Indian “street food” joint hits West Footscray

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Akshaya, 1/578 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 8394 9713

We may be prone to speculate about when or if the West Footscray stretch of Barkly Street will reach Indian restaurant saturation point.

And we certainly don’t feel obliged to check out, let alone write about, each new arrival.

But when a new place goes the ultra-cheap “street food” route – we’re there!

Akshaya is a sister restaurant to the warmly regarded establishment of the same name in Ashley Street.

But here the focus is quite different – with the spick and span new outfitting reflecting the budget cafe-style menu (see below).

There’s chat dishes, dosas and idlys and vadas, some Indo-Chinese, a few other things of interest … all vegetarian.

 

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Bhel puri ($4.99) is OK and fully fresh enough, but lacks a little in the zing department for my tastes. But then, it just about always does. Maybe bhel puri simply isn’t for me or I keep hoping it will be something it isn’t.

 

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My thali ($9.99) is way better.

I’m told the fundamental difference between the joint’s north Indian and south Indian thalis is rotis (with the former) and rice (with the latter).

The rice with my south Indian thali is excellent.

It’s basically a pulao studded with nice spud bits. But with its mint, cinnamon and other spices, it comes across as a sort-of vegetable biryani.

The sambol – heavily spiced with corianader – and tomato chutney are as you’d commonly find with a dosa meal and are fine.

The vegetable curry also has potato among the other vegetables. It’s oily and delicious.

The crumbed okra looks like it may an Indian take on the Korean popcorn fried thing.

It’s not – the lady finger pieces are tender and not at all crunchy.

But they’re beaut, packed with okra flavour and go nicely with the really thick dollop of yogurt.

On the basis of this preliminary meal at the brand new Akshaya, I’d caution that spice levels here are high.

Not uncomfortably so for me, but in the above thali only the okra and yogurt escape intense spicing.

Bravo for Akshaya for developing a different angle on what is a very competitive strip.

Akshaya on Urbanspoon

 

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Dinner with Anjum

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Books For Cooks dinner with Anjum Anand @ Horn Please, 167 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North. Phone: 9497 8101

Cooks For Books has been hosting dinners for a long time, so I’m not quite sure why this particular gathering sparked my interest.

Perhaps it was down my recent visit to that fine Fitzroy purveyor of fine and foodie reading.

And no doubt it was also about seeing what these affairs are about, seeing as they have a resemblance to the ongoing CTS Feasts.

Anyway, in a fit of spontaneous extravagance, I sign up and here I am at a famed North Fitzroy Indian eatery.

Mind you, the price is way steeper than a CTS Feast – all up, just shy of $100, though that does include a copy of Anjum Anand’s latest book, Quick & Easy Indian.

Seems fair enough – and I am happily anticipating some fine food being eaten and good luck in the lottery of dining companions.

I estimate the dinner is attended by more than 80 guests, including a top table with the author and a bunch of representatives of the retail book business.

I strike it very lucky in regards to company.

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On my right are Paul, his niece Laura (both pictured above) and wife Gail.

They’re from the Moonee Ponds/Essendon area and Paul turns out to be as mad a foodie as I’ve ever come across.

We have a fine old time swapping opinions and tips as the night unfolds.

The noise levels are high and the situation challenging in terms of photography.

So much so that in a technical glitch (i.e. operator incompetence), I fail to successfully snap the lovely company on my right – Gail, Angela and their party. Sorry ’bout that!

Likewise, I cannot provide photographic documentation of the lovely entrees (see menu below).

By common accord, though, the “tandoori salmon papadum taco”, with its tangy dressing and beaut fish, is a big hit.

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No so much problem with the mains – and very good they are, too, though the butternut squash curry screams “pumpkin” to me, so I mostly go without.

Best of all is a mildly spiced but incredibly rich and flavoursome fish curry (on the right, above).

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Before dessert, Tim hosts question session for Anjum, asking several himself and taking several from the guests, including one from yours truly about salt and its relationship to Indian cooking.

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Dessert – cardamom, honey and pistachio kulfi on wooden skewers – is mindblowingly fantastic.

So rich and creamy, so alive with powerful, almost overwhelming cardamom flavour!

None of Anjum’s previous books are among my modest collection of Indian cookbooks and she is a new author to me.

Quick & Easy Indian is beautiful to read and look at, though it’s far from traditional.

Its recipe line-up, for instance, includes the likes of quick masala dosas using rice paper, ricotta-stuffed aubergines in tomato sauce and a Goan fantasia in the form of chorizo with white beans and greens.

I’m looking forward to exploring and cooking from this book …

Horn Please on Urbanspoon

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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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