Monday, April 21, 2014

Golden Horse yum cha

What are the three sweetest words in the English language?

"I love you"?

"Marry me, please"?

I say they're...

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"YUM CHA DAILY" !

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The Golden Horse has just opened on possibly Footscray's best corner site, and is ready to feed you these sweet nothings seven days a week.

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There aren't many small yum cha restaurants like this around.  Usually when a yum cha place is small, it means no trolleys, or a very small range of food.  That's not the case here.  Golden Horse have a great range of dim sum, and it's not dumbed down - I spied chicken feet, pork ribs, tendon and silken tofu with prawn.

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The small space does mean it's tricky to get a table of exactly the size you require, which means you might have to share a table.  I felt pretty sorry for the couple who had to share an eight-seater with me and my three grotty kids, but luckily the first trolley hit within seconds of sitting, so I could plug them with food straight away.

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Shu mai, or "the ones with the dot on top" as they're known in our family.  They're made from prawn and pork with a wonton wrapper enclosing the bottom and sides.  These were really chunky and quite awesome.  Love how you get four to a basket rather than the usual three!

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An equally generous serve of har gao or prawn dumplings.  Great.

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Ridiculously amazing pastry - short, flaky, feathery and totally melt-in-the-mouth.  It was curled around a jammy BBQ pork filling.  Pounce the minute you see these come out of the kitchen.

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These prawn noodle rolls are one of my favourite things - big noodle sheets (like lasagne sheets) flopped around prawns.  Pro tip - attack these with an empty bowl, ie, not one full of soy sauce.  The sauce with these is really light and sweet and deserves to be enjoyed on its own.

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Crisp prawn rolls, I believe wrapped in rice paper, served with a little dish of mayo.  Also try the very similar golden brown-coloured variety, where the prawn is wrapped in fried bean curd skin (those ones come with a violently coloured yet delicious sweet-and-sour sauce).

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Forgo the standard jasmine and order some chrysanthemum tea.  It has a fresh taste, a little like chamomile but much more gentle.

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Ham sui gok, aka "football dumplings".  These have a glutinous rice flour batter around a filling - normally pork mince and a bit of mushroom.

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These ones had a pretty filling with chopped pork and a little (what I think is) Chinese chive.  With the perfect crisp exterior and warm, slightly gummy interior, they were great.  Try these with chilli sauce.

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Wasn't a fan of these panfried dumps - they were not hot enough.  Honestly, I'm never a huge fan of this type of dumpling (jiao zi) at yum cha.  If you want fried dumplings, go order a whole plate for ten or so bucks at 1+1 across the road.

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This squid obviously never skipped leg day.  Even though these calamari tentacles were really big, they weren't tough, and the light coating was great.

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Just enough room for char siu bao - fluffy steamed buns with a warm dob of BBQ pork in the middle.

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Something to keep the kids quiet while I go to pay the bill (which, for all of the above for a very greedy adult and three kids, came to $61.80)...

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...and after paying, I got chatting to Barry Diep, whose family restaurant this is.  All the yum cha is made in house.  There are some serious dumpling smarts going on here - one of the chefs is the ex-head chef of a Gold Leaf restaurant, and was coaxed out of retirement to saddle up the Golden Horse.  (Barry's uncle is one of the owners of the Gold Leaf chain, which includes Sunshine's Gold Leaf - a big favourite of mine.)

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Barry's dad is also a chef at the Golden Horse.  He did his formal training in Hong Kong in the 1970s with an apparently very highly regarded chef of the time, and one of his fellow students was the current head chef of Laksa King.  He has been cooking since he was eight, including up and down the length of Vietnam.  As such, Barry reports that he was exposed to French techniques and ingredients.  His signature dish is snow crab with foie gras.  CAN YOU SAY HELL YES?!

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Dad's other specialty is his XO sauce.  Barry kindly gave me this little pot to take home and try, while the kids all got a mango pudding each.  The sauce is a knockout and the puds were all fantastic - they had tiny little real mango bits in them.

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I really like the Golden Horse.  Eating yum cha in a big dim sum barn can feel like you're on a conveyer belt, but this is a really friendly little place.  This site is an iconic one for the suburb, and it feels so right to have a big, busy yum cha restaurant full of people right here in the guts of the 'scray.  I love that everything's made here, and afterwards the insatiable salt/MSG-induced thirst that normally attacks me after a yum cha session was nowhere to be found.  Can't wait to come back in the evening and try the a la carte stuff.

You could say Footscray is now a one-horse town, and I think it's all the better for it.

Golden Horse
Cnr Hopkins and Leeds Streets, Footscray

In case you missed Friday's post - Footscray Food Blog's next round of independent tours is now on sale!  Get the dates and details here...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Footscray food tours - new dates!

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Footscray - it's a wonderful place.  I don't know what my favourite is - these sort of prices...

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...this way of restocking the drinks fridge (it's sugarcane, for sugarcane juice!)...

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Photo by Nat Stockley

...or these lovely friendly faces.

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Photo by Nat Stockley

Whether you're a newer resident or an old hand keen to find some new favourites, I would love you to join in the next round of Footscray Food Blog's Footscray food tours. My tours are completely independent, hosted by me, with small groups and packed full of information, stories, and delicious treats!

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I have two itineraries for you to choose from. The Footscray Fresh Food Ramble is a market-based tour loaded with shopping tips and samples. If you're a newer resident who feels a little intimidated by the markets, or if you're simply curious about where to buy avocados for not $4 each, but $4 per kilo - this is the tour for you.

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Hobsons Bay City Council booked a private tour based on the Fresh Food Ramble, in which I introduced a group of lovely Karen people to cheese for the first time! It was a smash hit - they bought Footscray Market Deli's entire stocked of washed rind!

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Photo by Nat Stockley

Or maybe you'd like to explore Footscray's amazing multicultural community - and what better way than stomach first? On my Streetwise Snacks tour, we'll say g'day to the fantastic friendly folks in our amazingly diverse community while sampling their tasty wares. Think Somali street food, burek two ways, delightful desserts and more!

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About the Footscray Fresh Food Ramble, Sasha from Yarraville said: "I had a ball on the Footscray food tour with Lauren. The markets have been on my doorstep for years but I just didn't have the knowledge or confidence to utilise them. Ever since the tour I have been back at least twice monthly and I am loving the quality and the prices! Lauren is really knowledgeable and passionate about the markets and the produce and I picked up a lot of good tips from her."

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...and about Streetwise Snacks, Brett and Jenny from West Footscray said: "The tour is such a great way to explore the many hidden treasures of Footscray. Lauren took us to all the best spots and gave us plenty of tips on what to keep an eye out for... A must for any worldly foodie (and those of us wannabes). You certainly won't be left hungry! So much food!"

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ALL THE IMPORTANT DETAILS:

Footscray Fresh Food Ramble
DATES:  Friday 2 May, 11am
DURATION:  Minimum 1 hour
GROUP SIZE:  Maximum 10 people
PRICE:  $40 (plus 30-cent booking fee)
INCLUDES:  Drinks and generous samples
NB:  This tour is suitable for babes-in-arms or young toddlers, but due to the group size, please pop them in a carrier (eg, Baby Bjorn or Ergo), not a pram.
HOW TO BOOK:  CLICK HERE TO GO TO MY TRYBOOKING PAGE.

Streetwise Snacks
DATE:  Saturday 10 May, 1pm
DURATION:  Was 1.5 hours - NOW 2 HOURS!
GROUP SIZE:  Maximum 10 people
PRICE:  $80 (plus 30-cent booking fee)
INCLUDES:  Enough snacks to constitute a generous lunch!
HOW TO BOOK:  CLICK HERE TO GO TO MY TRYBOOKING PAGE

I also run private tours which can be tailored to your requirements - they make a fantastic team-building opportunity for businesses and brilliant gifts. To find out more, get in touch with me on 0438 583 808 or lauren@laurenwambach.com.

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Come on and dive in!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

French Baguette Cafe

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The new French Baguette Cafe has taken so long to open - maybe, I don't know, a good year - that after a while, the Eiffel Tower in its logo started to look to me like a big middle finger.

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Now that it's open, I think the Eiffel Tower in the middle actually makes the initials look less like "FB" and more like "FAB" - so I met up with a few folks to see if it lived up to its name.

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It's really big inside, with large comfy chairs, including a few on a raised dais.  On a Saturday morning, it was full of folks enjoying coffees and a good old chinwag.

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We hot-footed it straight to the banh mi.  There are all the classic fillings like mixed ham, meatballs and fish cake, plus grilled options including chicken, pork and (unusually) beef.  The rolls are particularly big - I think a good 5 cm longer than Nhu Lan's - and only $3.50.

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The bread wasn't quite right for a banh mi.  Proper banh mi bread should be ridiculously crunchy on the outside, and with the middle gooshing down to almost nothing as soon as you apply some pressure to take a bite.  This was a big more dense, perhaps closer to an actual French baguette.  But the fillings were good, and service was with a smile.  I'd happily grab another if I was nearby.

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I did spot quite a few peeps enjoying bo kho, Vietnam's answer to beef stew - big chunks of fall-apart-tender beef plus some tatties in a tomato broth.  A small bowl plus a roll will set you back just seven bucks.

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Coffee was pretty good.  The milk wasn't silky enough and there was too much foam but the underlying shot was well pulled.  I've seen the barista before at Cafe Cui.

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French Baguette also have a giant stronghold of cakes in the middle of the store, which you are encouraged to pillage, armed with a tray and tongs a la Breadtop.

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This is a particular hit with the kiddos, as you can imagine.

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Most of the cakes are on the big side and a bit OTT for my taste, but I did spy some Greek-style baklava that I've filed for future use.  Fun fact:  Do you know why my pseudonym when I first began blogging was Ms Baklover?  When my husband first moved to Melbourne from Chicago, he became hopelessly enamoured with baklava.  In fact, he became a bak-lover.  We started our own food blog about the best baklava in Melbourne.  I think we only ever did one post before I deleted it (I think I was worried about eating too much - HA. HA. VERY FUNNY, 8 YEARS AGO ME) but the name stuck!

French Baguette are still finding their feet.  It was a bit of a struggle trying to pin down eight clean glasses for water for our group.  I also think they need table numbers on sticks rather than the little rounded ones that sit flat on the table, as right now staff need to roam the whole place looking for you to deliver your coffee.

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To me, it has a feel like Balha's in Brunswick - a multi-age, multi-ethnic hangout where you go to eat cake and coffee.  There's even a mezzanine level.

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I love this sign.  FB, I really hope the last line comes true for you.

French Baguette Cafe
Cnr Albert and Barkly Streets, Footscray

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sunshine Phở Fever 2014

Disclaimer:  I attended Sunshine Pho Fever as a non-paying guest.

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I first got bit by the bug in 2013.  Despite plenty of booster bowls throughout the year, the minute the invite landed on my desk, I felt the fever take hold yet again.  I was off to Hampshire Road to sample some of the finest soups Sunshine has to offer - presented as part of Sunshine Phở Fever.

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It was Phở Fever's second year, presented by the Sunshine Business Association as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.  The 2013 series was particularly epic, involving three huge bowls of phở, so this year's promised to be tweaked a little, adding other liquid refreshment alongside the signature soups.

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We kicked off at Sao Cafe, where we scored our choice of Vietnamese cold drink.  My taro bubble tea was fine but really, filled as they are with grass jelly cubes and chewy tapioca balls, these drinks are a meal in themselves.  Should have gone for a cafe sua da - but post-Rickshaw Run, I needed all the sleep I could get!

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Simon of Brimbank Council and Win of the Sunshine Business Association were welcoming and informative hosts...

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...and after a short chat, we divided into two groups and were led us to our first stop - in my case, Phở Hien Saigon.  A recent SBS Feast competition voted the phở here the second best in Victoria.  (The winner?  iDo Kitchen in Albert Park - now closed, apparently!)

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Owner Cung has had his restaurant for five years and in the last year has taken over the shop next door, doubling its size.  The phở recipe was originally his uncle's, but Cung has tweaked it in response to his customers' desire for a "less intense" flavour and a clear stock.

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This is really good phở.  In some broths you can really taste the spices - the star anise and cinnamon - but Phở Hien Saigon's is milder and "cleaner".  Isn't it a pretty bowl, too?  "You do eat [with] your eyes," said Cung.

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The broth here is a combination of beef and chicken stocks, made separately and combined to serve.  See the sugar canister on the table?  That's full of chilli oil.  I normally have this on the side to dip my meat into, but at Phở Hien Saigon, it's particularly good added to the broth itself.

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A short stroll down the street and we headed into Thuan An.

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Here, Julie explained that her family's phở was neither strictly northern or strictly southern, but rather was adapted to "please both regions".

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The table was beautifully set with some of the secrets of the phở pot - rock sugar for sweetness...

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...and spices, including star anise, cumin, cinnamon, coriander and black cardamon.  At Phở Hien Saigon, the broth bubbles for 12 hours, while at Thuan An, it's an 18-hour simmer.  Julie explained that each spice is added at a specific time point to draw out precisely the right amount of flavour.  These aren't all the spices that go into the mix, either - there are more, used in smaller quantities but no less important.

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Thuan An had blanched and trimmed their bean shoots for us, which was a very nice touch.  Next door are two small bowls of chilli sauce and hoisin sauce.  People sometimes squirt these into the broth, but you're not really meant to - the idea is you dip your meat in them sparingly.

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Julie explained that in Vietnam, phở is often a breakfast dish.  It's served in much smaller portions than here in Australia.  She reports that when folks head here fresh from Hanoi or Saigon, they are staggered at the size, particularly at Thuan An where the soup is served in enormous square bowls.

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I thought I'd go wild and crazy and have a phở dac biet, which is phở with all the "bits" - brisket, beef ball, tendon and tripe.  In the end, I just like good old sliced beef and sliced chicken, though.  Thuan An's broth wasn't to my taste - I found it really sweet.  But what I did love was the sliced beef in this bowl - super thinly sliced and full of flavour.  Julie explains that Thuan An use scotch fillet (Phở Hien Saigon use round).  She says to come back and try other beef-based dishes, like the bo luc lac or diced beef with garlic - her parents are meat wholesalers so they know their stuff.

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Next - what a treat, a peek in the kitchen!

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I don't know if I can call this a "pot" of phở.  More like a paddling pool's worth!

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So much freshness.  I really need to come back soon and try more from the menu.

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As we walked to the next spot, I swear I heard our bellies sloshing.  It was time for our last stop - Nhi Nuong (2 Sisters).

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The sisters in question are Yen and Elizabeth, who as well as being passionate cooks, make up a talented musical duo.  They perform at the restaurant occasionally - you might catch them on a Friday or Saturday night.

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Elizabeth explained that the tea here is different to the standard jasmine you get elsewhere.  It's pandan tea, imported from Vietnam.  Apparently people come to Nhi Nuong just for the free tea!

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As well as beautifully carved fruit, we had really good beef in betel leaves (the betel leaves home grown in Queensland and specially sent down, apparently) and excellent, thick spring rolls.  Big points for inclusion of fish mint on the plate!  (PS:  You can read more about this and other unusual Asian herbs in this piece I wrote recently for The Age.)

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Elizabeth's daughter Daniella joined in to serenade us while we munched...

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...and then it was time for a long, cold glass of sugarcane juice.  This all-natural soft drink is made by feeding sugar canes through a wringer.  Elizabeth explained that back in Vietnam, kids would be given sections of cane to chew, particularly as they were waiting for dinner.  (Kind of like a Vietnamese Milky Way - won't ruin your appetite!)

Sunshine Phở Fever was a lovely evening, from the tangible pride of the business owners to the delicious food.  I was sitting near Paul from Kew who commented that eating phở like this is "like comparing shades of white".  In isolation, there isn't much to differentiate an ivory from a cream - but put them side by side and you can see the variations.  Likewise, I loved being able to eat different bowls of phở in such close proximity to each other, which is so useful in pinpointing exactly what your phở palate says.  And mine says - when it comes to phở, Sunshine is spoilt rotten.


Even if you think you can't stand hearing Gangnam Style one more time, watch this vid, featuring some of Sunshine's finest eats - it is an absolute cack!
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