South India in Werribee

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Padma’s Kitchen, 96 Watton St, Werribee. Phone: 8742 6756

One of the great joys of moving to Melbourne so many years ago was discovering the joy of being able to walk a few blocks, or hop on a train or tram, then enter a restaurant and proceed to eat Indian food or food of related genres.

For me, that was all so sophisticated!

But it wasn’t too long after that I started reading and hearing the oft-repeated lament that if only Melbourne’s Indian restaurants served more than the rich, heavier food of north India.

I hesitate to call this demand an incessant clamour, but nevertheless there was obviously a desire shared by many for the lighter, runnier and more coconutty food styles of southern India.

Well, that revolution is truly upon us.

First it was dosas – and then came dosas in West Footscray.

These days, almost all the West Footscray eateries – and those in equally Indo-happy Werribee – offer some form of south Indian food on their menus.

And to that we say: “Yay!!!”

There is still plenty of scope and potential, we reckon, for potential restaurateurs to go even further in exploring regional Indian food, but for now we’re happy to enjoy Werribee’s very own dedicated south Indian restaurant.

The story behind Padma’s Kitchen is an intriguing and romantic one that involves two Indian restaurant dynasties.

Both Ayyappan Ramasubbu and Padma Balakrishnan are from restaurant backgrounds with groups of hotels across Tamilnadu, India, where the original Padma Hotel originated in Trichy.

The couple are planning a vego-only place for the CBD, but in the meantime are working hard on their new Werribee enterprise, helped by Padma’s brother, Sreeram, and a chef and three assistants extracted from the combined family business in India.

Ayyappan tells me the immigration aspects – including accommodation issues and potential family re-unifications – are among the trickiest he and his wife are facing.

Their restaurant is plain but sparkling. Perhaps a little more of a lived-in vibe will come with time.

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The Padma’s Kitchen website is one of the more functional we’ve come across – there’s some shockers out there!

So it’s easy to see what sorts of bases they have covered – heaps of dosas, idlis and vadas; regional curries; biryanis … and quite a lot more.

But we choose to visit on Wednesday night, when the restaurant offers a $23 buffet.

This costs more than had we rocked up on a regular night and ordered more modestly and strictly according to appetite requirements.

But we really appreciate the broad range of food the buffet offers us.

The $23 deal comes with the choice of plain or masala dosa, which are cooked to order.

Given the quantity and choice of food open to us, we found our plain dosas superfluous – we reckon ditching them and offering the buffet at, say, $20 would be a winning move.

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Here’s how our starters shape up:

Bennie and I each take a single bite of our idlis and immediately think: “This is the best idli I’ve ever had!”

Where idlis are frequently tough and doughy, these are petite, gently crisp on the outside and featherlight inside – excellent dunked in the accompanying sambar!

By contrast, the idli 65 is a on the plain side.

The chicken pakora we are really looking forward to – it’s OK but tastes a whole lot like any kind of pakora and not at all of chicken.

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And here’s how our buffets mains work out (clockwise from top):

Curd rice – steamed rice tossed with yogurt and seasoned with curry leaves – sounds so appealing, but I find the literally cold reality uappetising.

But I’m happy to admit that’s most likely down to my own expectations – same goes for the cabbage poriyal. I lust for an Indian cabbage dish that is zingy and crunchy, and more in the flash-fried east Asia styles – but like every cabbage serve I’ve ever had in Indian eateries, this seems to me limp and overcooked. As it is no doubt meant to be!

The mutton milagu curry is a winner – towards the upper limits of what could be called mild and featuring wonderfully tender meat free of fat and gristle in a home-style gravy peppered with peppercorns.

The mixed vegetable kurma is a treat, too, its tender beans, peas and carrot residing in a creamy coconut gravy.

Sambar rice – “steamed rice tossed with lentil curry” – is another good one that illustrates why folks like us are gravitating towards this lighter style of Indian food. This is the sort of thing we make at home!

Our meals are completed with biryani rice (sort of like a damp fried rice), lime pickle and a very good layered flat bread call parotta.

For dessert there’s kesari – and I love it!

As one who finds most Indian sweets simple too rich, this is the go – a semolina-based sweet treat that is subtle and laced with cashew nuts.

We’ve loved our first visit to Padma’s Kitchen, and have appreciated the zeal with which Ayyappan and Padma are going about their business and the eagerness with which they discussed their food, restaurant and stories.

Padma's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Consider The Sauce Feast No.5: Indian Palette

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Indian Palette, 140 Victoria Street, Seddon. Phone: 9689 8776

NOTE: THIS EVENT HAS SOLD OUT!

It’s on – the fifth Consider The Sauce Feast will held at Seddon gem Indian Palette on Friday, March 21, from 7pm.

But there are changes to the previous Feasts format of a table of 10 eating complementary food provided at no charge by a CTS-endorsed restaurant.

Regular readers will know that for some time I have been trying to find a way of continuing these fabulous events while at the same time deriving some modest income for my efforts.

Oddly, the resistance to having paid, ticketed Feasts has not come from you, our readers and followers.

As one friend put it to me a few weeks ago: “It’s not about free food – it’s about great food!”

We agree!

And now, with the lovely Francis and Sue from Indian Palette, I have found the right people and the right place to really up the CTS Feast tempo.

They immediately saw the advantages for them in joining with CTS in this event.

The income will be split 50/50 between CTS and Indian Palette, allowing Francis and Sue to cover at least some of their costs and affording CTS a reward for organisational and promotional efforts.

As well, without the natural limits set by providing free food, we three have been able to think bigger.

As we planned this Feast, we thought: “If not just 10 people, then how many – 15, 20, 25? Let’s make it 30!”

Yes, CTS will be taking over Indian Palette for the evening.

So with this Feast, the days of first-in first-served emails and a limit of two seats per applicant have come to an end, as has the need to monitor how many Feasts particular CTS friends are attending.

Nor need I fret about those who have been missing out despite repeatedly trying to get in!

All four Feasts so far have been filled up within an hour, so often it has been a matter of timing – good or bad – for the applicants.

Buy as many tickets as you want – whoever you may be!

But never fear, for this will still be a grand, most enjoyable and delicious event.

As we were discussing the menu, Francis told me how their restaurant started out offering authentic Indian food but had started catering for Western tastes.

I enthusiastically and adamantly assured him that any such compromises would be greeted with horror by the CTS clan and that the more authentic and hardcore the food he cooks for us, the happier everyone will be.

His eyes twinkled when I told him that.

And as you can see from the menu below, this CTS Feast will be a sooper dooper bargain even at an asking price of $20.

CTS Feast No.5: Indian Palette,

140 Victoria Street, Seddon. Phone: 9689 8776

Friday, March 21, from 7pm.

MENU

Entrees

Cut mirchi (fresh green chillies cut and dipped in gram flour batter and deep fried)

Lamp pepper fry (boneless lamb pieces cooked with pepper and Indian spices)

Mains

Gutti vanakaya kura (mini eggplant seasoned with ground nut, tamarind pulp, finished with South Indian spices)

Andhra kodikura (a favourite homestyle Southern Indian spicy chicken dish with garam masala, caramom, green chilli, cloves and cinnamon)

Dal fry (yellow split lentils cooked and fried with onions, ghee and coriander)

Other

Vegetable raitha

Butter naan

Saffron rice

Kachumbar salad (finely chopped onions, tomatoes, cucumbers mixed and tossed with lemon dressing)

Dessert

Badam kheer (ground almonds cooked in milk and sugar, flavoured with cardamom)

NOTE: Soft drinks, beer and wine are exclusive of the CTS Feast payment.

BOOK YOUR TICKET FOR CTS FEAST NO.5 HERE – $20 per ticket!

See earlier story here.

Different India in Seddon

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Indian Palette, 140 Victoria Street, Seddon. Phone: 9689 8776

Indian Palette has been open quite a while – Footscray Food Blog reviewed it in early 2011.

So given the zeal with which we’ve hastened to check out many other Indian eateries blooming across the inner west, we’ve taken our time in getting here.

Happily, our dinner visit coincides with the restaurant’s half-price deal on mains and entrees on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, shaving a significant amount off our bill.

The long room is cool and rather elegant, and we enjoy the service of Sue, Francis and their staff, while the wait times are just right for the kind of food we order – we go full-on vegetarian for this dinner.

And it’s very seldom indeed that Bennie and I sup at a dining establishment with real-deal napkins.

We like and appreciate that!

The longish menu has many staples such as butter and tandoori chicken, and the Indo-Chinese element seems less obvious than at other neighbouring Indian eateries, but we are delighted to find some really novel – for us – dishes to order.

So we do.

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Mirchi bajji ($7) – fresh green chillies dipped in gram flour batter and deep fried – is a good, if rather heated, starter for us.

The batter is pliable and a little chewy. I’m proud as can be that Bennie no longer hesitates for even a millisecond when confronted with such a dish.

My boy is hot!

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Bennie also dives with relish into the kachumbar salad ($6.50) of chopped onion, tomato, cucumber and carrot with lemon dressing.

The lovely and fresh vegetables have been dusted with a mix of chilli, turmeric, garam mssala, pepper and lemon.

I would have preferred some more tomato and lemon juice to moisten things up a bit.

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Gutti vankayakura ($13) is the most wonderfully distinctive Indian dish we’ve tried since the honey-infused number enjoyed on a memorable visit to Deer Park.

About three or maybe four baby eggplants, butterflied, reside in a smoky, nutty and chilli-studded sauce.

Nutty in fact, I subsequently discover – Francis tells me the sauce involves peanuts, cashews, tamarind, sesame seeds and coconut powder.

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Our dal, gongura pappu ($13), is lentils cooked with sorrel leaves and is just as refreshingly unusual for us dal lovers.

So thick is it with sorrel leaves that it’s actually more like a vegetable stew than a soupy dal.

It starts good for me, but further in I feel a little overwhelmed by the quantity of bitter leaves and rather wish we’d ordered something a little plainer from the five-dal lineup.

Both our mains and our entree have had high, for us, spice levels, so we fully expect to be singing the Johnny Cash tune the next day.

With plain rice ($3.50) and onion raita ($5.50), our bill comes to $47.50, which comes down to a good-value $37 once the mains-entree half-price deal is factored in.

We reckon Indian Palette should be more crowded than we generally observe to be the case.

Maybe we should line up a Consider The Sauce Feast here.

Stay tuned!

The Indian Palette website is here.

The Indian Palette on Urbanspoon

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Yummo – CTS Feast No.2 at Vanakkam

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Vanakkam, 359 Barkly St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 7224

Our second Consider The Sauce Feast was every bit as enjoyable as the first.

Bennie and I made some new friends, all of whom had never eaten at Vanakkam before, so we were thrilled to be able to share one of our favourite restaurants with them.

So our thanks firstly to Jagadish and his staff for turning it on for us in such splendid fashion.

Thanks, too, to Amy, Giselle, Daniel, Rochelle, Paul, Jacqui of Urban Ma (read her post here), Wes, Charles, Bronwyn, Danielle and long-time CTS supporter Keri – we loved hanging with you and talking food and more, and cherish your ongoing support for Consider The Sauce.

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Our mixed appetisers were three.

Unsurprisingly, gobi 65 and chicken 65 were somewhat similar in terms of seasoning and batter, but still different.

The cauilflower gently crunchy, the chicken plump and meaty, they were both nevertheless excellent in every way.

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The Vanakkam onion bhaji Bennie and I were already familiar with – with their crisp chick pea batter, we reckon these are Melbourne’s best onion rings.

Then came the chicken biryani – lots of it.

The heavenly spiced rice and all its accoutrements – raw and fried onion rings, hardboiled egg, vibrant red and spicy gravy, raita – all seemed just as fine as ever to us.

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And a yummy time was had by all …

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Hyderabad Inn, 551 Barkly St, West Footscray. Phone: 9689 0998

What a nice time we all had at the Indian Feast co-sponsored by Hyderabad Inn and Consider The Sauce.

So first thanks go to chef Nagesh and his staff for so generously providing us with such a fine meal.

My own favourites were a spicy, creamy tomato soup with a garlic and ginger kick, and – somewhat surprisingly – the homely delights of a fabulous peas pulao and simple dal.

Mind you, we all loved the gulab jamun with insanely good pistachio ice cream as well!

Thanks, too, to CTS readers Russell, Loren and Brenton, Kat and Natasha, Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog fame and Bianca, Alastair and Michelle, and Kelly and Alison for attending.

So much fun to converse with so many westies with so many mutual and overlapping interests, pertaining to foodiness and much else besides.

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Bennie surprised and delighted all – including his dad – by firing off really good pen-and-paper caricatures of everyone present.

I knew my boy had some drawing skill, but this was something else.

Wow!

Where did that come from?

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The evening’s consisted of the following:

Soup

Cream of tomato soup

Appetizers

Spinach Pakora

Chilly prawns

Chicken tikka spring roll dosa

Chicken Manchurian

Mains

Paripu (South Indian & Srilankian style dal)

Vegetable Taka Tak

Chicken Do Payaaza

Lamb Kohlapuri

Rice

Basmati rice

Peas Pulao

Breads

Amritsari Kulcha (most famous in Punjab & nobody serve in Melbourne)

Mixed breads

Desserts

Gulab Jamun with Ice cream

See earlier Consider The Sauce stories on this restaurant here and here.

This gathering was a joint initiative of Hyderabad Inn and Consider The Sauce, the former of which devised the evening’s menu. Our guests did not pay for their meals.

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Indian feast for lucky CTS readers

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Hyderabad Inn, 551 Barkly St, West Footscray. Phone: 9689 0998

PLEASE NOTE: ALL PLACES FOR THIS EVENT HAVE BEEN CLAIMED!!!

Consider The Sauce really likes Hyderabad Inn.

In fact, we’ve written about it three times – once early in its life, once as part of my ongoing search for crash-hot biryanis, and most recently to check out the dining room’s revamp.

We’ve never had anything less than a swell meal there.

Somehow, though, the lovely Nagesh and his crew seem to remain something of a “best kept secret”.

So we are very happy to embrace his offer of a one-off feast for Consider The Sauce readers and followers.

Numbers are extremely limited.

There will be no charge for the food but attendees will be expected to pay for their own drinks beyond water.

The dinner will be on Wednesday, August 28, from 7.30pm.

And while there’s no onus on our guests to do anything but enjoy, I’m sure Nagesh would be rapt if some punters felt sufficiently inspired to pen some nice words at Urbanspoon or comment on the subsequent CTS story!

Here are the rules:

  • First in, first served.
  • There are 10 places only available. If you miss out – and most, I’m sure, will … stay tuned
  • Fellow food bloggers welcome to apply but they will not be given preference.
  • No more than two places to be claimed by any applicant, though “singles” will also be accepted.

To grab your place, send me an email telling me whether you want one or to places. The address is elsewhere on this site. Applying by commenting on this post will not work.

Before he nutted out the menu, I made three strong recommendations to Nagesh – no butter chicken, no lamb rogan josh and no tandoori chook!

Here is the menu he has devised for us:

Soup

Cream of tomato soup

Appetizers

Spinach Pakora

Chilly prawns

Chicken tikka spring roll dosa

Chicken Manchurian

Mains

Paripu (South Indian & Srilankian style dal)

Vegetable Taka Tak

Chicken Do Payaaza

Lamb Kohlapuri

Rice

Basmati rice

Peas Pulao

Breads

Amritsari Kulcha (most famous in Punjab & nobody serve in Melbourne)

Mixed breads

Desserts

Gulab Jamun with Ice cream

* No fee is being paid to Consider The Sauce for helping facilitate this event.

Facelift for a WeFo winner

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Hyderabad Inn, 551 Barkly St, West Footscray. Phone: 9689 0998

We’ve enjoyed our times at Hyderabad Inn – see here and here for the officially recorded meals, but there have been others.

But while food, friendliness and pricing are always going to count more in our world than decor, we have not been alone in finding that the Hyderabad Inn dining room had pretty much the same charm as hospital canteen.

So I’m keen to check out the place’s new look and happy to report they’ve done a fine job.

With new chairs, banquettes, artwork and tables set with crisp white cloth and paper, now the wooden flooring becomes an asset rather than adding to a cold feel.

In the agreeably unlit gloom of a lunch session, with only one other table occupied but heaps of reservation cards on other tables, the space is nice. I can easily imagine that on a bubbly, busy Friday or Saturday night it would be even better.

The a la carte prices seem to have crept up somewhat – average curry price seems to be about $15.

But that’s never been our go here. The South Indian menu, thalis and biryanis are.

It’s while I’m mulling over these options that I remark to a staff member that the thalis no longer appear in the menu.

She quickly provides me the separate lunch card that has them front and centre.

Vegetarian thali with dal, two other vego curries, raita, naan, rice and a can of drink for $15.50?

OK!

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Two complementary and spectacularly crisp and unoily papadams are served with a superbly creamy mint chutney that has a nice surprise – a just-right chilli hit.

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My thali is a fine thing.

The dal is plain and just OK, studded with some fresh ginger pieces.

The vegetable curry has beans, peas, potato, capsicum, carrot and – even at a kick below medium hot – is the spiciest thing in front of me.

I’m no big fan of paneer or creamy sauces, but the paneer butter masala is so decadently silky I happily mop up every last drop of it with my very nice ghee-drizzled plain naan.

The raita is creamier than is often the case, though could have done with a dash of salt.

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It’s only ater I have finished my meal that I tumble into a lovely conversation with the only other early lunchtime diners – Anand and Vidya and their kids Aishwaiya and Anand.

The couple are originally from Bangalore, call East Keilor home and are happily imbuing their children with the same foodie passion they themselves possess.

Our happy talk starts with our respective Hyderabad Inn meals – theirs including, among other things, puris and biryani – and heads on to other Indian eateries around Melbourne, the family’s recent visit to Paris (where they discovered French for “dosa” is “dosa”) and Vidya’s own cooking adventures.

Such wonderfully friendly folks!

Hyderabad Inn has being doing good things for a number of years and it now has a setting befitting the lovely food it turns out.

So it remains a mystery to me why it seems to be overlooked by many people in favour of other nearby, and more widely discussed, eateries – when it could easily be regarded as the best of the bunch.

Hyderabad Inn on Urbanspoon

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We love a new Indian joint

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Saga, 34-36 Irving St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 6089

Can we embrace a new Indian restaurant in the neighbourhood?

Heck yes, especially when it’s in Footscray central, where Indian establishments are vastly outnumbered by those of other genres.

Saga replaces the short-lived Dosa N Biryani, at which I had but a single and barely OK thali meal.

The new place looks like it’s in for a much more serious effort at longevity, sporting as it does a completely new fit-out.

The canteen ambiance of the shiny new furniture and white tiles is ameliorated by bamboo matting on the walls and a village hut-style servery for the bain marie.

We’re told the entire menu – see below – will be available in a few days. So we’ll be back for sure to take the chole bhature, dosas and the like for a test run.

In the meantime, we heartily enjoy our choices from what is available.

This early in the place’s life, there are only a couple of other tables occupied, one of them by a couple of council workers with whom I discuss the undesirability of being served biryani without an accompanying pot of gravy.

The staff member serving us takes our comments to heart, making sure we are taken care of – in my case, with a tub of very nice gravy from the chicken curry in the bain marie.

I’d prefer the gravy/sauce made specially for biryanis we get here, but this works fine.

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It helps that my goat biryani ($10.95) is otherwise lovely.

There are only three pieces of goat meat, but they are bigger and more meaty and tender than is often the case.

The rice is terrific, though the spice levels are quite mild by West Footscray standards.

The raita is cool, with no bitterness from the white onion pices floating in the yogurt.

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Bennie’s non vegetarian thali ($10.95), with his choices from the bain marie all a rather uniform brown, tastes a whole lot better than it looks.

Smooth, quite salty dal made with aduki beans, an oily eggplant brew with fabbo eggplant flavour, chicken curry on-the-bone – it all tastes good to me, as do the segments of the fresh wholmeal roti that comes with this meal deal that I manage to nick.

So … welcome to the new kid on the block.

I reckon it’ll do good.

Saga Authentic Indian Delight on Urbanspoon

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Aangan’s lunch menu

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Aangan Indian Restaurant, 559 Barkly St, West Footscray. Phone: 9689 4175

Aangan’s food has come our way several times – all of them well before Consider The Sauce was launched.

In its earliest days, Aangan was a very makeshift affair with a small but ridiculously cheap range of food.

Just our kind of place in other words!

We visited again a few times when it went more formal and ritzy.

Since then, it has lost out in our affections to the plethora of places doing hit-and-run thalis, dosas, biryanis and other super cheapo Indian tucker in this part of West Footscray and elsewhere not too far away in the inner west.

I recall being told by a pal that Aangan was introducing a lunch menu more of the street food, cheap eats orientation in order to meet the challenge posed by its neighbouring competitors.

That information lay dormant until I happened to be passing and saw a mid-week table occupied.

OK, let’s give it a go!

The lunch menu advice I had received is correct – I am delighted to find quite a long list of goodies at very affordable prices.

They include gol guppe, cholley bhuturey, Punjabi parantha, some Indo-Chinese dishes and the expected idlis, vadas and dosas.

(I have used their spellings as on the Aangan lunch menu – see below.)

But what’s with the thalis, be they meat or vegetarian?

They are listed as including one chaat dish, entree, three curries, raita, salad, rice, roti and dessert.

Blimey – I am seriously intrigued.

But at $20, they’ll keep for a more special occasion.

Besides, they sound like they may be a sharing proposition.

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So a modest masala dosa ($9.50) it is for me.

It’s very good.

Though the pancake itself is among the smallest I have ever encountered.

But the filling of turmeric-tinged potatoes, mustard seeds, curry leaves and onions providing textural diversity is very fine indeed.

I am served two coconut-based chutneys, though struggle to perceive any difference between them.

The third, red and usually more spicy accompaniment is rather mild but good.

The nice-and-salty sambar is also mild, but I gleefully slurp up the whole lot.

It’s great to know there’s another very affordable Indian lunch option available in this neighbourhood.

Aangan on Urbanspoon

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There’s movement at the station …

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Surprisingly, given the name of the place, I only made it once to the short-lived Dosa N Biryani in Irving St, between Thien An and an Indian grocery.

Even more surprisingly, that single visit was not for a dosa or biryani – both of which I am a big fan – but instead a rather mediocre thali.

In any case, all that is already history.

The premises are undergoing a much more comprehensive overhaul and revamp.

And, if the sign in the window can used a gauge, the new business here is likely to also offer goodies of an Indian persuasion.

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Meanwhile, around the corner and directly adjacent the tram terminus, another business premises with a wobbly track record is also undergoing some sort of transformation, although these ones have the look of a more long-winded variety.

When I ask at Vietnamese butcher shop a few doors along if they knew what was planned for the place, someone chirped up with the phrase “coffee shop”.

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Is this Melbourne’s best thali?

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Maurya Indian Restaurant & Cafe, 58 Station Place, Sunshine. Phone: 9364 9001

It’s been almost two years since we wrote with pleasure about Maurya, a cosy little Indian cafe tucked away and easy to miss opposite the Sunshine bus and rail aggregation.

Truth be told, I would not even be heading here today were not for the fact Bennie is attending and birthday party-and-movie shindig a little way’s away.

We’ve enjoyed an intense week that has included a quickie trip to New Zealand and the season’s first rugby game for Bennie, so I figure a little space is warranted – although I do subsequently join the party party for the movie.

Maurya is very much as I remember it – a small restaurant with a lived-in feel, menus stuck to the wall near the serving counter (albeit with more hand-written additions and substractions) and a vibe that evokes memories of eating in India more than any other I know of in Melbourne.

I wave aside my usual objections to paying for pulses in Indian joints by ordering a simple vegetarian thali ($10).

It’s ace – and different.

For starters, instead of rice there’s four wholemeal chapatis – warm, freshly made, pliant, superb.

The raita is minus vegetable matter and only slightly seasoned. It’s runny and quite sour, so I figure that it may be house-produced like my breads. I’m told such is not the case – though it sometimes can be here.

The dal is as I recall from my previous visits, if less spicy – a smooth blend of aduki and read beans, onion, ginger and … ?

My efforts to ascertain the remaining seasoning fail as the staff plead business.

Oh well – it’s all part of a delightful, homespun and healthy Indian lunch.

And proof positive that the best food can often be the most humble.

See earlier review here.

Maurya Indian Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Nathu’s Sweets & Cafe

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Nathu’s Sweets & Cafe, 126 Watton St, Werribee. Phone: 9741 6622

Samosa sandwich?

That’s a new one on us!

We’re told it’s a Gujarati specialty.

There’s two kinds of chutney – mint and a tamarind number – each spread on one of two slices of plain white slice bread. (I suspect anything heavier or more politically correct simply wouldn’t work.)

And there’s another kind of seasoning we’re told has something to do with chick peas.

Whatever – our $3.95 sanger is a delightful winner.

So unexpected, so delicious!

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Nathu’s has been open only a few months and is a welcome new addition to a stretch of Watton Street already liberally dotted with Indian and other Asian eateries of various kinds.

But based on our lovely sandwich and our other, more predictable luncheon choices we’ll be back real soon.

It’s done out in typical cheap ‘n’ cheerful Indian cafe fashion, although at first glance it appears to be a sweets specialist, with mouth-watering trays of the ultra-rich Indian variety on display.

But with lunch appetites humming, we zero in on the savoury/snack side of the menu.

This numbers more than 20 items, including dosas, bhel puri, idlis, parantha and rice ‘n’ dal.

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I order chole bhature … because I almost always do.

Besides, it’s a real keen way to guage a place’s general, all-round prowess.

This example ($9) is brilliant in every regard.

Fresh, light, ungreasy breads that emit steam when torn asunder.

Really good and plentiful chick pea curry of mild spiciness.

Nice spiced yogurt

Even the red onion slices mixed with fresh green chilli and a light touch of commercial pickle are quite a cut above the unadorned, blunt onion slices that often accompany this dish.

Hot stuff!

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And we order gol gappe ($5.95 ) out of curiosity and because this is the only the second time we’ve seen them served in Melbourne.

These, too, are super.

The “gols” are super crisp, leaving us to pour in the tamarind broth served on the side to join the potato, chick peas and chutneys awaiting within.

They’re gone in a flash!

We grab four pieces of malai (dark) gulab jamun in syrup for home and depart happy as can be.

Nathu's Sweets & Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Dawat A Treat

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Dawat A Treat Indian Restaurant, 75 Pier St, Altona. Phone: 9398 8159

A non-meat thali for $14.90?

Sounds a bit on the pricey side to me … but I’m game, especially as Dawat A Treat is such a nice room in which to be contemplating lunch.

The rather anonymous frontage – the restaurant has been open only a few months but I have no recall what was here previously – gives way to a long, cool room.

The chairs are plush and comfy, and each and every table is crowned with a jolly, brightly coloured and ornamentally adorned parasol.

The long, regulation menu (no Indo-Chinese here) lists vegetable curry mains for about $15, meat varieties for $16-$17 and seafood for $16-$22, so the thali charge makes sense.

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My thali looks and tastes a treat, and is a joy in almost every way.

Crisp papadum joined by a fresh, moist naan.

Silky smooth spinach puree perfumed with whole cardamoms and a single star anise seed.

A bright mix of cauliflower, courgette, peas and potato in which the protagonists all retain a satisfying degree of bite.

A fabulous, smooth dal flavoured with curry leaves and mustard seeds.

All of the above seem to be of a spice level just a notch above mild. 

The only jarring note – and one easily discarded given the quality of the rest – is the overly sweet raita.

It’s only as I go to pay for my meal that I discover my fretting over a few dollars here and there has been misplaced if not completely out of line.

Because the $14.95 fee also covers the can of soft drink I have indulged in AND I’ve still got dessert to come.

For a meal of this quality and presentation, this is all starting to look like a bargain!

A single, gorgeous gulab jamun dumpling is a hot, plump and wholly scrumptious pleasure bomb residing is sticky syrup and topped with shredded coconut.

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Hyderabad Inn

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Hyderabad Inn, 551 Barkly St, West Footscray. Phone: 9689 0998

As detailed in our Top 10 list for 2012, western suburbs Indian eateries played a big part of our foodiness pleasure last year.

Inevitably, keeping up with newcomers meant some old faves went unvisited.

Indeed, our earlier review of Hyderabad Inn is almost two years’ old – so it’s high time for a revisit.

The room seems unchanged – clean, spacious and a little on the clinical side.

The prices have crept up – the average curry price seems to clock in about the $13 to $14 mark.

But Hyderabad Inn has heaps going for it.

The menu is long and with many bases covered – you can go the whole bang-up meal routine here with curries galore, or choose to go the snack or street food route.

The place even has a separate menu for dosas and the like, including a plethora of combo deals.

But I’ve dropped in today to pursue my interest in my current favourite thing – biryani.

Will the Hyderabad Inn rendition compare favourably with the dynamite dish recently enjoyed to extremes at Vanakkam?

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The answer is yes.

My chicken biryani is in the higher realms price-wise at $12.95 and the advertised fried onions really are garnish rather than a flavouring addition.

Those small quibbles aside, all is good.

The accompanying pots of raita and gravy are much larger than is the norm elsewhere.

The raita is thicker than usual and laced with long strands of carrot and cucumber.

The gravy is quite creamy and seems to a have peanut flavour to it.

I later am told that is indeed the case

The mix is made specifically for biryani duty and contains peanuts, coconut, tamarind, white sesame seeds, tomatoes and chilli.

The chilli is a tad redundant, as the rice itself is plenty hot – kid-friendly food this is not.

I discover, too, that the black herb scattered throughout the rice is actually mint that has changed colour in the cooking process.

The chicken content generously amounts to a drumstick and a bone-in thigh, both tender and tasty.

This is my kind of biryani – I need all the bells and whistles for this dish to work for me.

A plate of spicy rice isn’t enough.

As I arrived, there was only one other table hosting customers.

As I leave, there are four more busy doing the biz for family groupings.

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Vanakkam again

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Vanakkam, 359 Barkly St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 7224

Stepping into Vanakkam on my way home after an early evening social engagement, what I’m after is a feed while I read.

Certainly, the last thing on my mind is taking of photographs and blogging.

Especially as Bennie and I had done the business here a few weeks earlier and Vanakkam had featured in our yearly Top 10.

I do know what I am going to order – based on what we’d seen several customers eating on that previous visit, I am extremely desirous of biryani.

But as I soon as my meal arrives – goat biryani – out comes the camera.

For I have a hunch this’ll be the best biryani I’ve ever had.

It is.

All the usual components are present:

Vari-coloured rice of slightly less chilli kick than is generally the norm.

Plenty of meat pieces, on the bone but coming free easily enough; quite chewy, too, but that seems just right.

Raw onion slices and half a hard-boiled egg.

Typically runny raita and thin but tangy curry gravy I later discover is made especially to accompany the restaurant’s biryanis using tomatoes and cashews.

But wait – there’s more!

More fresh herbiage than usual, for starters, including coriander and even a little mint.

And – best of all – a generous garnish of delicious fried onions.

Eaten together, all these ingredients constitute a fabulous meal.

And one that is far closer to the complex, celebratory dish called biryani I imagine being served at weddings and the like but which I’ve long assumed beyond the budget constraints of any eatery.

This is plenty good enough for me and hands down the best biryani I’ve had in Melbourne.

As a Tuesday special, my dinner has cost me $10. Even at the regular price of $12, I’d consider it a bargain.

As I stroll back to my car, I realise the nagging lower back pain that has been a drag for several days – the sort of thing that inevitably presages much more severe and immobilising pain – has disappeared.

Whether this has anything to do with my biryani meal, I know not.

Vanakkam

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Vanakkam, 359 Barkly St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 7224

Ordering a feed for two at an Indian restaurant is a breeze, right?

Couple of snacks – samosas, pakoras, whatever – couple of curries, rice, some naan?

Well, no.

It isn’t that straightforward at all these days – especially not at a place like the relocated Vanakkam in Barkly St, with curries AND dosas AND a goodly line-up of Indo-Chinese dishes.

We muddle along and have a great time even if our choices are a little on the stodge side.

But they’re all good or better – and two are very excellent indeed.

And, naturally, we order WAY too much food – but happily, the final dish that arrives is the one most suitable for doggy-bagging and making do for Bennie’s school lunch the next day.

We’ve taken our time getting to the new Vanakkam – seems like there’s been a lot of Indian action to keep up to date with lately.

But we leave as extremely happy – and bulging full – chappies.

The service is fine and our food arrives far more quickly than such freshly made dishes might suggest.

We are not really thinking about our visits to the old Vanakkam as we nut out our order, but we sigh with memory-fuelled pleasure as our plate of onion baji ($7) arrives.

Of course we remember them – they’re so very good!

In this case, the serve is even bigger, but the onion rings are just as delicious.

The batter is not crispy, but is admirably unoily and scrumptious.

Our lamb dosa (&10) is good, too.

Crispy pancake and the usual slurp-worthy sambar, chutneys and potato filling, the latter a little more gooey than is usually the case.

The lamb is quite plentiful and seems to be mostly in the form of smallish, unspicy chunks that could’ve been carved straight from a roast leg.

Maybe they are.

It’s all well and good, but it makes us – OK, me – wonder why we ever variate from the tried-and-true spud-filled masala dosa.

Kaju uthappam ($12) is our standout dish.

The base of this “Indian pizza”, which comes with the same side dishes as our dosa, is made from rice and black lentil flours, and is a little crunchy, very delicate and utterly moreish.

The topping is of cashews nuts that have become soft in the cooking, coriander and what are described to us as “poori” spices.

So simple and so magnificent.

Our dinner adventure had been embarked upon with Bennie expressing a wish for noodles.

There are none to be had on the Vanakkam menu – the closest we can get is their take on nasi goreng ($13), which unsurprisingly has little or nothing to do with the south-east Asian dish of the same name.

Being more of a glorified fried rice, it’s still mighty fine, with a fried egg atop, and plenty of cubed, crunchy vegetables and battered chicken bits.

It has the same sort of peppery spiciness that comes with the fabulous schezwan chicken fried rice to be had at Dosa Hut up the road.

We’re stonkered before we get even close to halfway through this large serve, so the rest goes home with us.

Vanakkam is a very welcome addition to the intense and oh-so-welcome Indian activity in West Footscray, and we’ve only scratched the menu’s surface.

And BTW, the biryanis other customers have been eating look really great.

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Indi Chutneys

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Indi Chutneys, Shop 4, 203 Ballarat Rd, West Footscray. Phone: 9317 8624

Despite having eaten a lot of thalis, I have never before been presented with anything like the two tubes – one orange, the other a pale green – that accompany my non-vegetarian thali at Indi Chutneys.

I’m told they’re variously called, depending on your language of choice, wafers, bourugulu or gottalu.

Some online sleuthing turns up some Indian-food-related links when searching for those terms, but I remain not much more enlightened. A search for “Indian wafer tubes” turns up a whole results that refer to sweet wafer biscuit thingies of the sort that come from Europe.

What I do know is that the names of these “wafer tubes” and pondering their origins is a whole lot more interesting than eating them.

For these turn out to be identical in texture, crunch and (un)flavour to the prawn crackers dispensed at so many eateries of Asian persuasion.

The rest of my thali ($10.95)?

Gosh, that’s really fine.

A good chicken curry of greenish hue and mild spiciness.

Some rich, glorious dal of magnificent saltiness.

And equally salty lamb curry with a richly deep brown gravy.

Some fine raita with just the right amount of vegetable crunch (onions, I think).

And, of course, plenty of rice.

The restaurant that has provided my thali is in a shop once inhabited by Southern Spice and more recently another Indian eats business so short-lived its name has been and gone from my mind.

It is also opposite the newish Footscray branch of Biryani House, thus giving this stretch of Ballarat Rd/Gordon St an Indian vibe to rival that of upper Barkly St.

As such, I am eager to get a handle on what’s happening here by visiting Indi Chutneys, but soon realise I am on very familiar ground.

For Indi Chutneys shares the same ownership and management with Indi Hots of superb biryanis fame in Footscray.

The menu at the new branch is more extensive – there’s some rudimentary dosas and Indo-Chinese items.

But mostly it seems to inhabit the same entirely gorgeous realm of no-fuss Indian basics at cheap-as-chips prices as its older sibling.

And I like that a lot – just as much as I like the idea that there’s somewhere else to get one of those biryanis.

Indi Chutneys on Urbanspoon

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Masala House

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Masala House, Watervale Shopping Centre, 5/2-14 Calder Park Drive, Taylors Hill. Phone: 9307 9601

Another zydeco-fuelled drive, another outer west shopping centre, another case of chole bhature for lunch?

Well, actually it’s something of a surprise.

I’ve ventured to this modestly proportioned, newish shopping centre ostensibly for the purpose of checking out the Masala House doasas and the like.

But the appearance – not on the weekend lunch menu, but on the menu proper – of one of my favourite Indian dishes sways me in quick time to change my mind.

After all, it’s been a while since my last chole bhature, let alone a really, really good one.

The smiling, courteous staff are happy to oblige.

Though they seem a little bemused by the fact I have no need to have the dish explained to me …

“How come you know what chole bhature is?”

“You must eat a lot of Indian food?”

… like that.

Masala House is set up near one of the centre’s entrances, and in such a way as to cater for lunchtime takeaway punters and those seeking a more formal eating experience.

At the bain marie there’s rice, lamb rogan josh and butter chicken that I, naturally, ignore completely.

According to the Masala House website, they also have a $20 buffet on Mondays and Wednesdays that looks a lot more promising.

My $9 chole bhature is the biz and a splendid lunch.

Two breads the size of footballs – fresh and hot, but oh blimey, exceedingly, excessively oily.

I figure this is because they’ve fired up the deep fryer solely on my behalf so cut them some slack in my mind. Besides, they still taste great, though I do try to eat the less oil-drenched portions.

Chick peas divine and wonderful – mildly spiced, flecked with fresh coriander and almost-fresh tomato.

And I make good use, too, of the chunky raita and piquant commercial pickle, though leave – as ever – the raw onion.

After spending a few bucks to shout myself a big, fat carrot, a large onion, some celery and a cuddly bag of chicken necks for stock, making of, I cruise home in a meandering way.

I don’t crawl or otherwise drag my feet, but I don’t exceed the various speed limits, either.

Yet for almost all the way home I am constantly tailgated.

By bogans in clapped-out Commodores.

By bogans in SUVs.

By bogans in Beemers.

By bogans with caps on backwards.

By bogans smoking cigarettes.

By bogans using mobile phones.

And even by bogans using mobile phones AND smoking cigarettes.

Dickheads one and all.

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Biryani House

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Biryani House, 61 Gordon St, Footscray. Phone: 9318 8007

No prizes for guessing this new Gordon St venture is a sister restaurant for the well-known King St, CBD, place of the same name.

It joins two other restaurants and a grocery in fostering a mini-Indian precinct on this stretch of Gordon St.

The new Biryani House is a nice room but very plain – wooden tables and chairs, some swirly wallpaper that looks like an optical illusion on one side and not much more.

We’re told that in the meantime aside from all-week dinner hours, lunch is served Thursday through to Sunday.  More week-day lunch hours may eventuate next year when the students – and there’s heaps of them hereabouts – return for a new academic year.

We’re tickled to find the menu starts with a list of “Aussie Favourites” – butter chicken, lamb rogan josh, lamb vindaloo and lamb madras.

Righto, now we’ve got them out of the way, let’s see what points of difference there are in the rest of the menu … and we find some crackers, ensuring an interesting meal and a hasty return.

Just for instance …

Khichdi – “traditional Hyderabad rice with lentils”.

Nehari – “a spicy soup made with tender lamb shanks garnished with fried onions and fresh grown herbs”.

Marag soup – “a fine soup delicacy made from tender chunks of lamb”.

Kahtti dal – “a lentil stew in tangy juice of tamarind”.

And so on … but we start with gobi 65 ($8.50, top picture).

It’s more austere than the same-titled dish we’ve had elsewhere – just some curry leaves and battered cauliflower, but golly it’s very good.

The thin batter is a crispy treat and the vegetable pieces totally moreish.

And we really, really appreciate it when the natural flavours of a dish come through despite high levels of seasoning, especially with a mild flavour such as cauliflower.

We squabble over who’s going to get the biggest pieces.

Another big plus at this place – almost all the chicken and lamb dishes are available in half-serves, $5.90 instead of $9.

This enables us to have a broader meal than would otherwise be the case, and we find our two half serves none too shabby in the size department at all.

Hariyali chicken is described as “a popular festive dish of chicken simmered in a unique blend of fresh green herbs and peppercorns”.

What appear to be juicy chunks of thigh meat swim in a rich sauce that has the green of the herbs and a wonderful slow burn of heat that glows from the use of much pepper.

Lamb aloo methi, “cooked with potatoes and touch of fenugreek leaves”, is good, too, with tender lamb and a colour splash from the fenugreek leaves, though it seems to us it’s not as distinctive as our chicken dish.

The potato element is awesome.

Both of these dishes are at the outer limit of spiciness that Bennie finds tolerable.

For bread, we choose lacha paratha (2.50), which we are told is just plain dough that is folded very many times.

Our lovely buttery bread does indeed have a croissant-like flakiness, and it goes real well at its main task – mopping up the last of our curry gravies.

Check out the full menu at the Biryani House website.

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Salaam Namaste Dosa Hut

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Salaam Namaste Dosa Hut, 604 Barkly St, West Footscray. Phone: 9687 0171

Does a restaurant have any sort of obligation to tell customers what is in their food?

The food for which they are paying and which they are eating?

My persistent inquiries about the seasoning specifics of my rice meal at Dosa Hut are met with smiles, giggles, shrugs and vague mutterings.

It’s all good fun and I’m not even close to chagrined that I fail in my quest.

Bemused, maybe.

But maybe, too, some things are meant to remain unknown.

Dosa Hut should be celebrated widely in the west for being the first eatery to bring dosas and associated goodies into our part of the world.

That seems a long time ago now.

That first incarnation had a dingy shack aspect with a service vibe to match.

A second incarnation – detailed here – took a significant step towards a more formal and professional approach.

Now Dosa Hut has its third incarnation – and it’s another cool step upwards.

There’s branded windows, chic interior decor, a lot more room.

As far as I can tell, the menu remains much the same – though I suspect the range of dishes available of the Indo-Chinese variety has grown.

My simple, plain samosa ($1.95)  is beaut – mildly seasoned, beautifully tender potato, ungreasy pastry exterior.

From the Indo-Chinese list I choose “Schezwan Chicken Fried Rice” ($12.95). 

You might be thinking that’s quite a hefty amount to pay for a glorified Indian take on a familiar Chinese staple in a cheap eats diner.

You would be wrong.

This is a killer dish; a sensation.

Heaps of fluffy rice is riddled with chewy fried chicken chunks, omelette, peas and finely diced green onion and carrot.

It’s all quite dry and very un-oily, though like just about everything in the Indo-Chinese recipe book, it’ll never pass for health food.

The first few mouthfuls indicate spice levels of a benign nature.

That, too, is misleading. This dish has a magnificent slow-burn spiciness that glows yet never really reaches high-intensity levels.

Given the staff’s reluctance to clarify my seasoning queries, I’m only guessing. 

The orange colouring from a mix of turmeric and chilli powder?

The magnificent slow-burn heat from a LOT of white pepper?

It matters not – I love every mouthful.

It’s a big serve, one that should really be shared.

But I go closer to finishing it than I thought I would.

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