Kensington treat

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Luncheonette, 173 Rankins Road, Kensington.

Luncheonette is a lovely Kensington place I could describe as having “been on our radar”.

But maybe we would never have gotten around to it had we not been happy to accept an invite from pals to join them for Saturday brunch.

As the four of us amble towards the cafe, I see people seemingly waiting outside for a table – and fear I may have to make a complete hypocrite of myself as I’ve just a few hours earlier penned and posted a piece about the lunacy of queues and hopelessly long wait times.

 

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But no, happily we are ushered right to an inside table for four and proceed to make happy.

The place is small but happily the menu is cleverly designed to fit right in with the limited prep space.

Many dishes look enticing.

We go with three sandwiches and an egg dish.

On the way over, Bennie had shown interest in the fact Luncheonette boasts a reuben sandwich.

I’d warned him that generally one gets what one pays for and that for $13 he should not be fronting up and expecting a two-handed monster.

 

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As it turns out, his reuben has surprising heft for the price, with plenty of sliced pastrami going down a treat with the gruyere, cabbage and mustard, and an American style offering of crisps and sliced pickles on the side.

No bad at all!

 

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My club sandwich ($13) does not impress quite so much, though chopped chicken is tasty and beautifully herbed.

I don’t get much of a hit from the promised “crispy bacon”, though …

 

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I hear no complaints from the recipient of the BLT variation, which appears to be bolstered by a good quantity of avocado.

I’d only say that for myself, alfalfa sprouts have no business being anywhere near a BLT … but others’ mileage may vary.

 

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It appears the member of our group who goes the brunch route did the best of us all.

A simple fried egg is served with homemade hash browns, smoked salmon, horseradish cream and cress ($16).

It’s a lightish dish that explodes with a variety of different but fabulously complementary flavours.

 

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Seddon roast lunch – superb

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Charles and Gamon, 2 Gamon Street, Seddon. Phone: 9689 0203

When Bennie was a just-born, I made my first property foray to the west with a view to finding somewhere for us to live, as the CBD studio bachelor pad simply wasn’t cutting it any longer.

House-scouting required, of course, a coffee break.

And I distinctly recall there wasn’t a lot of choice.

In fact, I doubt there’s any more than handful of businesses in the Gamon/Charles/Victoria neighbourhood that are now as they were then.

The chicken shop?

Probably.

But the area has certainly changed – a LOT.

Our coffee stop that day – I may even have had a burger – was made at a joint called the Bowser Cafe, which was housed in a rather ugly brown building that did little to hide its service station heritage.

The Bowser eventually became Sabroso – and I reckon the premises may have at some point before then housed another eatery of some sort.

I trust readers with more reliable memories than mine will tell me if that is the case.

In any case, Sabroso passed us by, our sole visit being a coffee/hot choc stop while out enjoying a late-night amble.

 

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And now Sabroso is gone, replaced by a rebranding exercise called Charles and Gamon.

From what I gather, the same proprietors are still in place with the name change at least partially driven by a desire to distance themselves from the Spanish food that previously was in place.

Now C&G is doing a nice line-up of bistro-style food, including what look like really splendid mid-week meals of comfort food for a very fine $17.

Check out the full menu at the C&G website here.

Not much appears to have changed apart from the name, though there is some vintage wood panelling about the place.

Based on our outstanding Sunday roast lunches, C&G is doing good things.

We’ve been roasting a bit lately – see here and here – but the C&G meals really are the best we’ve had in the west so far.

At $20, they’re a little more pricey than what is available elsewhere but they erase any doubt about getting what we pay for from our first bites.

We consider our lunches a bargain.

 

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Both the roast chicken and …

 

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… the slow-roasted lamb shoulder are abbreviated versions of dishes available at greater length and prices on the C&G menu’s “for the table” section.

The chook is a slightly unappealing yellow-khaki but is a cracker to eat – moist, juicy, delicious, with good gravy and a nice touch of rosemary.

The lamb is gorgeous – crusty, tender and, like the chicken, of good size.

It’s the kind of lamb that wouldn’t be out of place in a really fine Greek eatery or even a barbecue place.

Our spuds are simply wonderful.

No shortchanging in evidence here, with both our plates having plenty of crisp roasted spud chunks that fall into the “moans ‘n’ groans of pleasure” bag.

Slaw?

With Sunday roasts?

Hey, it may not be traditional – and it may even be done as a cost-conscious measure.

But our fresh slaw works incredibly well with the meats and potato.

These have been killer Sunday roast meals.


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Wait – what’s going on?

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A few years back, Consider The Sauce was bemused to note the rise of the Deliberate Wait.

This involves certain eateries in the CBD and elsewhere deliberately and on purpose running their no-booking operations with built-in waiting time for incoming customers.

This way, the reasoning seems to go, the punters can spend some time cooling their heels – in the bar spending money, on the stairway and even out on the street – in such a way as to sharpen their appreciation for just how lucky they will be when they eventually get to eat in such fabulously fashionable establishments.

Whacko stuff.

Or so it’s always seemed to me.

But nothing to do with us, our friends, our readers and eating in the west.

Lately, though, I’m not so sure.

Stories of extended wait times and queuing, many of them provided first-hand to CTS or witnessed by ourselves, continue to arise.

Mostly, though, they’re concerned with different kinds of delay than the “make ’em wait – we’ll build hipster cache” school of thought.

Though I suspect the hour-and-more wait times to get into a certain new CBD dumpling joint certainly fall into that category.

I have a friend who waited more than hour for food at a barbecue festival.

More recently I’ve been told that wait times for the new Willy Friday night food trucks extended, in some cases, beyond 40 minutes.

Surely anything beyond 10 minutes for a bowl of noodles or some such from a food truck defeats the very purpose and ethos and fun of food trucks?

On a more prosaic level, I regularly spy weekend groups of people waiting on the street for tables at a groovy inner west cafe, the coffee of which I find undrinkable.

And over in Kensington, I regularly see a dozen or more people waiting in the foyer or on the street for a table at Laksa King – early evening and early in the week.

Terrific food, indeed, but …

As Bennie has pointed out, we do indeed sometimes wait for a table – but only very, very rarely does that extend beyond waiting for a recently vacated table to be cleared.

Mostly, we’re very happy for ourselves and our fellow westies that waiting – be it for five minutes or five days – is simply uncalled for.

“If one place is busy, go next door” is our default rule of thumb.

Last weekend, I visited one of my very favourite places only to find it more crowded than I had ever before witnessed.

“Uh oh,” I thought. “I’m going to be waiting forever …”

However the staff assured me I’d get my lunch within 15 minutes – that’s OK then, I can live with that!

As things eventuated, I got my goodies in 10 minutes.

Later, I asked the co-proprietor – a man with much experience not only in running this particular cafe/shop but also of coping with the demands of markets and festivals – about long wait times.

For him it’s simple: It’s all about prep work – or lack of it.

And he stressed how important it is – he wants customers to return.

So while this kind of madness continues to pass us by, I still do wonder about whether punters who cop it have some sort of masochistic streak and whether some operators simply haven’t got their act together.

Either in terms of getting customers seated or in providing them food in a timely manner …

Meal of the week No.18: Walia Ibex

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walia23

 

A lively FB discussion – inspired by a fellow blogger’s story about a Seddon institution and concerning the pros and cons of various Footscray African eateries – has me very much in the mood for injera and the stuff that goes with it.

But I’m not in Footscray.

I’m in Sunshine.

So I very happily hit Walia Ibex (197 Hampshire Road, 9312 3090).

This is a sister enterprise to the one a few blocks away.

That one is, I’m told, dedicated entirely these days to coffee and billiards.

If you want Ethiopian food, it’s to the Hampshire Road one you should head.

And you should.

While I continue to find it surprising that AFAIK this is the sole African eatery hereabouts, based on my profoundly enjoyable lunch, it’s at least a fine thing to know it’s a good one!

 

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It’s a cosy place with an upstairs dining room.

Upon my arrival, the vapid nonsense of commercial TV is blaring forth.

Soon after, the audio is extinguished – leaving me and the other customers happily with just the familiar sounds of low-key, funky Ethiopian jazz.

The longish Walia Ibex menu has all the usual Ethiopian staples, and while I don’t check too closely, there may even be a few unusual items in there.

The standard vegetarian combo of yetesom beyayneto costs $12.

 

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But I’ve a hankering for something lighter, healthier, cheaper – so foul it is.

I know there’s folks who would consider $10 a bit too much to pay for such a humble dish.

But so good is the Walia Ibex rendition that I consider it a bargain.

The creamy beans are hot and plentiful, anointed with onion, tomato, capsicum, egg, cheese and just enough chilli to make things even more interesting.

I’m provided, by request, injera instead of bread.

It’s a magical lunch.

Sometimes, often, that’s how it goes with the simplest of dishes.

 

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Edgewater eats goss

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Oh dear – it’s gone!

Lakehouse has closed.

And once more what seems like it could be, should be one of the jewels of western suburbs eating has that forlorn, vacated vibe.

The place has been stripped bare of furnishings and fittings.

 

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The “for lease” sign that speaks of a “wonderful waterfront hospitality opportunity” calls for expressions of interest by April 22.

April just past or 2016?

We strongly suspect the former.

 

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About three-quarters of the way up the hill, a branch of St Burgs looks about ready to roll.

It’s situated in a new apartment block and in one of eight ground-floor retail spaces, only one other of which is on its way to being occupied – by a laundrette.

The easy availability of flash burgers ‘n’ things will no doubt be both an exciting blessing and a bit of too much of a good thing for the local residents, of which there are many.

For the rest of us, access will not be easy – there’s no parking at all on adjacent streets.

The nearest is at the Edgewater shopping precinct further up the hill or down on the flat.

Fabulous Greek

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Philhellene, 551-553 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9370 3303

Uh-oh – there’s a hair in our dolmades!

Not to worry, though … the follicle is entirely imaginary but is still being plucked from our food by our Philhellene host as a comic reaction to my taking of photographs.

We’re happy to say it’s that kind of place.

It’s our first visit to Philhellene – one that has been long anticipated and we’re happy to do it in our series putting the spotlight on Moonee Ponds (see full disclosure below).

But because of its renown, I’d expected something a little more formal and starchy.

What we get, instead, is pretty much your typical Greek setting and wonderful welcome.

 

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The service is very fine and our food arrives exceedingly promptly.

That food is very, very good – this is Greek food definitely at the upper end of what is available in Melbourne.

It costs, of course, but not as much as we had feared – indeed, the Philhellene pricing is on par with all the other famed Melbourne Greek eateries.

But where it stands out is its lovingly long offering of provincial specials.

It’s for that reason we steer away from the basic $35 per person banquet for a minimum of two – you can check it out with the rest of the Philhellene menu here.

Frankly, it sounds like an outrageous bargain – but we’re familiar with almost everything it has.

Instead, we go a la carte and have a fine old time.

I am drawn to the long specials list with a sense of wonder mixed with frustration that we will be able to try so little of what’s offered.

I mean, how insanely good do fried sardine fillets with pickled fennel sound?

Or lamb and artichoke fricassee?

Sigh … but onwards.

 

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Our admirably unhairy silverbeet dolmades are sensational, though quite pricey at $12.50 the pair.

When we have the traditional, vegetarian stuffed vine leaves – be they Turkish, Greek, Lebanese, Whatever – we prefer them unheated.

By contrast, these are served hot and they suit it – the innards are delicious, tender mix of rice, seasonings and beef.

 

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For our other starters, we do stick to familiar Greek staples – one of them is this terrific tarama.

It’s a generous serve for $8.50, especially as it’s as fresh and tangy as we could wish and is served with beaut house-made bread.

 

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Our calamari ($14.50) is well fried and tender but does tend to lose out in the flavour stakes when compared with the other dishes we enjoy.

 

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For me, one of the main reasons to visit Philhellene is to enjoy lamb – not shaved from a spit nor cubed and put on skewers, but instead roasted.

We take a slightly different tack on that Greek philosophy by getting the roast kid goat ($29.95).

It has wow factor in abundance.

The meat is perhaps a tad too salty but is oh-so-wonderful and really does fall from the bones.

The roast spuds and well-cooked mix of peas ‘n’ broad beans come to the dance, too.

Together with our other selections, this single goat serve does us well – though Bennie is so impressed, he later reckons he could easily scoff a whole serve by his own self.

 

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For a final splash of colour, we love our beetroot salad ($16.50, in which baby beetroots – and their tops – have been boiled and then simply dressed with dukkah and yogurt.

It, too, is wonderful.

We’ve ordered well and eaten superbly – but it is with some regret that we head into the night without giving into the temptation of trying something from the desserts list (see below).

When explaining to our host our hesitation about ordering an overly familiar banquet line-up, he told us such could be varied and that a list of staples is simply what some customers seek and require.

That makes us reckon the way to go at Philhellene is to nominate to the staff a price per person you want to pay and then simply announce: “Bring us food!”

Or, if you’re up for it, go for the horiatiko banquet, which costs $60 per punter and is described as “the ultimate of tasting our favourite dishes”.

As it says on the Philhellene website: “Trust us in providing you with a memorable food experience …. this is the only way we would eat with our family and friends.”

(This story has been sponsored by Moone Valley City Council. But in all other regards it is a regular Consider The Sauce post – we chose the restaurant and when to eat there; we ordered what we wanted and paid for it ourselves; and neither oversight nor an editorial role were sought by the council.)

 

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Ace cake, minestrone

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kensington1

 

Kensington Market, Kensington Town Hall, 30-34 Bellair Street.

From the street, Kensington Market doesn’t appear as if it amounts to much – a handful of stalls, a couple of which doing food: Gozleme, corn, snags.

Once along a hallway and into Kensington Town Hall proper an entirely different picture emerges.

 

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The hall is chockers with a quite diverse range of “maker” goodies – clothing, crafts of many sorts, jam, artwork and much more.

Even better, an adjacent room has a whole of lot of food stuff going on.

There’s nothing too elaborate, mind you – no sit-down meals or the like.

But there’s more than enough for me make myself at home for an hour or so, eat well and meet some lovely folks.

One crew, manning the in-house kitchen, is doing things such as toasties and egg and bacon rolls at extremely low prices.

 

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From them I procure minestrone for a silly cheap $4.

OK, it’s a smallish serve in a polystyrene cup – but gosh it’s the real deal and very good!

 

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I enjoy making friends with Von and her pal Ocea.

Von makes her living cooking for kids so her Von’s Vegan Bake House operation is a weekend thing.

Her range of sweet, baked things is impressive and enticing.

 

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I have a slice of one of her cakes with my coffee.

It seems like a modestly proportioned piece for $6 but this ain’t no airy fairy sponge – it has real heft and is delicious.

 

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From Von I also secure some cookies – don’t they look amazing?

(I find out at home that they indeed are …)

 

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Right next door, I meet Simone and Sam who are here representing St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also of Kensington, and raising money to help feed the homeless.

 

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From them I get – also for taking home – some luscious-looking rice pud!

Even better, they tell me that in a few weeks their church will be holding its annual fete, at which there will be all sorts of Egyptian food on offer.

Unless unforeseen factors intrude, CTS will be there – I can just about taste it already!

The next Kensington Market will be on Sunday, August 16.

Check out the market’s website here and Facebook page here.

I can understand the allure of food festivals.

But every weekend somewhere near you there’s fairs and markets and fetes that do food, too.

It’s a parallel universe I prefer.