The Heights of baking excellence

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impasto3
Impasto Forno Antico, 157 Military Road, Avondale Heights. Phone: 9331 1111

Here’s a quirk of the western suburbs …

It’s possible for a resident of Sunshine North to stand on one side of the Maribyrnong River and hold a conversation with a friend or neighbour standing on the other side in Avondale Heights – without either of them having to raise their voices.

But if one of them wants to drive to the other’s home, well the quickest route is pretty much via Highpoint!

Avondale Heights seems sort of stranded.

It’s bisected by its only main road, the arterial thoroughfare known as Military Road.

I’m told much of the suburb’s population derives from post-war immigration of the Italian variety.

 

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Certainly, at one of Military Road’s shopping precincts there is an emporium of things most excellently Italian.

Recently, this bakery being on one of my routes to work, I picked up a panini for in-office lunch purposes that was a $7.50 just right – fresh roll filled on the spot with mortadella, roasted capsicum and artichoke.

Yum!

Today, I go the strictly sweet route.

 

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The pear and almond tart ($4.50) and a slice ($3) that is a full-on flat version of a Christmas-style mince pie are wonderful and classy – and a lot more filling than they appear at first blush.

I rather wish I’d gone for one of the lighter things – such as the cannoli.

My $3.50 cafe latte is excellent.

Before my sugary lunch I’d felt all spruced up and looking good after a superb “hot-towel shave” and mo’ trim thanks to Matt at Matt’s Men’s Room.

Excellent, professional and friendly, he did me this fine service for a charge of $15.

How good is that?

 

Impasto Forno Antico on Urbanspoon

 

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New Indian joint in WeFo

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Amrutha Authentic Indian Cuisine, 552 Barkly Street,West Footscray. Phone: 9913 3794

Team Consider The Sauce tonight numbers four for the purposes of checking out the newest addition to West Footscray’s line-up of Indian restaurants.

As the restaurant was being put together behind papered windows, two of us had wondered if the new place would specialise in some way to provide it a point of difference from its many competitors.

The answer is – no.

Amrutha’s menu is long a covers all the expected bases.

Go to the joint’s website here for a looking at the full list, including prices.

 

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The place has scrubbed up a treat – quite a lot of money has been spent.

And the main room is a good deal larger than we were expecting to be the case given the hair salon it replaces.

The furniture and fittings are pure Franco Cozzo.

We admire with interest the breakfast list, which includes all your dosas and a lot more.

But we go a la carte from the body of the menu.

Among our choices are a couple of Indo-Chinese selections …

 

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Gobi manchurian ($7.99) and …

 

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… chicken 65 ($8.99) are enjoyable but wet where we have been expecting dry.

 

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My eyes invariably light up whenever I see a menu that features eggplant, so eggplant curry ($10.99) has been ordered at my instigation.

Again, our expectations come into play – maybe unfairly.

The menu does mention a “rich cashew nut and special sauce”, but this seems to me more of an unbearably creamy spread with eggplant flavour.

It’s something I’d be happy spreading on toast.

But otherwise?

Nah.

 

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Moving right along, we start to get into things more hearty and flavoursome of the kind we have been seeking.

Lamb Madras ($11.99) is very nice, its rich gravy hiding lots of fine meat chunks.

 

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Chicken chettinad ($12.99) is likewise very good, with its gravy of “yogurt sauce with crushed black peppercorn, herbs and spices”.

 

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Palak paneer ($9.99) is a doozy, its silky cheese pieces swimming in a wonderfully almost-smoky gravy.

Another high point for us are the $1.99 naan that avoid photographic scrutiny – sorry!

These are super, and appear to have been made – as one of my tablemates points out –  using “wholemeal flour with all the bran removed”.

The result is like a cross between a regular naan and a roti.

We’ve enjoyed our meal but are left wondering about the wisdom of our choosing, what sort of wonders Amrutha has hiding in its menu – and whether the more snacky or one-person dishes may be the go here.

So I sneak back a few nights later for an early dinner by myself – biryani.

 

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My default choice of chicken is unavailable, so I’m happy to go with the lamb ($11.99).

Even though the lamb almost always used in biryanis – you’ll see it in the markets labelled as “lamb curry” – is often more bone than meat.

No such problem here – the plentiful meat comes easily from the bones and is flavoursome and surprisingly tender.

The rice is somewhat darker than usual, and the fried onions are more than a garnish here – there’s lots of them and they’re fully integrated into the rice.

The biryani picture is completed by a fine gravy that is salty and peanutty and a raita chunky with cubed carrot.

My biryani is very good and fully up there with those available elsewhere in Footscray.

Maybe for me next time the chole bhature ($11.99).

Or perhaps the puri ($8.99), which – according to the in-house printed menu – are served thali-style with a handful of small accompanying bowls of goodness.

 

Amrutha on Urbanspoon

 

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Our fave taverna

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oil21
Olive Oil & Butter, 196 Somerville Rd, Kingsville. Phone: 9315 1060

Olive Oil And Butter has become a “regular” for us.

We love that it’s doing its own thing away from the cafe culture of both Yarraville and Seddon.

The geography also means parking is never a hassle.

The coffee is reliably very good.

We love the syrupy sweet treats such as baklava, the custardy galaktoboureko and the more austere biscotti-style of paksimadia and koulouraki.

 

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But it is the plain cake-iness of the semolina revani that we have cone to love most – at first because it goes home in better nick but eventually just because it so good.

Especially when its syrupy richness is cut with a big dollop of high-class organic yogurt.

 

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We take the spanakopita and its meaty cohort the kreatopita home often, too.

These cost what seems a rather hefty $8.50.

But one look, feel, smell or taste of the incredible quality of the pastry involved soon dispels such misguided views.

 

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For in-house savoury treats, best bet is the tight blackboard list of rustic Greek dishes – just the sort of thing you might find at a roadside taverna.

Horiatiki salad with loukaniko (sausages) is a treat for $16.50 (top photo).

The serve is significantly more generous than the picture suggests.

Best of all, there are multiple discs of superb, sweet, tangy, smoky sausage.

The grilled, seasoned Greek-style pita bread – perhaps from this place? – does good mopping up the juices and a rather miserly serve of a nicely spicy pepper dip.

See earlier story here.

 

Olive Oil & Butter on Urbanspoon

Actually, better than A1

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a1ess21
 A1 Bakery, 18 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9375 7734

After an initial visit – covered here – Consider The Sauce has been eager for a return adventure at A1 in Essendon.

Primarily to partake of one of the more unusual and intriguing options among the more substantial meal platters they offer – samke hara, which features “three flathead tails baked in a spicy tahini sauce”.

Today, it being that time of year when my very good mate Penny is making her annual visit to Melbourne from Wellington, is the day.

Truth is, on previous visits Penny and I have had some really fine face-to-face catch-ups – we talk by phone at least once a fortnight about everything under the sun – but rarely have we enjoyed a really fabulous meal.

I put the blame for that squarely on my own shoulders in the category of “trying too hard”.

Anyway, we rectify that today – and in spectacular fashion.

As it turns out, the samke hara is unavailable.

So boss man Gabby offers to put together for me (and Penny!) a combo set of shish tawook (chicken) and kafta skewers with all the bits and pieces.

The above spread costs us $24; not pictured are an extra salad and a basket containing plenty of zaatar, olives and a couple each of small rice-stuffed peppers and puff-style kibbeh.

The single-meat deals are priced at $14.50, so I’m not sure our price accurately reflects what it would cost to buy all items involved separately.

And Gaby is perfectly aware there’s a blogger in the house …

But add another $10 or even $20 and it would STILL be a bargain.

I know there’s a handful of places around town that do Lebanese food in more formal settings (and at significantly higher prices), but I find it extremely difficult to imagine their food could be any finer.

As I once said of another Lebanese establishment, in the world of Consider The Sauce, this is as good as food gets – at any price.

As our meal arrives at our table, our day gets even better …

 

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Placing bowls full of wonderful before us, Gaby sighs as he says: “This is when I miss being in Lebanon – all the small dishes!”

Then he introduces us to his mum, Sandra, she being responsible for much of the food we are about to inhale.

And, I’m sure, almost all its heart and soul!

For CTS – which has been known on occasion to mutter, “We revere cooks but chefs don’t impress us that much!” – this is akin to meeting royalty!

Everything we eat rocks our world …

Stuffed vine leaves with a lemony tang and rice still displaying a nice, nutty al dente feel.

Fresh, luscious dips, with the ultra-smoky eggplant number a taste sensation.

Tabouli and fattoush, fresh and zingy.

Two kinds of splendidly crunchy and salty green olives.

And the meat skewers – served at room temperature, juicy, tender, packed with flavour and having the killer chargrilled tang in abundance.

All of the above, of course, can have only one outcome – yes, some time early in the new year and all going as planned, A1 Essendon and Consider The Sauce will co-host the first CTS Feast for 2015.

 

A1 Bakery Essendon on Urbanspoon

 

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A Good Thing for Buckley Street

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The retail premises that kicked off the CTS story about Buckley Street is, it turns out, destined for a more interesting and welcome future than the “convenience store” mentioned on the planning application led us to believe.

Thanks to CTS reader Zoe for providing this link to the website/magazine Food Service News.

According to the story, the Buckley Street shop is to become a Melbourne sibling for the Marrickville establishment known as Cornersmith.

Like the Sydney store/cafe, Rhubarb Wholefoods will be a “wholefoods store and vegetarian cafe”.

And an important element of the way Rhubarb operates will involve customers swapping their homegrown vegetables, fruit and more for cafe products.

A bartering business for the west – how cool is that?

Follow the progress of Rhubarb Wholefoods by “liking” their Facebook page.

Road trip to Trentham, mind blown

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Growers, Cookers & Eaters 2014 – presented by the Trentham Food Hub
Trentham Mechanics Institute, Saturday, October 11

Consider The Sauce has always taken an extremely broad and self-serving approach to what constitutes “western suburbs”.

But still, I procrastinated about whether to attend the Trentham Food Hub’s Growers, Cookers & Eaters bash.

Having taken the plunge and bought my ticket, however, I am oh-so-happy to be hitting the road with some hot music late on a Saturday afternoon with the sun shining.

Western suburbs?

Sure!

Head up the Calder, turn left at Woodend, keep on going – easy!

 

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I’m told this is the third Growers, Cookers & Eaters event.

The party is just one of the activities that make up the Trentham Food Hub, which sees as its vision to create “a vibrant network of informed, passionate and creative people working together within the community to expand the capacity of our local food and fibre industry”.

I’ve never been to Trentham before, so make sure I arrive early enough to introduce myself to Justin, the event’s organiser, and have enough time to have a wander up and down and through the town’s CBD and main drag – such as they are.

It’s all gorgeous and there is a good deal of foodie activity of one sort or another that all looks very appealing.

CTS will be heading this way again!

The delights keep on piling up, one atop another, as I survey the venue – the Trentham Mechanics Institute is a cool old-school hall and I’m already smiling.

I choose a table and wait to see, in the lottery that accompanies such events, who my dining companions will be.

 

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I’m very happy to spend the evening in the company of Janine and Alan from Bullarto South (“the Paris end of Bullarto”) and  Robert and Kim from Castlemaine.

Through the course of the night we have many laughs and much lively conversation over a wide range of topics – even canvassing, rather foolishly but with no great mishap, politics and religion.

And, of course, food.

The evening is set up in both a degustation and buffet styles.

I’m usually lousy at buffet eating, always going way too hard too early on the starters and entrees.

Tonight, I nail it by pacing myself. It helps that during the course of the day I’ve skipped breakfast and have eaten only a pair of bananas.

I’m hungry.

 

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Here’s where it’s at - Growers, Cookers & Eaters 2014 turns out to be one of the peak CTS food experiences of this or any other year.

There’s paper napkins.

The plates are cleared either by hard-working volunteers or by us guests ourselves.

But the food is mind-blowingly amazing and the happiness in the room tangible.

Truth is, purchasing what we eat a la carte at the sorts of restaurants and pubs that serve this kind of food would cost much, much more than our $65 ticket price.

What a bloody great bargain!

 

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Warm olives, terrific sourdough bread and potted meats – pork rillette and pate de tete, both from Jonai Farms – make a fine starter.

With the arrival of the chicken salad (pictured at top), I start to realise this going to be a very special evening indeed – such wonderful freshness and flavour!

 

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It’s a testament to the slow-roasted shoulder of lamb that it requires no carving – the serving platters come equipped with forks to pull the meat apart.

Oh boy – it’s wonderful, served with baby carots, a wild tabbouleh and yogurt!

 

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The yearling pig, served with carrot puree and salad, is another juicy delight.

 

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Later in the evening, our table is joined by Tammi from Jonai Farms, which produced the pork. It’s interesting talking with her about her family’s farming and her own journey to becoming a fully-fledged, muscle-bound butcher!

 

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Some folks seem a little nonplussed by the potato gnocchi with flaked, smoked Tuki trout and cannellini beans in a saffron sauce.

I like it as a rustic, austere contrast to the richness that is going on around us.

 

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Roasted Sidonia Hills beef?

Simply, and by quite some distance, the best roast beef I have ever encountered.

So very, very juicy and flavoursome, it’s perfectly joined by roast potatoes and fennel and a beautiful tied bundle of baby leek, carrot and asparagus.

The beef, I’m subsequently told, is scotch fillet cooked for 38 hours at 55 degrees using the sous vide method.

By this time I’m just about bouncing of the ceiling with happy.

 

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The only dish that leaves me less than wowed is the apple and cashew tart – just OK in my book.

 

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But the pear poached in spice pinot noir and served with luscious Inglenook Dairy cream is fab – the still-firm pear really does taste like it’s been cooked in mulled wine.

Well done to Justin and his team – the event has been very well run, and on time.

I’ve managed to make a single bottle of cider go the whole night, so I’m good to drive and have enjoyed a wonderful cafe latte with my dessert.

As I depart, I tell my table friends, in all sincerity, that I hope to see them next year.

And circumstances permitting, that is just what I plan to do – with Bennie along for the ride.

And maybe even with a gang of our CTS foodie pals!

Who is up for it?

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The food has been cooked by: Mark Mills from the Plough, Trentham; Gavin Draper from the Cosmpolitan Hotel, Trentham; John & Al Reid from RedBeard Bakery, Trentham; Gary Thomas from Spade To Spade, Daylesford; Andrew Dennis from the Grande Hotel, Hepburn; Tim Austin from La Bonta, Kyneton; Mand arika Oost from the Village Larder, Woodend.

The food has been supplied by: Ngelica Organics, Wombat Forest Organics, Daylesford Organics, Mt Franklin Organics, Duck Puddle Farm, Thomas Walsh, Trewhella Farm, Blackwood Orchards, Inglenook Dairy, Meredith Dairt, Holy Goat Cheese, Jonai Farms, Milking Yard Farm, Tuki, Mt Zero Olives, Barfold Olives and Flowerdale Farm.

 

 

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Checking out the new Footscray Coles

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When it comes to supermarkets, Consider The Sauce is most definitely a Sims, smaller-is-generally-better kinda guy.

We’ll shop at the biggies but would never make a habit of it nor hold any of them in any great esteem.

Still, I’m interested to check out the new Footscray Coles on account of it being a significant local happening.

And I have friends who live nearby for whom getting basics such as milk – especially outside of regular hours – is something of a hassle. For them, Footscray Coles is of some significance.

As well, I’m interested in seeing what the manager’s claim to have tried hard to reflect the local cultural demography – spied in an advertorial feature in the local press – actually means in reality.

 

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The truth is, not a whole lot.

Of course, the quantity and range of multicultural products the store boasts is way more extensive than would have been the case, say, 20 years ago.

But I didn’t see anything that would see people switching away from Bharat Traders or India At Home.

And the signage seems to fall into something of “try too hard” category.

 

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I mean, what does “Authentic International Food” actually mean?

All is shiny and new and the deli counters have the sort of coverage routinely seen in big supermarkets these days.

 

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And, yes, the shelves groan with an extensive line-up of that depressingly awful “product”, bottled water.

The retail spaces opposite the checkout area are now occupied solely by Bakers Delight, Liquorland and the pharmacy.

 

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