rudimentary café

16-18 Leeds Street, Footscray
Tel 0497 058173
https://www.facebook.com/Rudimentarycafe
Mon-Fri 7-4; Sat-Sun 8-4

Rudimentary is the latest representation of Footscray’s stealthy gentrification-round-the-edges. Four forty-foot containers on a previously derelict block of land at the back of the shopping strip, with seating indoors and outdoors, and plenty of space for bikes, kids and growing their own veg. What’s not to like?

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nuevo latino los rodriguez

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

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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.

 

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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.

 

food festival aversion

I’m a food blogger: a sporadic one, I’ll grant you, but a food blogger nonetheless. So why did this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival leave me cold?

Some of the initiatives sound great, for example Lauren Wambach’s Rickshaw Run in Footscray, or the wonderful SpeakEasy Cocktail Tram (I wonder how many people dressed up this year?). But I feel many fall a bit flat, sounding great on a website but ending up a bit disappointing in their execution.

One recent case in point was the Taste of Melbourne event that took place in Albert Park last November. We headed down there late on Sunday morning, cancelling our usual breakfast plans to spend a sunny day grazing amongst the stalls. What we got were hour-long waits for tiny portions of food from a dozen or so trendy restaurants, and the rest of the food stalls banned from selling ready-to-eat food so that the named few got the revenue. Our only spoils were a couple of sticky beef buns and a soft shell crab tortilla to share from The Smith. They cost $20 and barely made up a couple of mouthfuls of food each. We left after two hours, stomachs still rumbling.

And so it was that, in the spirit of eternal optimism, we headed down to The Immersery last night, expecting to spend the evening sampling some good food and wine. Southbank was buzzing with crowds enjoying the Moomba festival, the Food and Wine festival and one of the last balmy evenings of summer. We found our way to the floating bar and settled in.

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The festival’s website painted an exciting picture:

A bustling riverside meeting place and home to Victoria’s hottest food, wine and cocktails.

Celebrate the wonder of water at the Festival’s spectacular hub anchored to the Yarra River in Queensbridge Square; a bustling riverside meeting place and home to Victoria’s most inspiring food, wine and cocktails over 17 days.

The website also promised “fine drops from Victorian wineries including Seppelt, Coldstream Hills and T’Gallant”.

What we got was a wine list that featured only the three wineries mentioned above, all of which undoubtedly offer great quality wines, but the narrow choice was disappointing. There was a couple of cocktails of the day if you were interested, and a handful of beers and ciders.

The food offerings were two tasting plates, both costing $30 and neither looking larger than a starter. We surreptitiously inspected what our fellow diners were eating, decided we were all much more hungry than that, and toddled off to find some proper food on Southbank. Pity, because the river views were perfect.

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Thankfully there are other, much more entertaining, experiences to try in this great foodie city, like the growing fleet of food trucks, or the Footscray Food Blog/Consider The Sauce annual picnic and Westies awards, so all is not lost.

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival has its place in terms of tourism and industry publicity, but I have concluded that it’s often better to keep it local and personal, rather than rely too much on these huge commercial festivals to deliver on what is, after all, a passion for most and a labour of love for many.

cafe boutique

Shop G3 Cumberland Drive, Maribyrnong
03 9318 3303
http://www.cafeboutique.com.au

Another Sunday breakfast, another foray into the unknown. What has happened to us? We have become intrepid.
This weekend saw us staying close to home and to the water, with a visit to Cafe Boutique down in Edgewater. It’s a hidden-away little gem of a place with lovely views across the Maribyrnong River: lovely in winter but sure to be a hit in summer too, with a nice big verandah offering front-row river views.

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One gripe of mine that applies to many Melbourne restaurants and cafes: Cafe Boutique seems to ignore the fact that Melbourne has a moderate oceanic climate, not a sub-tropical one. This involves cool winters, people. It is staggering to me to find myself so frequently in eateries with no heating and doors or windows wide open in winter, creating icy wind-tunnels that chill both the diners and the food in no time flat. Sadly, Cafe Boutique is one such place, with a front door wedged open on one of the coldest days of the year, and the verandah door being used as a thoroughfare. I kept my overcoat on for the whole visit.
That said, the food was pretty good. We ordered our usual breakfasts: poached eggs with mushrooms and roasted tomato for me, poached eggs with smoked salmon and bacon for him. The food arrived in record time (indeed, before my tea could be cobbled together) and the portions were plentiful if a tiny bit greasy. I could have done with a second slice of sourdough but Orlando was happy not to be tempted. Next time I shall ask for a second slice.

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The other tiny thing that marred our visit was the interaction of the staff with each other. We felt we had stumbled upon a bit of a toxic work environment. Staff members tended to speak to each other in raised voices, and many of the conversations were less than friendly. It was as if they hadn’t realised the customers could see and hear them bickering. We weren’t sure if it was just a pretty bad day for whatever reason, but both of us were left with the impression that this was business as usual for the cafe. Not a completely relaxing vibe.
The rest of the menu looked interesting enough, and a handful of specials on the blackboard also suggested a second visit might be warranted. Not to mention the counter full of lovely cakes and pastries, from macarons to tiny bite-sized friands, from chocolate cheesecake to generously sized individual lemon meringue pies.

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Total price $41 for two substantial breakfasts and two pots of tea. I could see this place becoming a regular haunt when working from home, if they can manage to sort out the ambient temperature and the general air of staff irritation.

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