Be one with the Biryani Nation

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Biryani Nation, 6 Lohse Street, Lverton. Phone: 8597 3452

The Lohse and Hall Street shops are tucked away, over the train tracks and about a kilometre from Laverton’s main shopping area, around Aviation Road and Cheeky Chewies Cafe.

Very local, very low key.

There was a couple of Indian places here we never visited.

They’re gone – and now there’s just the very brand new Biryani Nation.

With a name like that, you’d want to be pretty darn good at cooking … biryanis.

Certainly, the menu makes a big deal out of this sub-continental rice dish – there are about 30 of them, including vegetarian options, listed (see below).

Apart from the regulation and expected dum biryanis – in which the meat is cooked with the rice – I suspect many of the Biryani Nation dishes could more accurately be labelled as pulaos.

That’s of no matter to me – I’m not about to get into hair-splitting if the food is good and there is a range of flavours and seasoning among the various biryani selections.

There is – I know, because I’ve tried two of them and they were very good.

 

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Chicken fry biryani ($13.95) has crunchy fried onions, cashews, curry leaves and plenty of meaty, chewy chicken pieces on the bone.

The accompanying gravy (tastes peanutty but is, I’m told, cashew-based) and raita are served in admirably hefty quantities and are excellent.

 

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Gongura mutton biryani ($16.95) is more in the pulao style – but is a knockout.

Gongura, I find out, is a leafy vegetable widely used in India – it’s basically sorrel.

Here, as in saag/spincach dishes, it is used as a puree marinade cooking medium for the mutton, one piece of which crowns my rice pile and many others of which are buried within.

Some of the mutton pieces are bone-free and wonderful.

As many more are on the bone and rather tough – but I like it like that, getting fully into the hands-on swing that very much goes with this sort of territory.

The big thing is the flavour – the gongura produces a zesty, citrus-like tang like I’ve never before experienced in Indian food.

I love it!

So much so, that I use the raita only sparingly, and the gravy not at all, in order to enjoy the leafy puree all the more.

 

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For non-biryani fans, there’s plenty of scope for enjoyment elsewhere on the Biryani Nation menu – dosas, Indo-Chinese, thalis.

These onion pakora ($4.95) are beaut with their crunchy batter and curry leaves.

 

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The Biryani nation desserts range runs mostly to the familiar likes of kulfi and gulab jamun, but …

I am presented, complementarily, with this amazing double ka meetha on account of it being opening day.

They should put it on the menu!

It’s an Indian take on bread pudding, the white sliced bread all puffed up with milk and perfumed with saffron and cardamom.

And sugar.

Topped with chopped almonds and pistachios, it’s a killer treat.

 

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Westie eats goss 22/2/17

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There’s much to be excited about with what’s taking place at 64 Glengala Road in Sunshine West.

Not least is the fact that the soon-come eats/drinks emporium opening there is being created within and around the location’s glorious old servo.

 

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How easily could this space have been lost to the sort of housing developments we see spreading across the west like mushrooms?

 

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Instead, partners Gareth Crawford (above) and Greg Fee (formerly of the Station Hotel) will unveil – in a month or so – Sunshine Social.

That’s a great name that perfectly sums up the duo’s aims for their new joint and the Aussie tucker heritage into which they will be tapping.

Yep, that means barbecue – but there’ll be none of your smoked brisket and the likes here.

 

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Instead, Sunshine Social will take as its inspiration old-school charcoal chicken shops.

That will include not just chook but also stuff such as meat-on-sticks, with pricing tipped to be about $15 for a protein protagonist and a side dish, with more food of the nibbly variety also being offered.

 

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Features will include an open kitchen, a 1.5-metre charcoal barbecue, heaps of parking space and the retention of some of the servo’s accoutrements, as well as the wonderful old roof extension under which the petrol bowsers once lived.

Current licensing arrangements allow only for interior booze imbibing, but even there Gareth sees an upside in terms of fostering a strong family vibe.

This address was the subject of a long-ago CTS story when the business operating there was known as Stephz Gourmet Deli.

 

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Following the recent opening of Bar Josephine comes news of another Barkly Street bar soon to be operating.

Sloth will be located in what was formerly the wig shop between the pizza joint on the Donald/Barkly corner and the bottle shop.

Consider The Sauce continues to hear many whispers of other westie bars on the way – including one rumoured to be going up somewhere near the corner of Gordon Street and Ballarat Road.

 

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Spotswood’s Candied bakery/cafe is tipping an April opening for its Yarraville branch.

It will be located in the Yarraville HQ commercial/industrial/service precinct under construction on Hyde Street and almost opposite the Hyde Street Hotel.

My understanding is that the precise mix of production, wholesale, retail and (maybe) a cafe is yet to be settled.

Oodles of noodles

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Noodle Queen, 240 Swanston Street, CBD. Phone: 0435 869 777

After a gap of several years, Bennie and I have once again taken up wing chun.

We stopped, after quite a few happy years at Wing Chun Bing Fa Academy in the CBD, for various reasons, most of which I cannot now recall.

We looked at finding a school and teacher in the west, but in the end the depth of the family connection already forged with Sifu Julian and his family and their school won out.

So it’s back to Swanston Street we are heading.

Actually, that’s not true.

The whole shebang is moving from its Curtain House home of many years to new digs on the corner of Victoria and Lygon streets.

 

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Team CTS with Sifu Julian. For more information on Wing Chun Bing Fa Academy, go here.

 

In the meantime, we have really enjoyed getting back into the kung fu drill, including getting on top of the logistics of making two classes a week.

And checking out all the new, funky Asian eateries – including several interesting outfits on Swanston Street around our temporary martial arts destination.

So after a Saturday class, we hungrily hit Noodle Queen.

It’s a long room, nicely done out.

It’s busy, the prices are cheap and the wait times are appropriate for the food involved.

Ordering and paying is done at the cash register, with customers then provided a number.

The food here is from Sichuan – but not in a generic manner.

Instead, at least some of the dishes come from specific areas within Sichuan – regionalism we can applaud!

 

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Yibin burning noodles ($11.80), for instance come from the city of Yibin, in the south-eastern part of Sichuan.

They are fantastic – and Bennie talks about them for days after.

Burning?

Not really, not by our standards anyway – and the dish is given a mere single chilli in the place’s heat grading system.

But the blend of oily noodles, chopped pickles, smashed peanuts and pork mince is full-on delicious.

It gets better as it goes, with the liquids and chopped ingredients gravitating towards the bottom of the bowl, ensuring the last few mouthfuls excel.

 

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From the neighbouring city of Luzhou comes fried diced duck and ginger topping on spicy noodles ($11.80).

Overall, this is good but not as impressive as the Yibin dish.

Mind you, my impressions are coloured by the fact Bennie has first crack at this offering and he scarfs the meatiest, juiciest pieces of duck.

The more bony pieces left for his dad, however, do taste lovely.

But I detect little – nothing, actually – of the advertised ginger topping.

 

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Deep-fried wontons ($5.80 for six) are perfectly cooked and tasty, but largely excess to our requirements.

This is the sort of ordering we fall prey to, not in the interests of immediate gratification, but with a view to making a better CTS story!

Another wing chun class and another meal at the same joint … starts with a smaller, appetiser dish called shredded chicken topping on spicy cold noodles ($4.80, top photo).

This is great!

The same sort of oiled noodles are the base, room temperature rather than cold, with plenty of peanuts and the nice chook pieces making for a winner.

 

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We are seduced by the menu photo of spicy stewed beef with noodle/wonton soup ($13.80).

What we get looks very different – and is simply the Noodle Queen take on the beef brisket/wonton noodle soup we have enjoyed many, many times elsewhere.

Still, it’s a good version, with the beef in strips rather than the more familiar chunks.

 

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Pork and cabbage dumplings with “sceret spicy sauce” ($10.80 for 10) are fab.

They look like they’ll be dry and doughy.

Not so!

They’re, in fact, tender, slippery and quite delicate.

They have less meaty fillings than we might’ve expected, but we feel no sense of deprivation.

They’re super, especially with the sweetish sauce that starts out benign in terms of chilli heat but builds cumulatively as we work our happy way through the parcels.

Bennie loves Noodle Queen so much, I’m going to have to dig my heels when it comes to trying new places for our post-wing chun dining.

 

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Lovely Malaysian in Newport

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Hawkers Lane, 12 Hall Street, Newport. Phone: 9391 0611

“I’ve never seen so many depressed people in one place!”

That’s the desolate text message I receive from Bennie.

He’s stranded in Laverton and the trains are not running.

Neither he, nor anyone else it seems, knows what is going on.

In the meantime, he’s directed me to Newport for pick-up duties – prematurely as it turns out.

But as we await transport clarification, I get the chance to scope out the Hall Street shops and businesses – including the Malaysian place I’d heard about.

 

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It’s small and tidy – not much more than a glorified take-away, really, with one tall and small table and a bunch of counter/window stools.

Still, something about the place feels just right – an exciting impression given ooomph by the surreptitious looks I grab of two different meals I see being eaten.

Our stay-at-home dinner options are happily jettisoned for another night and – once the tricky transport logistics are finally resolved at Footscray Station – it’s back to Newport we head.

The Hawkers Lane menu (see below) covers much familiar territory, from curry puffs (including a sardine option) and rotis through to noodles (wok, wet and soup), one-person rice dishes and full-serve mains such as beef rendang and Nyonya fish curry.

I’ve heard there is a link between this place and Wok Noodle in Seddon, though how deep I do not know. Nor, on this occasion, do I pursue the matter.

 

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Rotis can be served plain or with the likes of peanut sauce, beef rendang and chicken curry, or as wraps.

Our fine roti with potato curry ($9) is all good, though the curry is rather more runny than we’d like – a more sticky gravy that sticks to the flat bread would be just the ticket.

 

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Bennie makes quick work of his mee goreng ($12.50).

It’s a solid, well-cooked outing.

My chicken kari laksa ($15, top photo) is a variation on your regular chicken laksa.

The curry sauce blends with the laksa soup to create a very flavoursome brew, while the chicken pieces are heftier and much tastier than the diced or shredded chook routinely found in laksas.

For veg, there’s just a single, longish chunk of eggplant – no beans or broccoli or the like.

But that matters not, as the chicken, the tofu, two halves of golden boiled egg and mix of two curry gravies combine with the noodles and bean sprouts to produce a top-notch laksa.

 

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Hawkers Lane is a real find.

The locals must be thrilled.

The bare-bones set-up means eating in feels more like just grabbing a quick, unfussy bite and less like going through the whole restaurant ritual.

Yet the service and food quality shine.

Hawkers Lane is a cash-only operation, does not do deliveries and is closed on Sundays.

 

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Classy Thai for Footscray

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Issan Thai Street Food, 10 Droop Street, Footscray. Phone: 9689 9404

Footscray central – ahhh, so much wonderful food, so many lovely people.

Apart from the central themes of Vietnamese and Ethiopian tucker, I can think of at least half a dozen other food varieties without even trying.

But Thai?

Nope.

Never has been hereabouts – or not in my 15-year memory of western living.

The nearest Thai restaurants have been in West Footscray, Seddon and Kensington.

With the arrival of Issan Thai Street Food, that is no longer the case.

 

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And by adding another strand of diversity to inner Footscray, I think Noi and her hubby Vince are being very smart indeed.

As well, they’re adding some welcome life to the mostly moribund-over-the-years Westville Central building.

I know that in the wake of the Little Saigon fire, there were suggestions that Westville Central could – even if only temporarily – play a similar role.

I am not party to the commercial or real estate dynamics involved, but it is good to see some life around the place.

After a solo visit by myself for reconnaissance purposes, a happy group of seven CTS pals hit Issan and have a swell time.

We find the service fine and the wait times appropriate for the food we ordered.

The sharing platter som tum tard (top photo $18.90) is a doozy – a big mound of excellent spicy green papaya salad is surrounded by pork crackling, chicken wings, wet-smooth noodles, bean sprouts and chargrilled diced beef.

Even the hardboiled egg halves are superbly done, with the yolks gooey, not runny.

 

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Our order of satay tofu ($6.90), fuelled by the intense curiosity of three members of our group, doesn’t impress greatly – I think we have been expecting tofu a little more crusty and crunchy. This is OK and the peanutty sauce is good.

 

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The pork skewers of moo ping ($10.90) are outstanding.

The meat is perfectly cooked, packed with chargrill flavour and served with a zingy tamarind-based sauce.

 

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Our serve of Penang curry with beef ($15.90) is of modest proportions but all good.

Here, it’s the deeply, richly flavoursome sauce/gravy that is the hit, with some of us continuing to mop it up with rice long after the curry’s main protagonists have gone and other dishes have arrived at our table.

 

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Pad thai with chicken ($13.90) is a fine version of this popular dish.

 

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The chicken salad of larb gai ($13.90) really impresses with its freshness and tang.

 

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Likewise with the equally sexy moo narm tok ($13.90) – sliced grilled pork with lemon juice, herbs, chilli and toasted ground rice.

My photo here doesn’t adequately convey the fatty, chargrilled gloriousness of the dish!

At Issan, you’ll find not much by the way exotica, offal or regional specialties.

But our general consensus is that the Issan fare is a considerable cut above what is generally found in your typical suburban Thai restaurants.

We double ordered several dishes – the moo ping, the larb gai and the moo narm tok – and ate substantially and satisfyingly well.

Yet the bill for seven of us comes to a few cents under $20 each.

 

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Meal of the week No.34: Hatch’d

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CTS appears to have hit Hatch’d in Kensington in the aftermath of a rush hour.

The salad bar at the place (497 Macaulay Road, Kensington; phone 1300 428243) is exhausted and the two wooden tables provided for eat-in dining need clearing.

But hey, I figure this is a fine thing.

Surely, it must mean that this joint’s food is popular, and thus good, even on a Monday night.

I soon find out that is indeed the case.

The chips are fresh, though I could live without the chicken salt seasoning.

The coleslaw – the salad bar has been topped up subsequent to my order – is fresh, though some sharper flavours would be handy.

But at Hatch’d, the bird really is the word.

As ever, as in ordering a medium bowl of pho when I know a small offering will more than suffice, I succumb to ordering a half chicken when a quarter would be adequate.

No matter – when I am done there nothing but a pile of bones on my plate.

This is an excellent charcoal chook – juicy, flavoursome, wonderful.

Even the breast meat requires neither stuffing (of which there is little) or gravy (provided at my request in small bowl at no charge) to be enjoyable.

An interesting perspective … a similar meal, of similar quality – but with slightly different seasonings and presentation – would cost at a fancy hipster barbecue establishment at least $10 more, and maybe even double, the $16.50 I have paid here.

While I have been enjoying my meal, a stream of customers – and almost as many Uber food drivers – have come and gone.

 

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Cheeky, cheap and excellent

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Cheeky Chewies Cafe, 18 Aviation Road, Laverton. Phone: 9369 9913

Asian fusion?

We’ve been won over by this concept, particularly by West of Kin in Braybrook.

But there, the food is ambitious and the prices tend to reflect that.

At Cheeky Chewies, a bright new arrival in Laverton, the vibe is more everyday cafe, with asking prices to match – there’s nothing above $20 and most of the more hefty dishes clock in at about $16.

Actually, while Cheeky Chewies is self-described as offering “Asian fusion”, truth is this place is more about mixing, on the one hand, Western-style fare (a parma, fish and chips) with, on the other, pretty much straight-up Asian offerings.

 

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Over two lunches on successive days, Bennie and I eat very well indeed, with only a couple of minor flat spots.

The service is top-notch and we like this place a lot.

On our first visit, we tackle a bunch of the “small dish” offerings listed on the menu (see below).

Chilli wontons (top photo, five for $10) are dynamite, the delicate casings housing a lovely pork mince filling, with both doing a lovely tango with the zingy vinegar chilli sauce.

 

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“Super Crispy Chicken Wings” (four for $8.90) could more accurately be described as wingettes, but are excellent.

Nothing flash is served up here – simply superbly cooked, unoily chook.

My heart sank a little when I saw a bottle sweet chilli sauce being wielded in the kitchen, but thankfully that jam-like concoction is served on the side and is ignored.

 

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“Cheezy Pumpkin Bags” (three for $8) display the same expert frying skills, but we detect none of the advertised cheesiness – just pumpkin.

And the dipping sauce tastes like plain old mayo to us, though we are assured it really is “homemade honey mustard sauce”.

The lesson here for Bennie and me is, I suspect, never order anything involving pumpkin.

 

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The “What-A-Burger” ($16.90) is OK, the nice slab of pork having a good lemongrass kick.

But for the price, this offering seems a little on the austere side when there are so many high-powered burger options across the west at similar prices.

 

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The Cheeky Chewies nasi lemak ($14.90) is listed in the breakfast section of the menu, but can also, of course, do lunch duty.

It’s wonderful – better, fresher and more interesting than most equivalents you’ll find in regulation Malaysian eateries.

If there’s one thing that prevents nasi lemak being as popular with us as, say, pho or Hainan chicken rice, it is the inclusion of anchovies.

Invariably, they seem to us stale, nasty blemishes.

Here at Cheeky Chewies they are prepared in-house and the result is winning.

Blonde and crisp, they enhance the dish.

The sticky chunk of chook rendang is fine.

But the real triumph is provided by the house-made sambal.

It’s of only mild spiciness, but has a rich, deep flavour with a touch of smoky about it – wonderful!

 

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Our Thai-style pork/noodle salad ($14.90) is a quality assemblage of excellently fresh ingredients with the just the right, spirited mix of chilli and lemon.

The cafe lattes ($3.90) that complete our second meal here are superb.

 

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