Phi Phi 2 … cool for lunch

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Phi Phi 2, 31a Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone 9077 2466

Following a superb dinner enjoyed by Bennie and myself at the flash, new Phi Phi 2 in St Albans, it’s a pleasure to return for lunch with the Urban Ma.

What a hoot!

It’s almost like experiencing a different restaurant – a matter, well, of day and night.

Mind you, the number of patrons is fewer – word that Phi Phi 2 is offering a welcome point of difference from the rest of the St Albans precinct may be taking a while to get around.

But the staff are many and on the ball.

The menu (see below) is succinct and like nothing I’ve ever before seen.

Asian-fusion?

Maybe – but if so, quite different from that being excellently purveyed by West of Kin in Braybrook.

Some dishes are outright Asian in concept and execution; others have European/Western breeding imbued through with Asian flavours.

We start with a couple of serves of bao ($8 per serve).

 

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They’re both very good, with pungent (wasabi?) dressing.

Though the pork belly duo (above) are a bit tricky to eat on account of the piggy bits being difficult to bite through; cut them up in the kitchen, I reckon.

 

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The duck duo – labelled “Quack Attack” on the menu – is bettter, the duck being moist and perfect.

 

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Jacqui’s “Mother Ducker” ($14) – sliced roast duck risotto with bacon, mushroom and pumpkin cooked in duck broth – is fabulous.

And a prime example of the aforesaid combination of Western themes imbued with Asian flavours.

 

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My fish burger ($12, not on the menu but joining the “Dark Night” beef burger) is fine – though I should’ve asked for the cheese to be omitted.

The fish – hoki, I am informed – is lovely and joined by onion rings and dressing in a black bun.

It is, as you’d expect eyeballing the above photo, a very messy thing to eat.

But is very good.

 

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My understanding is that Phi Phi 2 is serving lunch Mondays through Fridays but that may change because of the day fare’s popularity.

 

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The Urban Ma is enjoying her lunch; her daughter seems a whole lot less impressed with proceedings – particularly with the photographer.

Seriously sexy Asian BBQ

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Phi Phi 2, 31a Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone 9077 2466

First I heard there was a new Korean place on Alfrieda Street.

Then I heard it was Asian-fusion.

Then I heard it was a new branch of one of our fave St Albans eateries, Phi Phi.

Then I saw the photos on the new place’s Facebook page and … I remained somewhat confused.

But it doesn’t take long after ascending the stairs of Phi Phi 2 for all to become clear to me and Bennie.

Phi Phi 2 serves a limited range of curries and salads. It has a lighter, tighter lunch menu.

But the night-time action is overwhelmingly about cooked-at-table BBQ and hot pots.

And given the hot pot variation is freely available at a couple of nearby joints and more broadly across the west, almost all customers go the BBQ route.

We do, too – with abandon and, ultimately, great joy.

 

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Phi Phi 2 replaces a long-standing Vietnamese eatery.

It’s been done out in dark wood, with most of the seating being in the form of booths that line the long room. There a trio of tall, small tables at the front windows overlooking Alfrieda Street and a couple of bigger tables at back for larger groups.

There’s an army of staff doing great stuff on the night we visit and we find the service to be grand.

Phi Phi 2 has been open about three weeks and is already proving popular – and with good cause.

How popular?

Our allocated “cooker”, Jensty, tells us some staff members regularly come in here on their rostered days off – just to eat!

The BBQ cooking/food here has its roots very deeply in South Korea but much of the seasoning/sauces/marinades and approach come more directly from Vietnam where, Jentsy tells us, this kind of cooking is very popular.

We seriously consider ordering from the “chef’s special” list (see menu below) the cooked-in-the-kitchen “charcoal chicken feet” but decide that eight foots would skew our meal-for-two too radically in one direction.

Instead, we start with two dishes from the entree list.

 

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Crispy tiger prawns ($12.90) are cocooned in crunchy noodles that shatter upon being chomped. The prawns are very good dipped in the accompanying (cocktail?) sauce.

 

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BBQ lamb ribs ($10.90) look like they’re a very big serve – but they are just four, as they are resting of a fluffy bed of greens.

Still, they’re fine – fatty, as expected, but with great flavour.

We happily munch like carnivorous rabbits on the marinade-seasoned leaves as we await the main BBQ action to unfold.

 

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First we are provided some sides ‘n’ stuff – a green salad and bowls of kimchi and pickled bean sprouts and the like.

It may not be saying a whole helluva lot – but this is the best kimchi Bennie and I have ever had.

Maybe not purebred Korean-style but just marvellous – not very spicy, the cabbage more finely chopped, a strong tang of ginger in every mouthful.

We are provided several more complementary bowls of both the kimchi and the sprouts as our meal progresses.

As well, we are each provided three dipping sauces for the BBQ goodies – soy/miso, a mild chilli with a strong lemongrass component and a tamarind.

 

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Here’s what we order for our sooper-dooper BBQ feast: Pork belly (salt-chilli marinade, $12.90, above photo), ox tongue ($9.90) and chicken thigh (Thai marinade, $11.90).

 

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And we also get a splendid vegetable and mushroom combo ($14).

 

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The glowing coals are brought to our table and then it’s on!

 

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Jensty tells us that staff members are allocated a couple of tables each to handle the cooking.

We appreciate that. We’d rise to the challenge of doing it ourselves, no doubt, but we’d be a bit nervous about it.

It’s all about timing – and she does it with skill that is almost nonchalant.

 

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The vegetables take a good deal longer than the meats, but it’s all fantastic.

The meats are charred nicely and without exception every mouthful is succulent.

Bottom line – this is some kind of nirvana for meat eaters.

Bennie rates the pork belly the highest; I love the ox tongue the most.

The vegetables are all terrific, too – three different kinds of mushroom, okra, pumpkin, eggplant, corn.

The one lapse – and the only quibble of our entire evening – are the chat spud halves. They’ve been partially boiled before hitting the grill, but still present as a little under-cooked and even (perhaps) out of place.

 

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We conclude with a couple of scoops of green tea ice-cream ($6) that has been brought in, is perfectly nice yet is probably excess to requirements.

 

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Take the ice-cream and a couple of lovely mocktails off our bill and the damage for food alone is $72.50.

That strikes me as a bargain for a feast of this quality and quantity.

Certainly, we have paid significantly more for way less impressive meals in regulation Korean eateries.

It’s a lovely thing to see some flash on Alfrieda Street!

(This post has been sponsored by the St Albans Business Group. However, Consider The Sauce chose and paid for the food involved and the STBG neither sought nor was granted any access or say in the writing of this post.)

 

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Beaut bento, better burger

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

The Challis Street shops in Newport – off Mason Street – are the sort of strip we’ve been driving by for years just for a look every now and then to see if there’s anything cooking.

On Challis Street, there never has been.

And now there is.

Searz is a very fine local cafe.

It serves (see menu below) standard-range cafe breakfasts and mains such as a caesar salad, a burrito bowl and fish ‘n’ chips.

But running through the mains and the smaller (“tapas”) dishes are Japanese/Korean influences.

We find our meals of two visits, the service and timing, the whole experience to be absolutely top notch.

 

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The bento special no doubt changes periodically.

This version has fish three different ways – teriyaki salmon, battered cod with wasabi mayo and grilled gemfish with Korean chilli sauce.

They are all delicious and beautifully cooked.

There’s about half a dozen different kind of pickle, some of which I love, some of which I could do without.

The house-made zucchini pickles are very fine.

The bento mix is completed by good salad and rice.

This bento, given the quality of the seafood involved, would be right at home in a bona fide Japanese restaurant.

And the price, $18, is grand.

 

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Bennie’s bibimbap $16) is a doozy, too.

He loves the finely cooked beef and mushrooms, the salady bits, egg, enokis and more.

Unlike so many versions of this dish, this one has enough fluid action going on that it is a well-lubricated “sweet and spicy” treat right to the bottom of the bowl.

 

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But however fine his bibimbap, Bennie is openly envious of my “1010 burger” ($15) – and so he should be.

Despite the burger burn-out factor of the past year or so, this strikes us as being a superb.

It’s a 9/10 burger and chips combo that scrubs up much better than many of those to be had at more storied burger joints around Melbourne.

There’s more of those zucchini pickles in there.

And there’s “Searz aiolio”, tomato relish and the usual, standard salad accessories.

The meat patty is thick, juicy and screaming with beefy flavour.

Gosh, it’s fantastic.

The chips are hot, fresh and very plentiful.

Searz is a prime example of everything a neighbourhood cafe should be.

And the food, what we have enjoyed of it, rocks.

 

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Meal of the week No.26: Snow Tree

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Ever since visiting Snow Tree for dinner with friends, I’ve harboured the suspicion that it would make a better a lunch place.

Boxing Day is the time to find out, especially with Bennie still being in bed and playing Maximum Sloth to the max.

Footscray Central is, of course fully open and in working order – as it was on Christmas Day.

The full menu is available but I choose from the lunch deals list.

My spicy beef with rice, miso soup and three side dishes costs a very handy $9.90.

It’s good.

The miso soup is very pale and tasteless.

But the side dishes – bean sprouts, kimchi and three chunk of tender, tasty sweet potato – are fine.

With the rice come three more bits and pieces, deep fried and unannounced.

My spring roll is hot and rather nice but the crumbed item could be prawn or seafood extender.

The third of the trio is a flat tube that appears to filled with mince – and perhaps potato?

Under the fried goodies is some mayo-dressed sliced fresh cabbage with a couple of bits of pickled ginger that goes good with the plentiful beef.

The beef – also with cabbage, as well as carrot and other foliage – is very good indeed.

But it is very spicy.

So … not a masterwork of lunch by any means.

But for $10, a nice option to the many Vietnamese, Indian and other offerings at this location.

Highpoint fried chook

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Nene Chicken, Highpoint. Phone: 9318 2843

It’s clear that western suburbs have bought massively into Melbourne’s mania for burgers.

The fried chicken thing isn’t quite as manic and our western neighbourhoods have mostly not risen to it charms.

There’s invariably fried chook on hand at charcoal chicken shops, such as the newish Manok, but it often seems like an after-thought. We are never tempted.

There’s fried poultry at westside Korean places such as Frying Colours and Snow Tree.

But as for any joints specialising in fried chicken of the American, or southern American, tradition … well, nope.

Not so far as we know.

 

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Nene is Korean, too, but we wonder on the drive to it if maybe it’ll constitute a western suburbs fried chicken hot-spot.

The utter folly of going to Highpoint on a 40-degree weekend day less than a week before Christmas proves to be of pleasingly little consequence.

The parking situation is intense.

But once we’re inside, things in general and all the people are surprisingly cool and civilised.

The Nene menu comes with so many variables, it takes us a while to work out what we think will work for us.

Here’s how, in the end, we order:

Kimchi chicken burger (9.95 – on a milk bun with salad, onion, dressing and kimchi with bulgogi sauce.

Regular original fried chicken ($10.94) – four pieces with coleslaw and pickled radish; upsized ($4.95) with chips and a drink.

Extra drink ($3.70).

This all pans out to $29.95 for a satisfactorily sized meal for Bennie and I.

 

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Bennie’s kimchi burger is probably our repast’s highlight – it’s a refreshing change from the many kinds of beef and chook burgers we’ve had this year.

He gives it seven out of 10.

 

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The chicken turns out to be five pieces rather than four – though it must be stated these are very small pieces.

It’s good and non-greasy without being in any way notable.

Despite the small sizes, I am happy for Bennie to have a couple.

His burger was good but it lasted all of a minute.

The cubed and sweetly pickled radish is nice; the coleslaw is rubbish – dry and tasteless.

 

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The chips are fine and there’s plenty for both of us.

Nene Chicken strikes us as being just OK – and a long way short of fried chicken nirvana.

And there are several better options close by in the new Highpoint food precinct.

But it’s still better than the usual Kind of fried chicken grease-fests Found at such shopping Centres.

Killer Korean BBQ

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tobagi3Consider The Sauce is enjoying a splendid year – but it’s not one that is turning out as expected. At its start, I envisaged much activity of the CTS Feast variety. To date, however, there has been a single Feast event. Attempts to get others up and running have failed to come to fruition. I’m OK with that – if such things are not to be, pushing harder doesn’t seem to help. In the meantime, Bennie and I – with help from a variety of very fine foodie pals – have simply continued to explore the western suburbs with glee. That relaxed approach seems to engender it own rewards in terms of interesting approaches that lob into the CTS email inbox. One such a few months back came from Moonee Valley Council – regarding a project in which CTS is very happy to have become involved. So … this post is the first of six that will appear in the next half-year or so sponsored by Moonee Valley Council. Long-time readers will know by now – and new readers can be assured – that our participation has only been made possible by being free to choose freely the six eateries to be written about and by having complete freedom to say whatever we please, good or bad. In other words … it’s business as usual here at CTS.

 

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Tobagi BBQ, 726 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9370 8870

The stretch of Mount Alexander Road heading uphill to Puckle Street in Moonee Ponds can come across as a closed shop by day.

By night, by contrast and strictly thinking of food, it becomes a good deal more appealing.

As Bennie and I wander down one side of the road and up the other, we ponder quite a nice range of restaurants and cuisines before ending up pretty much where we started, thence to enter Tobagi BBQ, a Korean joint we’ve had on our “to do” list for a long time.

We end up being ever so happy we step through the Tobagi door, as we enjoy good Korean food of a homespun sort we’ve not come across before, cooked and served with panache.

The place is rather plain, if you look closely, but the clever use of many browns creates a warm and inviting atmosphere.

At first, on a mid-week night, we’re the only customers so enjoy the exclusive and friendly attention of both Elle and Jiweon, while the latter’s dad, Gerry, is in the kitchen.

 

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Our first dish, vegetable dumplings ($8), doesn’t augur well for a fulfilling or filling evening.

The dumplings are OK, with mushy fillings that are very garlicky, but the serve size seems on the parsimonious side.

 

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The arrival of “denjang soup” ($10) is much reassuring.

A big, very fine bowl of basic miso soup is studded with heaps of tofu and enoki mushrooms.

There’s plenty enough for Bennie and I to share, though as with our mains the mix of white/black rise seems superfluous to our mutual mindset and appetite.

Even if such grains are the Korean way …

 

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I have friends for whom the idea of paying for kimchi is anathema.

Me, I’ve got no problem with it in an Australian setting, particularly when $4 gets us this lovely, generous bowl of fresh, zingy and only-lightly-pickled cucumber.

 

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Then it’s on to our mains – for which we throw caution, both food and financial, to the wind by going big on meat with beef bulgogi ($25), of thinly sliced and marinated beef with enoki mushies, and pork galbi ($29), of free-range pork ribs marinated in chilli paste and sesame oil.

 

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To go with our mains, we are provided with three sauces – sesame oil/salt, miso paste and chilli paste, along with lettuce leaves and two serve of the same rice ($3 each).

 

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It’s at this point in our evening that Jiweon really comes into her own by deftly barbecuing our meats at our table.

Good job!

 

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We start in on the beef and enokis at the medium-rare stage – and it tastes very, very nice, with great texture and BBQ flavour.

We eat some with the nearby sauces.

We eat some rolled up in the butter lettuce leaves, as instructed.

We eat some just making it up as we go.

 

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The pork proves even more demanding of Jiweon’s time.

She barbecues the big, handsome chunk of meat whole for a while before cutting the meat from the bones with scissors and continuing the cooking.

In the end, we are left with heaps of smaller chunks each and a nice, meaty bone to gnaw on at the end.

The meat is an interesting contrast to all the US-style barbecue we’ve indulged in this year.

Here, the pork rib meat is quite chewy, very tasty and not as spicy as seems might be the case.

We’ve had a beaut meal and love the people here.

It’s a meal, though, that has stretched the definition of “cheap eats”.

But we’re happy with the quality and quantity of what we’ve been served. We reckon it’s all been good value for money.

Truth is, we could’ve got away with paying less by the simple, prudent moves of not ordering rice we didn’t need and two cans of soft drink where water would do!

Maybe a hotpot for us next time …

(This post has been sponsored by Moonee Valley Council.)

 

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Our mission? Fried chicken!

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Snow Tree, 119 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9689 0871

Consider The Sauce has been to Snow Tree once before when it was mostly a waffle/sweets place.

In the ensuing months I have been somewhat aware that the place has been evolving.

But it was only very recently that I noted that it now has a much more fetching interior and a much-extended menu.

Snow Tree has become a full-on Korean restaurant!

So it is that the same Team CTS of four rocks up for a feed.

Fried chicken is very much on our minds.

So at first we are shattered when we discover there is a big red cross drawn right through the fried chook section of the menu proper.

 

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No problem – it’s all on its own laminated card.

But at Snow Tree, it has to be said, the fried chook list, the lunch menu and the menu proper are difficult to navigate, with a confusing range of “sets” and options.

Hard to know just how to do it for a group of four.

We settle on a whole chook to share and a main with condiments each.

Yep, we’re in over-order territory but not by much.

One of our mains is forgotten, but the boo-boo turnaround is admirably swift and in no way detracts from our dinner enjoyment.

 

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Our whole chicken costs $29.

It’s just fine.

It comes with the requested “spicy” sauce and is festooned with chips.

Korean fried chicken has so rapidly become a bit of a craze that there seems to be heap of folks – bloggers and others – who are experts.

I am not one of them.

So I simply do not know if the chips and the masses of sticky sauce are traditional, normal or even acceptable.

For me, the chips seem redundant.

The sauce is spicy but makes for a supremely sticky – but not necessarily unenjoyable – eating experience.

The chicken itself?

Excellent.

 

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My spicy beef “rip” stew ($14.50) is a bit of a mixed bag.

The gravy/soup is not terrifically spicy but has a tremendous depth of flavour.

I love the way it works with the vegetables and some rice.

There’s heaps of beef rib bits with sizable meat chunks (and fat). But the meat itself is chewy to the point of closing in on inedible.

Dang!

 

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Bennie and Eliza both enjoy their “stone” bibimbap ($12), and I note with some envy that the rice bottom of Bennie’s dish is suitably brown and crunchy.

 

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Josh goes for the spicy pork belly on rice ($10.50) and I hear no complaints from him.

The kimchee, slaw, bean sprouts and roast potato cubes (we think that’s what they are) that accompany all our dishes are OK without evincing much finesse.

The above-noted forgotten dish aside, the service is good and the wait times about right for the dishes we have ordered.

All minor quibbles aside, we enjoy our time at Snow Tree.

It strikes us as a winning Footscray spot for Korean food that can cater for a quick ten-buck solo lunch or for more relaxed meals for larger groups.

And the menu is comprehensive!

 

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