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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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.

 

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.

Jellybread on Urbanspoon

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…..

Besito on Urbanspoon