New Indian joint in WeFo

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Amrutha Authentic Indian Cuisine, 552 Barkly Street,West Footscray. Phone: 9913 3794

Team Consider The Sauce tonight numbers four for the purposes of checking out the newest addition to West Footscray’s line-up of Indian restaurants.

As the restaurant was being put together behind papered windows, two of us had wondered if the new place would specialise in some way to provide it a point of difference from its many competitors.

The answer is – no.

Amrutha’s menu is long a covers all the expected bases.

Go to the joint’s website here for a looking at the full list, including prices.

 

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The place has scrubbed up a treat – quite a lot of money has been spent.

And the main room is a good deal larger than we were expecting to be the case given the hair salon it replaces.

The furniture and fittings are pure Franco Cozzo.

We admire with interest the breakfast list, which includes all your dosas and a lot more.

But we go a la carte from the body of the menu.

Among our choices are a couple of Indo-Chinese selections …

 

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Gobi manchurian ($7.99) and …

 

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… chicken 65 ($8.99) are enjoyable but wet where we have been expecting dry.

 

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My eyes invariably light up whenever I see a menu that features eggplant, so eggplant curry ($10.99) has been ordered at my instigation.

Again, our expectations come into play – maybe unfairly.

The menu does mention a “rich cashew nut and special sauce”, but this seems to me more of an unbearably creamy spread with eggplant flavour.

It’s something I’d be happy spreading on toast.

But otherwise?

Nah.

 

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Moving right along, we start to get into things more hearty and flavoursome of the kind we have been seeking.

Lamb Madras ($11.99) is very nice, its rich gravy hiding lots of fine meat chunks.

 

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Chicken chettinad ($12.99) is likewise very good, with its gravy of “yogurt sauce with crushed black peppercorn, herbs and spices”.

 

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Palak paneer ($9.99) is a doozy, its silky cheese pieces swimming in a wonderfully almost-smoky gravy.

Another high point for us are the $1.99 naan that avoid photographic scrutiny – sorry!

These are super, and appear to have been made – as one of my tablemates points out –  using “wholemeal flour with all the bran removed”.

The result is like a cross between a regular naan and a roti.

We’ve enjoyed our meal but are left wondering about the wisdom of our choosing, what sort of wonders Amrutha has hiding in its menu – and whether the more snacky or one-person dishes may be the go here.

So I sneak back a few nights later for an early dinner by myself – biryani.

 

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My default choice of chicken is unavailable, so I’m happy to go with the lamb ($11.99).

Even though the lamb almost always used in biryanis – you’ll see it in the markets labelled as “lamb curry” – is often more bone than meat.

No such problem here – the plentiful meat comes easily from the bones and is flavoursome and surprisingly tender.

The rice is somewhat darker than usual, and the fried onions are more than a garnish here – there’s lots of them and they’re fully integrated into the rice.

The biryani picture is completed by a fine gravy that is salty and peanutty and a raita chunky with cubed carrot.

My biryani is very good and fully up there with those available elsewhere in Footscray.

Maybe for me next time the chole bhature ($11.99).

Or perhaps the puri ($8.99), which – according to the in-house printed menu – are served thali-style with a handful of small accompanying bowls of goodness.

 

Amrutha on Urbanspoon

 

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High-Quality thali

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

That’s fine by us!

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

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

 

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

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

The vegetable biryani, not so much.

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

 

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

I reckon I could live on this kind of food.

It’s humble, delicious and inexpensive.

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Nat!

 

Quality Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Deer Park eats goss

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Western Pho in Deer Park is on the move.

The humble yet excellent Vietnamese eatery on Burnside Street – written about and given a new and glowing thumbs up from CTS regular Juz here – will move around the corner to the service road shopping strip on Ballarat Road in three months or so.

Proprietor Phi tells me there will be more food, more staff and more seating – the new joint will have a seating capacity of at least 60.

I caught up with Phi and his builder, “Junior” Espinosa of GE Builder, at the old premises as they were discussing the floor plan for the new place.

“Junior” tells me has worked on such CTS faves as Hyderabad Inn, Dosa Hut and Pandu’s – that’s a nice pedigree!

 

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The new place still bears the signage of the previous tenant.

 

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And just a few doors away preparations are underway for an Indian eatery and …

 

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… another Vietnamese place!

This phases Phi not at all – competition being good and helping to build a happy neighbourhood eats destination, he reckons.

 

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Meanwhile, in even more good news for locals, the current Western Pho premises on Burnside Street, will be renamed Western Roll and feature banh mi, rice paper rolls and the like, including sauces from Phi’s hometown near Cam Ranh Bay – and coffee.

It’s all happening in Deer Park!

 

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Wow – great offer

4 Comments

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Consider The Sauce has not been in the habit of talking up specific offers by particular restaurants – so far as I can recall this is a first.

I am happy to do so not on the basis of giving yet another plug for a favoured eating place but because I genuinely think CTS readers will appreciate knowing about the beaut offer I came across during the course of a Monday night “can’t be bothered cooking” quick bite in West Footscray.

Regular readers will know that Hyderabad Inn, at 551 Barkly Street, is among our faves among the bustling West Footscray Indian contingent – indeed, it was the venue of the first-ever Consider The Sauce Feast!

The joint’s “spring special offer” is currently available Mondays through to Thursdays and between 6pm and 7pm.

Heck – that’s eating hour for Team CTS! And I suspect most all families, too …

Here’s how it works …

Get any regular dosa and a can of soft drink for $3.95.

Insane!

The dosa lineup numbers 30 and ranges from masala, lamb and chicken dosas through to chicken tikka and tandoori vegetable.

They’re normally priced at up to $13.50.

Or you can choose from the smaller range of 70mm dosas, grab a can of drink and pay $6.95.

The 70mm dosas usually sell for up to $16.50.

The biryani deal of which I partook is just about as good.

My chicken version (pictured above) was its usual excellent self, with all the bits and pieces present and in working order – moist rice, high spice levels, fried and raw onion, peanutty gravy, raita, hard-boiled egg, two good-sized chook bits.

For this, and a can of soft drink, I paid $9.95.

Normal price for the rice alone is $15.

Get it while you can!

 

 

 

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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