Los Latinos

128 Mitchell Street, Maidstone
Phone: 9318 5289

There’s been a bit of buzz about this place recently. It was reviewed in The Age, and also Lauren reviewed it recently, too. As a result, the bloggers on twitter have been eager to visit. Now normally, Penny, Anna and I will go to places out West together, because it’s local and well, we like similar things. But as her mother is in town, she couldn’t make it on the date Anna and I had set, so we went without her. Penny’s a sneaky lass though, and she went with her mum the night before us! Talk about being scooped!

Anyway, we drove through the suburban streets of Maidstone – I was sure I had taken the wrong turn somewhere – to find Los Latinos. It’s in a little strip of neighbourhood shops, which includes a requisite Chinese takeaway joint, opposite a rather banal park. As we walked in, the place was already bustling, and we were greeted first by the smells of fresh tortillas and grilled meats, and secondly by one of the friendly waitresses who were wonderfully charming all night.

I was at once disappointed to learn that the restaurant isn’t licensed – no cerveza!? – but excited to see Jarritos drinks. It brought back memories of my holiday in Mexico. I tried the Tamarind flavoured one, while Anna had a drink called Kolamshampan (the drink of El Salvador, if branding is to be believed). We reasoned that it must taste like champagne, with a name like that! Sadly, it tasted like creamy soda. Mr D had a glass of horchata, which was very sweet, but also had a hint of cinnamon and other spices.

We started off with some arepas, because there’s a bit of hype surrounding this dish. Mostly because you don’t find it at many restaurants in Melbourne.

These were rather unlike the ones which Lauren had posted about. They were vibrantly yellow, and mildly sweet corn cakes, topped with slices of chorizo (which wasn’t very spicy) and sour cream. The oil surrounding the arepas was infused with garlic. I quite liked these.

We also ordered the chicken quesadilla. Basically a chicken and cheese sandwich with tortilla bread, this was topped with more cheese and guacamole, and came with a salsa-esque salad. Like pizza, quesadillas are something of a forbidden fruit with me – I love them, but the hefty amount of cheese often leads to moments of regret. I’ll just say – again – lactose, and leave it at that.

I had to run off before our mains were served, to pick up our fourth, Mr M, from the train station. Luckily, we returned just before Anna was about to dive in to them.

I had ordered the Pastel de Choclo, a ‘hot pot with chicken, beef mince and boiled egg’. Double meat surprise? Hell yeah!

It turns out that it’s something of a Latin American version of the shepherd’s pie. Only instead of a potato topping, they use creamed corn (of course). I believe they call it maize. To be honest, it wasn’t great. The meat was a bit too salty, and the corn was a bit sweet. But instead of balancing each other out, it just became a bit weird. The egg was interesting, though I didn’t actually get any of it until the end.

Thankfully, we were all rather curious, so we agreed to share our mains. Mr D ordered the Carne Asada ala Guanaco.

A thin scotch fillet steak on a tortilla, served with a ‘fresh chorizo’ sausage, frijole, rice and salad, this is the meal I’d come back for. You could taste the smoky char of the grill on the steak, and the sausage was an interesting flavour. I don’t think it was the same sausage as the one served with the arepas. Just a note on the title of the dish: apparently guanaco are a smaller relative of the llama and alpaca, and the soft fur of its belly fetches crazily exhorbitant prices.

Anna ordered the chicken tacos, which were fresh soft tortillas stuffed to overflowing with chicken, salsa and guacamole.

These came with two salsas picantes, a tomato-based one, and a chipotle one. Neither was that picante. Nor was the salsa picante in the bottles on offer. In fact, my major gripe with the restaurant was that nothing was particularly spicy. Which might actually be authentic; my knowledge of Latin American food is pretty limited, and no doubt tainted by knowledge of ‘Tex Mex’ food which is more commonly available here in Australia. Nonetheless, I could have done with some more picante and caliente flavours.

Mr M ordered the pupusas, which are tortilla parcels filled with frijole and cheese. I’m not sure, but I think you can actually specify what you want in the pupusas from four different fillings, but the waitress didn’t ask which one/s we’d like, so I think frijole con queso is the default option.

These were served with more of the not-so-picante salsa, and a side salad which closely resembled coleslaw.
All in all, I’d definitely go back, but I’m not sure if the hype is justified. Go there if you like to try new things, because I doubt there are many places in Melbourne serving this type of food. The food is good, and so is the service. Do expect to wait a little, because they make everything from scratch when you order it. Just don’t expect particularly bold flavours. But who knows? Perhaps that’s authentic. I might have to go to Latin America just to find out!

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Sekai Japanese Ramen

Shop 194, 81 Hopkins St (Footscray Market ), Footscray
Phone: 9687 1088

A while ago, I dislocated my big toe playing soccer. Yeah, I know, gross; not the way to start off a post about ramen. But you should know that on the day I went finally got down to Sekai Japanese Ramen, in the Footscray Market, I had swung down Hopkins Street on crutches, because despite sporting injuries, recipe testing for the Melbourne Foodblogger’s Dinner had to go on, and I needed more pork belly (and Penny needed more ox tongue).

So I figured since I had to endure the indignity of traipsing through the market on crutches, with one foot in a half-cast and a backpack full of meat, I at least deserved a decent lunch beforehand. I’d been meaning to visit Sekai ever since Lauren wrote about it not long after I moved to Footscray. Having good options for both pho and ramen within walking distance of my new home? Surely life couldn’t be that good…

… sadly life isn’t quite that good. While Sekai produces a passable effort, it’s far from what I would call good. On this occasion, I tried the Sekai Ramen, with the shoyu (soy) based broth. I’m not going to go into detail about the Chinese-owned Japanese restaurant issue, but Sekai is clearly Chinese run.

The first thing the bothered me about this bowl was the seafood extender. Yes, they might be of Japanese origin, but I don’t like them. The second thing was the rather obviously over-cooked egg. I don’t expect a gooey egg – it’s a bonus if it appears – but grey yolk edges are a clear sign this egg has been waaay over-cooked. The only saving grace was that it’s a tea egg.
The broth was a little bland, and there was little complexity in flavour beyond the soy itself. The chashu was similarly uninspiring. Lacking in fat content, and nowhere near tender enough.
I was hoping that the ramen noodles would be the saving grace, but even before I bit into them, I knew all hope was lost. They were too soft, and lacked any real toothsome quality.

All in all, if you’re hankering for a soup noodle in Footscray, you’d be wasting your time with Sekai Japanese Ramen. I’m hereby expanding the theory of proximal pho to the theory of proximal soup noodles. Mediocre just isn’t good enough in Footscray.

Sekai Japanese Ramen on Urbanspoon