and a poached egg.

It was a lot more filling than it looks here!

Most others also chose from the breakfast menu, with table’s dishes including …

 

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… a cauliflower omelette and …

 

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… baked eggs, as well as …

 

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… your more traditional, custom-selected breakfast fare.

(Swamp Thing? Gee, I wonder whose meal that could be?)

 

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Only two of us chose from the blackboard lunch menu (see below).

The entire CTS party “oohed” and “aahed” when Ankitha’s salt-and-pepper soft shell crab burger (pictured at top) arrived, while Raj’s garlic-and-thyme chicken cous cous salad also looked mighty fine.

Obviously, this event was a co-promotion between Phat Milk and CTS … but I really do dig this one-of-a-kind establishment and the people who run it.

They offer not just great food but also twinkle-eyed personality to go with it.

 

Phat Milk on Urbanspoon

 

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Phat cats go good

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phat6
Phat Milk, 208 Mt Alexander Road, Travancore. Phone: 9376 6643

The FB message from good mate, former colleague and occasional Consider The Sauce lurker Lee was simple: “G‘day, our local cafe – Phat Milk – has ramped up its game and is worthy of a visit from CTS. I’ll even pay!”

And so it is that I venture to Mount Alexander road for a classic, enjoyable catch-up and a fine early lunch/brunch.

I’d noticed a cafe at this end of Mount Alexander Road just in passing on previous visits in the vicinity – usually to grab some biscotti and the like from Pace Biscuits.

Lee tells me the current crew has been on site for about two years and that he and his family have become very happy first-name regulars.

 

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I love our brief time together, swapping tales of our current exploits in the journalism game; that game’s sometimes inexplicable twists and turns; the much-loved, good, bad and utterly indifferent of our various mutual acquaintances; our respective families and children; and food ‘n’ coffee doings in the inner west, especially over their way in Kensington and Moonee Ponds.

And I love the place.

And the food.

And the coffee.

Phat Milk’s front portion is all typical Melbourne inner-city cafe, with wraps and various other goodies on display.

Up and along a few hallways is a nice backroom, where we make ourselves at home, and an adjoining garden space with seating.

I’m intrigued and excited to take note of a pronounced Middle-Eastern slant in the breakfast and lunch menus, and waste no time in going in that direction when ordering.

 

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Middle Eastern breakfast of grilled zaatar, poached eggs, beetroot relish, falafel and hummus is terrific.

The falafels are big, soft and crumbly. The chick pea dip is fresh. And all of it works really well together.

 

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Lee goes for the purple carrot and sweet potato latke with blueberry cured salmon, quark cheese (see wikipedia entry here) and poached egg.

His latke tastes good and funky to me, and that house-cured salmon has me making a mental note: “That’s for me next time!”

And get this – for food so lovingly prepared and presented that is so very lovely to consume, we have paid $15 (me) and $17 (him).

Bargain!

My cafe latte is perfect.

Thanks, Lee, for the company and the hot tip.

My shout next time, when I’ll be sure to bring that Mark Twain foodie book for you.

 

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(The above menu pic will be replaced at the first available opportunity!)

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Going the whole chook

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fry6

 

Frying Colours, 520 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9939 9679

Frying Colours does Korean food with an upbeat, swish attitude.

The long room, which formerly housed a noodle shop, has undergone a substantial refit that cleverly combines a hip suaveness and the feel of a more traditional Korean cafe, especially thanks to the old-school wooden tables.

On a Friday night, the place is humming.

The staff are everywhere and very good at their jobs.

The open kitchen/servery takes about a third of the space.

We’re very happy that our food arrives in approximately the same amount of time it takes us to work what we are going to order – bravo!

For tonight, Team CTS numbers four, so we expect to make merry with the menu.

We do.

Everything we have is good.

There’s a couple of major hits and a minor mis-step that has more to do with our ordering than the food.

Just for fun and to experience as much of what’s available as we can, we order a couple of skewered starters.

 

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“Mouth-watering chicken skewers” ($3 each) are good in a kind of Korean satay fashion.

 

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Eggplant skewers ($3) are way better – they’re tender, juicy and with immense smoky eggplant flavour. We’ll be ordering a stack of these next time.

 

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We order a whole fried chicken. They’re $32; $19 for half.

There’s something enormously liberating and reckless about ordering a whole fried chook – or the equivalent bits there-of.

We split our order 50/50 between “spicy” and “sweet soy” (there’s also “original” available).

Our selections turn our expectations upside down.

Expecting the sweet soy pieces to be the more moist, we find them instead to be the most like orthodox fried chicken. They’re fab.

The “spicy” pieces, by contrast, are moist with a glaze that seems almost Chinese. The spice levels are modest for this table-full of western heat hounds.

But still, this is great stuff and the other big hit of the night.

We’d do it again in a flash.

We’ve accesoried with “wasabislaw” ($5) and kimchi ($5). Both are good and well-priced for the serve sizes.

 

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Bulgogi hot pot ($36) is one of a handful of dishes to share.

It’s of a more traditional Korean bent, with sweetish stocky broth, sliced beef, two kinds of onion, heaps of glassy noddles and some nice slithery mushrooms.

It’s nice enough but is, we suspect, not really what this place is all about or well worth visiting for.

Christine eloquently sums up our collective feelings: “This would seem really good if we hadn’t ordered the chicken!”

We reckon stuff such as the fried chicken or the “FC mixed grill” to share ($40) are the go here.

On the way home, we make a West Foostray stop for peanut butter and vanilla ice-cream courtesy of tonight’s dining companions. They’re both so very, very fine. The ice-cream AND the companions.

Check out the Frying Colours website, including menu, here.

 

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Garden delight in Kensington

3 Comments

white8

White Rabbit Record Bar, 176 Bellair St, Kensington. Phone: 9376 5441

Always been music crazy – and always will be.

But have never been much of a record collector, not really.

Sure, I’ve gone through the occasional phase of accumulating a few originals 45s and 78s along the way.

But for me it’s almost always been about the music, not its format.

Hence these days, in a collection of several thousands CDs, the larger part – and certainly the portion I enjoy with most zeal – comprises releases of music originally released on 45s and 78s and even cylinders anywhere from the 1890s to the 1970s.

It’s all digital but it’s all old, too.

So while being sympathetic, I’ve never a been a member of the cult of vinyl.

Which perhaps explains why early on in our westie life I mentally dismissed White Rabbit as a vinyl hangout that offered nothing much more than a cool space and an option for coffee or wine.

What a surprise then to discover there’s much more to the place – a full kitchen and a lovely back garden setting included – and that that’s been the case for a long while.

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As well, in the process of enjoying a lazy mid-week lunch, we’re delighted to find that among the staff members is gentle pooch of a certain age named Jessie, whom we enjoy getting to know while we await our food.

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From the specials board, Bennie chooses the B.L.A.T. ($12.50).

It has all the appropriate bits and pieces and does good for him, even if it doesn’t have him metaphorically clicking his heels with glee.

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Chosen from a trio of antipasto-style plates, my falafel-based outing ($17.50) has winning points and some that I could happily do without.

The Turkish bread, for instance, is regulation but nicely toasted – making the crackers and wafers a tad superfluous.

The falafel balls are warm and quite good, as are the salad bits and mixed olives.

But the oil-drenched bowl of roast capsicum and cheese distracts.

The best aspect of my lunch are the house-made dips.

The houmus and another based on rocket, coriander, garlic and more are mildly flavoured but very tasty.

I suspect we could’ve chosen our lunches more wisely – perhaps the specials board spinach and fetta borek would’ve wowed us, and we’d for sure be interested in checking out the beef burger with “chunky potatoes” I saw listed a few days prior if the opportunity presents in the future.

But in terms of relaxed vibes, lovely setting and warmth of welcome, we consider our belated discovery of the White Rabbit riches within a fine thing indeed.

White Rabbit Record Bar on Urbanspoon

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