Altona joy

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The House Of Beans Cafe, 25 The Circle, Altona. Phone: 0419 375 397

Bennie always showed more interest in the F&C shop at one end of The Circle’s shopping strip than I.

But that wasn’t hard as mine was pretty much zero.

My lack of curiosity continued when the premises became a cafe that – and here I am, judging a restaurant by its cover – seemed to offer little more than basic coffee.

So it is only happy circumstance – the Lebanese pizza shop up the road being closed – that forces me through the door to see what’s on offer.

My prior judgments based on appearances prove to be utterly false.

 

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In fact, House Of Beans serves a nice longish range of Lebanese food – think falafel, foul, hommos and the like – that puts it on the same footing as the fabulous Abbout Falafel House in Coburg.

And about that I am ecstatic.

Just think – no more driving to Sydney Road!

Unless we feel like a drive, of course.

For my first visit, I go for the “kefta in bread” ($6.50) and a small serve of fattoush ($7) (top photo).

 

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At first blush the kefta found between layers of lovely, toasted house-made flat bread appears to be very similar to the pinkish meaty smear found on your basic meat pizza up the road and elsewhere.

It’s nothing of the sort.

This is much more juicy, well seasoned and delicious – in short, it really is lamb kofta in a sandwich.

Marvellous!

The generously proportioned fattoush is wonderfully fresh but, if anything, the dressing is a little too lemony.

And regular readers will know that I really like a lemony dressing.

On the basis of what I’ve already, tried I am excited upon returning with Bennie.

Nahida helpfully explains the ins and outs of the five different varieties of foul on offer – basically they’re all variations on red beans, depending on the addition or not of tomato, tahini or chick peas – but we perversely go in the opposite direction.

 

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I let my young man have his way with an order of the most expensive menu item – mixed grill ($15).

It’s a ripper!

There’s a skewer apiece of kofta, lamb and chicken.

They’re all fabulous – heavy with amazing chargrill flavour, juicy and tender.

Throw in a good gob of hommos, some rice and the same good salad mix, and you’ve got a splendid meal.

 

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My falafel plate ($10) looks a little on the bare-bones side until the arrival of …

 

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… a fabulously tangy bowl of green olives, pickled cucumber and chillis, mint and onion with which Bennie and I both make happy.

The falafels themselves are fresh and yummy though a tad on the dry side for my tastes. Next time, I’m sure some yogurt will happily be provided to moisten things up.

 

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Nahida brings us some foul to try regardless of our regular order.

This one is an oily mix of red beans and chick peas that is slightly surplus to the rest of our meal.

But we enjoy most of it anyway.

I love how its plainness works in a harmony of contrasts with the various contents of our pickle bowl.

We love what Banjo (he declines to tell me from part of Lebanon his name comes), Nahida and their family have going on here and what they bring to the table in terms of swelling the depth of Middle eastern food available in the western suburbs.

We suggest you get there pronto – but take on board that House Of Beans Cafe is a lunch-only establishment.

 

House of Beans Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Sweet sensations

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victoria2

 

Victoria Sweets, 216 Blackshaws Road, Altona North. Phone: 9391 2322

Early on in its history, Consider The Sauce dropped in on Victoria Sweets a couple of times … must have been on very slow days as on both occasions as we struggled to find anyone to serve us.

Since then we’ve been happily distracted by many hundreds of other stories but we’re game for another try.

Today we do better and we’re ever so glad!

The place has a humming smell of sugar and nectar and is crammed with Lebanese goodies that are sold at $20 a kilogram

We go out of our way to order items that are not baklava or in that style – we seem to have consumed plenty of them in recent months.

 

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Our tray of goodies, arrived at after much pointing, costs $12.

It’s only upon returning home that we discover just how fabulous, fresh and delicious the Victoria Sweets products are … we’re still working our way through them but we can report that the numbers that look like spring rolls are very sticky tubes supremely stuffed with a lush vanilla cream.

Victoria Sweets?

 It’s taken a while but I suspect we’re about to become very regular customers.

Heck, I may even try to wangle my way into kitchen visit to observe a baking session!

 

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We also note with interest the presence of good-looking gelati.

We’re told it’s made off-premises but within-business – this will be for another visit, hopefully before the weather turns nasty.

 

Victoria Sweets on Urbanspoon

 

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Lunch surprise in Altona

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bros5

 

Two Bros On Blyth, 51a Blyth Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 8882

Consider The Sauce travels to Altona for a lazy mid-week lunch on the recommendation of a long-time reader who moved to the area a couple of years back.

She tells us she did, at first, miss her former Kensington home and its proximity to considerable eats depth, but she reckons things are looking up in Altona – and points to Two Bros On Blyth as a case in point.

The cafe is smallish, with communal or bench seating on the inner and three communal tables on the outer.

 

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I find the staff and the service to be fine.

The breakfast options are many; the lunch options less so.

I choose from a display-cabinet range of jaffles and baguettes and a single salad, though a keen looking Asian salad is added to the line-up as I depart.

I opt for a baguette of ham, brie and horseradish, wondering how those ingredients will combine and figuring the $14 price tag is about right these days.

So I am surprised and delighted when my lunch arrives beautifully presented on a board with “extras” that include cornichons and a salad.

 

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It’s the salad that lifts my repast way beyond a mere quick lunch and into the realms of something to be savoured rather more.

It’s a lovely mix of rocket, cucumber, fennel and small chick peas, all very well dressed.

I discern little or no sinus-clearing tang from horseradish, but otherwise my baguette is fine, with all the fresh ingredients making their voices heard.

 

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My $3.50 cafe latte is very nice.

I doubt Altona will ever be a first-choice dining option for us, but with the advent of joints such as Two Bros On Blyth, ya never know!

 

Two Bros on Blyth on Urbanspoon

 

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Laughter amid the gloom in Altona

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Greek Orthodox Parish & Community – The Dormition of Our Lady, North Altona – launch day of their new church

It’s the launch party of the new Greek church on Millers Road and there’s a lot of people about.

A lot of happy, animated people.

It’s not raining – but it has been.

Leaden skies and sunshine are in an arm wrestle that ends in a draw.

 

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There is, however, a lot of dainty stepping around mud and puddles by people in high heels.

And even low heels.

 

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Antonio from Werribee and I bond immediately.

 

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I’m a bit bemused but not disturbed by the food on offer – corn, prawn skewers, falafel, fish and chips.

And lots of sweet treats.

Where’s the kebabs?

 

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The queue for the F&C looks way too long and tiresome.

So after a beaut corn cob I go for a $5 falafel sandwich. With tahini sauce and turshi, it’s excellent.

 

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I am unsurprised to run into emissaries of another western suburbs spiritual establishment.

 

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Anna, Vicki, Pat and Pam are manning the sweets stand with great aplomb and gaiety.

It’s from Pam that I learn the reason for the food – the church’s big day just happens to coincide with a Greek Orthodox fast day that dictates the non-consumption of meat or dairy products.

Yet there is beer on sale!

I buy a $10 tray of homemade, syrupy goodness to take home, with Pam throwing is a handful of Turkish delight cubes for good measure.

It’s my lucky day!

 

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After witnessing a punch-up in the queue for loukoumades – I take a $5 bunch of them home, too, and boy are they amazing! – I notice the crowd is thinning out and realise it’s time for me to do likewise.

Food trucks – Altona, Williamstown readers have your say!

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Disclosure – the two reporters who filed this Maribyrnong/Hobsons Bay Weekly story about food trucks in the west are colleagues of mine; I am quoted in the story and the newspaper has used a photograph provided by CTS.

But I confess to being bemused by the comments in the story by the spokeswomen for both the Altona Village Traders Association and the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce.

Of course, it is the job of such groups to promote and protect the businesses they represent.

But the idea of “running food trucks out of the town” seems a little, um, confrontational.

There are places we like to eat in and shop at in both Williamstown and Altona. We will discover more.

But I can only go with what numerous residents and readers from both suburbs have told me in the years CTS has been operating – that while there is plenty of choice, people in general think there is much that is “average”, over-priced or both.

So Altona and Williamstown readers, what do you think … food trucks, do you want them?

 

 

 

 

 

REAL old-school in Altona

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Alex Take Away Food, 11 Ford Rd, Altona. Phone: 9398 4267

“If you aren’t paying for a product, you ARE the product.”

Such is the charge often levelled at Facebook

We’re not blind to the creepier aspects of the social media behemoth.

But while keeping them in mind, we find it almost impossible to remain unmoved by the connectedness it can foster.

Take the Altona, I lived there FB page for instance.

In its short life, it has quickly racked up more than 2500 members and become a lively, entertaining focal point for all sorts of stories, photos and reminiscences about Altona.

And it’s how we found out about Alex Take Away Food.

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The address has nothing to do with what most of us non-Altonians think of when we think of Grieve Parade – the freeway exit after the Millers Road one.

Nope, this part of Grieve Parade requires taking the Millers Road exit, heading right down past the refinery, turning right on to Civic Parade and THEN  turning right on to suburban – as opposed to industrial – Grieve Parade.

On the early week night we visit, the place is mad busy.

There’s a heap of customers in-house and there seems to be just as many phone orders coming in.

Everyone but us is a regular. We feel like strangers gatecrashing an intimate gathering of friends and families.

Certainly, the pace is sufficiently frantic to preclude any chit chat and inquiries about just how long this community asset has been doing business right here.

But judging by the funky decor, I’m guessing at least since some time in the 1970s.

We’re in no hurry though, so happily enjoy the vibe until our order is taken.

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There are zero tables or chairs, inside or out.

And unlike almost all the other customers, we can’t simply whisk our goodies home – and even the beach, while reasonably close by, seems a stretch that will ruin our dinner.

So we prop on the footpath right outside the shop, get stuck in and make small talk with some local youngsters while we’re at it.

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Bennie loves his “with the lot” ($7.50).

He’s enough of a burger maven to understand and appreciate that there’s a difference between more American-style burgers and the Aussie variety – and that there’s a time and a place for both.

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My calamari rings ($1) are the of the surimi variety and just OK.

My deep-fried snapper ($7.50) is much better and a real classy piece of work.

The batter is crisp and deep brown, and adheres to the fish pretty good.

The snapper itself is a huge chunk of seafood and has juicy depth of the sort we’ve rarely encountered.

Our chips orders ($4) got lost in the hubbub somewhere, so we end up with some that appear to have been sitting for a while – they’re barely warm and a bit leathery.

But as we saw heaps of chips of what appeared to be excellent quality and appearance be prepared as we waited for our food, we wouldn’t let this minor lapse deter us from returning to this amazing and obviously much-loved neighbourhood joint.

Alex Take Away Food on Urbanspoon

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These foulish things in Altona

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seaside34

Seaside Flatbread Cafe, 34 Borrack Square, Altona North. Phone: 9391 6655

It’s a lovely Friday but dad’s not working; nor is son at school.

He’s smashed his right foot something dreadful at school, to the extent we’ve had to get X-rays done.

But the news is all good – no fracture, no further treatment needed than the course of time and the natural healing process. And no need for spending the rest of the day in hospital, waiting to have a cast applied.

Still, he’s earned a nickname for the day – “Hoppy”!

Time for a well-earned lunch break at one of our favourite places.

Since rumour mongering about its imminent arrival and then writing about Seaside Flatbread Cafe and its food, several pertinent things have occurred.

For starters. we’ve become regulars. Not once a day or even once a week regulars, but often enough to satisfy our cravings for Lebanese goodness.

Then both Consider The Sauce and Seaside Flatbread Cafe scored generous, righteous mentions in a story by Nina Rousseau in The Age.

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Along the way, yours truly helped the business – for a small fee – in getting its Facebook page up and running.

That particular avenue of a career-like future generated by this blog is proving more tricky than anticipated.

I still think a lot of western suburbs eateries really, really need help with social media.

But convincing them of that fact – and that it’s worth paying some cash for – is something else entirely!

In any case, Seaside Flatbread Cafe seems to doing a fine FB job all on its own these days … and besides, we love Rouba, her family, their food and their business so much we’d do what we’ve done for free!

And with any suggestion of conflict of interest dispensed with, we can go back to telling you how much we dig the place.

The week previous to the foot injury, we’d visited with another youngster in tow for a fine lunch of pizzas, including divine Nutella pizzas for Bennie and his wee mate.

In the process, though, we noticed a couple of Lebanese blokes chowing down for another kind of lunch entirely, one we did not even know SFC was purveying.

So we’re back today with for the foul.

First, though, some of our usual faves …

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Tremendous stuffed vine leaves, this time – oh yes! – topped with slices of luscious, lemony potato I’m pretty sure have been part of the cooking process.

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Kibbeh ($2 each) tasty and tender, with the delicate lamb and onion mince so liberally studded with pine nuts.

Then it’s foul time …

Rouba tells us that normally she prepares her own fava beans, but as it’s Ramadan, the foul ($8) she whips up for us will be made using canned beans.

We don’t mind that at all.

And if anything, we seem to benefit from having a serve of foul specially prepared for us – the mix of beans, olive oil, garlic and tiny tomato pieces warmed through but not cooked is wonderful and more like a salad than a mashy stew.

On hand are pickles of the turnip, cucumber and very mild pickle variety.

But the real stars of our show are the one, then two terrific breads we are provided straight out of the pizza oven.

They’re big, round and inflated.

But unlike those of a similar bent we enjoy on Sydney Road, these are thin and crisp on top, thicker and moister on their bottoms.

This is a first for Bennie and he just loves the way the rotund breads emit steam when punctured!

Despite it being Ramadan, one other table is enjoying a foul meal.

So I ask Rouba why this dish is not listed on the printed or wall menus.

She tells me “our people” – meaning the Lebanese community – know foul is available without having to be told, and her family has been unsure whether such fare would be enjoyed or even desired by the wider community.

My sense of the situation is that Seaside Flatbread Cafe is feeling its way with what might work and that Rouba and her crew need encouragement to provide broader eat-in food than their very fine pizzas and pies.

In any case, asking what’s available beyond what is listed or otherwise obvious would seem to be a cluey way to proceed at this Altona gem!

One reader who commented on Nina’s story in The Age opined that making a song and dance about a Lebanese cafe in Altona was silly as the western suburbs were rich in Lebanese foodiness.

Well, that’s not my understanding of the situation at all.

Apart from SFC, there’s bakeries in Newport and Altona – and that’s it

If anyone knows otherwise, we’re all ears …

As ever, Bennie finishes with a Nutella pizza ($4).

Despite my skepticism, these really do work, the earthiness of the plain yet wonderful bread working hand in hand with the creamy richness of the saucey spread.

Seaside Flatbread Cafe on Urbanspoon