Mezmez – return visit

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

We sometimes have a laugh about how fickle the winds are that blow Consider The Sauce this way and that as it embarks on its adventures.

It’s our Saturday jaunt, we’re hungry and feeling virtuous after about an hour’s worth of house-cleaning in our low-maintenance home.

Heading towards Fehon Street, we are confronted with road signs ruling out a right-hand turn and destinations such as Seddon, Footscray and beyond.

So a left turn it is … and Williamstown, with no specific destination in mind.

We park and check out a cool pizza place that is on our “to do” list, but they’re not rolling yet despite it being 12.30pm.

Maybe next time for them.

So we are happy to return to Mezmez, which we wrote about just a few weeks back – it’s a beaut and significant addition to the Williamstown food scene, and we’re eager to try some more of their dishes and write about them.

 

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Bennie has been given the run of menu, including the more substantial and expensive meals, but goes for the pide with BBQ zatar chicken, peppers, spinach and chipotle mayo ($14).

It goes down a treat.

He especially like the herby nature of the chicken.

 

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My salad of baby beetroots with walnuts, goats cheese, witlof, pasrley and orange dressing ($15) is fabulously brilliant.

It’s a big serve – I take a while longer to eat my lunch than Bennie does to eat his sandwich – and filling for a dish made up so much of water-based ingredients.

The way the various goodies both play off each other and meld together is magical.

The key ingredient is the witlof, the bitterness of which moderates the beet sweetness.

Wow.

 

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Mezmez today has some keen-looking baklava on display but we find we are unable to do anything but order another of their Nutella doughnuts ($3.50).

Both myself and the occupants of the adjoining table are bemused by Bennie’s display of inexpert cutting the sees us end up with two unequal doughnut halves.

Oh well – even the lesser of the two tastes divine to me.

Just like that, Mezmez has become a CTS favourite.

 

Mezmez on Urbanspoon

 

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New Orleans in Melbourne – this is real

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gris7
Girl With The Gris Gris, 18 Market Lane, Melbourne. Phone: 9514 4577

Bennie and I pause midway along Market Lane.

I’ve said nothing about our destination or the variety of food we will be eating once we arrive.

Gesturing to an eatery with a rather anonymous but extremely large doorway, I say: “That is Australia’s most famous Chinese restaurant!”

But then, pointing to the smaller doorway more-or-less directly opposite, I say: “But that is where we’re going!”

Up the stairs we go into what is a typically Melbourne sort of scene – a live music venue with a funky eatery attached.

In this case, the food being served is, by all reports, purebred New Orleans.

And I’m all a-tingle with excitement, as the restaurant’s tucker is being cooked by a real live New Orleans cook.

Most readers will be aware that the diversity and depth of food deriving from the American South available in Melbourne has bloomed in recent years. Indeed, several such joints have been written about right here at Consider The Sauce.

I’ve enjoyed trying these places out.

But I have had to keep a firm grip of any notions about authenticity based my own experiences travelling to the US, and to New Orleans in particular.

 

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Let me put it this way …

Gumbo is a soup, not a stew.

Thanks to the roux used in making it, gumbo should be almost dark as night.

It should not be poured over a stack of rice; the rice should be just a part of the soup – maybe a quarter of a cup, or better still a tablespoon.

Unless their names are celery, capsicum or onion, vegetables have no business being in gumbo.

And finally, while seafood gumbos of various kinds are revered in some quarters, the king of gumbos – the benchmark – is chicken and sausage gumbo.

Will I find such a beastie right here at Girl With The Gris Gris?

Will be it be as fantastic as I’m hoping?

We do and it is!

Our chicken and sausage gumbo costs $14 for a bowl ($8 for a cup).

It’s easily the best gumbo I’ve had in the southern hemisphere – and the includes those I’ve made myself (though it’s been a while now …).

The restaurant is dimly lit, so while I secure good lighting for our other dishes, I wuss it for the gumbo – this is as good as I snap:

 

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Our gumbo is magnificently dark, full of well cooked sausage discs and shredded chicken.

It has strong flavour of roux, oregano and other gumbo goodies. It has a nice spice glow on, too.

It IS fantastic.

 

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In some ways, this photo is more revealing.

One sure sign of a good gumbo is that the roux remnants will leave “tide marks” down the side of the bowl as the volume of soup decreases.

If your gumbo does not leave such signs, you’ve been had.

I very much wish we’d ordered a bowl of this stuff each.

But we love everything else we have.

 

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Onion rings ($8) are superb in their fat, deep-fried decadence, and are wonderful dunked in the tangy (remoulade?) sauce.

 

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Roast beef po’ boy ($15) also sets a high water mark (thinking tidal again!) for New Orleans sandwiches we’ve had in Melbourne.

The bread is a just-right, scooped-out French loaf.

The beef is plentiful and plenty juicy without completely overwhelming the bread.

And the dressings are wonderful and zesty.

 

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At this point, I really am seriously suggesting to Bennie that we order more gumbo – but he gets a bit stroppy about wanting one of the dessert items he has clapped eyes upon.

Ice-cream sandwich ($12) is a fantasia of “housemade peanut butter banana ice-cream between graham crackers, caramel, caramelised bananas, honey”.

Wow – it, too, is so very New Orleans.

It’s gone, shared by the two of us, in seeming seconds.

There’s no degrees of separation between Consider The Sauce and Girl With The Gris Gris.

The restaurant and the Ding Dong Lounge that adjoins it are both run by Bill Walsh, formerly of crazed rockers the Cosmic Psychos and a former long-time colleague of mine at PBS-FM.

I’d spied that fine bloke, sitting at the bar, on arrival.

But as he didn’t seem to recognise me – perhaps it was the dimness, perhaps it was the moustache – I let it pass so Bennie and I could enjoy our dinner and I could play the role of “anonymous food blogger”.

But as we’re paying, Bill does recognise me – or rather, recognises my voice!

It’s swell chatting with him about the restaurant, his endeavours in employing New Orleans chef Chris Weysham and their menu.

Bill even recalls the story I wrote about his band in the now long defunct afternoon Herald newspaper at the very start of my Melbourne music-writing career.

 

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From the old broadsheet Herald of February 2, 1987 … when yours truly had yet to become Kenny!

 

I reckon the menu (see below) is superb.

I love that it’s minus any high-falutin’, high-priced slabs of meat or extravagant seafood, instead focussing on a tight list of affordable New Orleans classics.

They’re the sorts of things found at bars and neighbourhood joints right across the Crescent City, such as the most fondly remembered by me Liuzza’s.

Hey, Chris! How about some deep-fried pickles?

The phrase “can’t wait” mostly strikes me as nonsense.

But, frankly, I “can’t wait” to return to Girl With The Gris Gris.

Check out Girl With The Gris Gris stories in The Age and the Herald Sun.

 

Girl With The Gris Gris on Urbanspoon

 

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After the Raincoat … what?

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Well actually, after the closure of venerable Kingsville institution the Famous Blue Raincoat there will be … more Famous Blue Raincoat.

In the short-term anyway.

Meet Andy, the Newport local whose family is taking over the Vernon Street premises.

They hope to open in about a week.

There’s no great overhaul going on – just a spring clean of sorts that will take in a spruce-up of the lovely garden area out back.

A rebranding of sorts is likely to take place early next year.

The food offered will stay solidly in the cafe format but with a few Andy tweaks along the way – an emphasis on nifty salads instead of fried food, for instance.

I spy a pork burger on the dummy menu Andy lets me examine.

All such goodies as relishes and sauces will be made in-house.

The new/old joint will be open six or maybe seven days a week but not at nights.

There is a strong likelihood, however, of there being some night action along the lines of monthly theme nights of four or six courses with matching beer or wine.

 

Checking out the new Yarraville pub

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Railway Hotel, 35 Anderson Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 2034

After watching, like so many Villagers, the fading into the past of a scruffy pub and the unveiling of a new, shiny incarnation, we’ve taken our time checking out the new Yarraville local.

We’re wandered in a number of times but never quite got round to taking the plunge.

For one thing, it’s often seemed mad busy so we’ve gone elsewhere.

But to be truthful, it’s the pricing that has been a sticking point.

I’ve been a feeling a sense of duty, obligation even, to put the CTS take on the Railway out there but …

Singapore noodles for $26?

Lamb curry – made with “saltgrass lamb” – for $26.50?

It’s not that I mind paying such prices.

 

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But long experience with items such as high-priced, fancy fish and chips and $25 laksas served in seafood emporiums has taught me that not only are such things expensive but also that all too often they are simply not very good.

So, yeah, I’m suspicious.

Even more so when there are three pubs nearby with similar pricing schemes and proven track records, and at least a couple more that fall into the cheap ‘n’ cheerful genre.

But arriving home from work mid-week, I’m resolved to get the job done.

That resolve is cemented when I retrieve from the letterbox a flier announcing the commencement of $15 parma Tuesdays at the Railway – that’s more like it!

So off we go … for what actually turns out to be the first such parma evening.

The place looks great, though is still recognisably the same building – it’s not like they’ve knocked down any walls or anything.

We secure a table for the two of us without any fuss, though from there on in new arrivals have to wait.

The staff are cheerful and obliging.

And we eat.

 

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I’m more than happy for Bennie to trial the Railway burger ($21.50).

He likes it, too, but not with boundless enthusiasm.

The patty looks great and the whole thing impresses as a good, solid straightahead burger.

Bennie likes the cheesy/herby effect and his chips are excellent.

But he’d rather have a burger meal right across the road at a significantly lower price.

 

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My $15 parma is something else entirely.

In fact, I’m happy to make a big call – this is the best parma I’ve had in the western suburbs and one of the best ever.

From a list of five I’ve selected the Mexican, with the option of cheese topping added – and it’s a doozy.

The real chicken breast is piping hot and emitting steam. It’s tender, moist and flavoursome.

The mix of onions, peppers and nice glow of spice heat is sufficiently like the ingredients of a classic parma for my dish to maintain strong links with tradition and that mix is all-round delicious.

It’s a very moist project so any crunchiness in the crumb department is gone, but I don’t mind in the least.

And it’s so big that in the end I carve off a hefty chunk for Bennie to enjoy.

My chips, too, are very good.

The salad is average – but isn’t that almost always the cases with parmas?

But even then, given the high quality of the chips and parma, $15 is a ripping bargain – and would still be so at $20.

 

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Our server is happy to engage in a bit of banter about the $26 Singapore noodles – she reckons they’re grouse.

Who knows?

Perhaps the price reflects excellence and value.

Maybe we’ll order them one day – or maybe the onion and cauliflower pakoras for $14.50.

But in the meantime, we’re happy and satisfied that the Railway is starting to feel like our local.

 

Railway Hotel on Urbanspoon

 

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High-Quality thali

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quality6
Quality Cafe, 1116-1118 Glenhuntly Road, Glen Huntly. Phone: 9571 5544

Just for a change for Saturday lunch, Bennie and I are really happy to be heading over to Nat’s side of town instead of trolling around the inner west.

As we had discussed where to meet, I’d pointed out to Nat that he’d long been posting on Facebook great-looking photographs of funky ethnic food from funky ethnic eateries in his own extended neighbourhood … so how ’bout we try one of them.

The joint selected, Quality Cafe, is just the sort of place I had in mind.

 

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It’s a newish. bare-bones Indian cafe with an adjoining grocery.

It’s also, as the signage points out, “100% vegetarian”.

That’s fine by us!

The menu (see below) boasts quite a nifty list of snack and chaat items, as well as dosas, bahji and chole bhatura.

We collectively sidestep all that with little mucking around and go the thali route.

 

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My “Quality Thali” ($12.50) is a winner in almost every way.

I love the sambar, dal and cracking, creamy pea-and-cheese curry.

The vegetable biryani, not so much.

Plain rice, raita, tangy pickle and roti complete the picture.

 

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As neither of them have eaten breakfast, Nat and Bennie both go for the bigger “Weekend Thali” ($15), which is the same deal plus a potato-based vegetable curry and a cauliflower curry.

I reckon I could live on this kind of food.

It’s humble, delicious and inexpensive.

But what knocks me out about the Quality Cafe thalis is the presentation.

Each dish is presented in its own bowl, with all placed upon a steel platter.

How lovely they all look, bequeathing on a quick Saturday lunch a heightened sense of occasion way beyond the modesty and affordability of the food at hand.

How I wish more Melbourne’s Indian restaurants – including those of the west – took such care in finessing their thalis.

Thanks, Nat!

 

Quality Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Way better than a food court

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Zouki Cafe, Royal Melbourne Hospital. Phone: 9916 6020

Zouki establishments are in-house at hospitals all over Melbourne but I’m told the Royal Melbourne establishment is the biggest.

In a hospital that seems like a small town unto itself, this Zouki is all a-bustle at lunchtime, with a United Nations of humanity chowing down, hospital clients and their friends and families rubbing shoulders with hospital staff.

I’m really impressed by the range of food available – looking at it, I figure it’ll never win any prizes or rave review … but it’s interesting to think about just how this multicultural line-up is such a contrast to what would have been served here as little as a couple of decades ago.

The food ranges from …

 

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… a sandwich bar to …

 

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… salads to …

 

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… pasta and …

 

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… wok dishes.

There’s two coffee stands doing roaring trade.

I have two cafe lattes during my day at the hospital, and they’re both very good.

 

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There’s sweet treats, of course, as well as …

 

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… the obligatory sushi roll counter.

And that seems like the least unappealing of what’s on offer.

I go Indian, of course!

One of my choices is called chicken and potato balti – though I suspect there’s not much balti about it.

It joins dal makhani and rice studded with chick peas for a $11.90 lunch complete with a couple of papadums.

Unsurprisingly, it’s mildy spiced in terms of heat but is nevertheless fragrant with seasoning.

It’s fine.

In fact, my meal would put quite a few Indian restaurants proper to shame.

The dal makhani, in particular, has superb, earthy flavour and is a whole lot less creamy and rich than most restaurant versions.

Preparing to write this story, I am surprised to find that almost all the comments at Urbanspoon are negative and very much concerned with pricing.

Would I visit this place if did not have business to attend to in the hospital?

No.

How does it compare with your average shopping centre food court?

Very well, I reckon.

 

Zouki Cafe on Urbanspoon

BBQ blast in the west

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smoke7

 

Smokehouse 101, 101 Rosamond Road, Maidstone. Phone: 9972 2622

The shopping strip on Rosamond Rd near the bowling club and approaching Highpoint has never particularly drawn the attention of Consider The Sauce – even when a couple of cafes opened up there about a year ago.

That all changes upon us learning that one of those joints is now operating as a BBQ place – we’re there within hours.

Mind you, as always with American-style food in Melbourne we keep our hopes and expectations in check.

Our optimism is hardly given a boost upon entering, perusing the menu and ordering.

Smokehouse 101 may be operating as a BBQ purveyor but to a significant degree it still looks and feel like a cafe, with only a single person – the boss – on the job.

Is this for real, we wonder?

Will the meat be any good?

Will the sides?

Are we on a fools’ errand?

 

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Bennie is impressed that the walls are widely plastered with covers and pages from vintage Phantom comics.

His dad hears on the sound system, among others, the Memphis Jug Band and Howlin’ Wolf.

As ever, we are a little wary of high prices for ribs (three kinds ranging in price from $28 to $35), so go for the brisket and pulled pork, $25 each with chips and salad.

When our meals arrive – and we have our first taste of the Smokehouse 101 goodies – we relax, enjoy and realise we’ve done real good.

 

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The plentiful chips are fine.

The meat is way better – as good as any we’ve had around town.

The brisket has its share of fat but is beaut – smoky and a mix a fall-apart tender and chewy.

The serve size is generous and good for the price.

The housemade sauce is not particularly spicy but has a nice tang to it that has a citrus feel and maybe even an Asian touch.

 

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Pulled pork is such a cliched part of the BBQ tradition, but we’ve found quite a few versions we’ve tried in Melbourne to be insipid and tasteless.

This one has porky flavour aplenty, though it does benefit from the addition of that same sauce.

It, too, is a good-sized serve – something the above photograph disguises somewhat.

 

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“Baked chilli beans” ($2.50, from the breakfast menu) do suitable duty as an accompaniment even if we’re pretty sure they come from a can, while two extra large commercial pickles ($2) are excellent.

We’ve been surprised and delighted by our dinner.

Smokehouse 101 is still in the transition from cafe to BBQ joint.

We’re told the menus we photograph (see below) will within days be replaced by new versions offering more depth and diversity of BBQ choices.

We like that this place has a casual vibe a long way removed from some of the trendier, ostensibly hipper BBQ places around town.

Ironically, in some ways that makes it more like the regular blue-collar BBQ places you might find in burgs throughout the US south.

We would, however, suggest replacing the non-memorable salad with coleslaw.

 

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As we very happily depart, we spy one of the only other two customers in the place getting to grips with a serve of ribs – though we don’t know what kind they are.

Oh boy, there’s a LOT of ribs on his plate!

And the gentleman concerned confesses he’ll be struggling to finish the job at hand.

 

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As we walk to the car, Bennie opines that the ribs deal we’ve just seen looks like it could do for two.

How about that?

That’s for us next time … which we suspect will be soonish.

Smokehouse 101 is still finding its feet, but we totally dig the idea of having a friendly, casual BBQ place right in our own neighbourhood.

This is one of those very rare times we are tempted to keep our mouths shut and not post on CTS in case the word gets out too quickly.

 

Smokehouse 101 on Urbanspoon

 

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