The Rusty Fox

September 21st, 2013

A cafe needs to have a lot of confidence if it’s going to charge $13.50 for a banh mi, particularly when it’s located five minutes drive from Footscray.

No doubt the ingredients used in the chicken banh mi at the Rusty Fox (501 Macaulay Rd, Kensington) are a few notches above those served at you’re average Vietnamese bakery. However, when I’m paying $13.50 for a sandwich – any sandwich – I expect it to be amazing, and this wasn’t.

I had high hopes following the first bite, but by the end I felt that there wasn’t enough coriander and the bread was a little too crusty.

Bánh mì

Bánh mì

West 48

April 25th, 2012

No, this blog is not dead, it’s just been hibernating for the last 7 months. With a move west, where ‘cool’ cafes are now starting to appear, it’s time to start blogging again. West 48 is one of the two new Footscray/West Footscray cafes to open in the space of three weeks, and judging by all the people crowded in on a cold, wet Wednesday (public holiday), there was nascent demand.

It’s located on Essex St, which is a bit of a thoroughfare, but there’s not so much traffic that you wouldn’t want to sit at one of the outdoor tables. However, in the cooler months, the inside seats are the place to be. It’s been nicely fitted out, with the requisite metal stools and a bench along with front window, a large communal table and some smaller tables.

We’re yet to eat there, but have been a couple of times for coffee. Both times my long blacks have just been okay, thanks to slight over-extraction which made them too bitter. Then again, it’s still fairly new, so I’m prepared to cut them some slack while they find their feet.

West 48
48 Essex Street
West Footscray

Miriam’s

August 27th, 2011

Country restaurants are often a hit or miss affair, in terms of food, service and value for money. Miriam’s (Corner Esplanade & Bulmer Streets, Lakes Entrance, Victoria) falls on the right side of the ledger. First impressions aren’t promising, with the dining room sporting very dated decor, but that’s really the only fault I could pick with our meal there.

I had the fish of the day, which came with a green salad, along with some sides which I honestly can’t remember. That’s not to say they were forgettable, as I remember really enjoying them, and the fish, which was well cooked. I was more impressed with the bacon-wrapped eye fillet ordered by my girlfriend, which she was generous enough to share with me. The meat was very flavoursome for an eye fillet, and very tender. And unlike many country restaurants, they weren’t afraid to leave the meat a little pink.

I had a baked cheesecake for dessert, which was suitably rich and generously proportioned. Too often, restaurants overcharge for desserts, but certainly not in this case. Further on the value for money, any restaurant that offers BYO gets the thumbs up from me, particularly when they charge such a reasonable $5 for corkage.

There were quite a few high school students on the waitstaff, but service was good – by country and city standards.

<a href=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/71/1523093/restaurant/Victoria/Miriams-Restaurant-Lakes-Entrance”><img alt=”Miriams Restaurant? on Urbanspoon” src=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/link/1523093/minilink.gif” style=”border:none;width:130px;height:36px” /></a>

Restaurant warning signs

July 11th, 2011

There are many

Warning signs that are apparent before you enter

  1. Papyrus font used on signage: Inexplicably, some cafe and restaurant owners mistakenly believe that Papyrus is a good choice for their restaurant ‘logo’. This mistake is most commonly made at cafes in country towns. The only businesses for which it’s acceptable to use Papyrus are those that sell “Magic Happens” stickers.
  2. Use of the word ‘gourmet’ anywhere: A restaurant using the adjective gourmet is like a mechanic using the adjective honest. I’d expect that it’s a given, so if you think you have to convince me with words, then excuse me if I’m a bit skeptical. P.S Adding feta cheese to a pizza does not make it a ‘gourmet’ pizza.
  3. The name uses a play on words: If they’re relying on humour to get people to notice them, that’s not a good sign.
  4. They ‘specialise’ in food from more than one continent: It takes years to master a single cuisine, so a chef that excels at more than a couple is a rarity. I realise they exist, they’re just not common, particularly the further you get from the metropolitan area.
  5. They serve ‘international’ cuisine: I’m not sure what international cuisine means in Australia, because apart from wichetty grubs, damper and pavlova, most food is international, and even the latter is debatable.
  6. There’s a review on the window from a local paper, or from more than 2 years ago: I don’t really care if you the Nar Nar Goon Tribune named you best Thai restaurant back in 1996.
  7. There’s a spruiker out the front: I don’t think I need to explain.

 

Warning signs once you’ve entered

  1. Female diners are greeted with ‘ciao bella’: People who actually live in Italy have told me that this expression is not really used in Italy.
  2. The menu is typeset in Comic Sans: While the Papyrus is most commonly used in restaurant ‘logos’, meaning the alarm bells sound BEFORE you enter, Comic Sans is generally reserved for use on menus. This means that you’re already seated before you realise your predicament.
  3. The menu is divided into section such as “From the sea”, “From the paddock”: I’m not sure why, but this just annoys me.
  4. Pasta dish featuring a chicken-based sauce: I love chicken, and a I love pasta – just not together. I’ve read that there is actually an authentic Italian pasta dish that contains chicken in the sauce, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never come across it.
  5. Pasta dish featuring a chicken and avocado-based sauce: See warning sign #3 and multiple by 100
  6. One or more dish contain sun-dried tomatoes: Sun-dried tomatoes may have been considered an exotic ingredient back in the mid-80s, but that was almost 30 years ago. In 2011 the only place they have is as replacement for tomato paste in a nice 8 hour, slow-cooked bolognese sauce. Semi-dried tomatoes are acceptable . . . just. See also: balsamic reduction
  7. The only ‘premium’ beer is Crown Lager: While Crown Lager certainly meets the definition of beer, it’s quite a stretch to call it ‘premium’.
  8. Over-sized pepper grinders: There’s often a negative correlation between the size of the pepper grinder and the quality of the food. I suppose I should be grateful that they’re using freshly ground pepper.

Eat Drink, Man Woman

June 19th, 2011

It’s hard to review Eat Drink Man Woman without mentioning Retro, the cafe that previously occupied this space. While Retro was retro (in all the wrong ways unfortunately, having not having progressed since its heyday in the nineties), Eat Drink Man Woman is a modern affair.

The interior has been given a complete refit, and takes advantage of the expansive windows on two sides to provide excellent natural light. Light coloured furnishings adds to the airy feel. You can get a good idea from the great photos in Jetsetting Joyce’s review.

Shakshouka

We were there for breakfast, and that menu is short but interesting. I was torn between the son in law eggs and the shakshuka, but settled on the latter option. As you can see from the photo, Eat Drink Man Woman commits the breakfast sin of providing just a single piece of ‘toast’. I guess at least it was a thick slice of toast, and had nice flavour from being charred on the grill rather than toasted.

The tomato sauce contained capsicum, preserved lemons, olives and various herbs, but despite this, was a little bland and underseasoned. Even the feta on top failed to lift it. The other issue was that some of the olives were unpitted, which wouldn’t be a problem except that some of them were quite small, meaning you didn’t necessarily know when you were about to bite into one. On the plus side, the eggs were perfectly cooked.

My girlfriend had the poached quinces with couscous (or was it quinoa?), nuts and yoghurt. It’s a nice idea, but she thought the poaching liquid had given them an unidentifiable, and slightly unpleasant, taste.

The coffee was very good, especially for a cafe that appears to be focusing more on the food. And the service was professional and friendly, which is what you want at breakfast time.

It had only been open for just over a week, and I’ve got no doubt that once the kinks with some of the dishes are ironed out, it’s going to be a deservedly popular addition to Brunswick Street.

Eat Drink Man Woman
413 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy, Victoria
phone: (03) 9419 0088

Sydney coffee

June 17th, 2011

Having been disappointed multiple times by Campos Coffee, a much raved about Sydney import that has set up shop in Carlton, I was a little skeptical about the harbour city’s ability to serve up good coffee. A recent trip to Sydney provided a good opportunity to judge Sydney’s coffee scene.

I sampled coffee from a number of Sydney’s coffee hot spots, and it was mixed bag. Le Monde gets a thumbs up, but the much hyped Robocog and Gnome were big disappointments.

Other cafes, known more for their food than their coffee, including Forbes & Burton and Four Ate Five, lived up to expectations. That is, they served great food, but mediocre coffee. This, sadly, is a common tale, not just in Sydney, but also in Melbourne.

El Loco

June 16th, 2011

We were in Sydney a few weeks ago, and as luck would have it, Dan Hong’s Mexican ‘cantina y barra’ had recently opened in Surry Hills. Having read a few blog reviews beforehand, I was keen to try, and see how it compared to Melbourne’s uber-popular Mamasita. The answer . . . very favourably!

To begin with, it’s open throughout the day, meaning that despite a lot of hype, there are no ridiculous queues to get in. At least not when we were there, which admittedly was during the day.

Then there’s the the fact that it’s attached to a pub, meaning you can sit in the front bar enjoy reasonably priced drinks with your meal, including a reasonable selection of beers. And Mexican is certainly good drinking food. You can sit in the ‘cantina’ section and sip on margaritas.

taco from El Loco

It’s really the food though, that give El Loco the advantage. We only tried the tacos, but we did try all five filling options – pork with pineapple salsa; lemongrass beef; prawn; chicken and corn salsa; and tofu. All five choices come with cabbage, coriander, spring onions, salsa verde and pico de gallo.

I doubt that any of these flavour combinations are particularly authentic, but the important thing is that they work together and they’re very robust. I was particularly surprised by how good cabbage tasted in a taco. The corn-based taco ‘shells’ are soft of course, and have the tiny corrugations that are common to most good tortillas, and which help the filling bind to the shell. All were good, but I’d have to give a slight edge to the pork and pineapple

They’re served in little bamboo ‘boats’, which are presumably quite environmentally friendly, and possibly even reusable.

The prices – $5 per taco – would make anybody from Mexico, or even the US for that matter, gasp, but here in Australia they’re fairly standard. Serving sizes are reasonable, and certainly more generous than at Mamasita, meaning three tacos are adequate for a fully grown male.

In addition to tacos, there are a other choices on the menu, including Mexican-influenced hot dogs, salads and grilled dishes.

Having been to both Mamasita and El Loco on multiple occasions, I think the more casual and less ‘too-cool-for-school’ El Loco has the advantage, and I hope Dan Hong decides to expand south of the border.

El Loco
64 Foveaux Street
Surry Hills, NSW
phone: (02) 9211 4945

Wide Open Road

March 30th, 2011

I’ve got a simple, sure fire real estate tip for you. Buy in an area that I used to live in 5 years ago. I lived in Northcote in the 80s, and Brunswick in the 90s, and both times, shortly after I moved on gentrification set in and house prices skyrocketed.

Wide Open Road is located on the very same street that I used to live in the early noughties, although back then it was a NQR supermarket, and the nearest decent cafe was in Fitzroy.

It’s run by a couple of the pioneers of the Brunswick cafe scene, so it’s no surprise that it ticks certain boxes. Tasteful interior – check; well made coffee – check; friendly service – check; good food – check; house-roasted coffee; reclaimed timber furniture – check; single-speed bikes parked out front – check.

BLT

Nice filling, shame about the 'bread'

The menu is somewhat limited, and features some smaller offerings, such as the BLT. It’s only $6, which is a fair price, even given its diminutive size.

The mayonnaise they use is particularly good, although I was less impressed by the pide bread used. I’m not overly fond of pide at the best of times, but this was also a bit stale. I’d much prefer the casa linga used at Babka for their sensational BLTs.

My coffee looked terrible, the overly dark crema a tell-tale sign of over extraction. Surprisingly though, it tasted very good, so no complaints there.

Wide Open Road
274 Barkly St
Brunswick
phone: 9387 6079

Update (02/04/11): The price of the BLT has increased to $8, without an increase in size, which takes it into rip-off territory. The coffee was great today though.

Little b

March 29th, 2011

If the falafels at Little b are not the best in the Melbourne CBD, I’ll go he. The hero – if you’ll excuse me for using that wanky term – of their falafel wrap is the pickled radish, which provides both flavour and texture.

Playing strong supporting roles are fresh, soft pita bread, nicely cooked falafels and a perfect amount of tahini. Bit parts are played by lettuce, …….

Falafel from Little b

Melbourne's best falafel?

What’s more, they cost a paltry $7, making them fantastic value and earning them a spot on my lunch in the Melbourne CBD map.

It’s a small cafe, but despite being just around the corner from the mediocrity of Hardware Lane, you’ll generally be able to get a seat relatively easily in my experience, and what’s more, the staff are very friendly.

Little b
390 Little Bourke St
Melbourne

Social Roasting Company

March 23rd, 2011

It’s taken me quite a few weeks, but I think I’ve finally found somewhere for my daily coffee hit near my new workplace. My first long black from Social Roasting Company was a rich and perfectly drawn, and just to make sure, I went back the next two days. It’s good to see the same staff behind the counter each day, which ensures consistently good coffee.

Social Roasting Company
5 McKillop Street
Melbourne