Small cafe, big (happy) surprise

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

Sometimes a stroll around the vicinity of the sadly burnt-out Little Saigon Market can present a rather glum prospect.

On a grey, chilly mid-week noon hour, for instance.

My understanding is that the post-fire wheels of bureaucracy are grinding ever so slowly towards a resolution.

But in Footscray, there is always life – and always new life.

The new carparking building has arisen and on its ground floor are several businesses already – a chemist; a hairdresser and (supposedly) a Huxtaburger outlet to come; in an adjacent edifice, a cult tea shop outside which I have already twice seen queues.

And there is Small Graces, a lovely cafe that IS small but BIG on heart.

In the normal turn of events, this place would register on CTS as a place for coffee and perhaps coverage in a westie eats goss story, but probably not much more.

But an approach by Small Graces proprietors Rebecca and Diego changes all that.

Yes, we’d like to take your place for a spin (see full disclosure below).

So it is that sometime CTS correspondent Erika, her son Hugh (both very near neighbours of the joint) and I arrive for a mid-week lunch.

We are knocked out.

 

 

Small Graces is a cosy place and the staff are smilingly friendly and obliging.

The compact menu ranges through the usual eggy outings, soup and blackboard salads through to display sangers and gorgeous-looking house-made sweets.

But our eyes are immediately drawn to the “sides” section of the food list.

Here there be treasure.

We are permitted, nay encouraged, to treat these as a sort of tapas/antipasto option – so we do!

 

 

How good is this?

Clockwise from top (all items clocking in at about $5):

Smashed avo with almond feta and dukkah.

Halloumi, baharat, honey and walnuts.

Chicken, adobo, chicken salt.

Two kinds of pickle – red cabbage and a kimchi-like mix involving carrot.

Slow-cooked pork neck with crackling crumbs.

The first two items here listed are these days, of course, standard cafe fare, but they are rarely presented with this sort of finesse.

The chicken thigh pieces and the sliced pork are miracles of deft seasoning and juiciness.

At first I had thought this light yet fabulously yum spread would need some bread or the like, but …

 

 

… these seriously sexy spuds with garlic and rosemary with lemon mayo on the side ($6) add just the right degree of heft to our meal.

 

 

Meanwhile, a salad of caramelised beetroot with black lentils, almond feta and dill ($8) continues the flow of fresh flavours.

 

 

Young Hugh enjoys his toast with what appears to be a very fine strawberry jam ($6).

 

 

With our fine coffees, Erika and I enjoy this mega-rich caramel slice ($5) – in this case, a smallish portion is a blessing.

More and bigger would be TOO much.

 

 

Then there’s this equally accomplished lemon curd cheesecake ($6.50) of the non-baked variety.

Our very vocal enthusiasm for the “sides” transformed into a main attraction pecking plate could, I suspect, see these items (there are several more we didn’t try) elevated in status beyond mere add-ons.

The food has been outstanding – more like your top-notch casual dining standard.

But even if that doesn’t transpire, we recommend them heartily.

As we do Small Graces in general.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Small Graces as guests of management. No money changed hands. Our food was chosen by CTS. Small Graces management did not seek any editorial input into this story.)

 

Westie eats goss 30/8/17

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Huxtaburger for Footscray central?

That would certainly appear to be the case going by the planning permit notification taped to the window of one of ground floor shops in the new parking building opposite Little Saigon Market.

 

 

However, CTS is unsure if a franchise deal has been done, as the relevant page on the DC Strategy site seems indicate they’re still looking for suitable – and cashed up – partners.

If you have $400,000+ to invest – depending on “location, size and end fit out” – go here.

 

 

In Yarraville, there is finally some action going on with regards to 16 Anderson Street – the big and splendid premises formerly home to Jasmine Inn.

It’s been without life for a long time – aside from the likes of being used by a film crew a while back.

A spokesman for the agents, Fitzroys, tells CTS there have been more than 60 inquiries to date, with about half of those coming from the local community.

See the agents’ page for the property here.

Expressions of interest close on Friday, September 22.

 

 

Back in Footscray – and in the Nicholson Street mall, right next door to the Tasttslotto shop – Footcsray Corner is these days operating at what was previously another Vietnamese joint and before that a noddle-box outfit.

Footscray Corner boasts a simple menu of rather rustic dishes – it’s that kind of place; the menu is overwhelmingly in Vietnamese.

 

 

This “farm” chicken pho is a peak experience and magnificent for $14.

How good is it?

The plentiful chicken, quite finely chopped is notably more chunky, meaty and, well, real than usually found in chicken pho – and blessedly bone-free.

The yolks were a little gooey in the middle.

The broth was excellent.

And did I detct a whiff of lemongrass going on in there?

The accompanying herbiage included regular mint.

 

 

Also in Footscray, the big premises facing the carpark on the corner of Hopkins and Moore streets is to become a Vietnamese hot pot and BBQ establishment.

The place has seen a lot of turnover, the two most recent businesses in there being Rama’s and D’Asian.

Tasty on the Hudson

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Hudsons Road Wine & Beer, 2/88 Hudson Road, Spotswood. Phone: 9131 1069

Hudsons Road Beer & Wine has been open just a week or so, but is already a big hit on that strip.

And so it should – it’s a very cool place where the passion for the produce speaks very eloquently.

The accent is on small producers and quality all the way.

 

 

The fit-out, including furniture from neighbouring Quazi Design, is sleek and welcoming.

Partners Alistair Smith (a long-time reader and supporter of CTS) and Leigh Boin stock about 200 beers and 150 wines.

The deli section is compact and the hand-picked philosophy no less evident.

 

 

My lunch, for instance, is a simple and superb platter that costs me $16 and is matched with a glass of La guardianese fiano from Italy.

On my board is an amazing, fine-sliced Mr Canubi capocollo of dry cured pork neck, free range from the western plains.

Also in attendance are a wedge of Challerhocker (Swiss) cheese, ciabatta from Candied Bakery across the road, a gooey quince paste and some fresh pear slices.

The deluxe board for $45 shapes up as a very enticing lunch for two that Bennie and I will try soon.

Alistair and Leigh will continue to fine-tune their business hours, but as it stands they are noon-11pm Monday-Friday, 10am-11pm Saturday and 10am-9pm Sunday.

 

Williamstown, an interesting arrival

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Bob’s Diner @ Rifle Club Hotel, 121 Victoria Street, Williamstown. Phone: 9367 6073.

One Friday night, and long ago before Consider The Sauce started, Bennie and I ventured into the Rifle Club Hotel, having heard there was a some Thai food going on there.

That turned out to not be the case, and we fled, figuring the establishment – then – was no place for a boy and his dad.

Now we’re back after learning that a crew called Bob’s Diner has set up shop.

Truth be told, this pokies venue is not a good fit for us, but we’re prepared to give it a crack.

The dining room has been done out in basic diner style and, as expected given the the name of the place, burgers are big on the menu.

But there are also such items as poutine, chicken wings, fish and chips – and even a grazier’s beef pie with sauce and mash.

 

 

The chips ($5) come in a good-size serve and are enjoyed by us both.

 

 

My SouthWest Chicken Burger ($12) is an enigma.

Bun, coleslaw, briny pickle all good.

The chicken is crumbed and crisp.

But tastes of nothing.

Is it re-constituted like a chicken nugget?

I can’t tell, but it disappoints.

 

 

Bennie does a whole let better with his cheese and bacon burger ($12).

This is a good, solid burger that is priced right.

Given the dearth of eating options in the immediate neighourhood, Bob’s Diner is sure to be of interest.

But we’d advise savvy scrutiny of the menu and quizzing of the staff.

 

Reliable, excellent Malaysian

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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.

 

A Footscray institution

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Jim Wong Restaurant, 259 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 5971

It’s all very easy to take the likes of the late Jim Wong’s establishment – and the nearby Poon’s – for granted, surrounded as they are by colourful, delicious and affordable options of the more recently arrived Vietnamese, African and even Indian varieties.

They can conjure up, in the minds of the world weary or cynical, mental visions of tiresomely old-school food that has passed its use-by date.

Daggy?

Sure, but as regular readers will know, that has never stopped us.

On top of the funky, spicy, worldly western suburbs tucker that is the very core of our eating-out endeavours, we’re not averse to an RSL or bowls club roast lunch and the like.

So we’re very happy indeed to front for a mid-week dinner at Jim Wong, something that is somewhat belated in terms of the history of CTS.

And a fine time we have.

We love it – the menu, the decor, the furniture, just about everything.

We love it that there is real linen on the tables – and we even love it that we have to request chop sticks.

The food?

Well, mostly we love that, too.

We  like the possibilities evoked by the nicely priced banquet line-up that ranges in price from $25 and upwards.

But the meat courses feature dishes with satay sauce, in which we are not interested.

Likewise, we know – based on unsatisfactory experiences in other places and at other times – not to order dishes with a South-East Asian heritage, so we ignore the Jim Wong offerings of char kwai teow and Hokkien noodles.

 

 

Short soup ($5) is, as Bennie declares, “plain but good”.

Of the two wontons I try, one is doughy, the other is lovely, with the very austere broth being quite different from those found in the nearby Vietnamese joints.

 

 

BBQ roast pork ribs ($8) are fabulous.

There’s only a couple of pieces of bone and/or gristle.

The meat is well-cooked, but nicely short of dry and the flavours are a kick, all abetted by a rich, dark sticky sauce.

 

 

Beef with black bean sauce ($23) is just OK – we’d like quite a bit more sharp zing from the sauce and the price seems a bit steep.

But we eat it all anyway …

 

 

No such problems with the greens with garlic sauce ($13.50).

This is the dish we have been most eagerly anticipating and we are not disappointed.

It is, of course, simplicity itself.

But there’s less oil involved than in many other versions we’ve had, some of which cost more than we’re paying, so this actually seems like a bit of a bargain.

We’ve eaten well and enjoyed what are, for us, unusual circumstances.

And while we’ve paid a little more than we would for an equivalent spread elsewhere in Footscray, we’re happy to have done so, taking on board a tasty reminder of a still-thriving emblem of Footscray heritage.

 

 

Westie eats goss 3/8/17

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The Greeks are coming!

Not long after CTS published an unflattering profile of Buckley Street, Footscray, in October, 2014, we were told that street’s Orthodox Greek bookshop was destined to become a Greek eatery of some sort.

It’s taken a while but it IS happening.

An opening appears to be some way off, however, as the gas was being connected when I dropped around for a look-see this morning.

 

 

The Brother Hood Yiros & Grill is actually located on Admiral Street, at the rear of, but as part of, the same property as the bookshop.

 

 

Much excitement has already been occasioned by the soon-come arrival of the Meat The Greek Souvlaki Bar on Victoria Street, Seddon.

 

 

Meanwhile, major works continue on the comprehensive makeover of the property next to Andrew’s of Yarraville in Anderson Street that will eventually become another Greek establishment, Eleni’s Kitchen + Bar.

 

 

When, for a few years, Bennie attended Footscray City Primary, we often enjoyed the quirky window displays of the old shop on the corner of Parker and Hyde street.

And we always considered the place would make a fine cafe.

And now it will!

 

 

Tom and Steve tell me Parker & Hyde will be a breakfast/lunch place with a focus on great coffee and, given the place’s relatively small footprint, quality takeaway options for workers and residents from the surrounding neighbourhood.

That neighbourhood has not, until now, been serviced in such a way so their location would seem to be a winner.

And the trade from happy school pupil parents should be significant, too.

Expect an opening in late August or early September.

 

 

When Dinh Son Quan was part of the now sadly destroyed Little Saigon Market, it had two faces – a regular Vietnamese a la carte eatery on the street and a lengthy bain marie of vastly interesting dishes from within the market itself.

Now Dinh Son Quan is back – at 102 Hopkins Street.

 

 

For space reasons, the bain marie offerings aren’t as extensive but the food is still good.

 

 

This mix of two of my favourite Vietnamese dishes – bo kho with wonderful fall-apart beef and divinely luscious chicken curry – cost me $9.

And it was most excellent.

 

 

On Leeds Street, what was once the long-standing Chinese joint called Golden Harvest is undergoing a massive makeover.

 

 

According the notice in the window, it would seem the restaurant that will replace Golden Harvest will be under the same management.

It will be interesting to see just what “modern Australian cuisine” means!

 

 

 

Across the road in Footscray Market, the supermarket at the city market’s city end is undergoing an overhaul.

 

 

 

On Nicholson Street, work continues on the Cafe D’Afrique.

A few weeks before this new boarding was put up, CTS got a peek of what was happening inside and can report that the property has been well and truly gutted.

 

 

On Barkly Street in West Footscray, what was once Jellybread will soon become that strip’s first Sri Lankan eatery.

We are excited about trying it!

 

 

In Tarneit, and just adjacent to Wyndham Village shopping centre, the short-lived Malaysian place Ya’Salam has been replaced by the Indonesian flavours of Aroma Spices Kitchen.

As with Dinh Son Quan, here’s a place the proves bain maries can be A Good Thing.

 

 

The menu is tight and the prices right.

 

 

This $13 combo was a knockout.

Fine beef rendang, a spicy-dry potato jumble and superbly silky eggplant cooked with tomato.

I loved every mouthful.