Disclaimer: The booze which features in this post was supplied for free by WineSelectors. Make of that what you will.
If we’re friends and we’ve gone out to dinner together, you’ll probably know that I don’t like pinot noir. Because if we’ve gone out for dinner together, I’ve more likely than not ordered pork, I’ve probably ordered it for you too, and you’ve probably jumped to the conclusion that you should drink pinot with your pork. At which point, I’ll scrunch up my face, and declare that I don’t drink pinot. At least not Australian pinot. (I was coerced into trying – and subsequently liking – a French grand cru bourgogne at the Royal Mail Hotel a while ago.)
Anyway, when WineSelectors offered to send me some wine to try and review on this blog, I thought, “Free booze!” and then immediately caveatted that I was going to be bluntly honest about what I thought of the wine. To which they replied, “Well, that’s fine. Because you’ll be choosing the wines yourself.” Which basically meant that I was a bit screwed, because I don’t know that much about wine, I just know what I like. One of the things I know that I like is viognier, so I included a bottle of the Hugh Hamilton Loose Cannon Viognier in my order.
And though I probably am an alcoholic, I’m not an anti-social alcoholic. So I invited a couple of friends over to dinner to help me ‘taste’ the wines (read ‘finish’). And because it wasn’t a Friday night, eating wasn’t cheating, so I made dinner. A roast rack of pork, no less. Oh yeah, that rant about pinot before wasn’t that random. This is what the rack looked like before (that’s salt, pepper, rosemary and sumac on there):
… and after! (After 20 minutes in an oven on max, followed by an hour at 160c.)
We had some green beans with goat’s cheese, a cannellini bean, pea and cavolo nero mash, and I made an onion jam.
Damn I love it when meat blushes at me.
But yeah, so, the wine. I discovered a few things about this Loose Cannon Viognier.
- It doesn’t really have any bouquet when it comes out of the fridge. This does change as it comes closer to room temperature, at which point it smells vaguely citrus-like.
- It’s DAMN FRUITY. (I mean that in a good way.)
- It doesn’t go well with hommus. (We had nibbles before dinner proper.)
- Mr J claimed he could taste quince in the wine, but I think that was more likely to do with the quince paste he was slathering on his crackers.
- The wine is kind of savoury, with orange notes.
- It’s pretty good with pork!
Knox Lane, Melbourne Central shopping centre, Melbourne CBD
Disclaimer: I didn’t pay for this food. Lord of the Fries gave it to me for free. Or maybe I sold a little piece of my soul for it. You decide.
I’m a pretty rampant carnivore. Anyone who knows me reasonably well knows that I enjoy eating animals; probably more so than most people, and probably more than is healthy for me. So when Lord of the Fries (a vegetarian enterprise) sent me an email inviting me to test out their Eco City Burger, I was pretty skeptical, and instantly told twitter as much. To their credit, they responded in good humour, and well, that sort of won me over enough to agree to try the burger.
I remember the first time I had Lord of the Fries. I was drunk, it was well past midnight on Chapel St, and it seemed a better option than Pie Face. (I have an irrational hatred of the Pie Face chain, but that’s a story for another time.) I vaguely remember having fries and nuggets, and thinking to myself that the fries were underwhelming, because they’re a bit floppy – an opinion I stand by to this day – but the nuggets were surprisingly good, for nuggets which aren’t made (at least in part) from meat.
Cut forward to earlier this week, when my colleague Mr E and I wandered down to the Melbourne Central hole-in-the-wall Lord of the Fries in the midst of the stifling heat wave lured by the promise of free burgers. I, of course, had the Eco City Burger, and since I wasn’t paying and the PR lady told me I could, I ordered up a bit, adding some onion rings and one of the chilli cheese poppers to the order.
The Eco City Burger is the classic LotF vegie patty, with lettuce, beetroot relish, pickles and aioli. At first glance, I wasn’t particularly impressed. One little piece of advice i have for LotF is step up your bun game. Seriously, this was the sort of bun I’d expect to find in 12 packs on the bottom shelf of a supermarket bakery section. An unyielding plasticky exterior pretty much meant even though the actual bread was soft enough, you wouldn’t know it. Think about it: the bun is the first thing your mouth comes in contact with when you eat a burger. So come on guys, don’t fall down at the first hurdle!
But let’s move on to the insides. All in all, it’s not bad. I’ll concede that for a vegie burger (though it’s more TVP than vegie?) this is pretty good. The texture of the patty is pretty meat-like; it falls apart like a meat burger would if it were just on the rare side of medium. My one issue with the patty is that it was too salty. It’s almost as if they were trying to compensate for the umami meat flavour by just adding more salt. Like a Christian apologist with something to hide. And it just doesn’t work that way, people.
The beetroot relish was bright in colour and flavour, and a smart way to include it in the burger. I hate how I often have half a slice of beetroot hanging out the back end of the burger, clinging for dear life before it splats on the plate, spraying its life force all over my white t-shirt (of course it was white). The relish provided enough flavour without being so plentiful as to ooze ungraciously out the back end.
Yep, that visual segue was intentional.
Onion rings! With the ‘Belgian’ mayonnaise – what I’m sure @thatjessho would call sperm sauce. These were pretty fantastic. If you’ve tried onion rings at Hungry Jack’s before, you haven’t tried real onion rings. The LotF ones are the real deal – actual rings of onion, crumbed and fried until golden and crispy. The sweetness of the onion and the crispiness of the crumb are tot- WAIT! THAT’S WHAT THE BURGER IS MISSING!
Time to mod the burger, to make it better. The sweetness of the onion balances out the massively salty patty, and the crumb makes the burger, well, not mushy.
WINNING. The burger was actually great like this. So I recommend if you’re going to have a LotF burger, shell out the extra $5.95 (WHAT!?) for the onion rings.
Burgers are kind of like gay sex: often messy afterwards. But worth it.
I know I’ve been pretty slack with the blogging this year, but as it’s the last day, I figure I should make an effort and do that thing that we all love to do at the end of the year: reminisce. So here’s my top 10 food things/events/places for 2012, in no particular order.
1. Ji Ji Wonton Noodles – we discovered these on our holiday, and I’ve been trying to recreate them ever since. I think I’m getting close.
2. The black sticky rice pudding at Thien An – a hidden Footscray gem, and worthy of a visit after dinner elsewhere.
3. Poonami – a trip down the street turned into a trip down memory lane, into my past life in an Australian Chinese restaurant.
4. Making paté from scratch – so easy, and so amazing. Impress your friends with this recipe from Bon Appetit.
5. Messina gelato – so this isn’t really that new to Sydneysiders, but I discovered it for the first time in 2012, and it’s probably one of my favourite things in Sydney. Go the figs poached in marsala and cherry flavours.
6. Obnoxious Thursdays. You know who you ams, ladies.
7. Experimenting with curing meat. This year, I made bresaola, pork prosciutto, and duck prosciutto.
8. A second tour of duty. I returned to Viet Nam after three years; revisiting old haunts and discovering new places. The fresh calamari rice paper rolls on Phu Quoc island was a revelation.
9. Xi hong shi chao ji dan – I’m a shame upon my ancestors, because it’s taken me 32 years to discover this Chinese ‘delicacy’. Big thanks to @carryon_JW to introducing it to me.
10. Coffee (in general) – this year, I started drinking coffee again, after about 7 years of being a non-coffee drinker. I’d like to thank all the tattooed baristas of Melbourne for helping me rediscover my love affair with caffeine.
Here’s wishing you all a happy, tasty and safe 2013!
110 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 0421
There’s few greater things in this world than food on sticks. A thing that @carryon_JW and I agree on. So after an exciting but long day out for his birthday, we stopped in at OCB for some chuar (lamb skewers, Western Chinese style).
@carryon_JW spent four years living in Beijing, so to him, chuar has a special place in his heart. OK, that’s an overstatement; in his belly. It’s funny, though. Even though I’m the one with the Chinese heritage, he claims the authoritative right to declare how authentic a Chinese dish is; given that his Mandarin puts mine to shame – so he often does the ordering – perhaps this isn’t so funny after all. Therefore I was a little nervous to suggest we try this place on his birthday. But it’s local, and it’s not Vietnamese, Ethiopian, or Cantonese, and I’d been keen to try it for a while, so it kind of happened by default.
Something else that happens by default just about whenever I got to a Chinese – Chinese as in Northern/Shanghai/Sichuan, as opposed to Cantonese – restaurant, is ordering this cucumber dish. It’s essentially cucumber with salt, oil and a metric butt-load of garlic. OCB throws some coriander, sugar and MSG in for good measure, in case your taste buds weren’t paying attention.
Ordering a cold dish or two is always a good move at a Northern Chinese restaurant, because it gives you something to snack on while you’re waiting for the other dishes to be cooked.
The next few things to arrive were the various things on sticks. The classic chuar were pretty great. Not as meaty as the Uighur-style ones I’ve had at Tarim in Malvern, but expertly spiced and juicy all the same. JW enjoyed his birthday chuar, as you can see. He also enjoyed the satellite TV broadcast of this crazy Chinese dating show, which sees male contestants choose from a pool of 24 women (some inexplicably dressed up in traditional minority garb), who in turn can elect to accept or reject his interest based on highly stylised video clips in which his friends and family give testimonials about various aspects of his personality (and earning potential). The funniest segment was where the male contestant was clearly tongzhi, even if it wasn’t explicitly acknowledged.
It’s not a birthday without a birthday food coma, so we also ordered some more substantial dishes. There was a ‘fish-flavoured’ eggplant claypot on the left – probably the most delicious version of this dish I’ve ever eaten – and a beef brisket and tomato claypot on the right (that was just a bit meh).
It was OK lah.
This, however, was DIRICIOUS!
It’s not a birthday without a birthday food coma, so we also ordered some dumplings. These were pretty great, though I’m ashamed to say we couldn’t finish them all. The skins were nice and thick, in that doughy Northern style, and the filling was well seasoned, with a decent amount of vegetable and herb matter. I’m often disappointed by how just plain meaty some dumplings are. I mean come on, where’s the skill in just using minced meat?
The chilli oil at OCB – which I’m fairly sure is home-made – is nice and smoky, and the sesame seeds give the flavour a nice roundness, so it’s not as sharply hot as some chilli oils can often be.
So if you’re looking for a (cheap!) happy place in which to induce a most satisfactory birthday food coma, definitely give OCB a try.
I should note that last time I went back, the staff were a little run off their feet, because they sadly participated in one of those EVIL group shopping deals. Hopefully this doesn’t ruin them, like it has other small businesses. I know I’ll be back, though!
275 Barkly Street, Footscray
Phone: 9687 4094
I’ve lived in Footscray for just over two years now. Just about every day, I walk past Poon’s on my way home. On most nights it’s busy; on weekends it’s usually packed. Yet if you take a closer look through the venetian blinds, you’ll notice that there’s rarely – if ever – any Asian customers. A quick read of the menu posted in the window pretty much explains the reasoning behind the lack of Asian patronage. You see, Poon’s isn’t so much a Chinese restaurant as it is an Australian Chinese restaurant.
Before you chide me for making the distinction, or conversely stop reading because of your disdain for the ‘inauthentic’, let me explain. Historically, traditional Chinese fare didn’t do so well commercially in Australia, at least not until the last decade or two. My family owned a(n Australian) Chinese restaurant in Swan Hill for over a decade, so I saw first-hand the types of ‘Chinese’ food that Australians responded well to back then. Restauranteurs, needing to make a living, naturally pandered to these tastes, and a particular genre of Chinese restaurant emerged over time – what I like to refer to (lovingly) as bastardised Chinese food. For a while, they dominated the Chinese eatery landscape, but the shifting tastes of our cosmopolitan society have, for the most part, moved on. Many of us now recognise the difference between Shanghainese, Cantonese and Sichuan flavours (arguably the three most prevalent styles of Chinese food in Australia).
When my previous housemate moved in with me, he was pretty fresh off the plane from Italy – a country not known for its Chinese food – and so he was continually intrigued by Poon’s. It was always busy, so it must be good, right? He was a little confused at first when I explained that there was an element of secret shame when it comes to the enjoyment of this style of Chinese food. For the better part of a year, he would suggest from time to time that we go to Poon’s, and I would suggest we go elsewhere. However, sometimes this was in the company of others, most notably @eatnik, and the seed was planted to organise an excursion to Poon’s one day (you know, just not today).
Fast forward a year, and I had a new housemate, and @eatnik had moved interstate. She was back in town for a weekend, so we had to do something special for the occasion. I suggested Poon’s on twitter, and there was quickly a flood of interest – a Poonami, if you will. In the end, there were fifteen of us, which I thought might have been a little challenging for Poon’s, but they were more than ready for us. Though I should note that ‘ready’ didn’t include laundering the tablecloths. They’ve since gotten rid of tablecloths altogether, moving to the more utilitarian dark wooden tables, so I guess that’s not an issue anymore.
One thing that I found sorely missing from the Poon’s menu was a mixed entree. Typically it’s all deep fried, involving a spring roll, dim sim, and sesame prawn toast. So we improvised, and just ordered enough of each of these (we substituted mini-dim sims as I’m prone to over-ordering) for each person to have some of each. The sesame prawn toast was decent, the mini-dim sims were a bit forgettable, but the spring rolls – which some members of the group didn’t like – transported me back to my childhood spent in the kitchen of our family Chinese restaurant in Swan Hill, when I would get super-excited as a child when the kitchen hand made a mistake and their were extra spring rolls fried. Filled with cabbage, minced pork and shredded carrot, these golden tubes of shameful joy were executed exquisitely. And no, I still will never order them at yum cha. That’s just wrong.
Next thing that I ordered was the seafood combination, not so much for the seafood, but because it came in a ‘bird’s nest’ – an artful deep fried noodle bowl. I found this version interesting because there was a combination of deep-fried (sensing a theme here yet?) seafood with the more traditional stir-fried seafood and vegies, glazed in glistening cornfloured ‘clear’ sauce.
Of course, you can’s have a Chinese Australian meal without special fried rice. Poon’s was decent, but clearly designed as a foil to their dishes, and not that ‘special’ in my book. We used to have two fried rice dishes on the menu – a regular one, which was much like Poon’s’ minus the prawns, and the Special Fried Rice, which had big pieces of chicken and slices of roast pork, and was pretty much a meal on its own. Still, I was happy to see that Poon’s doesn’t add soy sauce to their fried rice. Very few things in this world offend me more.
I was a little disappointed with the sweet and sour pork at Poon’s. The pork itself hadn’t been marinated much, and as often happens in Chinese Australian restaurants, some of the pieces were more batter than meat. The sauce itself was on the bland side, and the vegetables were over-cooked. It reminded me a little of bain-marie food. As much as I love sweet and sour pork, I’d definitely avoid this one.
The honey king prawns, on the other hand, were deftly done. Battered and fried till crispy and golden, then lacquered in honey. Delicious. The garnishes were a little odd – lettuce and fried strips of wonton skins – but presentation isn’t really what a place like this is all about.
Again, the lemon chicken – another stalwart of the Chinese Australian menu – appeared pretty lacklustre, and to be honest, tasted that way too. The lemon sauce lacked acidity, and also, lacked sauce. The chicken itself was moist and tender enough, but it also was pretty bland. Is this what bland people eat? Perhaps…
One of the highlights of any Chinese Australian restaurant’s menu is anything that has “(sizzling)” next to the item. This was the Mongolian beef – which was tasty enough, but lacked any real spiciness which I usually associate with the dish in my mind. The beef had the noticeable texture of meat that had been tenderised with bicarb, but then that’s not unusual, and cost-cutting measures like that are almost to be expected when you consider the prices that Poon’s charges – it’s pretty damn cheap.
Of course, we couldn’t have a Poonami without dessert, right? Banana fritters and fried ice creams were the standard order around the table, and let’s just affirm once more, if I haven’t been clear so far – the chef/s at Poon’s know their way around a deep fryer.
I opted for the pineapple fritter and ice cream – I find banana fritters are too sweet when covered in golden syrup and paired with vanilla ice cream.
Poon’s stands as something of a last outpost for those who hold fast to this uniquely indigenous form of Chinese cuisine. And even if it’s not to everyone’s taste, they do what they do pretty well, as evidenced by their continual success.
Shop C1, 550 Lonsdale street (Healeys Lane), Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9606 0991
Remember two summers ago, when the buzz was all about ‘secret Thai’ on twitter? Turned out that ‘secret Thai’ was a little courtyard restaurant called Appetizer Kub Klam run by a couple of Thai restauranteurs, catering mostly for a small Thai migrant student population, serving up Singha in beer towers, and unapologetically spicy Thai food. Well, due to licensing issues – probably noise restrictions, as it was at the base of an apartment building complex – Appetizer Kub Klam has closed down (or changed hands, I’m not sure) and chef and owner Veeraschit ‘Top’ Piyapanee has opened a new restaurant called Tidlom Thai Antique.
Antique is somewhat of a misnomer, or an inaccuracy, IMHO. The decor is plastered with retro Thai television and movie memorabilia, as well as a slightly ridiculous number of light fittings that, thankfully, aren’t all in operation. Nobody likes to be that well lit while they’re eating. Oh, and if you’re looking for the place and can’t find it from the address, it’s down the alleyway where Le Traiteur is on Lonsdale street. Conveniently close to Goldfingers, if you’re that way inclined.
One of the great things about Appetizer, and now Tidlom, is that you’ll fins items on the menu beyond the stir-fries and curries you get at most places. Top believes that ‘food should be served as the way we eat it in our country with no adaption’, which might prove challenging for some punters, but I think is an admirable ethos. It’s a great thing to try new dishes, and Tidlom’s certainly a place for you to do just that. For example, where else in Melbourne are you going to find entrees of ‘fried softened pork bone’ – it’s essentially fried bacon, with the cartilage-y bits, and it’s awesome – and crispy fried pork intestines?
OK, well, you might find the fried pork intestines at a number of Sichuan restaurants around town, but you get my drift.
Also, fried chicken joints! These are, I think, fried chicken’s feet. All three of these snacks would be great with beer, which is what we were drinking that night – Singhas by the long-neck. They also have Singha on tap, as well as the ubiquitous Carlton Draft. And yes, for those of you with the keen eyes, that IS sweet chilli sauce! I guess it’s ‘authentic’ after all.
One dish that I loved at Appetizer, and insisted that we order, was the calamari with salted egg sauce. It’s actually salted egg yolk, and it makes a lusciously rich sauce that pretty much steals the show. So it wouldn’t really matter if you ordered the pork version instead. I’d like to note at this point that you’ll need to bring your glasses to read the menu if you’re at all short or long-sighted. The font is comically small, which was part of the reason we had to delay twice when the waitress came to take our order. Hopefully when they reprint their menus, they’ll increase the font size next time!
But I digress. Next up was the soft-shell crab fried, with a yellow curry sauce. This was similarly amazing, with lots of textural contrast, between the soft flesh of the crab, the crunch of the fried shell, and the goopy curry sauce smothering the lot.
We were a little worried about having too heavy a meal, so we ordered a salad. Only this was a bit of a missed step, because the fish floss ‘salad’ isn’t quite the light, refreshing dish that we were envisaging. It’s basically flaked, shredded fish – mackerel, I think? – deep-fried into a huge crunchy net, accompanied with a delicious ajar dressing, sweet and tangy, laden with red onion, chillies and cucumber. While I’d order this dish again, there are arguably more refreshing salads on the menu. I totally take responsibility for ordering just about everything that was deep-fried on that menu. I would advise that you perhaps not do the same thing.
We did also had the pud moo gra pow (pork with Thai basil stir-fry), however. Nice chunky slices of pork belly, with ample heat from chilli, and loads of basil.
In case you were wondering what we thought of Tidlom, here’s a photo of @thatjessho of Chin Chin fame. It pretty much encapsulates how happy we were with Tidlom. Get thee down to that seedy end of town, marvel at the oddly spelled ‘Corean House’ restaurant across the lane, and resist the temptation of Gami Beer and Chicken. Do yourself a favour, and have some delicious Thai food, the way Thai people want you to eat it. They’ve got 10% off dinner until the end of July, so if you get in before the middle of this week, you’ll save yourself enough to spend about two minutes in Goldfingers!
604 Station St, Box Hill
Phone: 9890 8788
It’s not often that my family goes out to eat together. More often than not, we’ll eat at my parents’ place because it’s easier, and because having been restauranteurs for over two decades, they’re understandably a bit picky about food. It’s something I’ve picked up from them, I think; my tendency to critique a meal as I’m eating it is almost a reflex action.
A while back, we went to First Taste in Box Hill. I was curious, as I’ve walked past the Footscray branch a few times, and been intrigued by the huge laminated photos and the quirky bamboo fence treatment in the front window. The Box Hill branch seems a little more of an upmarket affair, with the decor of a well-established 80s Chinese restaurant: octagonal windows, laminated newspaper write-ups, and a television mounted on the wall. Though actually, they also had pretty cool black and white photos of China on the wall.
There was much consternation as Mum and Dad perused the menu, and they were a little thrown when the waitress only spoke Mandarin. They like to ask about things on the menu, and when we go to a Chinese restaurant – which is most of the time – they expect to be able to do so in Cantonese.
Since First Taste is all about herbal soups and claypot dishes, that’s exactly what we ordered. We each got a different herbal soup, after Mum and my sister had a conversation assessing the suitability of each herbal soup for my father and I. Mum and Dad both Dad had a pretty classic chicken and ginseng soup.
My sister had a watercress and chicken number.
And I got this murky one.
But, as with all Chinese soups, it’s not about looks. This was pork and some sort of medicinal root, I forget which, but my sister said it would be good as a chi tonic. And I don’t argue with her on that sort of thing, because she’s a qualified Chinese doctor. It also had some dried longans in it, so it was a nice salty-sweet flavour combination, not uncommon in Chinese soups. Red dates and dried longans are often used to balance the salted pork that forms the basis of many soups.
Then we moved onto the claypot rice. We shared three between us, as none of us were particularly hungry. I’d had a late lunch that day, and Dad’s taken to snacking on sandwiches around 3pm in his retirement. I look forward to retirement.
The claypots came out with little heavy iron lids on top, which were ceremonially removed by the staff to reveal the steaming hot contents. This one was a braised beef brisket with daikon. The sauce was hearty and rich, perfectly made for spooning over your steamed rice.
We also got a seafood combination claypot. And I don’t care if those ‘crab calls’ were full of seafood extender, they were still delicious and had a great springy texture.
There was some other vegetable and tofu claypot, but I was too busy eating to take a photo by the time it arrived.
All in all, I really quite liked First Taste. It’s unassuming traditional Cantonese family fare. Bryan has told me that the Footscray branch isn’t much chop, but with my mother chastising me for not making soup for myself often enough, this is probably an easy, nourishing cheat’s option!
Disclaimer: La Dolce Italia are giving me some free tickets to attend the festival.
I must admit, I was a little surprised when I got an email from La Dolce Italia festival. I mean I love Italian food, and I studied Italian for about 8 years throughout primary and secondary school – Dario e sempre in ritardo – but I wouldn’t have thought my blog was particularly Italiano. Maybe it’s because my ex is Italian, or my old housemate comes from Tuscany, or because I ride a Vespa. They certainly do their homework!
In any case, I’m pretty happy that they found me, because upon looking at program, I’m pretty excited about it. It’s billed as the ‘first and only authentic Italian lifestyle event’ in Australia. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’m guessing it’s more about the food, fashion and fabulousness than a skyrocketing unemployment rate and floundering national economy.
At La Dolce Italia, there’s going to be a bunch of masterclasses about truffles, pastry, wine and well, more wine; there will also be an Italian fashion show or two, and for those of you bringing your mothers, there’s a decoupage exhibit. Oh, and even better, they’ve got a ‘bambini world’, so the kids can be sequestered in an orderly fashion (though organisers have asked me to add that their parents will still have to supervise them – it’s not a boozing creche) while adults eat, drink, and generally sample la vita bella.
The Festival will be on at the Royal Exhibition Centre – one of my favourite venue spaces in Melbourne – on the weekend of August 10 – 12. In previous years, the festival has happened across various separate venues around Melbourne, but the organisers have pulled it all together to make things more convenient for punters. Che buono!
So anyway, you know you want to go, if only to sample the pizza and ogle the pretty Italian girls and guys. Let’s get to the giveaway bit.
In order to win yourself a double pass to La Dolce Italia, you’ll need to:
1. Like the Half-Eaten facebook page (if you haven’t already).
2. Tell me why you want to win the tickets, in a comment below, or on the facebook timeline.
There are 10 double passes up for grabs! Entries close at 5pm, Friday 3 August.
Oh, and if you don’t win, you can buy tickets and go in the draw to win a trip to Italy.
Apri la finestra e scappiamo a citta!
157 Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 1215
I was pretty excited when I heard that there was a new ramen joint opening in the city. I was even more excited when I learned that they were serving tonkotsu broth. That collagenous pinnacle of soups made of melted pig joints is one of my favourite things in the world.
One of my other favourite things is pork belly, so when I went up to order and found that they were virtually giving the stuff away – it was an extra $1.50 for a side of braised pork – I was doubly excited.
“But what?” I hear you say. What could possible have gone so wrong. That broth looks sufficiently opaque, and there’s a big chunk of pork belly, and look, the egg even has a reasonably gooey yolk! But all is not as it seems. The broth was decent, though lacking the luscious lip-coating feel that I wanted from a tonkotsu broth; it was well balanced – not too porky, nor too salty.
But dig a little deeper, and we uncover the main problem: HAKATA-STYLE NOODLES! When it comes to ramen, I’m devoutly anti-Hakata. I understand that it has a long and popular tradition in Japan, but I don’t care for it. It seem like under-cooked soba to me – unyielding adn leathery – and has none of that awesome springiness that the more common Tokyo-style ramen has. Ajisem ramen are the probably the most famous of the perpetrators of Hakata-style ramen; the first time I had ramen there, I thought it was a joke, and they were using spaghetti noodles.
But the insult to injury here is the false economy of the braised pork. It turns out they must have been trying to get rid of a batch of pork that had gone wrong, because it was, like the Hakata-style noodles, tough and unyielding. Caveat emptor, I guess. I doubt I’ll be back, but if I do go back, I’ll definitely avoid any ‘specials’.
I would like acknowledging the traditional owners of these lands, the ‘working class’ Westies of yore.
There have been a spate of cafes opening in Footscray and surrounds of late. There are some – myself included – who take a quiet pride in being ‘pioneers’ on the wild frontiers of the inner West, who are thankful and welcoming of such outposts of ‘civilisation’. However, there’s something a little disquieting about the process of gentrification, because gentrification inherently involves gains on some fronts, but also a certain amount of loss on others.
Wikipedia describes gentrification as the changes that occur when wealthier people buy or rent property in low income or working-class areas. To some, gentrification is a good thing; increasing property values, ‘better’ services and amenities, and more convenient access to things like cafes, bars and other venues that are signifiers of ‘culture’. In the context of Footscray and Melbourne, by culture I mean Western Anglo-centric culture. Sometimes I wonder what gentrification in non-Western settings looks like. Does a gentrifying suburb in Beijing become more ‘Chinese’ in some way? Or is the notion of modernisation so central to gentrification that it embeds a kernel of Western modernity into the very idea of what it means to be gentrified? But I digress.
What interests me is the mostly ignored flipside of the gentrification process. I say mostly, because there is some visible tension that this process creates. On my walk home from the station, I passed a SOLD sign in front of a house, plastered over a FOR SALE sign which spoke of subdividing and units. Someone had scrawled across the sign ‘GENTRIFICATION’. My first thought was, ‘Yes! And about bloody time! Where’s my neighbourhood wine bar?’ but in recent weeks, I’ve started to question my stance. What is it that we’re actually losing by watching as Footscray turns into a ‘Hawthorn of the West?
It’s a natural part of the market-driven system in which we live that businesses will seek to cater for their customers in the way which will generate the most patronage. So as people with higher incomes and the specific tastes and pretensions that come along with that move into the area – again, I count myself as one of them – the nature of new businesses that open up, and the fortunes of existing businesses change. Except for the fortunes of the Olympic Doughnut van, because that’s just awesome.
Enter those cafes that I was talking about. Reading Room, West 48, Footscray Milking Station, and now Common Galaxia in Seddon. I haven’t been to all of them, but those I’ve visited have been thoroughly modern Millies – read communal tables, slightly quirky but warm yet sleek fit-outs, menus with idiosyncratic twists. (Lauren‘s my go-to girl when it comes to updates on that front, and she should be yours too.)
I love the fact these places have opened up, but I also love the fact that they’re at somewhat of a remove from downtown Footscray, which is still predominantly Vietnamese restaurants and hairdressers, with a sprinkling of various Sudanese, Eritrean and Ethiopian eateries, kebab joints and weave shops. There’s a charm and excitement about living in a part of Melbourne that is so unlike most other parts of Melbourne. In the ghetto? I’m not sure. While ghetto commonly is taken to mean poor, or crime ridden, its original meaning refers more to areas which are predominantly occupied by one social group. I’d argue that Footscray doesn’t really fit into that sort of pigeonhole, instead being a vibrant mix of Asian, African and Anglo-Saxon neighbours (and others!).
But as tides are wont to do, the tide of change has reached Footscray proper now: right in the middle of Nicholson Mall, Footscray’s getting a Noodle Box. Well, a Noodle-in-a-Box.
‘What’s the big deal?’ you might say. It’s just another Chinese food outlet. There are plenty of other Chinese restaurants in Footscray. And yes, although it’s probably Chinese run, to me it heralds a dumbing down of cuisine in the area, much like the entrenchment of KFC, Subway or Nando’s in the area. How is there a market in an area as vibrant as Footscray for such a beige offering? I guess some of the demands of gentrification seems to be that life is easy, convenient, and familiar. In a sense, it’s about living in a place that is your comfort zone. Which, if you’ll excuse me, can be terribly boring. Yes, I’m one of those who lived in Brunswick more than a decade ago that now laments the closure of so many Turkish and Lebanese restaurants, yet still finds himself enjoying going out for a drink in the bars which have replaced those restaurants. It’s a problematic position, I know.
So I guess what I’m irked by is the bland edge of gentrification. Does gentrification always have to just be another word for homogenisation? Is there some way around the blandification which seems to accompany the installation of ‘comforts’? Or are the two actually the same thing?