Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sataybar – Indonesian lunch bar- City

Cuisine: Indonesian market food
Address/Phone: 10 Manchester Lane (9663 0322)
and cnr Flinders Lane and Custom House Lane (9629 1466)
Hours: 8am – 5pm (Manchester Lane also Friday evenings)
Parking: In the city? Forget it!
Licence: Beer and wine

The first time I had satay was in another century, in a NZ town where the most exotic thing to be found was the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant that still served sliced white bread with the meal. My brother made friends with a new boy in his class, he was Dutch and his family had lived in a far off place called Indonesia. One night we were all invited over to his house for a grand feast featuring exotic spices and flavours that I had never tasted before. The biggest hit of the evening was the skewers of chicken with luxurious peanut sauce. I had entered Satay Heaven!

These days neither peanuts nor chicken rate highly on my list of favourite foods. But for some time I had heard about a wonderful cheap eatery that devoted itself to satay worshipping and kept meaning to break out of my regular lunchtime circuit to trek over to a less familiar part of town to sample its wares. Before I had made it, the little beauties opened a second outlet right smack bang on my way to “Sushi 10” and “The Organic Food and Wine Deli”. How lucky was I!

The Manchester Lane Sataybar is a skinny rectangle of laneway real estate. It’s squeezy but groovy and as yet I’ve never heard a dud tune coming out of the stereo. The handful of tables lining one side of the place run on tracks to create flexible seating which sounds like a good idea, but unless you are really, really fat (and lets face it, too many satays and that could happen to the best of us) the gap between the fixed bench seat and the table is ergonomically uncomfortable and those itty bitty paper serviettes wont do much to stop the sauce splatters as the forkful travels from plate to mouth. That grumble aside the food is fab and the lustrous peanut sauce, they promise, is made fresh each day.

The menu is small and simple, revolving around – you guessed it – satay skewers with peanut sauce. The regular choices are chicken (regular or sweet), lamb, prawn, tofu, vegie or spicy beef. There are daily specials that often include kangaroo. You can just graze on 1 or a number of skewers at $2 a pop or grab a meal package. I have to admit I go there so often that I just need to nod and they know I want a “small tofu” – 2 skewers of tofu, rice, salad and the wondrous sauce. The large version is 3 of any skewers, rice, salad, sauce and krupuk (those tasty polystyrene like vegie crackers).

Beverage wise Sataybar boasts coffee java (including soy for the lactose intolerant), a range of local and Indonesian beers and non-alcoholic drinks. There is also tea and wine. There are also $2 sweet bites of traditional delicacies.

What more can I say? The food is consistently good, despite the small menu it can suit both those who under eat (“just 1 vegie skewer please”) or like to gorge on a bigger meal. It will suit both vegans and carnivores. Though currently it’s only a lunch venue, the Manchester Lane branch is open on Friday nights for those who want to drink and graze after work.

Darn it, why did I review this place? I’ll never get a seat there at lunchtime now!

Update: The Satay Bar guys got an offer too good to refuse on the Manchester Lane branch and closed ironically on the day The Age listed them as a hot bar to check out. The original venue is still in full swing and there are promises of a new CBD location opening early 2008. Watch this space!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Colmao Flamenco

60 Johnston St Fitzroy 3065
(03) 9417 4131
Open: 7 days 6pm-1am
Closed: Good Friday, Christmas Day, New Years
Licensed, BYO, Corkage $3.5 Bottle
Cards All
Seats inside 50, Seats outside 18
The ‘Flamenco’ is one of the most vibrant, passionate and exciting dances – so it stands to reason that any restaurant clever enough to incorporate the word ‘flamenco’ in its name, would try to embody as many of those attributes as possible. Just like the legendary dance, Colmao Flamenco relies heavily on tradition – for the dance it’s cultural, for the restaurant it’s family.
Situated in the Spanish quarter of Melbourne, on the busy Johnston St, Colmao is easily discernable from the other little restaurants jostling for shoulder space – it’s the one with the cute flamenco dancer doll in the window. It was Friday night so we were prepared for the place to be packed, as it always is on the weekend, and sure enough when we walked in without a reservation the waitress smiled and took my mobile number to call me in 20 minutes when they had a table free. So the boy and I walked out and into the next door bar to have a Corona and listen to the band tune up for later.
20 minutes later and we’re seated on comfortably padded chairs in a much quieter restaurant. On the table we had salt, pepper, cutlery and cloth napkins – yay! Our menus were delivered and we settled back to decide on food. I had heard of the Sangria from Colmao before – almost the stuff of legend around Melbourne … and surely the drink of choice at the annual Latin Festival (in November). We ordered a litre ($15) which came in a real ceramic jug accompanied by two matching tumblers – perfect for keeping the Sangria chilled.
There is the menu with a selection of cold and hot entrees followed by the meat, fish and specialty dishes, there is also a blackboard above the bar with recommended dishes and then a ‘daily specials’ further left of the main board. In the menu you can choose from empanadas, fried sardines, patatas bravas, chorizo skewers, marinated green olives and octopus in tomato sauce. We chose the chorizo skewers and cod-fish fritters (from the recommended board) – the sausages were nicely grilled and smoky with paprika, a little chewy for my liking but the boy liked them. I really enjoyed the fritters, which came in a tiny tapas pan, all golden and fluffy swimming in a rich tomato and garlic sauce which begged for bread to sop up … mmmm..
So many mains to choose from but for us we couldn’t go past paella – that wonderfully golden Valencian dish of rice studded with chunks of chicken, fresh sweet prawns, New Zealand green-lipped mussels, olives and gloriously tender strips of calamari. The serving is for two – and believe me when I tell you its enough – can easily feed four. The rice was cooked perfect for a paella, some people complain when they encounter a bite to the rice, expecting a more risotto-like feel in the mouth but it’s normal for paella to have some al dente.
As full as you will undoubtedly be, you will have room for chocolate con churros (Spanish donuts with dipping chocolate). Four strips of dough deep-fried and tossed in cinnamon sugar cuddled up to a tiny shot-glass of melted chocolate – surely if there is a heaven and this is the dessert they serve for afternoon tea. Any dessert that lures you to stick your finger in the almost empty chocolate glass and lick with moans of pleasure will get my vote any day.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Piadina Slowfood, Melbourne, CBD

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Type: Epicurean Café

Address: 57 Lonsdale St (Rear )Melbourne 3000 VIC

Phone: (03) 9662 2277

Open: Monday to Friday 6am -5pm

Piadina Slowfood in Adjectives
Warming, home style/traditional, comforting, eclectic, fresh, fucking scrumptious.

Being a city office worker, you become familiar with the limited menu choices offered to you by the cafes surrounding your office. It is the blight of your concrete dwelling existence that you are reduced to consuming hard ciabatta rolls filled with fried schnitzels and arugula; or substandard sushi with tuna that doesn’t taste fresh nor in fact tuna like at all.

And please, let us not get into the discussion of juice bars either. I’ve eaten hamburgers that are far healthier then some of the beverages these juicers churn out to the masses under the guise of well-being.

And the particular menu item mentioned above honestly did say arugula instead of rocket/roquette in what I can only assume was an attempt to distance its own replicated menu from the other 986 other cafes frequented by the workers of the city of Melbourne.

So it came as a pleasant surprise to me the other day when I stumbled across a small review in one of the weekend newspaper supplements about a café called Piadina Slowfood that was but a short stroll from the place where I work.

This same Piadina Slowfood review mentioned meatball stuffed piadina’s with shaved Romano cheese that were so extraordinary; the reviewer continued to go back daily for his lunch. Also, this particular reviewer was a chef at one of the finest dining establishments in this fair city. A decent review, if I have ever read one.

But before we continue, please read this again.

Meatball stuffed piadina’s with shaved Romano cheese.

Did you feel that?

You did?

Don’t be frightened of that feeling, it’s just your tastebuds asserting themselves and making you feel culinary aroused.

Now, as an office worker who has been denied the gastronomic pleasures of good fucking lunch food, the idea that someone could create superior lunches for the office packs whilst still maintaining affordability and variety was a revelation to me. I have truly missed that feeling of awakening that only good food can bring.

And no one knows like an office worker that the only thing you have to look forward to in your day is your lunch break.

So today I was pleased to become financially replenished with my pay deposited into my bank account and a long overdue catch up with a dear friend to inspire me; we decide to hit Piadina Slowfood for lunch.

Piadina Slowfood specialises in just that; piadinas (Italian flat bread not unlike pide/pita) and dishes keeping with the slowfood philosophy such as currys, stews, bakes or as I like to call slowfood “grub that takes a lot of time and a lot of love”.

My chum had the pleasure of eating at Piadina Slowfood previously and had suggested that we get there earlier as seating is sparse.

Heading west down Lonsdale Street, about 200 metres from the Spring Street intersection, a small pedestrian alley way on the left will lead you to your new favourite lunch spot.

At the rear of No. 57, glass windows steamed by the tagines, pots, pans and coffee machine welcome you to this positively tiny establishment. We take a step down into the café to see only 2 tables, crammed with people eating hot lunches with the look on their faces of contented satisfaction. Was it the look of relief? Comfort even? Who cares actually, these people looked happy just because they were eating something real and I already knew I liked this place.

And then the smell hits you. The sweetness of cooked onion and basil mixed with the pungent pull of curry, red meats and tomato.

I looked at my companion and mouthed the words “Oh. My. Lord” as the heady aroma of cooking smells hits my brain. She just smiled at me and said “I told you so, didn’t I?”

As the coffee machines hisses and pans clang in the minuscule open kitchen, I look around at the surrounds and at the windows facing onto the laneway. Sitting below the windows are rows of fresh vegetables lined up to be used in today’s lunch pot. One window was crowded by butternut pumpkins while the other surrounded by cauliflowers. A tower of Italian pomodoro tins separated the two. It reminded me of the provincial delis and market places I have visited in Europe where you can see and touch what you will eventually eat.

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The wait staff, who all have kiwi accents and are all ridiculously gorgeous offer us a small table outside. Although the middle of winter in Melbourne, I take consolation in the fact that I am wearing a coat and I am about to indulge in some wintry comfort not unlike that of those that crowd the tables inside.

A chalked menu is pointed out which is written on the side wall of the building. I am told that the menu changes daily so if you order something today, you may never experience it again.

But what to order? There are only 12 things on the menu but each one is exactly what I feel like eating this very day. Such as the Japanese Curry or the pasta bake with provolone. Or the vegetable soup of the day or maybe the stuffed capsicums filled with risotto. There is a range of pre-made sarnies on the front counter but what I really came here for was the hot piadina’s.

I order a piadina with prochiutto, leek, tomato and cheese which I believe was mozzarella. I was delighted that the bread wasn’t so crisp that it would snap if I cut it or graze my inner cheek if I bit it. It was grilled nicely leaving the contents of the piadina warm and soft; the cheese melted but still firm enough that it didn’t slide off my cutlery. The tomato base was marinated in garlic and basil which left a delicate after taste.

My companion ordered the sausage curry pie which was presented as a hearty slice from a larger pie. The crust was crunchy and golden whilst the contents of the pie were robust and not overly liquidy with gravy. The sausages appeared home made.

Coffee followed after lunch and I was delighted to find that the drop was a cut above. Someone in this place knows how to make a real cup o’ jo! Add to that my joy at stirring my cup with a Charles and Diana commemorative wedding teaspoon and my lunch bill tally being a measly $11, my splendiferous dining experience was complete.

I can’t specifically tell you what it is about Piadina Slowfood that pique’s my interest so. Sure, the food is completely unbelievable and reminds me somewhat of the creations made by my ethnic ancestors and I do adore a tiny laneway secret that Melbourne hides so well within its walls.

I think what I find is so enchanting about it is that it is a lunch time place, a venue where you can shut away the mundane for 30 minutes while you enjoy a moment of soothing indulgence. And they say food is a massage for the soul, and the clock watchers of the world need that more then anything.