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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Not your average chicken shop

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Essendon Charcoal Chicken, 6 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9078 3270

Consider The Sauce is told that business at Essendon Charcoal Chicken is way down ever since a certain AFL club uprooted and moved its training activities elsewhere.

That’s a shame, as right here on Napier Street and around the corner on Fletcher there’s a number eating establishment that look well worthy of exploration.

As is it is, I’m waylaid by Essendon Charcoal Chicken as I’m ostensibly on my way to lunch at an A1 place right across the road.

At first glance, this looks very much like just another charcoal chicken shop, right down to potato cakes in the bain marie.

Look just a little closer, though … and it’s clear there’s much more going on.

Lilydale free range chooks, for starters.

 

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A salad lineup that a whole heap more attractive than the gloopy coleslaw usually found in chicken shops.

 

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Roast spuds looking gorgeous and scented with rosemary and salt.

 

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Some great looking lamb going round and round above the charcoal, sharing that space with the poultry.

 

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And – finally – the chooks themselves, looking sensational and crusted with herbs.

My superb-looking lunch (pictured at top) of half a chicken, roast spuds and salad costs a very fine $12.90.

The chicken tastes just as good as it looks, though in truth the guts of the breast meat is dry.

Some gravy or condiments are needed here.

If anything, my sides are the highlight.

The spud chunks and divine and fall-apart tender.

The fresh, crunchy salad of all sorts of things is wonderfully dressed.

Chicken shop?

Salad?

Beautifully dressed?

Yes.

 

Essendon Charcoal Chicken 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.

CTS Feast No.10: Phat Milk – the wrap

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CTS Feast No.10: Brunch at Phat Milk, 208 Mt Alexander Road, Travancore. Phone: 9376 6643. Sunday, November 9, from 11am.

How good and enjoyable was this CTS Feast?

Well, for purely selfish reasons, I’d have to proclaim: “It was the best!”

You see, not only was this the first Feast in held in daylight hours and the first hosted by a cafe, it was also the smallest … well, OK the smallest since the very beginnings of the CTS Feast tradition.

And I know full well that organising and hosting a small number of people is significantly easier and less stressful than hosting a big bunch.

In this case, too, Bennie and I knew about half the guests already and enjoyed the heck out of getting to know those we didn’t.

As we arrived, the Phat Milk crew seemed to be embroiled in a frantic breakfast/brunch rush … but things soon seemed to settled down, and the timing of our massed arrival ended up seeming quite good.

Shaun, our main server, Rose, and the rest of the staff looked after us supremely well.

Bravo!

 

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As our brunch unfolded and the conversations ebbed and flowed, I realised that on top of all the many pluses of the CTS Feasts, they also provide a simply lovely and easy way for likeminded folks to mix and mingle and make new friends in a way that isn’t always that easy in other social settings.

So I was thrilled to see three guests – who had only met for the first time an hour or so earlier – swap details as the event wound down.

And Bennie and I even snagged – and feel very privileged to have done so – an invite for a homecooked Indian meal in Seddon from a lovely couple of regular CTS readers attending their first CTS event.

Wow!

 

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So many, many thanks to Alice, Nelio, Ankitha and Raj, Shamaila, Amanda, Chiara, Lisa, Julian and Christine for making this a wonderful occasion.

The food?

I thought it was outstanding.

 

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As on a previous visit, I went for the purple carrot and sweet potato latke with blueberry-cured salmon, quark and a poached egg.

It was a lot more filling than it looks here!

Most others also chose from the breakfast menu, with table’s dishes including …

 

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… a cauliflower omelette and …

 

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… baked eggs, as well as …

 

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… your more traditional, custom-selected breakfast fare.

(Swamp Thing? Gee, I wonder whose meal that could be?)

 

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Only two of us chose from the blackboard lunch menu (see below).

The entire CTS party “oohed” and “aahed” when Ankitha’s salt-and-pepper soft shell crab burger (pictured at top) arrived, while Raj’s garlic-and-thyme chicken cous cous salad also looked mighty fine.

Obviously, this event was a co-promotion between Phat Milk and CTS … but I really do dig this one-of-a-kind establishment and the people who run it.

They offer not just great food but also twinkle-eyed personality to go with it.

 

Phat Milk on Urbanspoon

 

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Knocked out in Williamstown

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mel9

 

Mezmez, 42 Ferguson Street, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 8804

When it was known as Plumm’s, 42 Ferguson Street was a quasi-regular for us – for breakfasts, lunches and even, IIRC, the odd dinner.

I think that between Plumm’s and Mezmez, there was another inhabitant of the address but I can’t recall its name.

Certainly, there has been a long period on non-use for the address before the recent opening of Mezmez.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing, with a view to dispelling “failed restaurant karma”.

Not that we’re suspicious or anything!

In terms of a fresh start, it’s also a fine thing the Mezmez crew has overhauled the room so that it bears little or no resemblance to what went before.

 

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There’s lots of wall tiles, lots of wood and a variety of different seating and eating configurations.

When we visit for Saturday lunch, the place is buzzing, there are happy people in abundance and staff are on the ball.

Mezmez is a sister restaurant of Pint Of Milk in Newport, so as you’d expect has many of the same cafe strengths going on.

But the new place looks and feels very different.

More to the point, outside some orthodox breakfast items, the Mezmez menu (see below) – especially the brunch and lunch lists – evinces a strong Turkish and Mediterranean feel.

And that’s mostly why we’re here and excited about it.

 

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We’re allocated a small wall-mounted table with tall stools towards the back of the room – and we’re happy about that.

Because we’re sitting right at the very spot where food leaves the kitchen and heads for the customers’ pleasure – so we get a good look, while we’re waiting for our meals, at what other folks have been ordering.

That ranges from breakfasts of the basic, toasted kind and the more ornate and decadent through to an “ancient grains” salad, panfried saganaki, crispy fried squid and preposterously fat lamb koftas.

IT ALL LOOKS FANTASTIC!

 

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Bennie chooses the buttermilk pancakes with sour cherries, toasted walnuts and halvah ice-cream ($18).

He’s happy enough, but reckons there’s too much sauce!

I grab a bite and am impressed.

Perhaps, at $18, a third pancake might not be too much to expect.

And perhaps he’s old enough and savvy enough to understand that just because his father lets him off the leash for a sugar hit doesn’t mean that’s going to be the best direction to head.

Because he’s frankly envious of my …

 

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… “mez platter” ($16) with its olives, dukkah, falafels, cauliflower fitters, dips and bread.

It’s all good or much better.

And I always admire any such dish that is constructed with such skill that all the players are in correct proportion so they all “run out” at the same happy conclusion to the meal.

That’s certainly the case here.

The outright stars, though, are the tightly-packed and fragrant falafels and sublime cauliflower fritters.

Wow!

Deep-fried yet ungreasy, they’re packed with flavour – and in the case of cauliflower, that always seems to me some kind of miracle.

That vegetable doesn’t have the most robust flavour characteristics yet often it seems to survive all sorts of cooking techniques.

The only faint quibble I have is wishing the dips had a bit more zing.

 

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As we’d awaited our meals, Bennie went close to toddlerhood regression and the throwing of a tantrum when he saw the blackboard words “Nutella Donuts” had been crossed out.

No problem, my friend – that is yesterday’s news so we’re good to go.

 

 

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Oh boy, this is awesomeness personified – and a bargain at $3.50.

Just so good – ultra gooey and divine.

And filling, even shared between the pair of us.

 

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Nor surprise, eh, that my $3.60 cafe latte is brilliant?

Williamstown locals have a new star to adore.

 

Mezmez on Urbanspoon

 

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Kebabs with a difference

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degree2
400 Degree Tandoor Grill, 888 Mount Alexander Road, Essendon. Phone: 0430 345 106

 

Full moon, start of the weekend, not a care in the world, no alarm to be set for the morrow … the timing is right for a slightly cross-town drive in search of something mighty fine to eat.

We’re headed to Essendon and the 400 Degree truck, which is part of the ever-evolving and growing Melbourne food truck scene but which seems to be making a name for itself away from the usual congregating points and by doing festivals and the like.

We’ve heard good things about what they offer, most notably from our very good pal Nat Stockley.

(We learn, however, during a flurry of messages while we’re ordering and eating, that Nat’s experiences with this crew has thus far been restricted to their chicken tikka box, which he describes as “kind of like a biryani” … no matter!)

 

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There’s two happy blokes in the truck doing the food biz, and another out front playing a sort of meet-and-greet cum security role.

It being 10pm, this is pretty much opening time for these guys.

‘Round about midnight, the clientele no doubt increases in number and drunkenness, so security is probably a good idea.

We’re told, we presume somewhat jokingly, that the security even needs security.

I offer Bennie’s services at a discount but stir up little interest.

 

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Bennie goes the tandoori chicken wrap ($9.50).

He likes it a lot; it disappears in under five minutes.

It tastes good to me, too.

 

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I go the “9-hour” lamb ($9.50), and it, too, is a winner.

The shaved lamb is juicy and tasty.

I like the way the chilli sauce I have chosen mostly works its way down my wrap so the last few, delicious mouthfuls are the spiciest and sexiest of all.

Both our wraps are wrapped in pliable rotis that – along with the Indian-style fillings – really do set the 400 Degree products apart.

It’s been a fine feed.

As we drive home, we discuss the perhaps surprising fact that 400 Degree offers so little by way of extras … such as chips or samosas or curries of any kind.

We conclude that if they went down that path, they would end up being something other than a kebab truck with a difference.

Their simple approach works a treat.

Check out the 400 Degree website here.

 

400 Degree Tandoor & Grill on Urbanspoon

 

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Mother Nora’s new adventure

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saffron4
Saffron Kitchen, Laverton Community Hub, 95-105 Railway Avenue, Laverton. Phone: 8368 0177

That much-cherished institution, MiHUB Cafe in Werribee, is ceasing to exist as we know it.

The day after this story is published, the Synnot Street property that has housed this most admirable – and delicious! – community enterprise is to be auctioned, with the chances being it will become a medical centre of some sort.

So MiHUB’s future is way up in the air, with no new venue being yet found.

All is not lost, however, as the spirit is willing … besides, we’ve seen the MiHUB crew and their fare at the likes of the Indonesian Street Food Festival, and enjoyed that fare at a charity bash in Werribee.

So there are other ways of being!

In the meantime, one MiHUB’s leading lights, Mother Nora, has taken up a role at the new branch of Saffron Kitche, operating out of the Laverton Community Hub.

Where Nora goes, we follow … so it is that I rock up for a mid-week lunch.

Under the auspices of the Wyndham Community & Education Centre, Saffron Kitchen “will target training and employment pathway opportunities for local people including the long-term unemployed, people with a disability and people from new and emerging communities”.

It’s a simple place that offers simple, tasty and cheap vegetarian food.

 

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Each of my offerings – an eggy fried rice, a nice lentil-and-veg dish, glassy noodles with slithery mushrooms and gado gado with a beaut nutty sauce – are priced individually, but I snag a “combo” deal for $10.

My $3.50 cafe latte is excellent!

Laverton’s Saffron Kitchen is open 8am-4pm on week days.

 

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