Pete’s Charcoal Stop

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Pete’s Charcoal Stop, 562 Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9375 1169

Charcoal chicken shops = coleslaw and chips.

That’s the pretty much hard-and-fast rule for at least one half of the Consider The Sauce team.

So what am I doing breaking with such entrenched tradition?

I’d been alerted to the merits of this chicken shop several months previously by someone who knows about such important matters.

I’d stuck my nose in at the weekend for a look-see … and discovered that this particular business has a distinct Mediterranean flavour.

There’s dolmades and dips and more.

The takeaway menu lists mousaka, pastistio and spanakopita.

So I go with the flow …

And order some of scrumptious-seeming potato segments residing in tasty- juices instead of chips to go with my half-chook.

And Greek salad instead of ‘slaw.

The spuds are beautifully cooked, but I confess to expecting more by way of lemon/oregano zing. Still, a nice change.

The salad is good, the vegetables are fresh and there’s quite a lot of dressing but not much seasoning.

The bird itself is tender through and through – something that can’t often be said of such places, especially when it comes to the often-dry breast meat.

My chicken is a good roast half-bird – that is, it’s minus the crinkly, crunchy, blackened and pungent/salty skin.

My meal – including a can of soft drink – clocks in at a fine $14.

I suspect next time here I’ll revert to chips/coleslaw type.

I know that if I lived nearby, this would be a far-too-regular haunt.

It has the vibe that tells me it’s run by people who know exactly what they’re about when it comes to charcoal chicken, kebabs and burgers.

McKebab

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McKebab, 49 Gordon St, Footscray. Phone: 9317 9132

It’s not precisely, literally a hole in the wall, but McKebab has that sort of vibe about it.

This tiny kebab shop is situated next door to a convenience store, with both of them sitting on the ground floor of what is otherwise as a spectacularly ugly building.

Across the street is the pokies pub known as the Powell. Across Ballarat Rd, but still on Gordon St, is a foodie strip – a fish and chip shop, pizza place, Korean noodle hang, a couple of Indian eateries – that seems forever to be waiting for that magic spark.

It seems that often in the west, and no doubt elsewhere, businesses and their operators must make do with situations, locations and premises that are presented to them, that are affordable.

In this case, we suspect that what presents as a simple kebab joint has the capacity and knowledge to present more home-style cooking of the Turkish/Iraqi family that runs it.

We wish them well if that is the case.

Certainly we enjoy our brief visit and the friendly service we receive.

As we take one of the two tiny interior tables, we strike up a conversation with two blokes at the other who turn out to be senior players for the same rugby club for which Bennie plays. Like him, they too have enjoyed success earlier in the day.

It is the home-style dish that draws our eyes and impresses the most.

Well, impresses me the most anyway.

As we’re returning from a friend’s birthday party in Hoppers Crossing, Bennie is already quite full of party pies, sausage rolls, saveloys and chips, and would prefer to be at the burger place up the road anyway.

Later in the week, buddy!

We order “green beans, rice and salad” ($9.90), with the main protagonist turning out to be fasolea.

This is a fantastic, tangy dish of green beans tomato, capsicum, what is described to me as an “Arabic herb”, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.

The beans are, of course, very tender, but I find the whole thing delicious.

The tabouli is a tad too dry and onion-y for us, but the rice is fine.

The house-made turshi – pickled turnip – is fantastic, salty, bitter and crunchy.

We order as well four felafel balls, which are freshly made and good, with an inwardly greenish hue and a smooth, ungranulated texture.

The hummus that accompanies is smooth and mild of flavour and the bread – housemade, too – is like a cross between Lebanese pita and Turkish bread.

No doubt because of their location – students above, boozer across the road – the McKebab folks face heavy demand for your typical kebab options.

But we hope they hang in there with some more home-style fare.

Roxy Kebab Cafe

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Roxy Kebab Cafe, 801C Ballarat Rd, Deer Park. Phone: 8390 1007

Roxy Kebabs – doesn’t sound too flash, does it?

But as with so much else about western suburbs eating, looks are deceptive.

This Turkish establishment was noted down for close-to-immediate investigations after being spied while perusing the Deer Park shopping strip as part of Consider The Sauce’s visit to the new Chef Lagenda.

Seeing a bunch of fellows slurping up lamb shank soup has that sort of effect upon us.

School is out early for the start of the holiday break, so up the road we head, having a strong hunch the place will rise above its daggy name and humble exterior.

That it does.

Roxy Kebab Cafe is a small operation but all the expected goodies seem present and they’re doing wildfire trade on this Friday lunchtime.

Looks are deceptive, too, with the lamb shank soup, one of three – there’s also lentil and tripe varieties available.

The small serve ($6), with fresh Turkish bread, would do nicely as a light meal.

The opaque surface hides heaps of marvellously tender globs of shank meat and the broth flavour is strong.

Our soup is also rather fatty, so a hefty squeeze of the lemon segment provided is definitely required.

To make up the rest of our $20 lunch we go with the small meal of the day ($13), with both lamb and chicken from the spit, chilli and hummus dips and salad.

There’s no rice but it’s a goodly sized serve nevertheless.

In order of impressiveness …

The salad is beaut – a crispy, fresh concoction of lettuce, green, onions, cabbage, carrot, parsley and – quite probably – more.

It may seem odd to rate salady bits as prime in a visit to a kebab joint, but for us these sorts of places are as much about the trimmings and condiments as they are about the carnivorous aspects.

The chilli dip is tangy and crunchy and fab – and it’s of only mild disposition, meaning we can (just about) slather it on the bread like a normal dip.

The lamb is tasty and tender. The chicken is a bit bland for me, but then I generally find it’s always so.

The hummus is fresh, creamy and smooth but seems almost shockingly devoid of flavour.

Still, all up this has been a most satisfactory kebab shop lunch.

Stepping outside, we step right next door for a fun visit to Hollywood Costumes.

Even though it’s clear we’re not in there as paying customers, the staff could not be more friendly and welcoming.

Bennie checks out the long rank of Superhero Costumes with an expert eye, though we also note with approval the presence of Ghostbusters and Spongebob garb.

We make a diversion on the way back to the car for a stupendously generous $2.90 cup of berry gelati and a cafe latte and hot chocolate at Pane e Latte, just behind the shopping strip, thus rounding out a most excellent Deer Park adventure.

Roxy Kebabs on Urbanspoon

Katik

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Chicken on skewer at Katik.

Katik, 349 Barry Rd, Campbellfield. Phone: 9357 9997

Katik is Plan B.

Plan A had been another establishment of Middle Eastern flavour a few kilometres away.

Our companion for our dinner adventure, Nat, had checked on the hours so we thought we were fine.

As it turned out, yes the place was open … but with only a limited menu to offer us.

That particular joint – that particular lunchtime joint – will have to await another day.

A hasty three-way conference sees us whizzing up to Barry Rd and to the strip recently visited by Consider The Sauce for a visit to Layla’s Restaurant.

Nat is a regular visitor to Consider The Sauce, a serial contributor to Urbanspoon and a devoted food hound – and we are delighted to make his acquaintance and enjoy his company.

Katik is a popular place in this neck of the woods, but we find the booth-style tables free as we enter and quickly set about choosing our meal.

Katik serves straight-up Turkish kebab shop fare, with perhaps a more restricted menu than we are accustomed to – three dips, some pies and a range of meats, either skewered or from the rotating machines.

Iskender kebab at Katik.

We order three plates – chicken skewer, adana kebab and iskender kebab – which proves to be just right for the three of us.

Perhaps it could be argued that serves are a mite on the modest size, but they are all just a notch under $10 and we certainly don’t leave hungry.

The chicken – oh yes! – has heaps of that charcoal grill flavour, but the meat is a little on the dry side.

The iskender kebab – sliced lamb doner kebab meat placed on a bed of Turkish bread and topped with tomato and yogurt – starts real fine but seems to become less appetising as our meal progresses.

Adana kebab at Katik.

The adana kebab – a single length of spiced, minced lamb extracted from a flat skewer – is lovely, with just the right kind of chewiness.

The flattish bread we enjoy, especially those pieces into which meat juices have seeped.

The carrot dip is just OK, the humus a good deal better in terms of flavour and the salad additions lacking appeal.

We have a good dinner, but I have a suspicion that Katik is a victim of it own success, with hectic turnover leading to a lack of finesse.

Which makes us all the more grateful to have Footscray Best Kebab House and Flemington Kebab House in our own backyard, especially when it comes to salad components and dips with real zing and presentation generally.

Katik Turkish Take Away on Urbanspoon

Layla’s Restaurant

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327 Barry Rd, Campbellfield. Phone: 9357 6666

Ever been to Campbellfield?

Nor I have I – until tonight.

It seemed so easy when I set out.

A quick look at the Melway told me Pascoe Vale Rd, keep on going and eventually I’ll reach Barry Rd and my dinner destiny.

It turns out to be a fair haul, and when I arrive the Melbourne CBD skyline is not where I expect it to be.

But it’s pure pleasure, as I have this very afternoon I have picked up a new car.

The difference between my old, reliable 2004 Getz manual and the new 2008 Corolla automatic is amazing.

I feel like I’m driving a Rolls Royce – much better suspension and seating, much, much quieter.

Oh my!

I’m on the hunt for a kebab joint about which I’ve heard good things.

But when I find the correct shopping strip, I discover that particular establishment is in the midst of frantic dinner rush hour business.

No problem!

For what I also find is some sort of Melbourne magic.

In a space of about 200 metres there are at least half a dozen places serving Middle Eastern food of various kinds.

Several of them are kebab places.

But there’s also a chicken shop that nevertheless has photos of falafels and kebabs in its windows.

And even the fish and chip shop and the noddle joint announce they use halal meat.

I settle on Layla’s Restaurant.

There are a handful of customers making use of the outside tables, but I am the only customer in the interior, which is welcoming and cool, and in which I feel immediately comfortable.

I sure am hungry so order the biggest, most expensive item on the menu – the mixed plate for $13.

As my food is prepared, I get talking to Layla, who is Assyrian.

Patiently working around the language barrier – and that even though we are both speaking English – I am reminded that there is a big difference between the Assyrian people and Syria, and that the Middle East is far more complex than as presented in glib newspaper headlines and TV grabs.

My meal is real nice.

Two lamb skewers and one of chicken taste fine, but are a little on the dry side – so I love dipping the meat in the little dish of Layla’s homemade sauce. The sauce is a little salty, watery and sort of like a Middle Eastern curry concoction. Tasty!

The falafels are a pale tan inside, very mildly seasoned but fresh and very good.

I love the three kinds of pickle – chilli, turnip and cucumber.

The “hommos” is good but also a little on the dry side.

A fine meal I have, but I suspect at Layla’s I may be better off with more homely fare such as foul or some of the fine-looking Lebanese-style pies and pizzas.

On Sundays, the place serves baqela bel-dhin, which is described as “Iraqi beans, eggs and onions”.

I take the Western Ring Road home, listening to Billy Jack Wills, Tiny Moore and the boys rocking the house the whole way.

(The menus presented below does not represent current prices.)

Shishka Cafe

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71 Pier St, Altona. Phone: 9398 8580

This restaurant is now closed.

Authentic Lebanese food in Altona?

You bet!

We’d been alerted to the arrival of Shiska by flyers at the Lebanese Bakery at The Circle, also in Altona.

Foolishly, I’d neglected to take one with me and promptly forgot the name of the new venture.

Its newness – it only opened its doors about a month before Christmas – defied my online sleuthing, so as we amble up Pier St we are living in hope that dad has got the details right.

And there it is – right between a Viet place we’ve never tried and pretty good-looking charcoal chicken shop.

We’ve always found Pier St a bit of non-event in the fang stakes, but things are looking up.

We’ve enjoyed another fine day for cycling and another fine ride – under the bridge and around the bay, with the wind at our backs.

We stopped at the pier in Williamstown to have a chat with Julian.

He’s set up shop with a handful of quadricycles.

This is his first day and he has yet to snag a customer.

We wish him well!

We are certainly not without favoured options in our greater neighbourhood when it comes to kebabs, dips and salads of a Mediterranean nature, most notably at Footscray Best Kebab House and Flemington Kebab House.

But when it comes to the moreish and distinctive flavours of Lebanon, all we’ve found is Cedar Grill in Newport. We enjoyed it, but in truth it seems more set up as a takeaway joint doing good trade in pizzas, burgers and – yes – kebabs.

Based on our very fine lunch, Shiska is the answer.

The decor is a bit daggy, while menu items such as chicken parma and chips and some main courses that seem to fall into the Aussie contemporary bag show only wisdom that relying only on Lebanese customers  may not be sufficient to ensure success.

Even though Altona seems to be a stronghold for folks of that persuasion.

But there’s enough Lebanese specialties at the right sort of prices to warrant Shishka serious consideration.

Bennie goes for the very good value of the $9 kebab wrap and can of soft drink.

He loves every mouthful. He adores it. He rates it 9 1/2 out 10, but that may have something to do with the fact he got exactly what he wanted.

His dad orders the foul ($12) and the eggplant dip ($7).

When compared to the $7 foul at Al-Alamy, this may seem a bit steep – but it’s a big serve, and when combined with the dip, pickles and other bits and pieces it make for a ripper $19 meal for two.

Shishka Cafe brings a Lebanese flavour to Altona.

The beans and chick peas are served whole, swimming in their juices and olive oil.

We mash ‘em up and they go just right with the cucumber slices, black olives, pickled turnip, mint sprigs, tomato pieces and green onion strands – it’s plain, honest food and a delight to inhale.

The dip, topped with more olive oil and pomegranate seeds, looks like humus but has a nice texture and lemony flavour.

It’s a lovely feast, and even though Bennie has already scarfed his kebab he, too, indulges in the Lebanese vegetarian delights, making our order about right.

Next time we’ll be interested to check out the likes of the falafel (six served with pickles and pita for $10), kibbeh ($20) and chilli, coriander and potato salad, while the $25 platter of lamb, chicken, three dips and rice may also be a winner.

The kofta plate of three skewers with dip and “parsley salad” costs $15 and there is a kids’ menu of calamari, fish bites, lasagna or nuggets for $7.

The service is fine and friendly and we are not charged extra for more pita bread.

40 Melbourne kebab shops in 500 pages? Book of the year!

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Derham Groves is a man after my own heart – he’s passionate about things.

Quite a few things, actually.

Let’s see – architecture, on which he lectures/teaches at the University of Melbourne; rabid Geelong Football Club fan; really big on crime literature, with a special and obsessive penchant for Sherlock Holmes. And that’s just for starters.

But I’ve wandered on to the surprisingly expansive and unfamiliar surrounds of the university campus to talk with him about his latest “baby” – a 500-page book concerned solely with an in-depth survey of 40 Melbourne kebab joints.

After a few wrongs turns and helpful guidance along the way, I meet Derham outside University House, in to which we scuttle for a couple of outstanding coffees.

As we sup, I hear the fascinating story of how Kebab Shops In Melbourne – An Architectural Survey came about.

In 2010, Derham visited Iran for three weeks, courtesy of a travel grant from the Iran Heritage Foundation, to look at Iranian brickwork.

As he moved around the country, he needed to eat – as you do – so found himself in many kebab establishments.

Quite apart from the no-doubt delicious food of which he partook in such places, he often found himself befriended, offered food to share and otherwise engaged by the locals.

All this got him thinking … about kebab shops, their role in the community.

And it got him thinking, too, about their equivalents back in Melbourne.

Back home, he initiated a project in which the 90 students in his Popular Architecture and Design course – in teams of two – dispersed across the city, with each team given the task of profiling a kebab shop.

The result is Kebab Shops In Melbourne – An Architectural Survey.

It’s a beaut read, by turns entertaining, revealing and – for the likes of your blogger – absolutely riveting.

Because of the quick turnaround time, the students’ work is unedited and as presented.

Not only do their individual voices comes through loud and clear, but so, too, do those of the small business folk and families who run the kebab places – which in Melbourne, as in Iran, are a ubiquitous yet rarely studied or even appreciated beyond the sometimes urgent needs of a quick, cheap and delicious feed.

This came about because the students were given marching orders that not only covered topics to be expected of an architectural project – fittings, furniture, signage and so on – but also interviews with the operators.

As a celebration of the every day, the book closely mirrors the evolving ethos of Consider The Sauce.

So, too, does the journey undertaken by the students.

Derham tells me that 70 per cent of the students on the course are Chinese. How wonderful and enriching, then, that they ventured out of whatever CBD enclaves, peer groups and noodle shops they ordinarily frequent to meet another vital part of Melbourne’s make-up.

Of course, unlike in Iran, Melbourne’s kebab shops are dominated by families of Turkish and Greek heritage, but that didn’t stop Derham’s students from taking to their tasks with relish – and enjoying some magnificent food along the way.

Included among the 40 kebab shops is long-time Consider The Sauce favourite Footscray Best Kebab House.

Crazy Kebabs in Mount Alexander Rd gets a guernsey, too, but other than that the books finds Brunswick, Sydney Rd, Melbourne’s CBD and Fitzroy heavily represented.

Derham’s students may not have become life-long kebab fans and may duly recall their study sojourn in Melbourne as merely a step on their life journeys, but he tells me that nevertheless when each of them was presented with a copy of the book, it was notable that many of them carried them clasped to their chests, front cover out and clearly visible.

Heck, I’d be a bit proud of such an effort, too!

Kebab Shops In Melbourne – An Architectural Survey is published by the Custom Book Centre of Melbourne University and is available here or from the university’s book shop.

As an academic exercise, it could be argued that the work of Kebab Shops In Melbourne – An Architectural Survey has already been done.

Derham harbours a suspicion, however, that it could go “feral” and become a cult classic.

Me?

I think it should be a bestseller.

A wrap on Derham’s Iran trip – including pics of particularly succulent looking kebabs – can be found here.

Thanks to Derham and his students for letting me republish here a couple of the kebab shop surveys.