Sweet sensations

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Victoria Sweets, 216 Blackshaws Road, Altona North. Phone: 9391 2322

Early on in its history, Consider The Sauce dropped in on Victoria Sweets a couple of times … must have been on very slow days as on both occasions as we struggled to find anyone to serve us.

Since then we’ve been happily distracted by many hundreds of other stories but we’re game for another try.

Today we do better and we’re ever so glad!

The place has a humming smell of sugar and nectar and is crammed with Lebanese goodies that are sold at $20 a kilogram

We go out of our way to order items that are not baklava or in that style – we seem to have consumed plenty of them in recent months.

 

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Our tray of goodies, arrived at after much pointing, costs $12.

It’s only upon returning home that we discover just how fabulous, fresh and delicious the Victoria Sweets products are … we’re still working our way through them but we can report that the numbers that look like spring rolls are very sticky tubes supremely stuffed with a lush vanilla cream.

Victoria Sweets?

 It’s taken a while but I suspect we’re about to become very regular customers.

Heck, I may even try to wangle my way into kitchen visit to observe a baking session!

 

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We also note with interest the presence of good-looking gelati.

We’re told it’s made off-premises but within-business – this will be for another visit, hopefully before the weather turns nasty.

 

Victoria Sweets on Urbanspoon

 

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Eat Like An Egyptian

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The Stuffed Pepper, 727 Nicholson Street, Carlton North. Phone: 9078 8131

My pal Corinna has a bung foot.

It’s on the mend and she’s hobbling around in the manner of folks wearing moonboots.

But still, it means our catch-up lunch will, of necessity, be in the vicinity of her North Carlton pad.

Her place, the soon to re-open local pub?

Whatever …

But, of course, I scope the neighbourhood out on the magic maps and …

I see you have an Egyptian place nearby,” I say to her.

“We do?” she replies.

You see, the name The Stuffed Pepper conjured up in her mind visions of, well, Italian food – so she’d not taken much notice.

But it’s not.

Italian, that is.

Instead, it is very, very Egyptian – and becoming more so.

Oh sure, there are non-Egyptian items on the menu, but the feedback the wonderful Giselle is getting from her customers is along the lines of “bring on the hardcore”.

So she is, with a love and passion for her food and recipes imbued to her by her mum and dad.

All this is, of course, is music to the ears of Consider The Sauce.

Even better, as of February 28, The Stuffed Pepper will be doing dinners as well as lunches.

Below I have published the Egyptian sections of menu.

 

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Corinna chooses the hawashi (closed Egyptian pizza, $12.90), which consists of ground beef, onion, tomato and capsicum combined with Egyptian spices spread in Middle Eastern bread and grilled until toasted.

It’s spectacular and very different from every other Middle Eastern pie or pizza I’ve experienced.

The meat filling is quite deep and very juicy.

The pastry is anointed with yogurt and very good tabouleh.

Wowee!

 

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I go for the kushari ($13.9), which is described as a delicious Egyptian vegetarian dish consisting of green lentils, rice and tomato-based sauce topped with macaroni and finished with a crispy onion garnish accompanied with a garden salad.

It looks like a simple, humble dish.

It is, but it’s also very sexy.

Giselle furnishes me with a separate bowl of mildly spicy and very good yet thin tomato sauce, which I duly pour over my dish.

I mix the salad in as I go, as instructed.

It’s perfect and just what I was feeling like consuming.

I remark that with its combination of pulses, tomato, pasta and fried onion, my kushari has been like a solid version of the Iraqi soup that has become a feature of CTS Headquarters home-cooking.

Giselle laughs, as that soup is a staple – with variations – right across the Middle East, so she knows exactly what I am talking about.

All the Egyptian food at The Stuffed Pepper comes her family’s store of recipes, and is mostly prepared by her, too.

She even makes her own turshi from scratch, while the falafels are of the green variety, being made with fava beans and herbs.

She does have a cook, Nick, who is helping her out.

She tells me he is of Indian background but is rapidly “becoming Egyptian”.

 

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I really wish The Stuffed Pepper was in the west.

As of the dinner debut, CTS will return with as many pals as we can round up.

Corinna and I only have a small sample of the lunch menu, but’s it’s top rate-stuff.

My mind boggles at what the meat, fish and various ful dishes might be like and how good they might be.

And how about beleela, “a combination of cooked and barley”, which is offered by Giselle in two version?

Check out the Stuffed Pepper Website, including full menus, here.

 

The Stuffed Pepper on Urbanspoon

 

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Altona Meadows bakery cool

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Babylon Bakery, 40 Rosebery Street, Altona Meadows. Phone: 9369 2992

So here’s Consider The Sauce thinking it had a pretty good handle on the places across the west that purvey Lebanese pies and pizzas … when reader Carolyn comes up with a new one for us to try in Altona Meadows.

Babylon Bakery, just around the corner from a small neighbourhood shopping centre, has been in business for about four years.

Three of us rock up for Saturday lunch and have a fabulous time.

 

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After we occupy one of the outside tables, boss man Diya moves the big umbrella so it covers us, the table and our food in pleasant shade.

Sarah cuts all our oven-baked choices into three for sharing ease and brings the plates to our table.

We feel like kings of the world sitting on an Altona Meadows nature strip.

 

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As we’re sharing, we have the za’atar with vegatables done in open pizza style rather than as a wrap. It costs $5.

It’s very good.

As are our lemon-spinach-onion,  chicken and spinach-cheese pies, all of which cost a simply fabulous $3.50.

Our nutella pie (top picture, $5.50) is brought to our table looking like a work of art

Studded with plump, hot, oven-roasted sultanas, it’s a wonderful thing, thinner and less doughy than many we’ve had.

My cafe latte is scalding hot but excellent.

 

Babylon Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

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Mezmez – return visit

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Mezmez, 42 Ferguson Street, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 8804

We sometimes have a laugh about how fickle the winds are that blow Consider The Sauce this way and that as it embarks on its adventures.

It’s our Saturday jaunt, we’re hungry and feeling virtuous after about an hour’s worth of house-cleaning in our low-maintenance home.

Heading towards Fehon Street, we are confronted with road signs ruling out a right-hand turn and destinations such as Seddon, Footscray and beyond.

So a left turn it is … and Williamstown, with no specific destination in mind.

We park and check out a cool pizza place that is on our “to do” list, but they’re not rolling yet despite it being 12.30pm.

Maybe next time for them.

So we are happy to return to Mezmez, which we wrote about just a few weeks back – it’s a beaut and significant addition to the Williamstown food scene, and we’re eager to try some more of their dishes and write about them.

 

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Bennie has been given the run of menu, including the more substantial and expensive meals, but goes for the pide with BBQ zatar chicken, peppers, spinach and chipotle mayo ($14).

It goes down a treat.

He especially like the herby nature of the chicken.

 

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My salad of baby beetroots with walnuts, goats cheese, witlof, pasrley and orange dressing ($15) is fabulously brilliant.

It’s a big serve – I take a while longer to eat my lunch than Bennie does to eat his sandwich – and filling for a dish made up so much of water-based ingredients.

The way the various goodies both play off each other and meld together is magical.

The key ingredient is the witlof, the bitterness of which moderates the beet sweetness.

Wow.

 

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Mezmez today has some keen-looking baklava on display but we find we are unable to do anything but order another of their Nutella doughnuts ($3.50).

Both myself and the occupants of the adjoining table are bemused by Bennie’s display of inexpert cutting the sees us end up with two unequal doughnut halves.

Oh well – even the lesser of the two tastes divine to me.

Just like that, Mezmez has become a CTS favourite.

 

Mezmez on Urbanspoon

 

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Actually, better than A1

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 A1 Bakery, 18 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9375 7734

After an initial visit – covered here – Consider The Sauce has been eager for a return adventure at A1 in Essendon.

Primarily to partake of one of the more unusual and intriguing options among the more substantial meal platters they offer – samke hara, which features “three flathead tails baked in a spicy tahini sauce”.

Today, it being that time of year when my very good mate Penny is making her annual visit to Melbourne from Wellington, is the day.

Truth is, on previous visits Penny and I have had some really fine face-to-face catch-ups – we talk by phone at least once a fortnight about everything under the sun – but rarely have we enjoyed a really fabulous meal.

I put the blame for that squarely on my own shoulders in the category of “trying too hard”.

Anyway, we rectify that today – and in spectacular fashion.

As it turns out, the samke hara is unavailable.

So boss man Gabby offers to put together for me (and Penny!) a combo set of shish tawook (chicken) and kafta skewers with all the bits and pieces.

The above spread costs us $24; not pictured are an extra salad and a basket containing plenty of zaatar, olives and a couple each of small rice-stuffed peppers and puff-style kibbeh.

The single-meat deals are priced at $14.50, so I’m not sure our price accurately reflects what it would cost to buy all items involved separately.

And Gaby is perfectly aware there’s a blogger in the house …

But add another $10 or even $20 and it would STILL be a bargain.

I know there’s a handful of places around town that do Lebanese food in more formal settings (and at significantly higher prices), but I find it extremely difficult to imagine their food could be any finer.

As I once said of another Lebanese establishment, in the world of Consider The Sauce, this is as good as food gets – at any price.

As our meal arrives at our table, our day gets even better …

 

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Placing bowls full of wonderful before us, Gaby sighs as he says: “This is when I miss being in Lebanon – all the small dishes!”

Then he introduces us to his mum, Sandra, she being responsible for much of the food we are about to inhale.

And, I’m sure, almost all its heart and soul!

For CTS – which has been known on occasion to mutter, “We revere cooks but chefs don’t impress us that much!” – this is akin to meeting royalty!

Everything we eat rocks our world …

Stuffed vine leaves with a lemony tang and rice still displaying a nice, nutty al dente feel.

Fresh, luscious dips, with the ultra-smoky eggplant number a taste sensation.

Tabouli and fattoush, fresh and zingy.

Two kinds of splendidly crunchy and salty green olives.

And the meat skewers – served at room temperature, juicy, tender, packed with flavour and having the killer chargrilled tang in abundance.

All of the above, of course, can have only one outcome – yes, some time early in the new year and all going as planned, A1 Essendon and Consider The Sauce will co-host the first CTS Feast for 2015.

 

A1 Bakery Essendon on Urbanspoon

 

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CTS Feast No.10: Phat Milk – the wrap

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CTS Feast No.10: Brunch at Phat Milk, 208 Mt Alexander Road, Travancore. Phone: 9376 6643. Sunday, November 9, from 11am.

How good and enjoyable was this CTS Feast?

Well, for purely selfish reasons, I’d have to proclaim: “It was the best!”

You see, not only was this the first Feast in held in daylight hours and the first hosted by a cafe, it was also the smallest … well, OK the smallest since the very beginnings of the CTS Feast tradition.

And I know full well that organising and hosting a small number of people is significantly easier and less stressful than hosting a big bunch.

In this case, too, Bennie and I knew about half the guests already and enjoyed the heck out of getting to know those we didn’t.

As we arrived, the Phat Milk crew seemed to be embroiled in a frantic breakfast/brunch rush … but things soon seemed to settled down, and the timing of our massed arrival ended up seeming quite good.

Shaun, our main server, Rose, and the rest of the staff looked after us supremely well.

Bravo!

 

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As our brunch unfolded and the conversations ebbed and flowed, I realised that on top of all the many pluses of the CTS Feasts, they also provide a simply lovely and easy way for likeminded folks to mix and mingle and make new friends in a way that isn’t always that easy in other social settings.

So I was thrilled to see three guests – who had only met for the first time an hour or so earlier – swap details as the event wound down.

And Bennie and I even snagged – and feel very privileged to have done so – an invite for a homecooked Indian meal in Seddon from a lovely couple of regular CTS readers attending their first CTS event.

Wow!

 

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So many, many thanks to Alice, Nelio, Ankitha and Raj, Shamaila, Amanda, Chiara, Lisa, Julian and Christine for making this a wonderful occasion.

The food?

I thought it was outstanding.

 

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As on a previous visit, I went for the purple carrot and sweet potato latke with blueberry-cured salmon, quark and a poached egg.

It was a lot more filling than it looks here!

Most others also chose from the breakfast menu, with table’s dishes including …

 

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… a cauliflower omelette and …

 

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… baked eggs, as well as …

 

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… your more traditional, custom-selected breakfast fare.

(Swamp Thing? Gee, I wonder whose meal that could be?)

 

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Only two of us chose from the blackboard lunch menu (see below).

The entire CTS party “oohed” and “aahed” when Ankitha’s salt-and-pepper soft shell crab burger (pictured at top) arrived, while Raj’s garlic-and-thyme chicken cous cous salad also looked mighty fine.

Obviously, this event was a co-promotion between Phat Milk and CTS … but I really do dig this one-of-a-kind establishment and the people who run it.

They offer not just great food but also twinkle-eyed personality to go with it.

 

Phat Milk on Urbanspoon

 

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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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