Monday, July 31, 2006

tasty cross-posting

I’ve done one of my semi-regular reviews at our collaborative blog for hungry Melbournians, We do chew our food. The blog is one of those organic, internet things that I love so much. A Melbourne blogger was stuck on where to go for dinner and thought it would be good to get some recommendations, a rag bag of local (largely non-food) bloggers were contacted and asked to contribute. It’s an interesting process, not always unbiased, taking in the high and low lights of this town – from coffee, a workday sandwich, pizza with mates or a big night out.

Even if you never come to Melbourne, I enjoyed writing this review of one of my favourite lunch spots. I could taste the peanut sauce at the back of my throat while writing it. I hope you do too.

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)

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, wine and $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!

* The original review first appeared at We do chew our food.

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!

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