Sweet Rice again …


Sweet Rice, 102 Millers Rd, Altona North. Phone: 9315 3691

Having enjoyed our debut meal at Sweet Rice in Altona, with Consider The Sauce buddy Keri for company, we are keen to return to explore the menu further.

Truth is, yours truly dominated the ordering procedure on that visit, and not all that skillfully, either … we ended up with a lovely meal that was nevertheless dominated by fried items.

This time around, we’re joined by our lovely next door neighbours, Rob and Ming.

I am determined to order the green mango fish – for the simple reason it’s been tipped as the menu highlight by Andy of Krapow, which specialises in Thai food.

That’s good enough for me!

Other than that, I tell Ming and Rob, I plan to take  strictly hands-off approach – they can figure it out with Bennie.

So that’s what we do … and we have fine old time.

No entrees, five mains including a salad, rice.

The quantities and quality are all pretty much spot on, and our choices arrive in as quick time as can be expected..

Grilled beef salad ($9.90) has exactly the sort of zingy flavour, without much by way of a chilli hit, we are expecting.

But in other ways this dish puzzles us, as we are all used to Thai salads being made of much more finely chopped ingredients, or with meat that is finely shredded or comes in a crumbly mince form.

Here, the beef is simply larger slices of wok-cooked meat and the vegetables are equally large pieces of lettuce, cherry tomatoes and onion slices.

Nice, though.

Red curry chicken ($9) is smooth and creamy, with plenty of chicken and vegetables, including cherry tomatoes, capsicum and juilenned bamboo shoots.

But it seems almost shockingly mild in its seasoning levels.

Nice, too, but is this another case of an eatery catering to suburban takeaway expectations, perceived or otherwise?

Green mango fish ($12.90) – thanks, Andy! – is the big flavour hit of the night, even winning favour with the usually fish-hating Bennie.

A more than adequate array of crispy-battered and finely cooked fish fillets (we forget to ask what kind) are buried beneath a cheerful wig of mango strands, onion, chilli rings and coriander.

There’s a big lemon hit and everyone is happy.

You’ll be unsurprised to know that sweet and sour pork ($9, top photo) is a Bennie nomination.

But you may be surprised, as we are, that this dish – a Thai twist on a Chinese cliche – goes down a treat.

There’s little by way of sweet or sour, but the sticky sauce goes well with the light, ungreasy and nicely chewy battered pork pieces.

Prawns with chilli and basil sauce ($10.50) provides, at long last, the spice hit for which we have seemingly been yearning.

Indeed, the chilli levels are a bit too high for Bennie, but it’s all good and there’s plenty of prawns.

Oddly enough, I must have been suffering from chilli deprivation, because the remnants of the red curry chicken taste better after a run-in with high spice levels.

We’ve enjoyed a really nice meal that has never really reached stellar heights but that for sure places Sweet Rice in a niche significantly above your average suburban Thai restaurants.

Matched with incredible prices – our dinner for four, including three soft drinks, just barely tops $60 – and it’s easy and right to classify Sweet Rice as a true gem.

Thanks to Rob and Ming for the company and lending us their tastebuds!

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Sweet Rice


Sweet Rice, 102 Millers Rd, Altona North. Phone: 9315 3691

We arrive for our early and long-awaited dinner at Sweet Rice to find a rather dowdy cheap eats cafe.

The atmosphere seems a little gloomy, perhaps because the place is empty except for us and is barely warm on a very cold evening. And even though the lighting glare is soon to play havoc with photography.

Happily, by the time we are well into our meal the room has filled considerably, presenting a much more merry impression.

We are delighted about being joined by Consider The Sauce regular Keri – for the fine company, for the extra breadth three folks confer on the ordering process and the fact she gets into the swing of things by reminding me on a couple of occasions to take photos.

I get that way sometimes when I’m hungry and excited about eating in a new place!

The food here is cheap by any standards – by the standards of Thai restaurants in Melbourne, it seems exceptionally cheap.

Making us more excited is the fact there are quite a few novel items on the menu.

Some things we want to order – spicy lamb roti, beef noodle soup (whatever that is in a Thai context) – are unavailable.

The vegetable curry puffs ($4.50) are nice enough. But they’re so tiny that they seem almost all pastry and the filling gets lost in the jostle.

Keri’s no big of fish cakes; neither am I, to tell you the truth.

But these ($5.90), in my experience, are as good as we’ve had.

In this case, the rubbery effect is rather pleasing and it’s obvious by the internal greenery of sliced spring onion that these are house-generated.

The chicken satay skewers ($6.90) are ordered by command of Bennie; the rest of the team is happy to go along.

He loves them; his dad finds the chicken meat OK but a little fibrous.

But it’s the sauce that impresses – not so much peanutty, but with a lovely flavour that has a tang of curry about it.

Soft shell crab (top photo, $12.90) is Keri’s choice and it’s an outright winner.

The tiny crabs are tender and a little crunchy at the same time, while the batter and seasoning seem very much along the same lines of those found on salt-and-pepper calamari and chicken ribs in Malaysian joints.

Chu chee curry fish ($9.50) is, I’m later told, like a cross between a red curry and a panang curry.

Some rudimentary online sleuthing indicates that is very much the case, while I find one reference that maintains that it “is based on a red curry sauce and distinguished by the use of kaffir lime leaves and basil – it is a thick spicy sauce that is different from other Thai curries because of the texture“.

In any case, it’s delightful that in our dish the battered fish (we forget to forget to ask the species) is both crispy and covered in the gravy.

The accompanying vegetables are both vibrant of colour and lovely to eat.

Only problem is the parsimonious quantity of sauce.

When I’d earlier asked about the pork shank ($12.90), I’d been told it is deep fried.

We thought: Why not?

Still, we are surprised by the sheer size and imposing presence of our dish. Definitely a first for all of us!

The whole thing has been rubbed with five-spice and cinnamon.

There’s quite a lot of meat, which is pleasantly tasty and chewy in a nice way but a long way short of fall-off-the-bone tender.

The crackling is dry but actually quite tough, but yours truly gobbles a fair amount of it anyway.

Just as well there’s three of us – this dish would be ludicrous for a single diner and a bit on the over-the-top side for a couple. It’s made, we suggest, for group dining.

The presence of some unusual items on the Sweet Rice menu may have led us – oh, OK, me! – astray.

Had we stuck with a more orthodox order that included, say, a tangy salad, a regular curry and a vegetable-heavy vegetable wok dish, we may have enjoyed a more well-rounded dinner.

However, despite some oddities along the way, we’ve seen and tasted enough to reckon Sweet Rice may provide not only some of Melbourne’s cheapest Thai food but also some of its very best. There’s a home-cooked vibe here that defies any expectations of sauce-out-of-a-bottle.

The service was obliging and our food arrived in good time.

It’ll be interesting to see what the experts at krapow think about the place when they get around to it.

Ms Baklover at Footscray Food Blog is certainly a fan.

Thanks to Keri for being part of the team!

Sweet Rice on Urbanspoon

She’s Thai – takeaway


Friday takeaway dinner from She's Thai.

She’s Thai, 208 Somerville Rd, Kingsville. Phone: 9314 5556

Isn’t it some sort of bureaucratic insanity that sees kids start the new school year on a Thursday or Friday?

In any case, we’ve stumbled across the finish line of another week, including Bennie’s two-day week and my own commuting-and-driving routine.

We’re worn out and the house is out of food.

We’ve already been out on the fang once this week and will do so again some time over the weekend, so all we feel like is some quality sofa time.

It’s the perfect opportunity to take our local Thai joint, only sparingly frequented since our initial story, out for another spin.

Keeping the price down by cooking our own rice, going for two mains and ignoring the temptations of the entree list, we order red curry chicken and – wanting the crunch and zing of a stiry fry – the preow wahn, which is described as “sweet and sour using ‘royal cuisine’ style”.

Takeaway dinner from She's Thai.

Stir fry? Really?

Call it what you want – in our house we’ll call it soup.

Truly, our preow wahn is unlike anything we’ve ever come across before that has been even remotely stir fry.

The jumble of vegetables and pineapple is OK, but the gravy – soup! – is like a close cousin of the Cantonese sweet and sour.

A lame cousin.

Our red chicken curry is better, though fairly minimalist in terms of size.

What seems to be the same vegetable mix joins the chicken pieces is a gravy that separates out into its separate components.

Am I correct in assuming this signifies home-cooking, as opposed supermarket sauces and coconut milk overkill?

Aside from our stir fry being nothing we’d label as such and a disappointingly low level of spice and zing, our dinner goes OK but is still disappointing.

Surprisingly enough, that disappointment does little to dent our faith in the worthiness and integrity of She’s Thai.

Waiting to bat during the next day’s cricket match at Spotswood, Bennie calls it right: “It’d be better if we went there to eat their food!”

Not to mention relying on the staff for advice, making sure of much higher spice levels and more robust flavours, and maybe trying one of the handful of duck dishes.

And then there’s always the sticky and delicious massaman beef curry.

She's Thai - service with a smile!

She's Thai on Urbanspoon

At 43

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43 Anderson St, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 1198

What was once Cafe Urbano – an establishment of no great distinction – is now At 34, cafe by day and Thai restaurant by night.

It’s been open for a while, and we’ve often wondered how it’s going. On week nights it’s seemed a little forlorn, unloved and sparsely populated.

At 6.30pm on this Saturday night, there seems no such problems. Two tables are already busy as we arrive, two more are quickly occupied soon after and by the time we split a table of seven has also taken up residence.

This outing is Bennie’s call and it’s an inspired one. Considering his dad has been plowing through the debilitating effects of glandular fever all week, a casual five-minute stroll around the corner is much preferable to a wild drive to the wilds of Deer Park and the unknown quantities of an Indian eatery on an industrial estate. Maybe next time!

We have a swell time.

We wonder why we took so long to drop by.

The service is delightful and the arrival of our tucker prompt.

If our meal is good rather than really dandy, we happily blame a couple of dud menu choices.

Incredibly, for all the countless times Bennie have been out on the fang, this is the first Thai meal we’ve shared.

We start with one of the specials – gai hoi bai toey (marinated chicken cooked in pandan leaf, $6.90).

This is just OK for us. The chicken pieces are smallish, making the price seem a little on the steep side. They’re juicy enough, but there’s little or no taste of the publicised marinade flavour.

The pork salad (naem sod, $11.50) is a different matter entirely.

This is just as zingy with lime/lemon, ginger, coriander and chilli as we could wish, all of it a super foil for the chewy pork mince. Although it is at the upper chilli limit at which Bennie can enjoy eating!

The pad kee mao (fried thick rice noodle with chilli, sweet basil, vegetables and tofu, $11.90) is very mild by comparison.

In reality, the noodles are restrained in number, making this more of a straight-up wok-fried mixed vegetable dish. It’s good and does the job of adding variety and colour to our meal.

Our last hurrah fills us up right good – siszzling beef ($16).

This, too, is nice enough – plenty of beef pieces, almost as many cashew nuts, pleasant gravy. The problem seems to us that it’s more of a Chinese-style dish than a Thai one!

So … a good meal that may have been made better had we not tried so hard to steer clear of the usual Thai suspects.

We regret, for instance, not ordering the red duck curry ($18) on the specials board.

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Wild Rice


Shop 18/11-19 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 5484

On leaving Wild Rice after a really fine lunch, we troop up Ferguson St for a coffee at what turns out to be a hidey-hole of the Italian variety that we resolve to explore in further depth at the earliest possible opportunity.

As well, well-known Italian chef Rosa Mitchell is busy injecting Sicilian zest into the Hobson’s Bay Hotel, just opposite Wild Rice, though the prices we scan in the display menu outside put that joint into the “special occasion” bracket for us.

So maybe we’re being a touch harsh in our long-running disdain for Willy as a dining destination.

Still, it remains odd to us that a suburb so stuffed with eateries should have found so little place in our hearts, compared to, say, nearby Altona and Newport.

We’ve liked Wild Rice for a while, though, and are always pleased to return.

After visiting Snowballs Ice-Cream, we’d headed for Altona for a Viet/Sino place that turned out to be closed for Saturday lunch.

Further rambling was rejected in the interest of a safe bet in Willy.

Wild Rice is a swell Thai place with an elegant cafe-style vibe quite a way removed from that of many low-price places we frequent.

The service, we’ve found, is always swift and smiling.

The night-time a la carte list would stretch our budget – salads around the $15 mark, curries and stir fries from about $16 to $20 and up depending on your choice of protein.

So naturally, we head for the “lunch specials” list, which is available from noon to 5pm.

This features pad thai, tom yum and red curry noodle soups, and fried noodles for around $13-15.

But again, and happily for our wallets, we are drawn to the cheaper dishes.

Bennie will never say “no” to satay of any kind, so says yes here to the chicken stay and rice ($11.50)

The meat on his four skewers is a little hard to remove from the wood, but he loves it anyway. The satay sauce is a on the skimpy side, but tastes grand – it has a really distinctive flavour that speaks, we presume, of some real care and lack of shot cuts in the kitchen.

The rice and salad bits are good.

My “savoury pancakes” ($11.50) are actually a single rice flour pancake of the kind familiar to us from its counterpart in Vietnamese restaurants.

This one is a blast and half. It’s bloody good, with Bennie casting envious glances as his dad barely suppresses moans of pleasure. The stuffing is a just-right mix beans sprouts and minced pork. The salad quotient, provided by lettuce, carrot strands, mint and fresh coriander, is likewise near perfect. The whole dish is set off by being dressed with a beaut housemade sweet chilli sauce.

We really like the way both our meals treat the herbs as more than just a matter of garnish – the coriander and mint are sufficiently copious to make them full team members.

A couple of commentators at the Wild Rice entry on Urbanspoon opine that the restaurant is the “worst Thai food in the West” and “Thai food for people that don’t want the authenticity”.

The first comment is, I feel, on pretty shaky ground.

The second quip? I simply don’t know enough about Thai food to offer an authoritative judgment. But based on the non-bottle flavour of Bennie’s satay sauce and the simple, profound pleasures of my pancake, I suspect Wild Rice may actually be among the most authentic Thai places going around.

Wild Rice on Urbanspoon

She’s Thai


208 Somerville Rd, Kingsville. Phone: 9314 5556

How mindlessly presumptuous – and how profoundly wrong.

In all the years we’ve lived in Yarraville or thereabouts, we’ve driven past She’s Thai countless times, but never deigned to enter.

In my mind, I’d painted a picture of this eatery as a low-rent Thai place unworthy of our attention.

This was based on the unfounded inkling that it was just another cheap eat Thai place that mostly likely purveyed food that wasn’t anything special or worse – and at prices a good dollar or two higher than charged for similar and better at our many local Viet and Indian favourites.

But finally, mid-week, curiosity wins out and through the doors of She’s Thai I amble.

From the moment I cross the threshold it’s clear my presumptions are without any basis.

This is a lovely neighbourhood restaurant.

The open kitchen bustles, with adjacent casual area for customers awaiting takeaway orders and the neighbouring more formal dining room adorned with Thai woodwork and decorations. Thai music tinkles in the background and there’s even a table laid out with recent newspapers for those waiting or dining solo.

To cap it all, cackles of glee escape the kitchen as I start taking photos – always a good sign!

I question the gent of Western persuasion – as the nearby sign reads, “She’s Thai But I’m Not!” – about the Thai provenance of the chive dumplings ($5). The gist of his reply seems to be they are to be found in some areas of Thailand while having obviously having a transnational heritage.

I order them anyway. A mistake – but the only one of my visit. These Thai chive dumpling may be paragons, but for me they are too plain and lacking flavour. The two flat dumplings remind me of nothing so much as the spring onion pancakes you find in some Chinese establishments.

My gang massaman (brown beef curry) is much, much better.

I’ve had this dish many times elsewhere, usually enjoying the mild but deep mix of peanut and coconut vibes with chunky meat and – always! – the potato pieces that sing with flavour, so tender they almost become part of the gravy.

The She’s Thai massaman curry ($12.50) is quite different – in fact, more like a goulash, so sticky and gooey is the gravy. The beef is chunky and tender. The coconut flavour is more restrained than I am expecting, though the peanut quotient is high thanks to the pleasing crunch of the many skinless half nuts on offer. They join the expected spuds, crinkle-cut carrots, heaps of pineapple and basil leaves in completing a rich and delicious dish.

A few nights later, I phone in a takeaway order for chicken pad thai ($11.50), which provides a lovely at-home meal of egg noodles, egg, bean sprouts and juicy chicken pieces.

She’s Thai doesn’t do home deliveries, but no matter for us – the place is so close that barely five minutes need pass between leaving and arriving home with the goodies.

And we’ll surely be returning to take in more of the menu on a dine-in basis – for sure something with a bit more colour and zing and spice from the stir fry and salad listings.

I’ll be excited to do so, as She’s Thai is a gem of a place.

Meanwhile, I’ve also had an insider’s thumbs up on At 43, the new Thai place in Yarraville that is Cafe Urbano by day!

She's Thai on Urbanspoon