The beauty of western vistas

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The western suburbs have certainly got their hooks into me.

When I am visiting other parts of the city, even those generally deemed as being more aesthetically pleasing than the west, I am frequently beset by an urgency to get home to our “industrial landscapes”.

And in those landscapes, I find beauty and allure.

I revel in the weirdness and the sometimes startling juxtapositions.

I love tooling around western residential areas only to be blindsided by paddocks and old farm houses.

That’s why the work of Tarneit artist Rachel Hanna reverberated with me when I learned of it.

Rachel has been painting for 10 years and has lived with her family in Tarneit for two, and she too reverberates with the west.

“You can breathe over here,” she tells me while installing her exhibition, On The Way From Here To There at the Point Cook Community Learning Centre.

Rachel tells me that, among other things, she adores shipping containers as subjects – although she confesses she finds them difficult to paint.

Looking at the paintings in her exhibition, I find some that I recognise immediately, others that are less obvious – but they all have a genuine western vibe about them.

The paintings are for sale, ranging in price from $150 to $650.

When I venture that such prices seem rather low for exhibition works, Rachel quips: “They’re priced to sell – I need more canvases!”

On The Way From Here To There at the Point Cook Community Learning Centre, 1–21 Cheethamis  Street, Point Cook, until September 19.

For more details, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holy cow – bunny chow!

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Cafe Indigo, Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre, Point Cook

Sanctuary Lakes shopping centre for a meeting with a new friend, new contact, new editor of a new newspaper.

But lunch first.

Am headed for a centre stalwart we have enjoyed on previous occasions, sparing only a quick glance for a cafe I have previously noted with some interest but which has been put in the “another day” category.

But what’s this? Cafe Indigo just got a whole lot more interesting.

Item: Chole bhature. Hell yes! A CTS favourite … but perhaps not today.

Item: Bombay breakfast of eggs poached in spiced mince. Hmmmm …

Item: Samosa burger … well, that sounds pretty good, too!

But what is bunny chow?

Pradeep explains that it’s a South African dish in which curry is stuffed into bread.

Curry-stuffed bread?

OK, I’m in … just the kind of thing I love taking a punt on.

In the meantime, and as I await my lunch, I get sleuthing  – and discover a whole world of funky working man’s tucker that fits right in with the Consider The Sauce world view.

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While bunnies can be found all over South Africa and even the world, the spiritual home of the bunny is Durban.

This apparently authoritative piece at Wikipedia has a rundown on bunny lore, as does this one at Facts About Durban.

I especially like this knowing quote from the latter:

“The correct way to refer to Bunny Chows when talking about them or asking for directions to the nearest purveyor is as Bunnies. The use of the word Chow will indelibly mark you as an outsider, and a pretty uncool one at that. When talking to friends it would be quite correct to suggest ‘Let’s go get us some Bunnies’. You could say to your host, taxi driver, tour guide or concierge ‘I’m really desperate for a Bunny’, ‘I need a Bunny’, ‘Show me the nearest Bunny’, or ask ‘who makes the best Bunny in town?'”

 I even discover the most fabulous blog, Quarterbunny, which is run by a crew I “heart” instantaneously – they’re driven, possessed and obsessed, and completely unapologetic about it.

Quarterbunny has reviews and photos of such splendidly named establishments as Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Lounge and Mrs Govender’s Curry Kitchen And Take Away.

I’m not sure what the Quarterbunny experts would make of my Cafe Indigo bunny, but it tastes really fine to me.

The lamb curry is mild but wonderfully sticky, and has the odd cardamom floating about and some nice potato chunks.

I eat my bunny with cutlery, though I suspect this is flouting some sort of fundamental bunny etiquette. (I subsequently discover this is indeed the case!)

I just love the way the curry gravy soaks into the bread.

And that bread, by the way, is your standard white loaf.

This is working man’s food and your boutique bread nonsense is not only unwanted in this sort of terrain but would be an outright disaster.

Artisan sourdough?

Stuff that! Or not, if you follow me …

The asking price for my Cafe Indigo bunny is $11.90, which I suspect would horrify your typical Durban bunny maven.

But I consider it a good deal given shopping centre rents and the opportunity to embrace a soul food genre of which I have been – until this very hour – completely ignorant.

As I await my new friend, I enjoy a long chat with Pradeep and Ankur about many things Indian food and eateries, especially those spread across the west, resolving all the while to return soon to try their vegetable and chicken bunnies.

Café Iñdigo on Urbanspoon

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Shopping centre Malaysian – really good

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Nyonya House, Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre, 300 Point Cook Rd, Point Cook. Phone: 9394 8881

Nyonya House is in Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre, so we keep our expectations prudently in check.

No matter the ambitions, we fully expect the necessity of also serving coffee, cake, breakfast and more to compromise – perhaps seriously – the nature of the Malaysian food on offer.

We are dead wrong.

As becomes apparent as we scan the long, illustrated menu (see below), and as is confirmed when we enjoy a fine lunch.

This is some serious stuff going on here, the Malaysian menu seeming to have quite a notable Singaporean influence.

All the expected bases and dishes are covered, but there are a few unusual and intriguing items as well.

But with a couple of exceptions, we stick to standard dishes.

Our choices are served promptly and the service from a handful of different staff members is full of smiles and patience with our many questions.

The decor and ambiance are bog standard shopping centre, but the food vibe is of a much loftier standard.

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Char koay teow ($11.80) is average in a good way.

It’s less greasy than the norm and light on wok hei, but the spice level is a little higher than normal and the $2 extra we pay for inclusion of Chinese sausage is well spent.

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Jala are lace-like crepes – see recipe here.

They’re so delicate – eating them is akin to enjoying a meal of Sri Lankan hoppers.

We have them with chicken curry sauce for $6.80, but they’re also available as a full serve with chicken curry for $12.80. Maybe next time!

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Chicken nasi goreng ($12.80) is OK, but as ever seems to me just glorified fried rice with not much zing. Still, it suffices as a base for all else on our table.

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Achar ($6.80) is fantastic.

All Malaysian restaurants should serve this, but we don’t see it that often.

More to the point, this is a great version – sweet and sour, crunchy, and it’s a good-sized serving, too, with plenty to go round a table of four.

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Beef rendang ($16.80) is another big hit with everyone at our table.

Yet it’s unlike any previous rendang any of us have tried.

There’s no discernible coconut, for starters.

Instead, the rich, smooth gravy is heavy with black pepper, while the large chunks of beef are fat-free, firm and even a little crusty on some of the extremities.

It comes across as curried, Asian-style take on a hearty beef stew from Italy or central Europe.

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For company today we have Courtney and James.

We met them at the Paella Party, where they told me they routinely rely on Consider The Sauce and Footscray Food Blog to know where to go to eat.

My immediate thought on being told that was: “Stuff that! Time to rope these guys into helping us do some of the heavy lifting!”

Turns out they’re definitely not your passive blog readers, are in fact zealous and adventurous in pursuit of mostly cheap but always funky foodiness, and are thoroughly hip to and appreciative of Malaysian food.

Even better, as the four of us chow down it becomes clear that we have more than food in common, with the conversation zooming from science fiction and fantasy writing to anime and manga, various football codes, politics, travel, films, comics and more.

I even come away from our meal with a short but enticing list of books titles to explore.

Meeting them was a gas; having lunch with them has been even better.

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James and I mostly leave the “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” over our desserts to Bennie and Courtney.

Sago pudding ($2) is quite firm but very nice, with the caramelised sugar adding a lusty touch.

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Iced kachang ($5.80) is all about Bennie, with no comment from his dad necessary.

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Muar chee ($5.80) are cute, bursty, gnocchi-like dumplings made from glutinous rice and coated with finely chopped peanuts and sugar and sesame seeds.

Courtney loves them; I’ll sit on the fence.

What a find Nyonya House is – it strikes me as easily the equal or better of anything thing in Flemington, or Melbourne generally.

There’s plenty of scope to be more adventurous on future visits.

I’m keen to try out some of the one-for-lunch dishes such as laksa, chicken rice or the aforementioned jala with chicken curry.

And I wonder how crash-hot the $13.80 lobak or the $4.80 wonton soup might be …

Nyonya House on Urbanspoon

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Charcoal Fusion

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Charcoal Fusion, 300 Point Cook Rd, Point Cook (Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre). Phone: 9394 8509

Put aside bias against shopping centres and malls in the eternal search for foodiness.

Because outside our truly inner west haunts such as Yarraville, Footscray and Flemington, where there are older neighbourhoods suitable for hosting food enclaves, there ARE no older areas to play that role.

In places such as Point Cook or, say, Caroline Springs, food outlets have to go somewhere and it seems the only place they can go is the local shopping centre.

(Alfrieda St and surrounds in St Albans seems to be a notable exception to this truism.)

That’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past couple of years.

But the simple fact is it’s been more a theory than something I’ve found to be true in adventures that have taken Team Consider The Sauce across wide swathes of the inner and outer west.

But at Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre I find, to my delight, vindication for my theory.

Not only do I find the target of today’s outing, a swish, newish Japanese joint called Charcoal Fusion, but also – nearby – not one, but two Malaysian places.

Charcoal Fusion? Sounds like a chicken shop, eh?

It’s not – it IS a full-range Japanese restaurant with skewers at night (that’s where the “Charcoal” bit comes in) and teppanyaki.

But today I’ll be enjoying the much more homely and smaller lunch list that has various don/rice dishes and noodles such as yakisoba (list below).

In a bid to drum up some lunchtime trade, these are being offered at $8 instead of the listed $12.

On the basis of my lovely lunch, I reckon this is a red-hot bargain.

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The lovely and welcoming manager/owner, long-time Point Cook resident Jenny, started her new venture inspired by the lack of eating-out options in the area.

She agrees business people such as herself have little option when it comes to location in such an area.

And with this territory comes myriad challenges and restrictions – Jenny, for instance, must adhere to the general opening hours for the centre as a whole.

Miso soup is not listed but my request for it is cheerfully and agreeably met.

It’s super, especially at $2 – quite dark, deep of flavour and hiding a good amount of seaweed and tofu in its depths.

My curry don with crispy chicken is also very, very fine.

The curry is a deep khaki, sticky and studded with tender potato pieces. It’s a classic curry, Japanese-style, with a chilli hit that manages to be both low-key and pleasingly intense.

The crispy chicken is rather profoundly uncrispy. But it is also unoily, delicate, freshly cooked and delicious.

The salad bits are dressed with a sesame concoction. I discard two rather tired slices of cucumber and find the rest go real swell mixed in with the spuds in the curry gravy.

The accompanying mound of rice is topped with pickled ginger that is red rather than usual pink, and nicely chewy instead of outright crisp.

I love a bargain lunch – and even at the full whack of $12 this would fully qualify.

Charcoal Fusion on Urbanspoon

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Master Shifu

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Master Shifu, GO6 47-57 Tom Roberts Parade, Point Cook. Phone: 9395 3888

When it comes to choosing eateries to frequent, everyone judges books by their covers.

Unless, of course, there are other factors influencing the decision-making process – things such as recommendations, word of mouth and reviews.

But choosing a place at which to eat on a casual basis?

There’s myriad factors that come into play as we stand outside this or that restaurant, all of them feeding into split-second and intuition-laden decisions.

Is the place clean, or are there leftovers dishes and food on a table – or more than one table?

Is there a menu in the window for perusal?

Are there staff nearby to welcome incoming customers?

Are there any customers at all?

Are the windows clean or grubby?

These and many more are part of the process.

For these sorts of reasons, and perhaps unfairly, we’ve come to think of Point Cook as rather an arid wasteland when it come to persuing our cheap eats jollies.

This is largely based on extensive window-shopping on several occasions at Point Cook Town Centre.

Nothing has ever jumped out at us, and what seem like rather hefty prices have regularly seen us looking further afield.

So I was rather entranced when I got into a foodiness conversation with one of the blokes who came to install our pay TV set-up in our new abode.

He told me he was a Point Cook resident, had a background in the hospitality business (as did his daughter) and was quite conversant with eating out across a wide swathe of the west and eating styles and genres.

When we canvassed Point Cook itself, I was in the process of rolling my eyes – as if to say, “Basket case!” – when my new friend said: “Yes, but …”

He went on to extoll the virtues of a Chinese place, a little ways removed from Point Cook Town Centre, that makes it own dumplings.

Dumplings? Point Cook!

Golly!

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And so it is that we’re on the prowl in Point Cook with more optimism than has previously been the case.

After parking at the compact shopping and food precinct at the corner of Boardwalk Boulevard and Tom Roberts Parade, we have a wander around and are surprised by what we find.

There’s those kinds of places you’d expect – pizza and fish-and-chip joints, bakery, charcoal chicken shop and so on.

But we also happily spy an Indian place, a nondescript noodle shop that offers a kimchi noodle dish and what just may be a grouse Malaysian-style curry, a Turkish eatery and the dumpling outfit that has been the destination of our journey.

But there’s also a Japanese emporium.

We literally toss a coin – one of the 10 cent variety, to  be specific.

Heads it is, so Japanese for lunch for us today.

The dumplings will have to wait for another day.

Master Shifu is a big and roomy restaurant located in the ground floor of a rather ugly, angular modern building.

As we amble in, a few tables are being utilised and we are quickly greeted by a staff member who continues to take pretty good care of us for the duration of our visit.

Suburban Japanese?

Well, yes, there are sushi rolls at the counter.

And on the menu there’s tempura, bentos, teriyaki, don rice dishes and Japanese-style curry.

But there’s other items that set Master Shifu apart from and above typical expectations for such a place.

Gyu tan – ox tongue marinated in red wine and tossed in chilli in spring onion, and listed as both an entree and rice bowl offering – is not an unusual dish, but it’s not that common, either.

Unfortunately, our bid to try it one way or the other is thwarted by its temporary unavailability.

On the specials list there’s more dishes to intrigue: Gyoza ramen, ginseng ramen and cha soba – “Cool green tea soba noodle with chef’s special sauce and raw eggs”.

A shared bowl of miso soup is nicely priced at $2.50 but is rather undistinguished.

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The seaweed salad ($4) is better, looking luminously green in the direct sunlight in which we are sitting. The seaweed is generously dressed and sits on a small bed of mixed greens.

From the specials list, I choose Cool Noodle (top photo) – “Seaweed, squid, Japanese pickle, boiled egg, cucumber and noodle in cold home made stock”.

We’ve never see a Japanese dish such as this!

On a bed of cold, white squiggly noodles, the other protagonists are fresh as can be – with the exception (naturally) of the pickled/preserved and chewy squid.

The seaweed appears to be a no show, but in addition to the other promised ingredients there is a single, nice crumbed prawn.

The sauce, we are told, is made with soy sauce, sesame (perhaps something akin to tahini?) and peanuts. It’s good and smooth.

I toss the lot of it over my noodle dish and eat my lunch with chopsticks – but, oddly, it seems more like a pasta dish than a noodle one.

I’d loved to be able report that my cold noodle fare rocks my world – but it does not. I enjoy it, but would not order it again.

Put this down to personal preference – certainly, I am excited by being served such an unusual dish that is so fresh and wonderfully presented in such unexpected surrounds. Such augurs well for returns visits and the chance to try some of the other less familiar offerings.

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Bennie opts for the more orthodox – pork tonkatsu don ($9.80.

It’s a doozy.

The crumbed pork is plentiful and delicious.

The egg/omelette is still runny and seeps into the rice, while the lightly cooked  red onions slices provide texture.

At Urbanspoon, you’ll find a number of “diner reviews” for Master Shifu.

Some are from happy customers. Some, though, are from customers far less so, particularly in reference to service.

As noted above, we have been more than happy in that regard on what appears to quite a busy Anzac Day lunch time.

At Urbanspoon, too, is this comment:

“Rude people, fake japanese food! the restaurant is operated by a bunch of chinese.”

We’ve addressed the topic of authenticity before here at Consider The Sauce, but continue to find this sort of comment puzzling, idiotic and ugly.

Such views seem out of whack of how we all live in a multicultural society.

And while I don’t have facts and figures to back me up, I’m under the strong impression that Japanese eateries come in for more of this kind of stick than, say, those of Italian or Indian persuasions.

What such view seems to suggest is that we should have some sort of ethnic apartheid in our restaurants, both in the kitchens and front of house.

Or at least in our Japanese restaurants.

Um, no thanks!

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After leaving Master Shifu, we stroll a few metres across the way to check out a cavernous Asian supermarket called Asian Supermarket.

To my thoroughly untutored eye, this place houses more Asian exotica of a marinated, canned, fermented, bottled, pickled and variously prepared nature than I have ever before seen in one place.

Bennie loves it, of course, so I indulge him with an Asian soft drink.

Labelled as involving basil seeds and honey, it looks fantastical.

But it tastes better than some of the outlandish things he has developed a yen for, though it tastes to me very much of lychees!

On the way back to the car, we also check out what I’m guessing is Melbourne’s biggest IGA.

As we wander about, I say to Bennie: “Other dads take their sons to the footy or a movie – I take you to supermarkets!”

After we’ve both cracked up, I continue: “And the funny thing is … I don’t think you even mind any more!”

Master Shifu on Urbanspoon

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Point Cook Homestead

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Point Cook Homestead, 1 Point Cook Homestead Rd, Point Cook. Phone: 9395 1213

It’s a bleak, wintry day for a seaside visit.

But it’s magical anyway – making landfall at Point Cook Homestead and being knocked out by the stunning beauty of the grounds and the relaxed, charming atmosphere of the restaurant.

Happily envisaging, too, future visits for picnics and more when the weather is warmer and time constraints not so demanding.

We could spend days here … and may even do so, as the homestead operates as a B&B.

When completed in 1857, the homestead – its builders had a family connection with Werribee Mansion – would’ve been a long way from anywhere.

These days, suburbia in the form of Sanctuary Lakes and other developments is encroaching, but it retains a very strong feel of being far from anything urban.

Turning left before I get to the RAAF museum, the development sprawl is left behind and then I’m driving the dirt road up to the homestead grounds.

On arrival, I am greeted by a gaggle of fat, waddling and thoroughly gorgeous geese.

The restaurant is sited in a building of far more recent vintage than the homestead itself.

Mind you, it, too, has plenty of country charm.

I am the first lunch customer and the waitress is partially occupied mopping the floor in the half of the dining room in which the chairs are on the tables.

In the sunny half of the dining room destined for lunch-time business, the tabletops are all painted a dullish green and the paint is liberally scratched.

I like that.

The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, and dinner on Fridays, with the lunch menu offering pretty much what I expect from such an establishment.

There’s pastas and burgers and dips and caesar salads.

There’s even a surf ‘n’ turf (market price).

Never been there. Probably never will.

I’m hungry and happy, so consider ordering both the soup and the pie from the specials board – that sounds like a decent lunch for just a tad over $20.

However, after being assured that fresh oil has just been installed in the deep fryer, I do something unusual for me – I order the chicken parma ($22).

I am no parma expert, for I rarely order any of the variations of this dish – simply because most I’ve had over the years have been dull, average or dreadful.

This one doesn’t fit any of those three categories and I really enjoy my lunch.

The crumbed chicken not draped with tomato sauce, cheese and ham is crispy and ungreasy.

The chicken is real and well cooked.

I love the way the flavours of the three topping protagonists come through quite discernibly in different ways with different mouthfuls.

The shoestring chips are hot enough but just on the positive side of OK.

The salad is standard fare for such eateries, may be what the customer base expects and wants, and the ingredients are all in good nick.

But I find the hodge podge of greens, sprouts, onion, carrot and capsicum unappealing, a situation not helped by the gloopy mustard dressing.

Oh well – the parma itself more than suffices.

After lunch, I amble around just a small part of the grounds, once more delighting in the sights and fresh air, and once more already planing future visits in sunnier times.

From the beach, there’s a lovely view of the distant Melbourne CBD skyline.

The restaurant staff have told me that visitors bringing their own picnic goodies are welcome but are asked to make a donation, as the mansion and grounds are maintained by the residents rather than Parks Victoria.

And of course such visitors are unable to use the restaurant’s outdoor seating, though most I’m sure drop in for a coffee at the least.

The Point Cook Homestead website – including menu pdfs – is here.

Point Cook Homestead on Urbanspoon

All India Curry Company

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9/73 Point Cook Rd, Point Cook. Phone: 8360 9229

Pulling into a parking spot of the small and rather nondescript shopping precinct, I take my bearings.

It’s a mixed bag.

Bottle shop, convenience store, Indian grocery and so on.

A fish and chip shop that sells kebabs.

A kebab shop that does pizzas.

I’m headed, though, for All India Curry Company, a sister place to the one in Maribyrnong Rd, Ascot Vale.

It’s a very sleepy Friday lunch hours and I’m the only customer.

The place comes across as your basic, tidy suburban eatery.

I resist the temptations offered by a sign in the window advertising chole bhature for $7, going instead for onion bhaji (spelt bhujia here) and a vego thali.

The onions are smaller, less crunchy and more chewy than I’ve been enjoying lately, but I really like them anyway. They go down beaut with the tangy tamarind water and creamy raita that accompany, and are a cool bargain at $3.50.

There’s more than enough raita left over to double as a support act for my thali ($11).


This appears, at first blush, to be a rather dull affair, but happily it tastes better than it looks.

The loser, for me, is the pumpkin masala. Formative years spent gagging on pumpkin various ways is a significant hurdle to enjoying any dish made with that vegetable, even if the sweetish mash served here is not unpleasant.

The aloo palak is a handy mix of spud in a creamy spinach gravy; it has a nice smoky flavour.

The dal is a little dry for my tastes, but goes down a treat anyway.

The single chapati is fresh and pliable and likewise disappears with relish.

The regular dish prices at All India appear to be very reasonable – vegetable mains at about $8, meat mains a tick under $10, half a tandoori chook for $8.50.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, from 5pm, the star is a $12.50 all-you-can-eat buffet, that comprises six mains, rice, naan or roti, pickle and raita.

Seems like a pretty good deal!

If this place was closer to home, we’d be regulars.

The All India Curry Company website is here.

All India Curry Company on Urbanspoon