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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

tinto

555 Burwood Road, Hawthorn
(03) 9994 3978
http://www.tinto.net.au

It’s nice sometimes to have an unplanned evening out in new territory. And so it was that I found myself in Hawthorn of all places, seeking shelter from the winter’s night in Tinto, a brand new Spanish restaurant not far from the Auburn Road junction. Nestling between local Greek joints and coffee shops, this place is newly open and a great addition to the neighbourhood.

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Having owned and run the family restaurant in their ancestral home of Barcelona for many years, sisters Maria and Paola returned to Australian where they’d grown up, leaving the third sister behind to mind the shop. A careful search for the right location threw up 555 Burwood Road, a decent-sized space decorated simply. The long bar is definitely reminiscent of a good Barcelona tapas bar, and many of the staff are also Spanish.

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The wine list is a nice blend of local and Spanish wines. My companion and I chose the Marques de Tezona tempranillo, and a few dishes to be going on with. Co-owner Maria recommended the coca, a racion of goat’s cheese and onion marmalade on flatbread, and we augmented that with some croquettes de jamon and the inevitable (for an Irishwoman) tortilla.

The coca came out looking like a long pizza, and it was just divine. I could have simply had that to myself and a nice glass of red, sitting up at the counter with a book in my hand if I didn’t have company for dinner.

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The croquettes were four lightly deep-fried morsels of cheesy/hammy perfection, and the tortilla portion was generous, eggy and just warmed through.

We finished off with a racion of calamari, again very lightly fried and just perfect to end with.

I’m sorry this place is a little out of the way for me, because it could very easily become a regular haunt. Maria said she wanted to own a place where a woman could come in and dine alone in comfort, and they’ve certainly got that vibe. I’ll find a reason to return just for that coca! Thanks, Maria and Paola.

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Tinto on Urbanspoon

540 on barkly

540 Barkly Street, West Footscray
(03) 9687 2479
http://www.540onbarkly.com.au

On a cold, miserable night in WeFo, we drove down to the site of the old Palmerino’s for the opening night of 540 On Barkly.

Since we’ve lived in Footscray, Palmerino’s looked like an old boys’ bar with a badly stocked off-licence attached. It always looked like a great place to renovate as part of the rebirth of West Footscray. And suddenly here we were, quaffing Mount Gay Extra Old and a good Clare Valley shiraz in a newly decorated bar, sampling the passing trays of chorizo meatballs, arancini and bacon-wrapped mozzarella as we dodged the smokers coming in from the beer garden beyond.

The place was thronged with people: a smattering of new-style Westies and a fair number of after-work blokes in fleeces and steel toe capped boots. Was it my attention or was the average age a lot higher than I’d anticipated?

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The front restaurant area was unfortunately cordoned off for now: the new owner Simon told us that they were still awaiting the transfer of the old off-licence to an on-site liquor licence, so no alcohol was allowed in the space. There were nine or ten tables in what used to be the old bottle shop,  walls lined with framed photos. Elsewhere in the bar and upstairs in the huge function room, enormous green, red and blue abstract paintings dominated.

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A couple of nights later we wandered back down to see what things were like without the opening night crowd.  Again, we were steered away from the main restaurant area to a place in the bar. A handful of other diners had chosen the warmer tables, so we had to choose between a serious draught from the beer garden door or the main door.

Another glass of Clare Valley shiraz and a Mount Gay Extra Old. We ordered the chorizo meatballs and the calamari to share as a starter, then a porterhouse steak for Orlando and the gnocchi with lamb ragu for me. The meatballs were served with some Turkish bread and a small bowl of salad, and went down a treat.

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Sadly, the calamari never came even after some polite questioning.

Orlando’s porterhouse steak was a decent size and nicely cooked, although perhaps a tiny bit more medium-rare than medium.

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My gnocchi were lovely but – a personal preference – it would have tasted better with more finely grated parmesan rather than the larger flakes. An offer of freshly-ground black pepper would have been nice, but didn’t come.

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By 8.30pm the place was empty and we headed to the bar to pay the bill. We chatted to Simon and his sister Julie, who asked for feedback, good or bad. We gently mentioned the missing calamari but complimented the rest of the food. Then their EFTPOS wasn’t working, which the waitress had also neglected to tell us, and we only just scraped enough cash together to pay the $99 bill. Simon was most apologetic, invited us back next time for calamari on the house and assured us the EFTPOS would be up and running in a day or so.

It’s early days for 540, but hopefully it will be a welcome addition to the WeFo scene. Simon promises live music in the beer garden during the summer months, and a more casual seating area once the restaurant section is functional.  He wants to build on the reputation he had during his previous tenure at the Mona Castle, and for him it’s all about the food.

It’ll take a bit of time to bed in over winter, but I wish Simon all the best and we’ll visit again soon to hear how he’s doing.

 

misty’s diner

103-105 High Street, Prahran
http://www.mistysdiner.com.au
(03) 95101959

A work get-together brought me to Misty’s Diner, a genuine American diner right next door to a car wash at the bleaker end of Prahran High Street. IMG_0141

A happy buzz, colourful booths and a wall of American junk food greeted me as I walked in from the cold.

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Misty herself is from Phoenix, Arizona. She was tending tables that evening herself, checking on food orders, handing out birthday cakes and getting the drinks in. I asked whether her chilli had capsicum in it, and she answered stoutly. “Absolutely not. I hate capsicum. This is a capsicum-free restaurant.”

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I was immediately interested. I hate capsicum too.

The menu was long and carb-loaded. Starters are a predictable mix of potato skins, corn chips, an onion ring tower and other deep-fried goodness. My gang went straight for the main courses. Burgers were high on the list, but I went with the “Get In My Belly”: personally recommended by Misty herself, it promised the heady combination of sliced smoked pork shoulder, spicy barbecue sauce and home-made coleslaw.

When the food arrived it was certainly on the generous side, and almost impossible to pick up and eat with one’s hands. The burgers were perilously tall and looked pretty good, however there were none of the groans of delight I’d expected.

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My pork shoulder creation was indeed nice enough, but the pork shoulder looked and tasted no different to what you’d get at the supermarket deli counter. The “Po Man’s Cocaine” extra hot sauce I asked for was simply a small bowl of mild sauce with some chilli powder and chilli flakes shaken in. Hardly home-made or authentic.

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A brave soul ordered the Hangover Cure – from its description we couldn’t even tell if it was technically a burger. It was: with mac and cheese, chilli con carne, jalapeños, American bacon and red onions. It was gargantuan as opposed to just huge, and frankly it just looked like a huge mess on a plate. He ate it but he wasn’t overly impressed.

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One lone soldier dared to order a salad. It didn’t look bad, but it’s not what you come here for.

Fries come in full or half sizes which is nice, and you can order them skinny, fat, curly, waffle, with gravy, with cheese, with gravy and cheese…. you get the idea.

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I had mine with chilli, because I could. The chilli was in no way spicy or hot.

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Drinks are the predictable beer/soft drinks/wine list, however when I asked for a glass of shiraz I was told they’d run out. I was offered a glass of sweet shiraz which hardly bore thinking about. I opted for a grenache instead. When it came out it had clearly been poured from a bottle that had been open a couple of weeks. Even the non-wine-drinkers at my table could smell the musty staleness. Freshly poured from a newly-opened bottle it was drinkable enough, but then we weren’t there for the beer (so to speak).

Prices were reasonable – around $13-17 for a burger. Actually, now I’ve written that down, maybe it’s not so great. But the portions are large and the atmosphere is fun. I suppose if you head in during the day you can even get your car washed while you wait.

Will I blaze a trail back there anytime soon? Perhaps not. But it was an OK night.

Misty's Diner on Urbanspoon

chapter too

Shop 3, 110 Canterbury Road
Heathmont
(03) 9720 0544

If you are a coffee head in Heathmont, I am assured this is the place to go for your morning long black or latte.

As a tea drinker, I’m more interested in whether they are a loose-leaf or teabag establishment  than the brand of coffee they pour (loose leaf, since you ask) and whether their teapots leak when you try and pour from them (they don’t).

The thing I like about Chapter Too is that they serve breakfast right up to noon, so I can have a bowl of porridge or eggs on toast for lunch if I want (and I often do). It can feel a wee bit cavernous inside, but nab a seat by the window or outside on the pavement and it’s a more pleasant experience. The calamari salad is delicious for a light lunchtime bite, but I tend to be a bit boring and go for the poached eggs with a couple of breakfast sides.

The only thing is that it’s a bit mums-and-bubs-clubby if you get there late morning, so at times it’s not the respite from the working world I am seeking. Nonetheless, it’s a great local eatery and number one on my list when I have visiting dignitaries in the office.

Chapter Too on Urbanspoon

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