Friday, November 30, 2012

Show-stopping Ethiopian in North Melbourne


Telling someone who lives in Footscray that they know a great Ethiopian restaurant elsewhere in Melbourne is kind of like selling ice to eskimos.  But hey - I like ice.


Little Africa is on Victoria Street in North/West Melbourne, not far from the Vic Market.  It's teeny tiny inside and quite lovely, with interesting bits and bobs decorating the walls and each table set with a tiny red tea light.  I loved the gorgeous young waiter, softly spoken and wearing regulation hipster garb of skinny jeans turned up at the ankles and black plimsolls.


Some frosty beers while we perused the menu.  There are loads of interesting things, all with clear descriptions.  I had my eye on kitfo - "freshly minced lean beaf sauteed with warm clarified butter, mitmita [chilli] and cardamon" or maybe dorho aletcha - "cubes of chicken breast marinated and sauteed with spices, onions and peppers".  But it's still very hard to go past just the straight-up vegetarian combo as a good marker of an Ethiopian joint.

Veg combo, $20 for one, $35 for two (each additional person $18)

WHOA - did I say marker?  I meant goalpost.  As in, sailed right through.  Yes, I know it makes no sense.  But look at those colours and textures!  The chef (mum?) brought out this huge platter covered with a big sombrero-like woven cloche.  So from the 6 o'clock possie we have dubba - pumpkin cooked until collapsing in berbere spice.  Sweet, rich, oh so divine.  Heading left, I loved these simple veg, cooked very lightly in a little garlic and still with so much freshness, colour and flavour.  What a fresh, modern touch.  Then brown lentils, cooked with berbere, earthy and just perfect.


So to the left of the lentils is fool - dried broad beans cooked down with tomatoes, chillis and onions for a warm cumin-rich treat.  Then, still heading left, my fave and something not all too often seen - shiro, powdered dried chickpeas cooked with berbere for a silky smooth, rich, seductive paste.  Then finally cabbage and carrots cooked in garlic, ginger and turmeric.  The cabbage, like the veg, was left chunky in leaves - I think I prefer it a bit more shredded.  But oh boy, the flavours, I tell you!!!  They were all brought together by lemony, super-fresh salad in the middle.  This was seriously incredible East African food.


We ate to our heart's content and then we ate some more...and some more, and suddenly our "dinner and a few beers" looked like it might be more like "one beer and stagger home, protuberant stomach first".  We managed to waddle the few doors to Prudence where we groaned in painful satisfaction and sipped icy beer very slowly.


As we sat, the lovely young man from Little Africa entered again and again with more giant trays with peaked, woven covers that emitted smells that still tantalised, despite our stuffed state.  Turns out the good citizens of North Melbourne have cottoned on to this most excellent idea, and are taking it up with gusto.

This is East African fare worth travelling for.  RUN DON'T WALK!

Little Africa on Urbanspoon

PS:  I would book.  They are already pretty busy!  If they're full, you can always "order in" at Prudence!
PPS:  I am pretty sure they have rice!  (I heard someone ordering it.)

Little Africa
358 Victoria Street, North Melbourne
Phone:  9329 8018

Hours:  Tues-Sun 5-10pm

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Footscray market memories, and comforting congee

Alex PThis is a guest post for Footscray Food Blog by Alexandra Polysyllabic.  Alexandra has been a Footscray resident for many years and is heavily involved in the area's craft and permaculture scene/s.  She's a delight who is equally likely to be found planting out crystal apple cucumbers as cooking up a Cape Malay curry, baby on hip and dogs at her feet.  Thank you so much for your fabulous contribution!

Footscray and me, we go way back.  Back to when Footscray was a gangly, intransigent punk kid who spat at me, but somehow charmed me into staying, all the same.  Back to when Aangan had just opened its doors and was a single shop, using someone else’s bain marie, and so quiet that I used to get a lift home after collecting my take away dinner.  Back to when - and this is the Footscray I miss the most - I used to sit out the back of a little noodle shop in the dark of the closed market, having dinner.  We surreptitiously drank beer out of tea cups along with all the fishmongers in their white boots, slurping on hand-made noodles, sticky eggplant, pickled pigs ear and the ubiquitous dumplings; more often than not, a kitchen hand worked at one of the shiny metal tables, threading lamb skewers with one hand, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette with the other, mobile glued to his ear.  Oh, and of course there was the occasional rat, skittering down the corridor, perplexed by the noise and the smoke and the delicious chaos.


Something about the charm of Huu Huu Thanh takes me back to those smoky, surly days when Footscray and I were really getting to know one another.  Huu Huu Thanh gives you a space in which to eat delicious food and watch the passers-by; fabulous hospitality, speedy service and a feeling of community, without the fag, the rat, and the smuggled beer.


Situated opposite the large supermarket at Footscray Market, Huu Huu Thanh is the little cousin of Tan Huu Thanh on Hopkins Street.  The menu is smaller, but the food is more than equal in quantity, and an abbreviated menu allows for a fast brunch halfway through the madness of the weekly market shop.  While the Vietnamese menu is more extensive, the English menu offers six items, all for eight dollars.  It is here that HHT could improve their offering - simply by disclosing the full contents of the Vietnamese menu to its non-Vietnamese diners.


Two of my favourite things to eat are congee and Vietnamese coleslaw, so the first encounter with HHT’s chao goi ga - congee and chicken coleslaw - was a much anticipated pairing.  I was not disappointed.  The congee is made with a base of toothsome chicken stock - aromatic, salty, steaming hot.  In fact, it’s so irresistably delicious that Baby F plunged her hand into it - and our fabulous host rushed over with a bowl of cold water for her hand.


Scattered with fried shallots, coriander and spring onion, all it needs is a spoonful of pickled red chilli to enliven it.  In fact, this is one of the best things about HHT for this chilli fiend - the chilli on offer extends to whole red birds eye chillies in vinegar, along with the usual sate and pickled chilli.  There’s not a dried scallop or pork knuckle in sight, but that’s ok - it provides a wonderful foil for the chicken coleslaw with which it is served.


The coleslaw is humbly plated, but perfectly pitched.  It's simple but lovingly assembled - finely chiffonaded cabbage, julienned and lightly pickled carrot, torn mint and coriander, freshly roasted peanuts that retain crunch.  The chicken included requires a divorce from the western palate that insists that chicken breast is best; it’s not, and certainly not here.  On occasion, the coleslaw includes a chicken wing; shredded chicken skin appears in the jumble of ingredients, and much of the chicken is dark meat.  The coleslaw gets the balance right between sweet, hot, salty and sour; the accompanying nuoc cham allows you to up the ante, with the fragrance of pickled garlic dominating.  It is just fantastic, and for me sums up all that I love about Vietnamese cuisine with its clean, fresh and delicate flavours; accompanied by the congee, it is more than enough for one person.


M ordered the bun bo hue, or spicy beef and pork leg soup, one of his favourites.  This dish again demonstrates the ability of HHT to imbue dishes with the right balance of aromatics, chilli and palate-pleasing depth, and to offer fresh ingredients, fondly assembled.  Offered a choice between ‘normal’ or ‘less chilli’, we ordered ‘normal’ - and it was punchy, but not as fiery as others on offer in Footscray, and the key ingredients well expressed.  The sa-te bun bo hue is delicious - a lovely concoction of salty shrimp, lemongrass, garlic and chilli that again demonstrates the chef’s skill with aromatics - and we dig greedily into the extra on the table.


The pork sausage was freshly cooked, and tender rather than rubbery; it’s with this that many other restaurants fail.  The beef was tender, and the noodles perfectly cooked - again, they retained bite and flavour, rather than tasting pre-cooked and carelessly reheated.  The garnish of pickled onion, spring onion and coriander was generous and tasty; the accompanying salad of red cabbage, bean shoots and lettuce was a delicious improvement on other renditions that tend toward soggy and discoloured.


If these dishes are not reason enough, you should visit HHT for their stunning bun canh chua, or sweet and sour soup with rice noodles.  This is a take on the eponymous canh chua ca, the tamarind and pineapple broth with silver perch, that is served as a hotpot or family dish elsewhere in Footscray, and one of my favourites.  Slivers of poached fish, whole prawns, elephant ear stem, diced tomato and sliced okra cooked to perfection; a tamarind, pineapple and fish scented broth that was heady and moreish; and again, beautifully cooked and fresh noodles.  Rice paddy herb gives this dish its subtle aniseed flavour.  This is a visual and sensual delight, with contrasts of texture and flavour that give substance to the descriptor of ‘sweet and sour’.  It almost trumps the sweet and sour soup at Bo De Trai, of which I am inordinately fond, and the noodles make it a meal in itself.


So, the punk kid has grown up somewhat, as have I.  Footscray Market now offers me not only somewhere to eat delicious food and people watch, but also a place where I can buy delice de bourginon, goats curd, and daffinois blue.  There may not be contraband beer, but there are maroon walls, chartreuse ceilings, and a wobbly wall clock; a cooling bowl of water for my baby’s burnt hand; and enough gorgeous food to keep me coming back.

Um - HOW GOOD IS THAT?!  What an absolute delight to read.  Thank you so much Alex for your wonderful recollections, gorgeous photos and most of all, the directions to that unreal bowl of congee that I would like to dive right into.  (Lovely readers, if it's not too much to ask, I would love it if you could say a little "cheers" to Alex by leaving a comment, here on the blog or on Facebook :-)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tim & Jane - coffee, chocolate and tea in Footscray

Anyone else went to the Royal Hotel before it got redeveloped?  We did - only once, as we were knees deep in nappies and and sleepless nights at that stage, but we had a damn fine meal of proper, old-school pub grub.  I was a bit sad when I saw it being gutted and turned into retail shops.


But what's done is done, and the new spaces have provided a springboard for keen small businesses to put down roots in Footscray.  Among them is Tim & Jane, offering Jasper coffee, iced tea and many tempting treats.  I guess it's far more savoury to take my now school-aged daughter out for a babycino and a chocolate than a glass of Yalumba and a bowl of chips at the Royal!


Tim and Jane is owned by the eponymous Tim and Jane, a couple who saw a need for more cafes in Footscray and graciously obliged.


They have a retail range of chocolates and other sweet treats as well as take-home coffees and teas.  So purty!


Really enjoyed this short black, made with Jasper coffee - no sugar required, which is always the mark of a good espresso.


There's a tempting range of chockies from Poppy's and Fardoulis.


We went for a raspberry ganache frog and a peppermint cream.  Quite nice, although I am more a tangy, devilishly dark chocolate girl rather than a sweet milk chocolate fiend.


I nabbed a taste from a dish on the counter of the dark choc mango above, which was more my style - "yum" indeed!


Chocolate coffee beans from the good ole Chocolate Box - both my vices in one tasty crunch!


Jane, the owner, is originally from Vietnam and is really into herbal teas.  There's a big range here including an energy blend, Siberian ginseng, and dandelion leaf to reduce bloating and purify the blood.  There's a handy tip sheet provided or stop by on the weekends when Jane is there to chat about what might suit you - I'm definitely looking forward to browsing this range some more!


And if "Daintree and chamomile" or vanilla chai isn't your style, there's also a handy range of Jasper coffee for your 7am heartstarter.

Tim & Jane have just started doing a small range of takeaway sushi packs and Peking duck crepes (made offsite) and pending council approval they have plans to do a small range of hot food including my all-time favourite, Vietnamese mini coconut pancakes (that's what my Facebook "cover" is in case you ever wondered!)  As the weather warms up, it will be a treat to sit under the brollies with an iced tea, and best of all they're open till a very grown-up, VERY welcome 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays!

Big thanks to Simon via Facebook for the tip!

Tim & Jane (Facebook/Twitter)
Shop 6, 158 Barkly Street, Footscray (old Royal Hotel, Droop St side)
Hours:  Mon-Thurs 8am-8pm, Fri 8am-9pm, Sat 9am-9pm, Sun 10am-4pm

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Korean bread at Footscray's Bread Kingdom


Footscray has gone Gangnam style!  In the space of a week, not one but two new Korean businesses have opened on our fair streets.  Bread Kingdom is the latest addition, a Korean bakery specialising in fluffy cakes and other sweet treats.


It was early in the morning when I stopped by so the baskets weren't fully loaded, but I still took my time weighing up the flavour of my mid-morning blood sugar spike.


Apparently French-style bakeries are big in Korea and Bread Kingdom certainly continues in that vein, with madeleines, layered sponge cakes (including pumpkin and purple sweet potato flavours) and girly-pink Swiss rolls.


There are savouries too, like these mini burgers, croque monsieurs and toasts with an egg cracked in the middle, each one wrapped in crisp, shiny cellophane.  Everything's very reasonably priced so you can get yourself a great little spread for not much dosh.


I love Asian breads.  They don't seem so much kneaded as spun, like fairy floss.  This means that for each earnest Sourdough Kitchen fruit bun, I could cram in at least five Breadtop baked goods, each one bristling with different combinations of pork floss, Kewpie mayo and loads of buttery margarine.  YUM.


This is super-sweet Janet, the owner-operator of this franchise of Bread Kingdom, who you're likely to see seconds after entering as she springs up to you with a tray of samples.  She'd written to me out of the blue earlier in the week to tell me she'd opened up.  I introduced myself after paying for my goodies.  


Because the station's in the way, it's easy to forget that it's a mere 9-minute walk down to the river...

Shell ball $2.50

...and what a lovely place to spread out in the sunshine and unwrap your treats, with palm trees waving above and people fishing languidly beside you.  These are "shell balls", piped cookies with an extremely tender crumb like the crumbliest shortbread.  Apparently they are made with zero flour - just condensed milk, regular milk, eggs, baking powder and surprise ingredient, white bean paste!  The bean paste (white beans as in like cannellini or navy) gives the cookies body and also adds loads of protein.  The orange flavour (above) is delicious, made with real orange peel in the mix - there's also coffee and green tea flavours.  And they are definitely 100% gluten and wheat free - I have checked with Janet that the baking powder is indeed so (McKenzie's brand).  Silly yaks, get on down!

Cinnamon manju, $3.20

These are manju, kind of like moon cakes with a thin, not-too-sweet dough dusted with a little cinnamon and wrapped around jade-green sweet bean paste.  Yummy!  PS:  The vast majority of goods are made in store and are made fresh each day.

Sandwich, $3.50

Yes, I am telling you to eat a cold, triple-decker, plastic cheese and ham sandwich.  Why?  Because it is SO DARN YUMMY.  I admit I would never have bought this but Janet had it out as a sample.  I went round and round the store and I still couldn't bring myself to leave without buying it.  The bread is soft yet crisp with golden margarine/butter, the melted cheese, the salty ham...  You might think I've lost my mind but I loved it!  Sometimes the wrongest things are the rightest.

Honey castella, $2.20

Janet threw in this freebie for us and it was a light, airy, chiffon-style sponge with just a touch of rich egginess.  Quite plain, but like sponge or tea cake, I think it's meant to be like that.

Bread Kingdom have a coffee machine ($2.50 coffees!  Party like it's 2001!) and a few small tables up the back so you can sit in and share some coffee and cakes.  The hot tip for next time is their "rice donut", made with sticky rice powder and cinnamon sugar - the rice powder is specially imported from Korea, so it's as authentic as possible.  Could it be that Footscray will now be famous for not one, but TWO donut varieties?

PS:  If you are vegan and/or interested in Korean food, you should read Alien's Day Out, a super-cool blog about eating 100% vegan in Seoul, South Korea.  Ever grateful to the reader who sent it in after I (I now realise stupidly) said Korean was not vego friendly.  :-)

Bread Kingdom
7 Paisley Street, Footscray
Hours:  Daily 7am-7.30pm
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