Plough Hotel

www.ploughhotel.com.au 
333 Barkly Street, Footscray
(Corner of Geelong Rd & Barkly St)
(03) 9687 2878

I’ve been driving past this place for seven years, and never once desired to try it. Tuesday night parma and pot for $10, Candy the Clown on Sundays. No thanks. Then about a year ago the place shut down with a promise on the takeaway blackboard that they would reopen “soon”. Finally a couple of months ago there were signs of life, a new coat of paint outside, hints of cool new lighting inside. The Plough was back.

One rainy Thursday night about month after their grand opening, we wrapped up warm and ventured out. The parking is limited around this part of Footscray but we found a spot beside Mitre 10 on the Prince’s Highway (their car park takes about a dozen cars).

Inside, the bistro area was busy enough, with people perched on bar stools drinking and eating at high tables. The pale wooden floors and modern bistro lighting invited us further in, to the restaurant where we were shown to a window table and offered a drink.

The menu was relatively short but there was plenty to choose from: I’d call it posh pub grub mostly, with a decent list of pizzas too. The drinks list has a respectable choice of beers, but as non-beer-drinkers we satisfied ourselves with a couple of glasses of red from the short but well-chosen wine list, and some Mount Gay rum for my dining companion, served straight up with no mistakes (unusual in this town).

For starters we chose a plate of “sticky buffalo wings” to share. These were a little disappointing: well cooked for sure, but a little lacking in the crispy-roasted-skin department. Too pale and slippery for our liking.

For main course I was tempted by the fancy chicken parma (gypsy ham, mozzarella, beer batter chips) but we both opted for the burger: made from veal and heaped with caramelised onion, fresh tomato, a slice of good cheddar and a garlic aioli. The Plough is not too posh to offer tomato ketchup either. What a plateful of food. You need more than two hands to tackle the burger (I gave up, took the lid off and carved it up in the end) and the chips were plentiful and nicely cooked.

We certainly enjoyed our first experience at the Plough, and ventured back a few weeks later on a Friday night. We were recognised and greeted by our original waiter like old friends which was a nice touch. It was much busier that evening and they were doing a blistering trade.

Our starter was a shared plate of calamari with lime and chilli, which was perfect and not too huge a portion. Sadly our friendly waiter got my main course wrong – I was served another burger instead of a steak sandwich – but I wasn’t that fussed and didn’t bother having it changed. A complimentary glass of wine appeared by way of apology. Orlando’s Gippsland T-bone steak was perfectly cooked and generously proportioned. Another enjoyable evening that didn’t break the bank, we agreed.

By chance I noticed a couple of days later that we had actually been charged a little over $355 for our modest evening meal. We returned and a refund was arranged quickly and without fuss.

All in all, there are still a few rough edges to the service but none of it has put us off our new local eatery. We are looking forward to spring and summer when we can stroll down there of an evening – and I am looking forward to our next visit when I shall try their pizza.

 

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jellybread

Jellybread
561 Barkly St, West Footscray
0432 637 822

Jellybread used to be a tiny little cafe in West Footscray that served really good coffee and a tiny bread-based menu. It had three or four tables inside and two or three outside on the Barkly Street pavement. I never could figure out how the young couple made a living out of this little place.

A few months ago, they extended into the old chemist shop next door, and made the back yard part of the cafe too. The old chemist part still has some of the old shelving which is littered with out-of-date Encyclopaedia Britannicas, vintage mags for the grown-ups and plenty of children’s books for the little ones. Unashamedly child-friendly, this place is run by young parents and it shows.

That’s not to say that the food isn’t good, the coffee isn’t well-brewed and it’s not for a grown-ups-only table. I recently spent a long lunchtime down there, generous helping of avocado, tomatoes and feta on sourdough toast and a nice pot of tea, laptop on the go as I downloaded the contents of my brain into a detailed operational procedure. It was a quiet day and I felt no need to rush, no distraction from little ones. Instead I spread out across a big old kitchen table, listened to some rare funk tunes on the old-school turntable and had a most productive hour or two.

The menu is simple and mostly bread-based: things on bread or between two pieces of bread. Fillings and options are simple. The hot drinks list is also short but the coffee is pretty damn good and they know how to serve a good pot of tea.

My grapevine tells me the backyard space “JellyBread Park” is a favourite amongst coffee-morning mums’ groups and their offspring. That might be a deterrent for me, but as a weekday morning coffee or lunchtime haunt, it’s firmly on my shortlist.

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besito

Besito Bar & Cafe
590A Barkly Street, West Footscray
http://www.besito.net.au

Footscray will always be… well… Footscray. But West Footscray (or WeFo as we insiders call it) is up-and-coming. On-the-edge. An Emerging Destination. Oh yes, West Footscray is the new Yarraville, people.

When we moved here six years ago, West Footscray was still pretty basic. The high street had an average local independent supermarket, an old Croatian/Italian/Whatever social club, a local library and a dwindling number of shops: pharmacy, greengrocer’s, school uniform shop, charity store. Soon after, it started turning into Little India and a fair number of Indian grocery and clothing stores sprung up. Then the Indian restaurants started multiplying. Now we have a decent little shopping street with really good Indian groceries, a couple of good greengrocers, and one or two really good restaurants with a good following.

The only thing we were really missing was somewhere to go for breakfast.

Then Gusto at Barkly opened, with decent pizza in the evenings and a pretty good breakfast menu (just too many pushchairs for my comfort levels). Jellybread bought the shop next door and expanded but their menu remained limited. And then a few weeks ago, Besito opened.

Owned by a young Colombian couple, Shan and Andres, it is a small, colourful cafe serving the best Colombian flavours and pretty decent coffee. They are not open in the evenings (yet) but they do a pretty good breakfast/all day menu which nicely covers breakfast, lunch and sweet things to go with coffee.

Side orders can be ordered together to augment a simple dish of eggs or arepa, a white corn bread visually reminiscent of rice cakes. The side orders are generous portions: chorizo is a full sausage, scored to help with even cooking, and well-seared on a hot plate or barbeque. The in-house hangover cure is changua – eggs poached in coriander-infused milk. Mild and seriously hot chilli sauces are within reach for another blast of South American flavour.

Most things are made from scratch in-house including the pastries and desserts: the lady of the couple who own this place is a pastry chef and it shows. Orlando showed an interest in some shot glasses in the chill cabinet one morning: we were immediately given one on the house with two spoons. A creamy, not-too-sweet caramel base was covered in the best chocolate ganache, giving just the perfect blast of  sweetness without being overpowering.

A question from me about gluten-free options on the menu resulted in a clear and concise overview of what was gluten-free and what was not, reassuring me quickly that they knew the provenance of all their food and made sure all their staff did. Most menu items, for the record, were either gluten-free or could be served as such if requested.

They tell us they will be open soon in the evening, serving South American street food which goes down perfectly with a beer or a glass of wine. I can tell you now this place will become a regular haunt. The owners and their staff are friendly and knowledgeable, it’s a lovely relaxing place to eat, the menu is a knock-out and it can only get better as word spreads.

No free wi-fi yet, but we will keep working on them…..

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Sweet Grass

Sweet Grass Bonsai Nursery and Garden Cafe
357 Barkly Street, Footscray

Sweet Grass occupies a small patch of land that used to be an old-fashioned local garden centre. About a year ago, they sold up and slowly we saw something emerging from this unremarkable-looking site. A Japanese torii or gate; tall bamboo fencing; could that be Japanese panelling they were putting up around that sorry-looking verandah outside the office building?

So this week, a quiet stroll to this new little place five minutes from our house uncovered a beautiful, unusual little cafe. Predominantly a bonsai nursery and showcase for the young owner’s landscape gardening business, Sweet Grass is an oasis of peacefulness hidden from the busy road. We sat in the late morning sunshine on the verandah, surrounded by cane furniture, painted panels of Japanese women in kimono, and the most beautiful bonsai lining the path alongside us. No food here, just a page-long list of coffees and teas including three types of green tea, plus a good choice in alcohol-free cocktails.

We chose the Japanese green tea with roasted rice. Hau, the owner, served up a big pot with some chocolate snacks on the side to tempt us. We sat in the sunshine taking in our lovely surroundings and commenting on the workmanship of both the garden and the bonsai themselves.

 

Hau, himself from Vietnam, showed us some photos of the “start to finish” work that transformed the old garden centre. Most of the photos featured Hau himself in pride of place, working hard on the landscaping and the carpentry.

Without being asked, he topped our teapot up with fresh water as he described how important the bonsai are to him, pointing out one or two plain-looking branches planted in lacquered pots, and telling us how he would bring them to life over time.

Every bonsai in the garden has its own story, Hau said. He showed us one bonsai that has a forked trunk, one part dead, the other part still living and vibrant. He told us a local lady often borrows this bonsai to take to cancer patients in the hospital, to show them that like trees, humans are strong and resilient, and that we will survive even the cruellest injury.

Another bonsai, standing tall on its own podium, is called The Cascade. Bowing gracefully to the earth, the youngest part of the trunk then turns upwards, guided by the wire Hau had twisted around it to bend it to his will. This one, Hau explained, shows us all that even if a big downturn or disappointment happens to us, things will always get better in time.

Somebody had suggested to him that he write down the story of each bonsai so that people could read each one in turn, but Hau didn’t think much to that idea. I have to say I agree: no written words could instil the sense of story-telling and passion we got from hearing these stories from Hau himself.

We will have to go back many times, drink more tea and learn the stories of all the bonsai living down the street from us.

 

gusto @ barkly

587 Barkly Street, West Footscray
(03) 9396 1755
www.gusto-barkly.com.au
Free wi-fi

A sunny spring Sunday morning and time to check out the (relatively) new West Footscray place called Gusto @ Barkly.

Orlando and I are stalwarts of Cafe le Chien in Seddon, more or less since we moved to Australia in 2005. Although we check out other weekend brunch place regularly, the relaxed atmosphere, familiar greeting as we arrive, perfect weekend music and legendary scrambled eggs keep bringing us back. So we knew Gusto would have a lot to measure up to.

Around eleven on a Sunday the place was about half full. We were seated and a drinks order taken quickly and pleasantly. The first impression was one of noise: the decor doesn’t absorb much of the ambient sounds and so we frequently had to lean over the table to hear each other talk. One toddler throwing a tantrum at the door and another who had never been taught about indoor voices didn’t help. There was music playing, I think, but there was no way we could discern the artist.

Nonetheless, we ordered our usual breakfasts: chilli scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and bacon for Orlando, poached eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomato for me. Although chilli eggs were not on the menu there was no problem ordering them. I liked that there was a choice of multigrain and sourdough breads (all the bread served is Zeally Bay – nice). A half-strength pot of English breakfast for me and a pot of green tea for Orlando, and we were good to go.

Orlando’s order came out a little twisted. His scrambled eggs did indeed have chillis in them (not a huge amount) but they had also cooked the smoked salmon in there too. Not his favourite way,  but not enough of a deal to complain. The bacon was served on my plate rather than his, so we just swapped it over. And, inexplicably, his scrambled eggs were not served on any toast. My poached eggs had come out on multigrain as I had asked: perhaps because Orlando had not specified which bread, they assumed he wanted neither. Again, as he is not a huge carb lover he didn’t bother mentioning it, but if it had been me I would have. The scrambled eggs he declared as tasty enough, but they looked a but milky around the edges to me.

On the other hand my breakfast was really good. The multigrain was so much better than the toasted sourdough served at so many breakfast places, which can be hell to slice with a normal knife. The poached eggs were perfect, and the huge half-tomatoes were slow-cooked just the way I like them. The mushrooms were nicely fried but not in much oil at all, again exactly to my taste.

All in all, not a bad breakfast experience, and although the ambient noise would stop this being a permanent weekend fixture, I can see us coming here occasionally for a change.  Free wi-fi is also a welcome offer – there’s not many places do this yet. The pizza menu looks good and the short but well-selected wine list looks very like the best of what I’ve been drinking in the past year – at least in the reds section.

I will definitely try this place again in the evening and see whether it can fill the gaping pizza-shaped hole in my life: I have to drive for quite a while to get decent pizza in the inner West and I will be quite excited if it is now available on my doorstep.

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>ebi footscray

>Round the corner from us, less than a hundred paces away, is a florist, a little convenience store and what used to be a traditional fish and chip shop. The chippie closed down a while ago, and not surprisingly either: we were never able to find it open for business.

In the same spot opened Ebi, a Japanese fish and chippery as it calls itself. Time and time again we meant to try it, and in the past few weeks we’ve managed to become almost regulars.

In the bleak midwinter, Ebi is a little oasis of red light. At lunchtime or in the evenings, you will be greeted with a smile and a cup of hot Japanese tea while you wait for your order. The bento box with pork belly is carefully put together and presented, even on a quiet midweek afternoon. The calamari, like the pork belly, is perfectly cooked: chef stood over the fryer for less than a minute and dispatched beautifully cooked salt-and-pepper calamari worth travelling across town for. The prawn gyoza were nicely presented in a bamboo boat with a little takeaway dish of soy sauce.

The following week, I go back in the evening time for the same calamari. The red lanterns glow in the dark, inviting you in to the little shop where John and his team welcome all-comers and dish out the best of J-style cooking.

Having spent a bit of time in Japan and not being a huge lover of its food, I still like this little place around the corner with its fresh dish of the day, proper chips and freshly-prepared bento boxes. I can imagine wandering around the corner come summer, glass of wine in hand, to maybe eat dinner at the kerbside tables and bring al fresco dining to this corner of the inner west.

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