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553 Barkly St
Footscray, Victoria, Australia
03 9995 1198
This place used to be a video store. Nestled between Indian eateries and grocery stores, brothers Sal and Juan Rodriguez dared to buck the WeFo trend and open a Latin American restaurant in this drab-looking premises. And what a treat we’ve been given.
Our first visit was on a steaming hot Sunday afternoon in late November, when the restaurant was not long open. The decor was a little haphazard but homely enough. Electric fans tried in vain to help with air circulation. We were virtually the only people in the place. Sal came and welcomed us, bringing sangria and fruit punch to cool us down, with a sampler size of “Latin pho” as he called it: a casserole of vegetables and offal which tasted far better than it looked.
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The stereo was pumping out some good salsa music, so after ordering we got up to practise our newly-learned salsa moves. Sal immediately turned up the music, announcing that they were “chefs by day and salseros by night”. He and brother Juan, the chef, run this place – although their mum was also on the premises and looked pretty much in charge to me.
I got the sense that I was going to like this place, despite its basic look.
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We focused on meat. The twice cooked pork belly came on a bed of fresh salad and a generous dollop of guacamole. The secret, we are told, is that they marinate the meat for at least twenty-four hours in rum. Right. All I know is that it was some of the best pork belly I’ve eaten, and a huge portion too.
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The carne asada was served with a flourish on a steel skewer. Lighted cured in brine, it was delicious, although I would have liked it to be a little more “asada”. The salad was beautifully fresh.
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Sal came and chatted to us, giving us salsa tips alongside the history of the family. Originally from El Salvador, the Rodriguez family migrated to Australia in the eighties and have always lived in the western suburbs. They wanted to bring to West Footscray a taste of home, some real Latin American cooking, live music and a sense of community.
Three months later we finally make it back to Nuevo Latino. It’s another steamy Sunday but we get down there just as the kitchen in closing and the band is packing up. The place is pretty busy this time and the decor has changed, with whitewashed walls, Latin American flags and the leftover balloons and flowers from yesterday’s Valentine’s banquet giving the place a festive feel. There’s nothing for it but to order a margarita.
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We are greeted like old friends, Juan waving madly from the kitchen. Are they mixing us up with somebody else, I wonder? Nope. Sal calls to the DJ to change the music to something more danceable, and calls to us to move the furniture if there isn’t enough room for us to salsa.
I couldn’t help but order the pork belly again. It was too delicious last time. Orlando went with a steak special. This time the meat was beautifully cooked, seared on the outside and perfectly pink on the inside.
We watched the waiter bust a few serious salsa moves with a friend and decided there was no way we’d be dancing this time.
Later Sal came and chatted, telling us all the news. They’d been a late invitee to that weekend’s Footscray Latin Dance festival, but they have been doing their own thing every weekend anyway, showcasing the cruising of different countries with guest chefs, and live music every Sunday. This weekend it was Colombian. Orlando chatted to the guest chef whilst Juan emerged from the kitchen to dance with me.
How can you not love a place like this?
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 Nuevo Latino on Urbanspoon

the pizza protocols

  1. Only thin and crispy is acceptable. The thinner and crispier the better.
  2. Only tomato base is acceptable – no barbecue sauce or other unauthorised alternatives.
  3. Maximum four toppings allowed, in addition to tomato base and cheese.
  4. Cheese may be mozzarella or shredded cheddar/tasty cheese; caution should be exercised when selecting any other cheese options.
  5. Absolutely no fruit on pizzas.
  6. Absolutely no chicken on pizzas.
  7. Ham is acceptable; bacon is not. Nobody knows why.
  8. Pizza fusion (e.g. chicken tikka pizza, lamb shawarma pizza) is not acceptable under any circumstances.
  9. We acknowledge the existence of white pizzas, but choose not to endorse their use.

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That is all.

bax food co.

Bax Food Co.
83 Gamon Street, Yarraville
0402 751 108
https://www.facebook.com/baxfoodco
http://bossmanfood.com.au

It was opening night at Bax Food Co., the newest venture from Bossman Foods. Roderick is pretty well known by the small West Indian community in Melbourne for his Caribbean food wholesale business and his event catering, so a new Caribbean restaurant with his name behind it is of great interest.

We reserve a table for the second of two sittings on opening night. The old Gravy Train venue on Gamon Street is barely recognisable, with a light new paint job, vibrant art on the walls and chairs and stools painted black, yellow and red.

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The place is buzzing, with most of the indoor and outdoor seating already taken. We recognise a few familiar faces in the crowd, so there will be a few discerning palates to check out the promise of “contemporary Jamaican” fare.

The maître d’ and the floor staff are unfailingly polite, professional and at hand. I didn’t once hear the grating over-familiarity of a “guys”, “mate”, or (the dreaded) “man”.

The seating is mostly at large share tables, narrow counter tops along the wall or tall bar-type tables with high stools. Not my favourite type of seating arrangement, and perhaps more appropriate for daytime use than a relaxed evening dinner. Even the smaller high tables seemed to have strangers sharing the space.

We were seated towards the back of the restaurant at a large table, sharing with a family party of six or seven. Bax still doesn’t have their liquor licence so we chose a fruit punch and a watermelon juice.

The food menus comes in four parts: small irie grub, larger boss grub, side grub and sweety grub. We chose some ackee and saltfish patties to start, with a curry goat and jerk platter to follow and a side of rice and peas.

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The atmosphere while we waited was energetic and friendly, although the shared seating made for a pretty noisy environment if you wanted a chat. The music was laid back Jamaican, and the mocktails flowed. We genuinely had not noticed the time passing when the maître d’ came to us and apologised for the wait, promised our food would be along shortly and delivered two more drinks on the house. A nice touch.

Minutes later the food arrived, served in recycled paper receptacles including a box or “bax” after which the eatery is named.

The patties were small but delicious – two to a serving. The ackee and saltfish filling was complemented by a touch of tangy tomato and love apple sauce. I’d definitely come back here for two of those as a light lunch.

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The goat curry was generous: meat on the bone, meltingly well-cooked, beautifully seasoned.

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My dining companion’s jerk platter initially came out incomplete, but this was rectified in moments with another apology. Just a minor slip on an opening night. The platter included a piece of delicious roast jerk corn sprinkled with grated coconut, a chicken wing, a piece of chicken and a chunk of pork, all nicely seasoned with (do my tastebuds deceive me?) the unmistakable notes of Walkerswood jerk seasoning, the best there is. Bossman Foods is a major wholesaler of this stuff, so I suppose the restaurant is a good showpiece, and there were plenty of foodstuffs for sale near the counter. All of the jerk stuff was properly cooked on a charcoal barbecue, so you got that lovely charred taste and texture.

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My curry goat came with a side dish of roti bread, which tasted more like a corn bread seasoned with cumin and other things, quite delicious and great for soaking up the sauce.

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The rice and peas was a generous helping but with kidney beans rather than gunga or pigeon peas, but that’s not unusual in Jamaican fare.

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Without exception, the food was very well seasoned, well presented, expertly cooked and in generous portions. I understand serving some of the main dishes in a “bax”, but I felt they pushed the concept a little too far with the paper and cardboard plates and bowls for the other dishes. Too “canteeny” for the price. And the side plates (real crockery) we had to eat from could have been larger: I struggled to get a good mix of curry, meat, rice and other accompaniments on such a tiny plate.

As we continued eating, the family beside us left and was replaced by an energetic bunch of young women on a night out. Their conversations were so loud we literally had to stop talking to each other. Again, not such a fan of shared tables for this reason. The seats themselves are colourful, but I can’t help thinking they were chosen to allow you to relax for just long enough to eat and go, and not linger for another drink or two.

If anything made me hesitant about coming back here, it would be that. The eatery is welcoming and vibrant not to mention its excellent food, but there’s nothing about the design – indoors anyway – that makes you want to sit back, relax and order another drink.

It’ll become a regular haunt for us nonetheless, and I wish them all the best. It’s great to have such genuine West Indian food right on our doorstep.

Bax Food Co on Urbanspoon

po’ boy quarter

295 Smith Street, Fitzroy
https://www.facebook.com/poboymelbourne

Haircuts make me hungry. That’s why I go to a hairdresser on Smith Street: so much to choose from afterwards.

Po’ Boy Quarter on an early Saturday afternoon is pretty empty in the café, but Huey Long’s at the back has a decent crowd.

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I order a deep fried shrimp po’ boy ($11.90) from the food counter and a glass of zinfandel from the bar. I toy with a side of fried green tomatoes or fries, but manage to keep it (relatively) healthy.

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The shrimp po’ boy is delivered to my table in the bar within five minutes: a decent sized bread roll, substantial enough to hold the weight of the food inside. Deep fried spicy crumbed shrimp spill out of the ends; sliced fresh tomato, half a pickled cucumber, and a dollop of fresh slaw adds sharpness and crunch to the creamy mayo coating the bread. All washed down with a glass of decent Californian Zin – perfect Saturday afternoon drinking fodder.

In fact, all the wines by the glass are of US origin – mostly Californian, with a dash or two of Washington added.

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Their weekend brunch menu is served till late afternoon: definitely worth a return visit to check this out.

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Po' Boy Quarter on Urbanspoon

mr big stuff

mr. big stuff
16 meyers place, melbourne
http://www.mrbigstuff.com.au

 

 

Even the toilets have attitude.

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Mr. Big Stuff is hidden down Meyers Place, just past the Waiters’ Club. The door makes it look like it’s not open: it probably is.

With a canteen, almost Wagamama-like, feel about the place, Mr. Big Stuff plays decent funky music and offers what they call soul food. Inspired by America’s deep south, there’s nothing real healthy-like about the menu, but it’s fun.

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If there are pigs ears on the menu, then I’ll have them. Finely chopped and deep-fried, these pigs ears were worth the trip in themselves.

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The corn bread was prettily served in a little skillet, but you know what? Corn bread is always disappointing to me.

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The macaroni cheese was similarly dished up, but my own macaroni pie is pretty good and I wasn’t about to pay for an inferior product. My dining companion said it was pretty tasty though.

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Again, I’d never order jerk chicken in a restaurant when I know I can get the best in Melbourne at home. I had a taste of somebody else’s order – four smallish chicken wings – and we both agreed that they should have been marinated longer and cooked far more slowly. The seasoning was fine but nothing special.

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The house special, tongue and groove, was especially tasty: veal, grilled tongue, braised cheek and sweet potato puree. The fried chicken was at least well cooked but nothing remarkable.

The special iced teas looked sensational (although I was drinking red wine myself): a generous helping measured out to slake three healthy thirsts.

Our waitress was lovely. She checked our understanding of the menu and the drinks list without being obsequious; she helped with portion control and even gave fair warning about the size of the apple pie in case anybody needed to plan ahead.

By the time we were leaving around 8.30pm, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, so this is obviously filling some sort of void in the Melbourne scene.

Was it worth a visit? Definitely.

Was it worth a re-run? Not sure. I get a lot of the real thing at home in terms of home cooked soul food, so for me it’s not a huge novelty. But it would be tempting to head back one evening after work simply for a nice glass of McLaren Vale shiraz and a bowl of deep fried pig’s ears.

hot stuff

It’s not often that you can find a source of habañero chillies in Australia, and when you find them you clear your diary and make your own jerk seasoning.

I found these red and yellow habañeros in the big fruit and vegetable market near Woolworth’s at Highpoint. At $29.99 a kilo they’re not cheap, but a handful of each goes a long way.

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Caribbean food is a staple in our house, and although a recent Barbados trip means we are not low on supplies, I’ve been slowly perfecting my own recipe for a number of years now.

This time I had some Australian spices to hand, to bring a little local flavour to this complex seasoning. I brought the whole all-spice back from Barbados too, but you can get ground all-spice in many Australian supermarkets.

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I also had a few regular old red chillies that needed to be used up, so I threw them in too, and instead of buying a lime I used a lemon from a stash a work colleague brought in from her garden tree. Free lemons are always great!

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You can see how big those red habañeros are in relation to the other two:

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I de-stalked the chillies but didn’t remove the seeds. Hope I don’t regret it later!

I used native pepper berries, pepper berry leaves and ground lemon myrtle for the Australian note.

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Everything got thrown into the trusty food processor (in about three batches as I had so much), and I used a little white wine vinegar and the odd drop of water to lubricate things enough for the blending to get going.

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A little perseverance and a few minutes later, hey presto, Australian jerk seasoning! I blended the mix until it was quite smooth, as I find the flavours are released better that way.

This will keep in a sterilised jar in the fridge for quite a few weeks, as the vinegar helps preserve it.

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I’ve got some chicken portions marinating already, so I’ll post some pics of the end result and report on the heat/flavour factor.

 

8bit

8bit
8 Droop Street, Footscray
eat8bit.com.au

The coolest joint in town: a funky burger bar with lengthy queues and famous visitors in their first week. And just ten minutes’ walk from home. I judiciously avoid 8bit for a couple of months until the hype wears off (a little), and then on a bitter Saturday night we brave the cold and head in.

At eight o’clock the place is already overflowing, but mostly with people waiting for takeaway food and the order queue. Quite a few of the restaurant seats are free.

We order an After Burner burger – beef pattie with tomato, red onion, lettuce, cheese, chilli sauce, jalapeños and a dollop of chipotle mayo, and an Altered Beast – beef pattie with bacon, cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, 8bit sauce and BBQ sauce. In case that wasn’t enough taste overload, I was persuaded to order some Loaded fries – chips piled with chilli beef, cheese sauce, bacon, pickle relish, grilled onions and jalapeños. Nothing healthy about this dinner.

We find a seat easily and wait the regulation half and hour for our food. Orlando is horrified to see that somebody has taken his place on the high score of the vintage game console beside us. He has eaten here before with the boys.

The place continues to fill up with more eat-in diners. We are increasing the average age by at least ten years: most of our fellow diners appear to be local uni students.

Our food arrives piping hot and fresh from the grill. The loaded fries are a sight to behold: you can hardly see the main ingredient through the mess of toppings. But they are delicious, and I wish I had a glass of wine in my hand instead of a can of lemon squash (that’s my only gripe here: the drinks selection is disappointing and lazy).

The burgers are decent-sized and messy to eat. My After Burner is really good. The two things to get right in a burger is the bun and the pattie. The bun needs to be substantial enough to hold the ensemble together but light enough that it doesn’t take over: this one does exactly that. Spot on. The pattie is perfectly cooked, just a little charred around the edges, juicy, good quality meat. My combination of spicy toppings work well with my melting cheese slice.

Orlando’s Altered Beast was also excellent, although I am yet to figure out what the 8bit sauce is (and philosophically I am against BBQ sauce on burgers). Once you start eating, it’s hard to stop because these things are a two-hand job.

So, does 8bit live up to the hype? I have to say that was probably the best burger I have eaten in ten years. Good quality ingredients, faultless bun, cooked to perfection.

But I still have a problem waiting half an hour for my food. I’ve seen smaller premises churning out equally fantastic food in half the time with half the staff, so I fear they are keeping the wait times long for effect.

 

8bit. on Urbanspoon

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