Meal of the week No.41: Victoria Hotel

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The announcement that the Victoria Hotel was introducing a Tuesday curry night claimed our attention.

And to be honest, we’re not sure why – with so many very affordable and often excellent curry options close to the refurbished pub (43 Victoria Street, phone 8320 0315).

Nat and I surmised that it might have been because we had such a fine time during our initial visit to the Middle Footscray establishment.

That visit’s favourable impression having since been reinforced by favourable feedback from friends and readers who had visited the place.

As well, based again on our enjoyment of the food previously, maybe the pub’s curry operation – hopefully – would provide something above and beyond the offerings of the local curry shops.

Whatever – we’re up for it!

So how do we go?

Pretty good, actually.

We’re offered two curry packages – paneer and peas makhani or kadai chicken.

We both go chook.

The curry meal deals cost $18 and come with a good-size bowl of chicken curry, rice, a fistful of papadums and red onion slaw.

Kadai, also known as karahi, is a simple curry made with many of the expected spices and capsicum.

Ours is mild and quite tangy.

We like that the boneless chicken has seemingly been chargrilled before being wed to the gravy.

The rice and papadums are fine.

The red onion slaw?

A bit disappointing.

We have been looking forward to an alternative to the frequently served (elsewhere) hard nobs of commercial mango pickle.

Our red onion mix is OK, but I would’ve loved a bit more tartness and zing.

Putting aside the likes of dosas, biryanis and thalis, if you ordered the components of our meal for dinner just about anywhere in West Footscray, it’d cost the same $18 or more.

Greek delights in the autumn sun

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Xenia Food Store, 202 Lygon Street, East Brunswick. Phone: 9191 7206

Outside the western suburbs, I can’t think of a foodie strip that is closer to the CTS heart than Lygon Street.

No, no – not the Lygon Street adjoining the Melbourne CBD.

We walk a fair whack of that thoroughfare every week while on kung fu duty.

Very, very rarely to we feel the urge to linger for eats purposes.

And, no, not the Lygon Street that runs north there past Melbourne Cemetery.

But the Lygon that narrows as it enters East Brunswick?

Oh, yes!

That be home, after all, to such previously covered delights as Teta Mona, Mankoush and Moroccan Deli-cacy – even if the latter is apparently entering times of change and new management.

 

 

So we are very happy to accept an invitation (see full disclosure below) to dine at Xenia Food Store, the luscious and intriguing FB pics of which we have been noticing with lust ever since it opened.

Those pictures have me primed for down home, home-style food of the kind not often found in restaurants.

So, as we take our seats at an outdoor table in the blazing Saturday sun, I am surprised by the menu’s listing of such familiar fare as saganaki, chicken skewers and lamb pitta.

But there is much else and our lunch desires this Saturday are simple.

 

 

So we go with the meze platter for two ($32) and are delighted.

Toasted pita bread, of course.

Two dips – a dill-perfumed tzatziki and a chunky eggplant number.

A couple of good stuffed vine leaves.

Fetta cheese.

Loukaniko – pork sausage.

Pickled octopus that is all the more enjoyable thanks to its chewiness.

Best of all – two koupes, more widely known as kibbeh.

They’re fantastic deep-fried torpedoes of bulghur wheat encasing a juicy mix of lamb, onion and seasonings.

 

 

Desserts?

Yes.

It’s overshadowed by the house-made halva ice-cream ($8.5).

This combo of vanilla ice-cream and crushed choc halva sounds like it could be a mishmash, but the outcome is divine in the way it combines both flavour strands.

Our cafe lattes are excellent.

See the Xenia Food Store website here.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Xenia Food Store as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We ordered whatever we wanted. Xenia Food Store management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

Sanger champs

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Butcher 128, 128 Roberts Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9318 0975

Yarraville is a big suburb.

For several reasons, much focus falls on the maze-like collection of streets in and around Anderson and Ballarat.

But Yarraville stretches a long way towards Geelong – well, to Cemetery Road anyway.

And certainly to Roberts Road, where Butcher 128 is located.

Perhaps its far-flung location is why it’s been off our radar for so long.

Even now, it’s pure happenstance that takes Bennie and I there for a quick Sunday meal.

Much of the previous tenant’s infrastructure has been kept in place – hence the name – and combined with contemporary cafe gear.

There’s a beaut covered outdoor area and play space down the back.

It’s busy in the brunch/lunch peak hour, but the staff are smiling and efficient.

One side of the menu (see below) is mostly dedicated to breakfast fare; we mine the other.

Bennie’s The Meat Hook ($15.50, top photo) is superb.

Right from the first bite, he’s nodding in enthusiastic acclamation of its braised pork belly, BBQ, Sriracha mayo and cabbage/herb slaw.

My The Baron ($14) is just as good.

The house-made salted beef, tender and thinly sliced, is about an inch thick.

It’s joined by cabbage slaw, Swiss cheese, pickle and house mustard sauce.

The bread is the just the right light, perfectly toasted, to house it all.

There surely can be no matter better argument for positing “mere” sandwiches as bona fide meals than our 10/10 pair.

So impressed by the sandwich department, I return a few days later for a bowl dish from the breakfast side of things.

XO crab ($18) has egg noodles, a fried egg, crispy shallots, house XO sauce and a soft shell crab.

It’s a modest serve and a light meal.

And it’s very dry, though the sauce flavour is happily present.

Best of all is the soft shell crab – easily the best I have had.

Well, in Melbourne anyway.

It’s crisp and sweet, and thus a far cry from the drab specimens that have helped make us un-enamoured of this particular specialty.

Our coffees, over both visits, are crazy good.

Meal of the week No.40: Jazeera Cafe

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We’ve been aware of Jazeera Cafe (16 Paisley Street, Footscray) for a long time, but simply haven’t gotten around to visiting until now.

No doubt because we’ve established such a happy groove in going to Racecourse Road, Flemington, when we desire Somalian food.

Which is often.

However, recently CTS friend Juz has given Jazeera a couple of goes – and his feedback has been heartening.

So here we are.

I suspect there may be a menu available here … but our ordering is reduced to admirable, happy simplicity.

“Can we get some dinner here tonight?”

“What sort of food do you want?”

“Somalian food!”

“OK!”

And with that – and a big smile – our server disappears into the kitchen.

That’s fine by us.

We understand that on a low-key week night, we’re going to get what’s actually in the kitchen – or nothing at all.

As it turns, what we are provided is what we would’ve ordered anyway – soup, lamb, rice.

 

 

The soup is thicker than we’ve become used to elsewhere – more like a cream soup or a chowder.

It’s fine, but doesn’t have the zesty, lemony tang we love so much.

 

 

Our rice platter is most excellent.

It could be described as “lamb three ways” – there’s a stew, a sort-of Somalian bolognese atop the spaghetti and a big, meaty piece of braised/baked sheep meat.

Bennie has already eaten elsewhere this night, so our $15 meal does fine for both of us.

And as ever, it’s the fabulous, fragrant rice that crowns our dining as top notch.

 

A whole lot of good

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Eka Wholefoods Cafe, 129 Buckley Street, Seddon. Phone: 0412 485 132

At Consider The Sauce HQ, we figure if we ever went completely meat-free, our diet would be based mostly around the foods of the Mediterranean – African, European, Middle-Eastern.

Your actual “vegetarian food”?

Not so much.

Yes, we are cynical about such stuff.

Some of that is down to probably unfair baggage and previous bad experiences, including some with vego slop right here in the west.

Why have any truck with such food when the various national cuisines deliver meat-free food so effortlessly and with such delicious panache?

No doubt that’s why we’ve gone so long without trying Eka Wholefoods.

And why, after ordering, we are a mix of anticipation and crossed fingers.

We need not have had any fears, as what we lunch on is very fine.

 

 

The joint is the expected mix of one half wholefoods of many kinds and one half gorgeous cafe, a tranquil space in which we enjoy stopping for a while.

 

 

Bennie loves his bao tempeh sliders ($12.9).

The crispy but seemingly rather salty tempeh dances with organic kimchi, house-made peri-peri sauce, grilled shitake mushrooms and caramelised onion.

This pretty food goes down a treat.

 

 

My soba noodle salad ($16.50) is even better.

Joining the organic noodles are cherry tomatoes, chopped toasted almonds, black sesame seeds, cinnamon-crusted organic tofu and a sesame-lemon dressing.

This salad is expertly done and a pleasure to consume.

We depart without trying the good-looking range of sweet treats but with some brown rice and tamari in hand.

It’s been wonderful to have our skepticism so wonderfully rendered daft.

Check out the Eka website here.

 

 

Mexican chicken for Footscray

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Los Pollos Flame-Grilled Chicken, 230 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9396 0368

There was a definite ripple of excitement that hit the inner west as it became know that a Mexican chicken joint would stepping up to take over the premises formerly inhabited by Burger Business.

Somehow – between checking out the business’ Facebook page and website, and then talking with a few folks – I convinced myself that Los Pollos was part of a franchise deal.

It seems that is not the case, though it certainly looks the part if management care to move in that direction and move into other locations.

They make their own corn chips, but when we ask, we’re told the tortillas are brought in.

So how does it stack up – some real-deal Mexican tucker; or just another Tex-Mex place a la Guzman y Gomez?

A big step up from Taco Bill – or on a par?

Well, it’s definitely more Tex-Mex than La Tortilleria – and that’s fine by us.

 

 

After we order, we adjourn to the lovely garden space out back.

 

 

Bennie is very impressed with his Super LP Burrito with grilled chicken, rice, beans, salsa, queso tasty, pica de gallo, guacamole and jalapeno crema ($16.50).

He offers his dad a taste, after which I, too, conclude this is better than similar offerings you’ll find at similar places elsewhere.

And, yes, it eats bigger than it looks.

It comes with a handful of corn chips.

 

 

My half chicken combo with two sides, two salsas and six tortillas ($18.95) is more of a mixed bag.

I like the chicken, even if it doesn’t provide the sort of lip-smacking joy for which I have been hoping.

Bennie, after consuming a drumstick, disagrees with that modest assessment.

It’s different – not Nando’s, not your average Aussie charcoal chook.

The salsas are lovely – though having requested one medium and one hot, I find them similar in the heat/spice department.

The sides – red rice and roasted potatoes – are OK, but on the lacklustre side.

The word “roasted” led me to expect spud chunks with more crackle than has arrived.

You’ll eat fine at Los Pollos, but it’ll pay to keep those expectations grounded.

Check out the Los Pollos website – including menu – here.

 

God, what a cool cafe

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Apollo Cafe, 109-111 Hawke Street, West Melbourne. Phone: 9329 0990

What an intriguing neighbourhood is West Melbourne – with its haphazard mix of small worker cottages, more stately two-storey homes, old warehouses and, inevitably, some new apartment action going on.

For all that it is tucked away, if you live here … the inaccurately named North Melbourne station is your rail stop and, with a bit of a walk, Vic Market is your local shopping.

And, of course, CTS is happy to bestow upon West Melbourne honourary western suburbs status.

You know it makes sense – just look at a map!

Melburnbians of all stripes and locations should be grateful that West Melbourne has pottered along at its own pace while other locales that rub shoulders with the CBD – Fitzroy and Carlton in particular – have changed so much.

But the modern world is catching up with this backwater – at that means, among other things, more places are opening that seek to fulfill the eat-drink needs of locals.

Among them is Apollo Cafe.

It’s housed an ancient, gorgeous old building that’s been owned and operated by the same family for more than a century.

The most famous of its residents was the Mighty Young Apollo, Paul Anderson, whose name adorns the building to this day.

The cafe is run by wife-and-husband team Cassie and Russ, formerly of Carter Smith Devlin and Co in Williamstown.

Their punt to stay open all Easter appears to have paid off, as on the sunny, lovely Monday we visit, the joint is jumping.

Earlier in the day, I had spotted the day’s special on Facebook – lamb shoulder with mashed potato, roasted carrots and snow peas ($23) – and dutifully issued a mental memo to myself: “Mmmmm – that’ll do me!”

And so it does – it’s all excellent.

About 80 per cent or more of the lamb CTS eats these days comes from Somalian eateries, the rest from various Mid-East places.

So the Apollo lamb is, by contrast, austere in terms of seasoning.

But that lets the flavour of the wonderfully tender meat fully star.

Mashed potato at our place means rough-chopped spuds – real rough, more like what is called potato salad in some parts of the US.

Seasoning? Just salt, pepper and a dollop or two of olive oil while the potato is still steaming, blistering hot.

So the mashed potato that accompanies my lamb shoulder is another contrast – an enjoyable one, though not something I’d want to do too often.

This is smooth, rich mashed spud that is enlivened texture-wise by a scattered handful of roasted hazelnuts.

Is the $20 cafe burger a “thing”?

Yeah, we reckon so.

And the Apollo Cafe version is sooper dooper exemplar of its type, so much so that Bennie – whose burger it is – and his father happily concede that the above photo simply does not do it justice.

Its simplicity – beef, cheese, a couple of onion rings, bacon, lettuce – lets the sublime, high-quality flavours flow.

It’s a lot heftier than the above picture suggests and the chips are excellent.

During an earlier visit, as guests of management (see full disclosure below), Bennie revels in the beef meatballs on creamy truffle polenta with tomato-basil sauce, and shaved parmesan ($19).

It’s both sophisticated and rustic – and Bennie wipes the bowl whitely clean.

Not being so hungry, I order the poached chicken sandwich with truffle duxelle, which is normally served with eggs benedict and vintage cheddar for $18.

It’s all fine and fresh, though in hindsight I overtly envy my son’s meatballs!

On both our visits, our coffees have been perfect, hot and strong.

Check out the Apollo Cafe website here.

(For the first of two visits, Consider The Sauce dined at Apollo Cafe as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We ordered whatever we wanted. Apollo Cafe management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)