Looks like Maccas, does real deal Lebanese

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Sheesh Grill, 255 Mickleham Road, Tullamarine/Westmeadows. Phone: 9330 3050

When I first visited Sheesh Grill a few weeks back, my heart sank at the very appearance of the place – it looks like any old franchise fast-food hole.

My heart sank and so, too, did my expectations of a fine feed.

So I was surprised and delighted to enjoy a lovely platter of Lebanese food that defied the setting by being very good.

This was genuine Lebanese food – fresh, tasty and excellent value.

Even better, all the baked goods are, I was told, baked on the premises.

I was keen to return with more eager hands and mouths around which to base an official CTS post.

Sheesh Grill does do hamburgers, and I reckon there’s enough going on in the menu to please just about anyone.

And I also reckon the fast-food ambiance could win over youngsters who otherwise might have nothing but contempt for the more wholesome and tasty goodies at hand.

 

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There’s starters such as filo pastries, kibbeh, stuffed vine leaves and falafels.

There’s dips and salads.

And there’s a heap of meat – shawarma and on skewers.

All of the above are available in a wide variety of configurations.

The member of our trio who orders the above-pictured Sheesh Feast ($18.95) does so on the basis of being “very hungry”.

But it beats her, with Bennie and I happy to help out as she winds down.

The platter has a skewer each of chicken and kafta, a sambouusek (sort of like a curry puff), a kibbeh, falafels, stuffed vine leaves, chips, rice (real Middle Eastern rice), tabouli, pickles and hummus.

I know on the basis of my inaugural visit how good are the stuffed vine leaves and tabouli.

The is a great value meal and would actually do two reasonably hungry people quite easily.

 

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I’ve been happy for Bennie to order a burger just to see how this place goes with that.

But I feel sorry for him when his meal arrives.

He reports that his Ultimate Burger ($10.95) is OK but nothing special. He gets a small chips and a soft drink as add-ons for $2 each.

I hope for a certain level of excellence in chips served at Middle Eastern eateries. These don’t quite qualify; the ones I had on my initial visit did.

It’s not that Bennie’s burger is any way bad or sub-standard – it’s just that the regular Lebanese fare aces it.

The lesson is simple – this place may actually do burgers but the more traditional Lebanese food is where it’s at.

 

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My “regular” sheesh lamb plate ($13.95) is excellent. The larger plates of lamb, chicken or kafta cost $17.95.

All is good or better – a tangy eggplant dip, fattoush, pickles, the same chips and rice as above, and two skewers of succulent lamb insterspersed with onion and capsicum.

Sheesh Grill is well worth a short jaunt up the Ring Road.

 

Sheesh Grill on Urbanspoon

 

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Saj revisited

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Saj Mediterranean Grill, Shop 27 320-380 Epsom Road, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9078 2633

After a happy first-up visit to Saj, I was always keen for a prompt return.

Mostly to see if I could talk the staff into serving their marinated, skewered meats on a plate with accessories – my preferred option and delight.

Perusal of their menu – which can be seen in the story of that debut visit here – seemed to have the meats only available in wrap form.

As luck would have it, a return visit comes to be much more quickly than I had foreseen – five minutes after Nat Stockley and I arrange a quickie impromptu dinner, I’m in the car and headed for Ascot Vale.

And as it turns out, Nat’s eyes prove a lot sharper than mine – what I want is right there on the menu, he points out, under the heading of “Eat in deals”.

Oh happy day!

This is the sort of Lebanese platter I have been yearning for, and wanting in the west, for years.

We both order identical $14.50 plates with one skewer each of lamb, chicken and kofta.

The hommus and baba ghannouj are as on that first visit – excellent.

So is the tabouli, our plates graced with quite large serves of it in cabbage leave cups.

A special word of praise for this Saj salad effort – not only is it sublimely moist and lemony, it also includes the all-important fresh mint, something often omitted from eatery versions.

The meats are fine, especially the nicely seasoned kofta.

We both reckon, though, the meats have all spent about a couple of minutes too long on the grill, the lamb cubes in particular being overcooked – not to the point of being unenjoyable, mind you.

We mention this to the staff as we are paying and leaving, and are told of one customer earlier in the day who expressed distaste for having her lamb pieces “pink in the middle”.

So CTS advises open and frank meat discourse with the Saj folks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zing! Lebanese in the ‘hood

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Many thanks to Josh, Christine, Julian, You Know Who and Eliza for helping CTS check out the west’s new Lebanese eatery!

Saj Mediterranean Grill, Shop 27 320-380 Epsom Road, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9078 2633

Saj Mediterranean Grill replaces a short-lived Turkish establishment in the showgrounds’ shopping precinct, which has never held much allure for us.

It’s a terrific new arrival – and Consider The Sauce makes the most of our first visit by rocking up with a nice bunch of our regular dining companions.

It’s done out in stark fast-food style, but the food on offer – see menu below – goes quite a bit further than the bakeries our western Lebanese experiences have thus far been restricted to.

We get real plates and cutlery – and cheerful service.

Saj is named after the saj grills, rounded dome plates used to grill the flatbread.

CTS has only ever seen these before at this Coburg institution.

Between us all, we try a good-sized chunk of the menu – but without any intent to do so, we mostly veer away from the more substantial sharwarma and mashawi (grill) wraps.

Even Bennie – given complete freedom to order whatever he pleases (i.e. hamburger) – dines elsewhere.

The skewered meats in the display cabinet look the goods but will have await a follow-up visit.

What we have ranges from good to very good and we’re all very impressed.

Having a new Lebanese eatery in the neighbourhood is a clicking-heels event around here!

Beyond basic descriptions and prices, my assessments and comments are to do with those dishes I personally taste.

 

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Kibbeh ($2) are hot, a little bit spicy, juicy and very fine. Some of my companions find pine nuts, but not so I.

 

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Warak-arreesh (stuffed vine leaves, $1.50 each) are smallish, plain and just right.

 

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Hommus ($5) is fresh and smooth but of only mildish taste.

 

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Baba ghannouj ($5.50) is fantastic – it hasn’t got that prized smokiness but it IS fresh, lemony and full of eggplant flavour.

Both dips are served with the same flatbread used to make the saj pizzas, and more of it is brought to our table without being requested.

 

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Did I say fresh?

Everything here is fresh-as – including this fattoush ($4.50), its joyful jumble of veggies beautifully dressed and anointed with crisp, fried bread.

 

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The tabouli ($4.50) is just as CTS likes it – wet and lemony. It’s a generous serve for the price, too.

 

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The cheese and turkey saj costs $7.50.

 

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Bennie describes his chicken fajita sanger ($10.50) with chook, caramelised onion, capsicum, mushrooms, avocado and cheese with “fajita sauce” as “nice”.

 

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The chicken mashawi ($9) is skewered chicken with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and sauce.

 

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A couple of us order the lahm bi ajin ($6) – saj of “mince meat, onion, tomato and spices”.

It’s nice enough but turns out the description is rather more lavish than what is pretty much the stock-standard “meat” pizza we get at other bakeries.

 

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Mediterranean salad ($6.50) has the same fresh vegetables seen elsewhere with wonderfully chewy, salty chunks of grilled haloumi.

 

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We finish off with a couple of choc banana sajs ($6.50) – a sweet delight with nutty extras!

We’re already looking forward to our next visit.

How can this place not be a hit?

 

Saj Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

 

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So good in Meadow Heights

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Meadow Heights Classic Lebanese Bakery, 19/A Meadow Heights Shopping Centre, 55 Paringa Boulevard, Meadow Heights. Phone: 9309 8206
Sweet World, Shop 20, Meadow Heights Shopping Centre, 55 Paringa Boulevard, Meadow Heights. Phone: 9309 2552

Working at Airport West has changed the way I think about the Ring Road.

So, too, has the cessation of the long-running works that made the road a sometimes stressful route.

Instead of ploughing my way across the city, it now seems like a breezy avenue to foodie riches in the northern suburbs, especially on a sunny if cold Saturday with light, free-flowing traffic.

Take the Pascoe Vale Road exit, a few clicks past Broadmeadows central, turn left on Paringa Boulevard and I’m at Meadow Heights Shopping Centre.

It’s a mid-sized centre with a nice, relaxed vibe as folks go about their business.

Inside, there’s an Asian grocer, an IGA, a halal butcher and so on.

Outside to the left, there’s what looks to a pretty good Turkish kebab place and, right next door, a halal pizza joint.

On the right are the two businesses a colleague has given me a great tip about.

 

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Meadow Heights Classic Lebanese Bakery has, I’m told, been on these premises for about four years.

But it’s got a lovely, warm, lived-in vibe and the staff are super.

The range of pies and pizzas is mostly regulation, superbly and cheaply priced, and attracting a steady stream of hungry customers.

I choose for my lunch, though, a pizza I have never come across before.

The zayban ($5, top picture) has tangy yogurt, fresh mint, olives, cucumber and tomato.

Right here, right now its seems like a brilliant contender for my meal of the year.

It’s perfect!

I grab four spinach and cheese pies for home use. They’re $3 apiece, also outstanding and more heftily filled than is often the case.

Then it’s time to switch from savoury to sweet and Lebanese to Turkish with a stroll right next door to Sweet World.

 

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The baklava, as fully expected, is excellent and full of dusky flavour.

I like it that it is served in a modest, $1.50 size, too.

Coffee can be a bit of a lottery in such places, so I am happy to report that my $3 cafe latte is expertly done.

 

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I get a modest package of take-aways here, too.

But not of the baklava or the other syrupy items; instead I get lovely looking, and buttery, cookies.

I know not the Turkish name for them, but they look awfully similar to Italian biscotti!

The wikipedia entry on this suburb is blunt: “Meadow Heights offers little in the way of attractions …”

Consider The Sauce disagrees!

 

Meadow Heights Classic Lebanese Bakery on Urbanspoon

Sweet World on Urbanspoon

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Phat cats go good

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phat6
Phat Milk, 208 Mt Alexander Road, Travancore. Phone: 9376 6643

The FB message from good mate, former colleague and occasional Consider The Sauce lurker Lee was simple: “G‘day, our local cafe – Phat Milk – has ramped up its game and is worthy of a visit from CTS. I’ll even pay!”

And so it is that I venture to Mount Alexander road for a classic, enjoyable catch-up and a fine early lunch/brunch.

I’d noticed a cafe at this end of Mount Alexander Road just in passing on previous visits in the vicinity – usually to grab some biscotti and the like from Pace Biscuits.

Lee tells me the current crew has been on site for about two years and that he and his family have become very happy first-name regulars.

 

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I love our brief time together, swapping tales of our current exploits in the journalism game; that game’s sometimes inexplicable twists and turns; the much-loved, good, bad and utterly indifferent of our various mutual acquaintances; our respective families and children; and food ‘n’ coffee doings in the inner west, especially over their way in Kensington and Moonee Ponds.

And I love the place.

And the food.

And the coffee.

Phat Milk’s front portion is all typical Melbourne inner-city cafe, with wraps and various other goodies on display.

Up and along a few hallways is a nice backroom, where we make ourselves at home, and an adjoining garden space with seating.

I’m intrigued and excited to take note of a pronounced Middle-Eastern slant in the breakfast and lunch menus, and waste no time in going in that direction when ordering.

 

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Middle Eastern breakfast of grilled zaatar, poached eggs, beetroot relish, falafel and hummus is terrific.

The falafels are big, soft and crumbly. The chick pea dip is fresh. And all of it works really well together.

 

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Lee goes for the purple carrot and sweet potato latke with blueberry cured salmon, quark cheese (see wikipedia entry here) and poached egg.

His latke tastes good and funky to me, and that house-cured salmon has me making a mental note: “That’s for me next time!”

And get this – for food so lovingly prepared and presented that is so very lovely to consume, we have paid $15 (me) and $17 (him).

Bargain!

My cafe latte is perfect.

Thanks, Lee, for the company and the hot tip.

My shout next time, when I’ll be sure to bring that Mark Twain foodie book for you.

 

Phat Milk on Urbanspoon

 

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(The above menu pic will be replaced at the first available opportunity!)

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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