Phở Tam, Footscray

Cafe sua da

I’ve been a bit down on the phở scene in over the last few months.

One of my regular go-to joints, Phở Tam on the corner of Leeds and Ryan streets has been hugely inconsistent on the soup front. They do a great bún riêu and have the hardish-to-find street food bánh bột lọc on the menu. Their phở bộ đặc biệt is above average: always packed with sizeable chunks of tendon, a thick slice of peppery sausage and toothsome strips of tripe.

The broth however ranges from sweet and watery to dense, beefy and rich depending on which day you hit it. I’m convinced that the broth gets watered down on a busy day, especially weekends; an undeniable conspiracy against the nine-to-five working man. The consolation is the above cà phê sữa đá – condensed milk sweet, rich and as predictable as a metronome.

Location: Corner of Leeds and Ryan Street, Footscray, Melbourne, Australia.

Alfajores in Maidstone

Melbourne’s west never ceases to dumbfound me when it comes to food. Maidstone is one of Melbourne’s least remarkable suburbs and thanks to the housing boom is making the direct transition from unremarkable council flats to unremarkable McMansions; rusting Camrys in the front yard making way for houses that touch three of the four boundaries of a property. The shopping strip on Mitchell St however is possibly the only place in Australia where a Sichuan takeaway joint is next door to a South American cake shop. It’s a veritable barrio chino.

Marciano’s Cakes in Maidstone specialises in South American sweets of which the above alfajor is representative. It’s a biscuit filled with dulche de leche and probably about ten times my daily intake of glucose in a single hit. I have no idea if this is a good one: it’s the first that I’ve ever seen.

Food bloggers prove that they can pull punters

Huge congratulations to Penny, Ed, Billy, Jess and Matt for pulling this together: five food bloggers stepping into a commercial kitchen to offer the general public a chance to critique their food. They hardly need my plaudits considering the event has sold out, which finally and affirmatively answers the question about whether food bloggers can influence restaurant attendance.

Steve from The View from My Porch is considering putting together some Tasmanian bloggers for a similar performance.

The sultry sounds of Queen Victoria Market

I don’t shop for food outside of my ‘hood all too often these days and so a recent visit back to the Queen Victoria Market made me realise the distinctiveness of the aural landscape of Melbourne’s markets. Markets in Footscray are dominated by vendors spruiking their specials in Vietnamese, generally whichever fruit is cheapest and in season. The Queen Vic Market is all in English, the specials are the “known value items” – foodstuff that most consumers can name the going price – especially, bananas.

Meat sales seem even more reliant on spruikers, especially as the morning wears on, and the afternoon bulk discounts kick in.

Trolling as the food writing

Terry Durack over at the Age manages to both pit Sydney against Melbourne and suburb versus suburb by attempting to pick the worst suburb for eating in each city. There is good food to be found everywhere in Australia – it may be behind closed doors or in people’s backyards rather than in restaurants or takeaway joints, but I have no doubt that it can be found in every postcode.

You just need to care enough about finding it.

This is the sort of food article that you should probably expect to be coming more often from The Age and finding its way onto the front page of the website: the article that trolls for comment in the guise of “engagement”. As it becomes incumbent on journalists to generate both website page views and comment, it is a much more lucrative path to chase the cheap arguments that generate knee-jerk reactions than it is to write challenging or thoughtful content.

Pancakes at Fandango

Pancakes, Fandango

This is my favourite breakfast in Melbourne. Ricotta whipped with honey, maple syrup, strawberries, banana and pancakes with . You wouldn’t want to eat it often but your life is incomplete without it. It hits the perfect savoury/sweet balance; that urge that can only be sated by true American barbecue, slow-roasted vegetables or a caramelised meat from a claypot. This is one of the only places that meat and fruit work well together. Not counting tomatoes, pedants.

It’s from Fandango in North Melbourne. While neighbouring café Auction Rooms soaks up the Melbourne hype, Fandango has been running solidly for four years with a tiny shopfront and narrow courtyard only accessible through the kitchen. The only thing that has really changed since 2006 is the queue to get in on the weekends.

Location: Fandango, 97 Errol St, North Melbourne. Tues-Fri 7.30am-3pm, Sat-Sun 8am-3pm, closed Mondays.

Sensory Lab, Melbourne

Sensory Lab 1, Melbourne

I don’t take coffee too seriously. I’m aware that there are more aromatic compounds in your java than in a glass of wine but I don’t personally seek them out even though I draw a good part of my income from describing tastes to other people. Call it a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy wherein I pretend not to care just in case I’m wrong.

Sensory Lab (1) is another coffee vendor in the “third wave” of Melbourne coffee; the wave where people started riding fixed gear bicycles and eschewing milk and sugar in favour of flavour alone, thus swapping calories for the ability to fit into ever tightening jeans. It’s owned by Melbourne coffee god, Salvatore Malatesta, a man whom I used to see on the days when I could afford a coffee at university at his first(?) cafe, Plush Fish. In the mean time, he’s gone on to own at least 30 cafes. I’ve gone on to start a string of poorly-paying food blogs. Maybe I should have started taking coffee seriously earlier in my life.

Apart from the caffeinated beverages, the most entertaining part of Sensory Lab is watching people approach the counter trying to work out what the hell is going on. Is it art or commerce? What senses do they test? The high school science lab schtick seems to be a psychological barrier to the average punter ordering a coffee.

Sensory Lab 1, siphonSiphon coffee (S2 blend)

As for the brew, I’m starting to develop an appreciation for siphon filter coffee (above). Compared to their other methods of production (espresso, pour over and cold drip), the flavours in the coffee come out clean and bright, and intensify as you get to the bottom of the cup. There’s acidity rather than straight bitterness. And there is nowhere for it to hide.

It doesn’t tempt me to forgo my morning latte habit but it does draw me that one step closer to seriousness and a tighter pair of pants.

Location: At the back of David Jones department store (ground floor), 297 Little Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000.