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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Afghan kebabs for Footscray?

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Consider The Sauce pal Juz has alerted us to something interesting happening on Barkly Street – at number 241 to be precise.

My first thought on looking at the pic he sent me was: “Afghanistan!”

As in the sort of kebabs found at Master Afghan Kebab in Sunshine and Rezah Afghan Kebab in Brunswick.

The best I can do with some sleuthing is to discover that Surra is a residential area of Kuwait – which appears to be, perhaps coincidentally, the home of the Afghanistan embassy.

A lunchtime Saturday visit by myself fails to reveal much more – just a couple of blokes working on the windows.

So … not a lot go on.

Yet.

 

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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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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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Kebab nirvana in Sunshine

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Afghan Master Kebab, 3/20 Devonshire Road, Sunshine. Phone:  9311 9277

OK, forget your local old-school charcoal chicken, definitely your Nando’s and maybe even your favourite local tandoori chook.

Here’s what you need …

Half a gloriously chargrilled chicken, mouthwateringly juicy and tangily seasoned.

Served with generous portions of freshly baked flatbread that’s nice and chewy and something like a cross between pita and Turkish bread, along with some salty yogurt sauce and a beaut chilli-infused one of sublime mintiness, and some OK salad bits.

It’s a superb meal and at $8 is an instant westie cheap eats classic.

This plate is just one of the highlights of our Cup Day lunch at Afghan Master Kebab, which has recently taken over the Devonshire Road premises from Eat And Love, an Indian joint we never made it to.

The new Afghani crew has bedecked the place out in wonderful, almost psychedelic finery and the prices on the tightly-structured menu are all under $15.

Lauren from Footscray Food Blog has already posted a story about the new enterprise and in the days following I frankly became quite droolingly besotted with the evocative kebab photo she posted.

But she, knowing well my fondness for rice dishes from this broader part of the world, tells me I’m likely to be drawn towards that segment of the menu.

And that is indeed where I head on a first visit, sans son.

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“Zerishk palaw” ($14) comes with the same accessories as the kebab dishes.

Fluffy white rice topped with tangy berberries goes swell with the a side serve of “lamb qorma” of mildly spicy, good tomato-and-onion gravy with two largish chunks of tender but stupendously meaty lamb.

It’s all fine and homely fare, but it does leave me a little like, um, “Is that all?”

So when I return with Bennie we head straight to the kebab action, snagging the aforementioned half-chicken meal and also the mix kebab ($13.99).

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Lamb skewers of the cubed and minced variety are real nice.

But once again it’s the plentiful chicken that really knocks us out.

These cubes are big, succulent and tremendously well seasoned with, we’re pretty sure, cumin and other goodies.

This is breast meat that comprehensively defies the stereotype of this part of the bird being dry and tasteless.

There’s so much of the fantastic bread on our table that we are able to take half of it home to have that evening with spicy chick peas.

Afghan Master Kebab is surely destined to become a magnet for chargrilled meat fans from all over …

Afghan Master Kebab 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