An A1 arrival in Werribee

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A1 Bakery, 2/70 Watton Street, Werribee. Phone: 8714 1592

What good news this is – a branch of A1 Bakery in Werribee, a sister joint for the Lebanese shops in Sydney Road and Dandenong.

Yippee!

They’ve been open a week when I arrive, hungry, for lunch.

I’m expecting the big space and in-depth grocery range of the Brunswick establishment.

So I’m surprised to find instead a smallish but cheerful cafe, with only a minimal range of groceries.

There is a heap to eat, though.

There’s a range of 15 super-cheap pies and piazzas.

Plain zaatar goes for $2, zaatar with vegetables is $4 and a spinach and cheese parcel will cost you $4.50.

There’s wraps and salads.

And, best of all, there’s a range of platters – falafel, tawouk (chicken), labne, kibbe, “kafta” and the like.

They range in price from $6 up to $10 and all come with a varied line-up of pickles, yogurt, salad, chips, salad and pita.

 

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As listed, my $8 kofta deal is served without pickles, so I get them added for an extra $1. I’m pretty sure the cheerful and obliging staff will allow customers to customise their platter choices in terms of accompaniments.

My lunch is terrific.

The three kofta sausages, in particular, are wonderful – fat, juicy, mildly seasoned and pinkish in the middle.

The pies and pizzas I see being consumed around me look very much the goods, too!

 

A1 Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

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These foulish things in Altona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So we’re back today with for the foul.

First, though, some of our usual faves …

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

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

Then it’s foul time …

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

We don’t mind that at all.

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

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

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

They’re big, round and inflated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If anyone knows otherwise, we’re all ears …

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

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

Seaside Flatbread Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tarabish

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Tarabish, 434 Sydney Rd, Coburg. Phone: 9354 4678

In a week in which higher volumes than usual of preposterous spam have arrived – in both email and blog comment forms – Matthew’s email is a breath of sincere fresh air.

He’s new to Melbourne, has plans to set up a falafel stand and could we meet up and talk foodiness?

Hell yes!

We settle on one of Consider The Sauce’s favourite places in the whole wide world – a purveyor of very fine falafel among other things – on Sydney Road.

Upon arrival, I soon discover Matthew has already checked out that particular establishment, so we wander down the road apiece to another Coburg stalwart, one that neither of us has taken for a spin – yet!

Tarabish has a modest exterior and relatively plain interior but is neat and tidy.

The service we receive from Nouha is wonderful, and eventually she picks up on the falafel-based nature of our conversation and chips in with her own observations.

I love it very much when the eatery folk we meet in our travels respond with such warmth and enthusiasm to our interest in their food and culture!

The Tarabish menu (below) and food is your basic straight-up Lebanese and quite similar to other places in this neighbourhood.

But what we have is fine.

Matthew, unsurprisngly, goes for the falafel meal ($12).

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Various pickles, variously crunchy, sour and/or spicy, all present and accounted for.

Good, moist tabouli, though the cabbage salad is a mite on the dry side; smooth, fresh “hommos”, too.

The falefel balls themselves are very good, with unoily, wonderfully crisp but not tough outers and pale, delicate, mildly flavoured insides.

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My “kebbeh” meal ($13) has slightly different accoutrements – the same tabouli, dip and cabbage, but also a rice salad with wonderful fried onion strands and a drier bulgur number.

The two kibbeh footballs are the highlights of both our platters.

The deeply tanned shells encase a filling that is a wonder to behold and consume – a filling that is far moister than is usual in kibbeh in my experience.

Mixed in with incredibly juicy lamb mince are herbs, onion and pine nuts.

Our kibbeh are high on “wow” factor!

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Through all this I learn with much interest about Matthew’s falafel plans and dreams.

While he’s still in the planning stages, his scheme has enough substance to find him contacting prospective suppliers of “significant cost points” such as chick peas, parsley and pita bread.

We wonder about the lasting power of tabouli.

When I opine that maybe tabouli is one of those things that can actually taste better the day after it’s made, Nouha begs to differ – fresh is always best she proclaims.

Proving her point, she offers us a taste of the day’s fresh batch – and apart from the bulgur not being quite moistened all the way through, she’s right.

It’s been that sort of lunch in that sort of place.

Tarabish Lebanese cuisine on Urbanspoon

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Seaside Flatbread Cafe

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

Since first spying the soon-to-be-opened Lebanese food emporium in Borrack Square, I have driven by several times to check on progress.

And I have driven away hungry and looking elsewhere – until this Saturday lunch time.

Such is my excitement, Bennie suggests I keep my expectations in check.

Fair call that – but one that proves unnecessary.

We’re told the place has been open for three days and that it’s been a “madhouse”.

The word is obviously out.

Pizzas and pies are going into the oven and out the door at a hectic rate.

Multiple customers are coming and going. A few are hunkering down at the outdoor tables. But most are getting their pies and pizzas and heading for home.

We plan on inhaling something from that sector of what’s available, but we’re happily hungry and determined to see what else can be had as well. We grab one of the two indoor tables.

Such is our extravagant lunching enthusiasm, we keep only a partial check on pricing.

But a quick scan of your basic Lebanese bakery items fully indicates how things are here –  your basic oregano pizza costs $1.50, a cheese pie $2.50 and most of the rest of the pizzas $4, including our kafta number with “minced beef, tomato, onion, parsley and spices”.

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It’s a fantastic, delicate bargain – the meat and seasoning topping does indeed boast that distinctive kafta flavour.

Other pizza and pie varieties include spinach and cheese, vegetarian, soujuk, meat, shanklish and labne.

Our spread of other and more diverse Seaside treats is just as good.

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The fattoush and cabbage salad are unavailable at the time of our visit, but the tabouli makes a fine substitute – it’s wet and lemony, which is how we like it. Salads come in $3 and $4 sizes.

The stuffed vine leaves are advertised as costing $2 for three, but they’re quite small so we are given four. They, too, are exemplary, with the al dente rice tightly bound.

Our hummus and babaghanoush, mild and smooth, are fresh and delicious.

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Often the outer, bulghur-based shells of kebbeh can be old-boot tough.

Joyfully that is not the case with our two $2 delights – the shells are refined and a dark brown to match the scrumptious inner filling of lamb, seasonings and pine nuts.

Gosh, they’re good!

It seems inconceivable that Seaside Flatbread Cafe will not become a home away from home for us, just as there are already so many devoted customers.

Bennie is straining at the bit to get back there to try the nutella pizza ($3).

Me, I’ll be seeking an opportunity to ditch the at-home muesli routine to try the Traditional Lebanese Breakfast of “egg, soujuk, labneh, cucumber and served with fresh Lebanese bread” ($9).

Seaside Flatbread Cafe is open from 6.30am-5pm Monday to Friday and 6.30am-2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Seaside Flatebread Cafe on Urbanspoon

OMG, OMG, OMG …

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It’s open – see review HERE.

We love the pies and pizzas we eat or buy at a couple of places in the west.

But we have long lamented the lack of a more broad and deep Middle Eastern food experience in the western suburbs.

In particular, we dream of the sort food provided by the likes of Al-alamy and Abbout Falafel House in Coburg – not full-service Lebanese restaurants complete with multiple kebab offerings, but instead offering an array of pies, pizzas AND divine dips served with pita bread, terrific salads and condiments such as salty, crunchy pickles and olives.

And all at super-cheap prices.

Well, now it seems as though those dreams are soon to come true.

Seaside Flatbread Cafe will be opening in “about two weeks” on Borrack Square, near the corner of Millers and  McArthurs roads, Altona, and tucked in behind Millers Inn.

That’s the word from a fellow named Sem, who I talk to as the fit-out work proceeds.

He seems a little bemused at the intensity of my curiosity, but when I gesture at the window art – containing images not just of pies and pizzas but the full ranges of dips, salads, falafels, pickles and more – and ask if that’s what his shop will deliver, he answers in the affirmative.

Yes!

There’s even pictures of the sort of gorgeous house-made flatbread served at Abbout that is served like a blown-up bladder, emitting steam as it is torn open.

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Book review: Day of Honey

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Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo (Simon and Schuster)

A review copy of this book was handed my way by a mate at my previous place of employment.

He figured it would tick almost all my boxes.

And why wouldn’t he?

It’s about food, it’s about writing, it’s about – more precisely – Middle Eastern food.

And it’s about international and current affairs, and the turbulence and conflicts and joy that accompany them, something I find endlessly fascinating, although I have rarely let that interest intrude on Consider The Sauce.

Truth is that while I stay on top of such things, they often leave me feeling down.

So why did Day of Honey sit around the house unloved and gathering dust for several months?

Why did I pick it up, read a few pages then discard it several times?

Why did it take only the most desperate boredom with every other available reading resource at hand before this book got its hooks into me?

A couple of reasons at least, I think …

One was the simple fear of confronting the horrors of the Middle East in a too-real account.

Reading about the Middle East’s trial and tribulations in news stories in newspaper and magazines or online is one thing.

There’s a certain dryness there that insulates us from the realities, brutal or otherwise.

Reading on-the-ground accounts of happenings in Baghdad and Beirut written by a gifted and eloquent writer is quite another.

I wasn’t at all sure I was up for it.

Another reason, one that was completely irrational given the nature of the subject, was that I feared the book would have a foodie-light veneer, making it a sort of Under The Beirut Sky.

About that, I turned out to be very wrong.

Once I started reading in earnest, this turned into a joyous page-turner.

I knew the author had me when she writes:

“The Mesopotamians baked a lot of their bread in a tinuru, a cylindrical clay oven with an open top and diabolically hot radiant heat inside. They rolled the dough into little round pats and left them for the gluten to relax. Then they flattened them into pancakes and slapped them onto the oven’s scorching inside walls, where they bubbled into chewy flatbreads.”

Hey, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Ciezadlo continues:

“Thousands of years later, Iraqis still make bread exactly this way at neighborhood bakeries … The Akkadian tinuru lives on as the Arabic tanoor, the Iranian tanura and the South Asian tandoor. Next time you order chicken tandoori at an Indian restaurant, chew on this: you are speaking a word that human mouths have been pronouncing, in one form or another, for at least four thousand years.”

Day of Honey follows the journey of Ciezadlo and her Lebanese husband Mohamad as they ply their journalistic/media trade in Baghdad and Beirut in the early-to-late 2000s.

If I skip going into any detail about the exact locations and conflicts they are involved in, it is simply because in many ways they are the background detail of the book’s major themes.

For this is a book, primarily, about people. Or more exactly, about people and how they deal with war.

And as Ciezadlo reveals, they do this largely through food.

There is a good deal of violence in the book, particularly towards the end.

But the author covers it in quite a dispassionate way, and always in the context of the people she loves, friends and family.

She simply lays out the absurdly sectarian nature of so much of life and politics and conflict in the Middle East without ever losing track of her focus.

That leaves her – and us – to revel in the food, its rituals and fabulous cast of characters who are by turns droll, hilarious, romantic, inspirational and more.

Particularly beguiling is her ongoing portrait of her mother-in-law, Umm Hassane. I’m tempted to describe her incredible and maddening wiles as “adorable” or some such, but then I don’t have to put up with her!

Through Day of Honey, I have had some of my beliefs about the Middle East buttressed.

But in many ways, I have had others shaken.

Mainly to the extent that what we read and hear about the region in the media is appallingly superficial or little more than window dressing and spin of various kinds.

Mostly, though, the book has emphasised for me how fortunate I am to be living in a part of the world where I am so free to participate in and enjoy food, food rituals and traditions, and the people who keep them alive.

And in one vivid account of a meal, Ciezadlo makes me believe more than ever that in the likes of Abbout Falafel House, Al-Alamy and so many more we have a genuine, life-affirming way of being part of what really is the greatest story ever told.

There are very many lovely examples of food anecdotes, recipes, lore and history.

At its end, the book includes more than a dozen recipes of food featured in its pages.

A lot of them seem sufficiently complex to deter me from attempting them.

But happily, the one that most intrigues – a simple Lebanese dish of onions, potatoes and eggs called Batata wa Bayd Mfarakeh – is the subject of a short video on the author’s website.

Unsurprisingly, what she creates there looks not at all like I imagined it would!

Day of Honey is a terrific book and I look forward to reading future posts on the author’s Facebook page for revealing and uplifting insights on Middle Eastern food, culture, people and – yes – politics.

Oasis Bakery

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Oasis Bakery, 993 North Rd, Murrumbeena. Phone: 9570 1122

Stumbling across Oasis Bakery a few weeks before, while cruising around prior to meeting a pal for lunch nearby, had been a wonderful surprise.

Far less surprise had been subsequently discovering that while this place is new to me, it is very popular and has been documented rather widely.

I’m returning for several reasons – a Sunday drive, to have some lunch, to do some shopping.

Some of the online comments I have read conclude the place has lost some of its allure since a remake.

I have no knowledge of its previous look and/or configuration, so am happy with the now.

Oasis Bakery comes across as something of a Middle Eastern version of a combined Brunetti’s of Carlton and A.Bongiovanni & Son of Seddon.

There’s a cafe dining area at the front, but Sunday lunchtime seating is at a premium.

There are also quite a few long-legged tables, but these are without stools, as that particular seating apparently contravened regulations, so is gone for the meantime. I’m happy enough to eat my lunch while standing for 10 minutes, as a number of other “overflow customers” are doing.

Lunch first, shopping second.

Ordering is done at a fast food franchise-style counter, and customers are issued with one of those buzzer doodads that vibrate when your meal is ready.

I bypass the various wraps and lovely looking salads, the sizable range of pizzas, and all the hot dishes except one – the lamb okra.

This is the second time in a week I have ordered a dish with okra, and I do much better this time.

My lamb/okra stew is rather plain and mild in the seasoning department, but is delicious in its own way.

The lamb is tasty, but is in sliced rather than chunk form.

There’s tomato, onion, garlic (I think), while delightfully crunchy texture comes from pine nuts and (I later discover) slivered almonds.

Then there’s the plentiful okra.

I love okra.

So I love the unctuous nature of my stew … one man’s unctuous is another man’s slime.

It’s all served up in an earthenware plate on a solid bed of rice.

It’s a good-sized serve, a splendid lunch and worth every cent of the $13 I pay for it.

Immediate appetite satisfied, it’s on to some equally enjoyable shopping.

As far as I can tell, about half of the Oasis Bakery grocery section is stocked with lines that is some way, specific or more generally, could described as of a Middle eastern bent.

The rest, be they luxury lines or staples, are the sort of thing that could be found in any good-quality food hall/grocery.

There’s an entire of wall dried fruit and nuts.

Adjacent, there’s an eye-popping range of different grains and pulses.

Some things it gladdens my heart to see, even if I refrain from indulging this time out – such as this line of “traditional Russian pasta”.

But I hone right in on the Lebanese-style pies Bennie and I have already enjoyed.

These are a little pricier than we are used to paying, but they’re worth it – the fillings are more plentiful, for starters.

These spinach and walnut pies are a good buy, though – a bag of four for $12.

As well as delightful crunch from the walnuts, they’ve got a sublime flavour whack from lemon and mint.

Excellent!

The lamb and pine nut jobs are pricier at $10 for a two-pack, but the filling is magic and there’s quite a lot of it.

I’ve had little luck in buying a commercial brand of turshi to replicate at home the quality turnip pickles we routinely have in restaurants.

The Oasis Bakery house brand goes a long way towards delighting.

It’s not restaurant quality, but it’s pretty good – and not mushy.

The Oasis range of dips and salads looks outstanding, but Bennie and I found the hummus to be both bland and bitter, so this time I make do with a tub of spiced labneh.

It’s treat time!

This orange-flavvoured Turkish delight is all class – delicious, fresh, chewy.

It won’t last long!

And, of course, my Oasis shopping endeavours are not complete without topping up on that basic Middle Eastern staple – Spongebob bikkies!

Sad to say, Oasis will not become a regular for us – the drive is too far.

But on the other hand, a drive around the bay on a nice day is just the ticket – and those Lebanese pies are definitely worth the journey.

Oasis Bakery also runs cooking demonstrations – check out the website here.

Oasis Bakery on Urbanspoon

Abbout Falafel House

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Abbout Falafel House, 465 Sydney Rd, Coburg. Phone: 9350 4343

My third visit to Abbout Falafel House.

My third visit unaccompanied.

My fervent desire to share this great place and its amazing food with one or more of my eats buddies is thwarted again.

Last time I was in this Coburg neighbourhood, I had brother Kurt with me, but Abbout’s was closed; we found a more than acceptable alternative anyway.

As for today … oh well, I have the foodie bits from a newspaper and a door-stopping American classic by John Sayles for company.

Meet “Hommos Belahma”.

The zingy hommos is topped with pan-fried lamb mince and pine nuts.

It’s incredible!

The slightly sweet grease of the lamb works like a perfect teammate with the mild astringency of the dip.

Unlike on my second visit here, when perfectly acceptable commercial pita bread was served, today I once more get the rotund house-made bread. It’s beaut – a bit thicker than its commercial cousins and emitting steam when punctured.

No olives today, but the sour, crunchy pickled cucumbers, pickled chillis, pickled turnip, tomato slices and a profusion of mint are all present.

My lunch is perfect, even if I am unable to even go close to finishing it.

It costs $8 and at a pinch could serve as a light lunch for two people..

As I am packing up to leave, the young Asian cat sitting at the next table says to me: “Don’t you do a food blog? Consider The Sauce, right?”

His name’s Sern.

And not only is he familiar with Consider The Sauce, he’s evidently studied it quite closely.

In fact, his presence in this particular Middle Eastern noshery is a direct result of the previous CTS review of Abbout Falafel House.

Sean is of Malaysian derivation, lives way, way on the other side of town and works in the northern suburbs.

But in his soul and in his tummy, he’s a westie at heart.

He’s familiar with almost all of Footscray’s African restaurants and is a big fan of Safari in Ascot Vale.

“The food in the west just seems to have more soul somehow,” he says.

He’s a fellow traveller, he’s a soul brother.

We swap phone numbers and email addresses with a view to a lunch arrangement the following week.

I ask him what other food blogs he likes: “Ms Baklover!”

Abbout Falafel House on Urbanspoon

VU Halal Kitchen

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"Baba-ghanouj" plate at VU Halal Kitchen.

"Baba-ghanouj" plate at VU Halal Kitchen.

VU Halal Kitchen, Building M, Level 0, Victoria University, Footscray. Phone: 9919 4300

Given the radiant brilliance of some of our Middle Eastern adventures lately – particularly at Coburg’s Abbout Falafel House and Al-Alamy – the surprise isn’t that the newish VU Halal Kitchen doesn’t quite match them but that it delivers a good and worthy shot at it with very similar prices.

I’d first stumbled across VU Halal Kitchen after trying out Cafe Noodle House, which is situated in a nearby campus building.

Subsequent attempts to try the campus Middle Eastern fare were thwarted by the festive season, catering commitments and the end of the academic year.

Now, in early March, Team Consider The Sauce is on the job and mighty hungry.

While we understand the business requirements that dictate the food cater to a broad base of students, you’ll be unsurprised to learn we ignore completely such fodder as the burgers, parmas, pastas and the like … although those seem to be the choices of the few other customers there are.

After being told several times the dips came with “Turkish bread” only, what turns up is a pleasant surprise.

"Hommus" plate at VU Halal Kitchen in Footscray.

"Hommus" plate at VU Halal Kitchen in Footscray.

The trimmings aren’t quite as substantial or sparkling as we get in Coburg, but they’re much appreciated anyway. Both kinds of pickles are commercial but lovely and crunchy.

The terrific bread is made on the premises.

I subsequently am told by VU Halal Kitchen proprietor George that it’s oil-free, which helps give it a nice chewiness when fresh and not unpalatable crunchiness when an ancient half-hour or so old.

The “baba-ghanouj” plate ($7) is the star of our lunch, the dip itself being redolent of smokiness, lemon and garlic in about equal measures. Very good!

The “hommus” plate, at the same price, is not as impressive, with the dip sporting a blandness  that makes it seem like a wallflower.

Spicy potato curry pie at VU Halal Kitchen.

Spicy potato curry pie at VU Halal Kitchen.

We order the spicy potato curry pie ($4) out of sheer curiosity and are a little disappointed. As you’d expect, it’s quite a lot like an elongated samosa – except that the curry potato stuffing is very much at the outer extremes of mildness. It’s OK.

Dressed zaatar pizza at VU Halal Kitchen.

Dressed zaatar pizza at VU Halal Kitchen.

The dressed zaatar pizza ($4.80), too, suffers by comparison with the superior equivalents available at our usual local haunts – but not by much.

After lamenting that our otherwise incredibly vibrant westie food situation lacks an Al-Alamy or an Abbout Falafel House, I am gratified to learn from George, who is of Egyptian background, that VU Halal Kitchen in fact boasts an Al-Alamy connection.

That operation’s Ahmed is overseeing the kitchen affairs here in a supervisory role, which hopefully augurs mightily well for the future.

Falafels are in the near future, as will be  – I fully expect – a degree of tweaking and improving.

A western suburbs place serving Middle Eastern food that goes beyond pizzas and kebabs needs to be encouraged.

George, by the way, highly recommends the awarma (minced meat cooked with scrambled eggs, $10) and shak-shooka (scrambled eggs mixed with tomato, onion and cheese, $10) – both served with aforementioned bread and pickles.

Two more points …

Given the possibility the bar set-up of which the kitchen is part may be otherwise needed for a function, we strongly suggest phoning an hour or so before your planned lunch … just to make sure.

And the drinks situation is far from ideal – extremely small bottles of soda pop and Mount Franklin water all clock in at $3. But then again, this is a bar – rather than a campus cafeteria.

Abbout Falafel House

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Falafel plate at Abbout Falafel House in Sydney Rd, Coburg.

Abbout Falafel House, 465 Sydney Rd, Coburg. Phone: 9350 4343

My falafel plate is breathtaking in its awesomeness.

It costs $10.

Food, in my world, simply does not get any better – at any price.

Even better, my faith in the eternal goodness of falafel – shaken somewhat earlier in the week – is emphatically restored.

It’s easy to miss Abbout Falafel House.

It has an unremarkable facade and is flanked on either side by several kebab shops.

But what makes me persevere is the endless stream of people trying to get a table in the dining room that adjoins the food preparation/takeaway area.

When I discover how good the food is, and why the place is so popular with many folks who are obviously regulars, the five-minute wait dodging staff members coming with empty plates and dishes and going with full ones seems a mere trifle.

Even if I am wedged between a tiny wooden table in the front area and one of the drinks fridges.

This is not a kebab house.

The fare is almost all vegetarian of the Lebanese variety – but it’s exceptional.

There’s dips and labneh and foul, all of them served with beaut trimmings.

My six falafel balls are amazingly unoily, true lightweights and terrifically tender – although some may find them a little under-seasoned.

The labneh and “hommos” are likewise state of the art, sprinkled with parsley, paprika and olive oil.

The pickled cucumber slices and turshi – pickled turnip – are sour and crunchy in their own different ways, just as I like ‘em.

The pickled chillis are sour, too, although with a nicely mild kick.

The olives fall somewhere between green and black, and are fine.

The two pita breads arrive fresh out of the oven, plumped up like bladders and emit a puff of steam when punctured.

How good is that?

As much as I love our west, I have to concede it lacks a place just like this or Al-Alamy.

Abbout Falafel House is open for lunches only seven days a week.

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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.

Al-alamy

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Al-alamy, 51 Waterfield St, Coburg. Phone: 9355 8866

Since making  a mental note of this intriguing, fantastic joint while checking out the adjoining Wang Wang Dumpling, a fair bit of time has elapsed, during which we’ve ascertained that Al-Alamy is something of a magic foodie hotspot.

And not just for those, bloggers and more, who love to blather on about food in the cyber world, either.

In the hour or so I am in-house for a Monday lunch, an endless stream of savvy regulars comes and goes – young mums with tots, workers in suits and shorts, grandparents with tots, larger family groups, singles such as my self, content to hunker down with their chosen lunches and a newspaper/magazine/book.

There are a number of reasons for the intense popularity of Al-Alamy.

The prices, for starters.

A plain zaatar pizza costs $1.50, dressed with onion and tomato $2.50.

The rest of the usual lineup of pies and pizzas range from $2.50 up to $4.

For about the same price, you can have one of the saj pizzas, in which saj bread is stuffed with fillings and then draped over a spherical heating plate. Different!

The dips platters cost $7.

Outside of the pay-if-you-want Lentil As Anything outlets, could be this is the cheapest of cheap eats in Melbourne.

But that, of course, would mean nowt if the food wasn’t as spectacular.

It is, well based on my magnificent foul meddammes ($7) anyway!

This perfect little spread is cheap, healthy and likely to set a template in our house for lazy don’t-feel-like-cooking summer days – vinegary pickles, olives, pita bread, dips/foul, what could be better?

The plate of pickled cucumbers slices and pink turnip, beautifully fresh tomato chunks and wrinkled, chewy olives is the perfect foil for its lunch companions.

It might be thought all the zing and tang would come from them, with the beans playing straight man, but that’s not the case. Yes, the beans (and a few chick peas) have some of the pasty blandness I expect and desire, but there’s an undertow of lemon in there, too.

What an incredible feed!

A few tables over, I see a couple of blokes tucking into a spread that has the same bits and pieces as mine, but with awarma (scrambled eggs with minced meat, $8.50) instead – and that looks so fine, as well.

My cafe latte is hot, strong, sensational and another bargain at $2.50.

Al-Alamy is one of the enlightened, sensible places that will feed you and sell you stuff to feed you and yours at home. Think Mediterranean Wholesalers, La Morenita or Little Saigon Market.

So obvious on one level, such genius on another – and a potent alternative to the supermarket for shopping, restaurant for eating out syndrome.

It’s been open for about five years, but feels a lot more homely and lived in than that – in a positive way!

I only wish it was closer to home – the traffic hereabouts is a mess just about all the time, and on my way across town I made the killer mistake of joining Sydney Rd WAY too early in the piece.

On the way home I do better by a mixture of Bell St, Moreland Rd and Pasco Vale Rd.

Before departing Al-Alamy, I buy some eggplant and beetroot dips to go, pita bread and half a dozen pieces of a wonderful sweetie that is part marshmellow, part nougat, each piece studded with a piece of Turkish delight.

I truly love this place – how can I not when it’s an establishment that has a head-scarfed female staff member placing my lunch on my table with a cheerful, “There you go, mate!”

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