Meal of the week No.43: Dumpling Story

2 Comments

 

CTS has never been much impressed by the food offerings at Pacific Werribee.

As well, one of the few outlets that may be expected to arouse our interest, if not our enthusiasm, is Dumpling Story – and I’ve long carried some baggage in that regard because of an unfortunate meal endured by someone near and dear to us.

So what am I doing here?

Well, it’s parent-teacher night.

I’ve departed Yarraville in plenty of time to allow for whatever the freeway and weather may come my way … so much so that I’ve arrived with heaps of time to grab some dinner before the business part of the evening unfolds.

That’s a lot happier prospect than trying to find something to eat between Werribee and Yarraville about 9pm on a cold Monday night.

Still, as you’d expect, my expectations are pretty much rock bottom.

I order and wait.

A bit less than 10 minutes later, I am presented with my combination laksa ($11.80).

And am duly knocked out.

I’m not about to proclaim this laksa as a champion of its kind, and maybe my happiness is coloured by my low hopes.

But this is really very good.

Commercial laksa gravy?

Maybe – there are no curry leaves that sometimes are a tip-off that the soup part has been tweaked in-house.

But no matter – this tastes fine.

It’s a big serve.

There’s a hefty amount of good, if somewhat bland, chicken.

Better, there are several delectable slivers of excellent eggplant.

And four plump, tasty and peeled prawns.

And more …

I’ll be much more open-minded about this place – and its extensive and interesting menu – when I’m down this way again.

 

Wow.

3 Comments

 

Small Graces, 57 Byron Street, Footscray. Phone: 9912 6429

The burned-out shell of Little Saigon Market casts rather a glum metaphorical shadow across Footscray central, so we love it that Small Graces and some of its neighbours are mounting a fightback by bringing life and sunshine to Byron Street and surrounds.

We enjoyed our debut meal there last year and have returned several times since – mainly for salad hits.

So we definitely pay attention when informed a dinner service is being launched.

Not only that – we are invited to try it out (see full disclosure below).

Thus it is with keen anticipation and high expectations that Bennie and I front up for dinner.

Here is the brutal CTS call: Our expectations are not met.

Instead, they are exceeded in grand and delicious style.

Really.

Just about everything we try from a brilliantly chosen selection from the deep dinner menu (see below) is a righteous hit, with a few provisos noted below.

A salad of beets, grapefruit, radicchio, hazelnuts and goats cheese (top photo, $14) is enjoyed by us both, but especially by Salad Boy Bennie.

La Hoguera jamon serrano and garlic-fennel salami are wonderful and served with pickles.

They come with …

… luscious warmed olives and …

… inhalable chargrilled bread.

Carrots, salsa of carrot tops, pecorino pepato and seeds ($13) are a sublime veg offering.

Squid ink croquette with gralic aiolo and sorrel/pea croquette with preserved lemon aioli ($4 each) are, for us, duds.

We have no problem with their striking ugiless.

But they are too salty – even for us, two lads who had expressed to Small Graces’ Bec our fondness, upon arrival, for salty restaurant food!

Also somewhat visually unappealing is this dish of cauliflower, currants, fermented grapes and macadamia nuts ($15).

But in this case the result is an intriguing winner.

This pile of lentils photographs as dull.

It’s not.

It’s one of the night’s high sensations.

Lentils, quince and mints ($12) are moist, succulent, rather sweet and a tremendous pulse dish the likes of which we’ve never before encountered.

And we’ve eaten a LOT of pulses.

And the vegetables keep coming.

Brussel sprouts, jerusalem artichokes and Manjimup truffle ($15) are al dente and a big hit with Kenny; Bennie, no so much.

Our evening’s sole outright meat hit comes from hanger steak, burnt onions and bearnaise ($20).

We adore that juicy meat and its onion foil.

The sauce is good, too – but we consider its richness a bit jarring and unnecessary.

There’s a handy list of desserts on the go for dinner here – including fabulous-sounding ricotta gnocchi.

Sadly, they will have to wait another night as the Socceroos and their date with destiny await, so we head for the door.

The inner west is blessed to have Small Graces doing its dinner thing.

It joins the likes of Jack B. Nimble and Cheeky Chewies Cafe in serving up flash food without vertiginous price tags or stuffiness.

And there’s a heap of dinner-time scope in which vegetarians can frolic.

There’s booze on hand at Small Graces, which is now open for dinner Thursdays-Saturdays.

CTS thanks Bec, Diego and their crew for taking care of us.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Small Graces as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We were served a broad range of dishes from the joint’s new dinner menu. Small Graces management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

Reliable, excellent Malaysian

Leave a comment

 

Chef Lagenda, Shop 9-10/835A Ballarat Road, Deer park. Phone:8358 5389

Consider The Sauce is facing a very busy – but happy – few Saturday hours.

Kung fu class in Carlton from 11am to noon.

A 2pm appointment in Toolern Vale for a frolic at the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre with some dingo pups.

Do we have time for a quick bite of lunch in between?

Of course!

Though, mindful that there’s a bit of driving to do in a somewhat hicuppy car, I make sure we get a long way to our rural destination before parking at Deer Park.

There we pass by – for once – our regular Deer Park favourite and head for Chef Lagenda.

CTS reviewed this place way back in 2012 soon after it had opened.

These days there are four in the Chef Lagenda family – the most famous in Flemington, as well as Deer Park, Hawthorn and Richmond.

At the time it opened in Deer Park, there was a good deal of excitement in that neighbourhood.

Since then, the Deer Park strip has bloomed considerably in terms of food – is Chef Lagenda holding its own?

The answer is emphatic: “Yes!”

All we’re after is a quick, simple, affordable and tasty feed – and we succeed admirably.

The place is obviously a popular local stalwart, as it’s doing very brisk trade at 12.30pm on a Saturday afternoon.

Nothing much appears to have changed since our earlier visit – the bicycle is still on the wall and the service (cash only) is fine.

Chef Lagenda may be ostensibly Malaysian of food, but it roasts, Chinese-style, its own meats.

But we pass by those options and pragmatically opt for some straightahead Malaysian favourites.

 

 

Achar ($5.80) could do with a bit more spice and vinegary tang, but is fine nonetheless.

We pretty much automatically give a hearty thumbs up to any dish that involves cauliflower.

 

 

Bennie’s koay teow ($11.50) is a superb rendition – significantly less oily than some we’ve had and fully redolent of wok hai.

 

 

My regular curry laksa ($9.80) is, well, regulation.

But it’s also very, very good.

There’s a good handful of tasty, plump prawns in there.

The plentiful chicken meat is way superior to the scraggly chook that sometimes manifests itself in laksa outings.

Best of all is the eggplant.

I always eagerly look forward to the eggplant portion of a curry laksa.

But sometimes it can be bitter and not very attractive to eat at all.

This Chef Lagenda laksa has just a  single piece – to the left of the bowl.

But it’s long, meltingly tender and 100 per cent delicious.

In recent weeks, Bennie and I have discussed how prices have risen since CTS started.

Outside of a couple of banh mi, the days of a meal that covers us both for $20 seem long gone.

Yet, here in Deer Park, we’ve had a grand cheap feast when we weren’t even looking for a blog-worthy meal.

The total bill – including two mains, a side dish and two cans of soda pop – is $34.10.

And we reckon that’s excellent.

 

Real good Malaysian

4 Comments

 

Ya’Salam Restaurant, 2/14 Lavinia Drive, Tarneit. Phone: 9748 6860

We enjoyed our visit to Ya’Salam when the premises was being used to operate a Somalian eatery – though truth be told it was a bit too much of a drive to become a regular haunt.

Now there’s new management in the place.

They’ve retained the name – and even a page of Somalian food at the back of their new menu.

But the rest is all about terrific Malaysian food.

In fact, based on two visits we reckon this is some of the best, cheapest and most authentic Malaysian food you’ll find in all of Melbourne.

And word appears to have gotten out – we note with assured pleasure the happy, hungry tables on our visits.

 

 

Chicken laksa ($10, top photograph) is unlike any I’ve eaten – and as good as any, too.

The chicken is so finely shredded that it’s pretty much subsumed into the gravy, but that’s fine when the soup base is so funky, house-made and delicious.

Protein oomph is provided by two hardboiled egg halves and there’s plenty of cucumber and other veg bits to provide texture and crunch to go with the fat, short udon-style noodles.

 

 

Roti canai ($5) is a wonder.

Accompanying a just-right bowl of runny chicken curry (with a dob of sambal paste) are the two lightest, flakiest and best flatbreads of the Malaysian style we’ve ever eaten.

Simply: Wow.

 

 

Char kuey teow ($10) is a bit like our laksa – unlike any we’ve before tried.

This one comes in a bowl and – appropriately – is more like a hearty, thick soup than the drier dish we’ve been expecting.

No problems, though – because while the wok hei factor is predictably muted, there’s no doubting the flavours and all-round yumminess.

 

 

Given the obvious real-deal vibe of everything served us thus far, we are keen to try the Ya’Salam satays.

They’re unavailable, though, so we happily settle for these two fine curry puffs ($1 each).

Again, these are a far cry from your usual curry puffs.

The rich short pastry is stuffed with an extremely toothsome jumble of chicken mince and vegetables.

They could’ve been a tad hotter, however.

The Ya’Salam food we’ve tried has been really fine.

We’re usually not much concerned about notions of authenticity – but they have heaps of it here.

Next time we’ll be sure to try one of the many nasi goreng variations.

Check out the Ya’Salam menu here.

Lovely Malaysian in Newport

8 Comments

lane3

 

Hawkers Lane, 12 Hall Street, Newport. Phone: 9391 0611

“I’ve never seen so many depressed people in one place!”

That’s the desolate text message I receive from Bennie.

He’s stranded in Laverton and the trains are not running.

Neither he, nor anyone else it seems, knows what is going on.

In the meantime, he’s directed me to Newport for pick-up duties – prematurely as it turns out.

But as we await transport clarification, I get the chance to scope out the Hall Street shops and businesses – including the Malaysian place I’d heard about.

 

lane4

 

It’s small and tidy – not much more than a glorified take-away, really, with one tall and small table and a bunch of counter/window stools.

Still, something about the place feels just right – an exciting impression given ooomph by the surreptitious looks I grab of two different meals I see being eaten.

Our stay-at-home dinner options are happily jettisoned for another night and – once the tricky transport logistics are finally resolved at Footscray Station – it’s back to Newport we head.

The Hawkers Lane menu (see below) covers much familiar territory, from curry puffs (including a sardine option) and rotis through to noodles (wok, wet and soup), one-person rice dishes and full-serve mains such as beef rendang and Nyonya fish curry.

I’ve heard there is a link between this place and Wok Noodle in Seddon, though how deep I do not know. Nor, on this occasion, do I pursue the matter.

 

lane2

 

Rotis can be served plain or with the likes of peanut sauce, beef rendang and chicken curry, or as wraps.

Our fine roti with potato curry ($9) is all good, though the curry is rather more runny than we’d like – a more sticky gravy that sticks to the flat bread would be just the ticket.

 

lane1

 

Bennie makes quick work of his mee goreng ($12.50).

It’s a solid, well-cooked outing.

My chicken kari laksa ($15, top photo) is a variation on your regular chicken laksa.

The curry sauce blends with the laksa soup to create a very flavoursome brew, while the chicken pieces are heftier and much tastier than the diced or shredded chook routinely found in laksas.

For veg, there’s just a single, longish chunk of eggplant – no beans or broccoli or the like.

But that matters not, as the chicken, the tofu, two halves of golden boiled egg and mix of two curry gravies combine with the noodles and bean sprouts to produce a top-notch laksa.

 

lane5

 

Hawkers Lane is a real find.

The locals must be thrilled.

The bare-bones set-up means eating in feels more like just grabbing a quick, unfussy bite and less like going through the whole restaurant ritual.

Yet the service and food quality shine.

Hawkers Lane is a cash-only operation, does not do deliveries and is closed on Sundays.

 

lane7

lane8

lane6

Malaysian gem

Leave a comment

sambal3

 

Sambal Kampung, 38-46 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 7171

Words and photographs: ERIKA JONSSON

I fell in love with Malaysia during my first trip to Kuala Lumpur in 2009.

Being able to choose between great Indian, Chinese or Nyonya cuisine meant loads of variety – classic dishes tasted different but awesome no matter where we went.

Three years later we returned with our first son (then aged two) and found even more to love in Penang, where the laksa was fishy and bitter and the spices were fresh and local.

Since then we’ve struggled to find Malaysian food in the west that lives up to those glorious memories of eating chicken skewers by the side of a road drinking a cold teh tarik.

When we find ourselves in Maribyrnong around lunchtime on a rare lovely day, I remember a tip from a friend to try Sambal Kampung, her preferred Malay restaurant. The other half doesn’t take much convincing.

We are warmly welcomed and grab a high chair for our little guy.

Our waitress brings him over a plastic bowl, cup, fork and spoon – a welcome surprise that no doubt benefits all parties concerned.

The little guy tucks in quickly to some roti canai. The rich, delicious curry sauce is just a bit spicy for him, but we are happy to ensure it isn’t wasted.

 

sambal2

 

The other half orders the chicken laksa with hokkien and vermicelli noodles ($11).

Laksa often takes a little while to fully appreciate – the first mouthful of broth doesn’t always reveal the full richness of flavour that builds as you get further in.

This is certainly the case here. There is a stronger fishiness than most places dare to serve, and the other half is thrilled.

 

sambal1

 

I go for the kung pao chicken with rice from the list of specials ($9).

The sauce is slightly sweeter than I’m used to – it’s a winner in my book.

Roasted cashews add crunch and the dish isn’t overly spicy (until I eat up the whole chillies for some welcome heat).

The other half has to fight with our offspring for the cold teh tarik, which is strong and nicely sweet, while I just grab a soft drink. All up our bill comes to $32 and we can barely finish the roti.

Sambal Kampung is a family gem – like so many Asian restaurants it welcomes kids without needing to cater specifically for them.

The food arrives quickly and the prices are terrific.

We will be back with our older son very soon.

Meal of the week No.32: Old Town White Coffee

Leave a comment

oldtown1

 

A couple of times a month, various affairs draw me into the CBD.

Whatever the business at hand, the city adventure always seems something of a failure unless I manage to secure a beaut lunch.

Which is pretty bloody silly, as the CBD is by no means familiar to me these days – particularly Elizabeth Street, where I invariably end up searching and eating.

It’s all a bit of a lottery, really.

And it’s got both easier and harder because the number of cheap Asian eateries on Elizabeth, roughly between Bourke and Abeckett, seems to have doubled or more in the past year or so.

Anyway, this year I’ve endured some truly rubbish meals in the area.

But today I get lucky and have a fine lunch.

Old Town White Coffee (303 Elizabeth Street) – I don’t stick around long enough to find out the cultural and/or food history of the name – is smartly done out, as are the staff.

The patrons – the place is busy but not hyper so – appear to be enjoying what look like fine Malaysian-based meals.

The menu is quite extensive and features many familiar dishes, but here they are packaged in rather imaginative ways.

I don’t even get through the longish list before making my choice – Old Town Fried Chicken Beriani ($14.90).

It’s very enjoyable.

The papadums are crisp and unoily.

The achaar is most splendid – I wish there was more of it!

The rice is indeed redolent, in an enjoyably vague sort of way, of the Indian rice classic from which my lunch draws its inspiration.

The curry has spud pieces and the gravy/sauce is very heavily perfumed with cardamom.

The two chicken pieces look over-cooked and tied, but are juicy, meaty and fine.

 

oldtown2

 

For sure, I’ll happily return here on my next CBD foray to explore the menu further.

However, a word of warning:

Old Town is one of the starker examples I have come across of the menu photos really, really not matching what is served.

Check out the above photo – pictured is the beef rendang version of my chicken-based lunch.

Notice the difference?

 

oldtown3