A Somalian wonder

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#Somali Eats, 333 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9042 6682

The latest Somalian eatery to grace Racecourse Road is fabulous.

Husband-and-wife team Abdi Mohamed and Amran Sean have crafted a thoroughly gorgeous cafe-style restaurant, with heaps of lovely wood and exposed brick.

The welcome is just as cheerful and welcoming as the surrounds.

All of which would count, perhaps, for very little if the food didn’t delight as equally.

It does.

It’s fully soulful Somalian tucker, beautifully cooked and at very, very low prices.

 

The CTS lads are pumped for Somalian lunch.

 

Bennie, Nat and I revel in a superb Saturday lunch.

The #Somali Eats menu (see below) offers a lot more variety than most of its neighbours.

Gosh, there’s even a hamburger!

And there’s a handful of house-made desserts.

But I quickly ascertain that two key elements of Somalian food are on offer – the bananas served with main dishes and the soup.

They are.

Our excitement levels soar.

 

 

The soup is a very fine variation on a familiar theme – almost no vegetable matter of any kind here; just tangy, awesome broth.

(The fiery green chilli sauce is served at every stage of our meal, but we use it only on our rice.)

 

 

Despite the depth of the menu, the truth is – going by what we witness during our lunch visit – about 90 per cent of #Somali Eats’ customers order the same thing.

That being the standard meat ‘n’ rice plate.

It’s pretty much to Somalians what pho is to the Vietnamese.

So that’s what Nat and I do, too, choosing the lamb option.

It comes in $10 and $13 versions.

Ours, of the bigger kind, are perfect in every way.

Here be perfect, epic Somalian rice, seasoned with cumin, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg, with currants and slices of fried onion, carrot and capsicum threaded through.

The plentiful meat, nicely browned, sums the art of Somalian cooking – the elevation of cheaper cuts into something akin to high art that is nevertheless earthy, simple and delicious.

Who needs lamb cutlets?

The salady bits are better – crunchier and fresher – than they appear to be at first glance.

 

 

Bennie opts for a $13 serving of basto, the pasta equivalent.

He digs it plenty and cleans his plate with gusto.

I note that the tomato sauce is a lot wetter than we’ve routinely had elsewhere in this neighbourhood.

 

 

We’d started with a serve of bajeyo (four for $3).

Described as falafel, these are very different from the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare of the same name.

Made from ground back-eyed peas, these – with their spongy texture – are more like the vadas of South India.

Still, deep-fried with skill, they a very nice.

We’ve arrived very much not in freeloading food blogger mode – not that we ever are.

So when Amran extends to us the previous day’s offer – “free lunch” to celebrate the joint’s opening day – it is unexpected.

We accept this gracious offer with thanks – but only with the understanding this non-payment will be the last of its kind.

At these prices, why wouldn’t we want to pay?

From the perspective of the usual CTS criteria, #Somali Eats could be described as the perfect restaurant.

 

Small cafe, big (happy) surprise

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Small Graces, 57 Byron Street, Footscray. Phone: 9912 6429

Sometimes a stroll around the vicinity of the sadly burnt-out Little Saigon Market can present a rather glum prospect.

On a grey, chilly mid-week noon hour, for instance.

My understanding is that the post-fire wheels of bureaucracy are grinding ever so slowly towards a resolution.

But in Footscray, there is always life – and always new life.

The new carparking building has arisen and on its ground floor are several businesses already – a chemist; a hairdresser and (supposedly) a Huxtaburger outlet to come; in an adjacent edifice, a cult tea shop outside which I have already twice seen queues.

And there is Small Graces, a lovely cafe that IS small but BIG on heart.

In the normal turn of events, this place would register on CTS as a place for coffee and perhaps coverage in a westie eats goss story, but probably not much more.

But an approach by Small Graces proprietors Rebecca and Diego changes all that.

Yes, we’d like to take your place for a spin (see full disclosure below).

So it is that sometime CTS correspondent Erika, her son Hugh (both very near neighbours of the joint) and I arrive for a mid-week lunch.

We are knocked out.

 

 

Small Graces is a cosy place and the staff are smilingly friendly and obliging.

The compact menu ranges through the usual eggy outings, soup and blackboard salads through to display sangers and gorgeous-looking house-made sweets.

But our eyes are immediately drawn to the “sides” section of the food list.

Here there be treasure.

We are permitted, nay encouraged, to treat these as a sort of tapas/antipasto option – so we do!

 

 

How good is this?

Clockwise from top (all items clocking in at about $5):

Smashed avo with almond feta and dukkah.

Halloumi, baharat, honey and walnuts.

Chicken, adobo, chicken salt.

Two kinds of pickle – red cabbage and a kimchi-like mix involving carrot.

Slow-cooked pork neck with crackling crumbs.

The first two items here listed are these days, of course, standard cafe fare, but they are rarely presented with this sort of finesse.

The chicken thigh pieces and the sliced pork are miracles of deft seasoning and juiciness.

At first I had thought this light yet fabulously yum spread would need some bread or the like, but …

 

 

… these seriously sexy spuds with garlic and rosemary with lemon mayo on the side ($6) add just the right degree of heft to our meal.

 

 

Meanwhile, a salad of caramelised beetroot with black lentils, almond feta and dill ($8) continues the flow of fresh flavours.

 

 

Young Hugh enjoys his toast with what appears to be a very fine strawberry jam ($6).

 

 

With our fine coffees, Erika and I enjoy this mega-rich caramel slice ($5) – in this case, a smallish portion is a blessing.

More and bigger would be TOO much.

 

 

Then there’s this equally accomplished lemon curd cheesecake ($6.50) of the non-baked variety.

Our very vocal enthusiasm for the “sides” transformed into a main attraction pecking plate could, I suspect, see these items (there are several more we didn’t try) elevated in status beyond mere add-ons.

The food has been outstanding – more like your top-notch casual dining standard.

But even if that doesn’t transpire, we recommend them heartily.

As we do Small Graces in general.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Small Graces as guests of management. No money changed hands. Our food was chosen by CTS. Small Graces management did not seek any editorial input into this story.)

 

Westie eats goss 30/8/17

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Huxtaburger for Footscray central?

That would certainly appear to be the case going by the planning permit notification taped to the window of one of ground floor shops in the new parking building opposite Little Saigon Market.

 

 

However, CTS is unsure if a franchise deal has been done, as the relevant page on the DC Strategy site seems indicate they’re still looking for suitable – and cashed up – partners.

If you have $400,000+ to invest – depending on “location, size and end fit out” – go here.

 

 

In Yarraville, there is finally some action going on with regards to 16 Anderson Street – the big and splendid premises formerly home to Jasmine Inn.

It’s been without life for a long time – aside from the likes of being used by a film crew a while back.

A spokesman for the agents, Fitzroys, tells CTS there have been more than 60 inquiries to date, with about half of those coming from the local community.

See the agents’ page for the property here.

Expressions of interest close on Friday, September 22.

 

 

Back in Footscray – and in the Nicholson Street mall, right next door to the Tasttslotto shop – Footcsray Corner is these days operating at what was previously another Vietnamese joint and before that a noddle-box outfit.

Footscray Corner boasts a simple menu of rather rustic dishes – it’s that kind of place; the menu is overwhelmingly in Vietnamese.

 

 

This “farm” chicken pho is a peak experience and magnificent for $14.

How good is it?

The plentiful chicken, quite finely chopped is notably more chunky, meaty and, well, real than usually found in chicken pho – and blessedly bone-free.

The yolks were a little gooey in the middle.

The broth was excellent.

And did I detct a whiff of lemongrass going on in there?

The accompanying herbiage included regular mint.

 

 

Also in Footscray, the big premises facing the carpark on the corner of Hopkins and Moore streets is to become a Vietnamese hot pot and BBQ establishment.

The place has seen a lot of turnover, the two most recent businesses in there being Rama’s and D’Asian.

Laos luxe

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Noodle House by Lao-Luangprabang, Level 2, 4/500 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9693 2245

Noodle House by Lao-Luangprabang has a chic cafe-style feel about it – polished concrete floor and all.

But in one significant way it is truly old-school Melbourne CBD.

You see, it is hidden away.

It’s on the first floor of a newish building diagonally oppositite the food hall at Victoria Market.

That’s perhaps not very good news for management here, in that there is no casual off-the-street trade.

But maybe in the long haul, it could be for them a very good thing.

 

 

The crisp, elegant setting sets Noodle House by Lao-Luangprabang apart from its many competitors on Elizabeth Street, where almost all the nearby eateries are mad busy at lunchtimes – and that includes the mediocrities as much as the good places.

By contrast, eating at Noodle House by Lao-Luangprabang has far more of a restaurant feel about it.

The simple one-page menu (see below) details a line-up of smaller dishes and larger ones of the soup-noodle and wok-fried varieties.

Over two visits, CTS eats very well – with one exception detailed below.

 

 

Mee kati ($14.50) is a fine and hearty dish described as “vermicelli noodles served with a minced pork coconut-based broth infused with galangal and lime leaves”.

It tastes as tangy as it sounds.

 

 

Pad kee mao ($17.90) is “spicy seafood wok fried with noodles infused with chilli garlic and basil”.

It’s also very, very ordinary.

We don’t expect top-shelf seafood at the cheaper places we eat, but this is medicore even by those standards.

The noodles are drab and the whole thing is really dull.

 

 

One winner, one loser – but still, I’d seen enough to want to retrurn, and that I did,  this time with Nat and Yaya for a post-kung fu Saturday lunch.

Did we do well?

Yes.

Fried wontons ($8.50) come in a shape never before seen by me.

It almost seems like they’re overcooked, but maybe that’s just the style.

The fillings are very good.

 

 

The difference between Nat’s khao piak moo krob ($14.50, with crispy pork) and …

 

 

… Yaya’s khao piak sen ($14.50, with boned chicken) is one of degrees only, but they both like their lunches.

Yaya is Thai, so knows her way around this kind of food, even if not that from Laos in particular.

She tells me her dish rates 9.5 out of 10.

And, no, she’s not joking.

 

 

From the specials board comes my khao soy ($14.50) – “rice noodles served with a traditional northern Lao meat sauce, pork broth, snake beans and watercress.

If I was the kind of blogger and journalist who indulged in silly click-bait or posted laughably non-definitive definitive Top 10s or Top 50s or whatever, I’d blithely opine that this is one of the very top handful of noodle dishes in Melbourne.

But I’m not, so all I can say is that it may well be so.

As well as the pork mince, there’s sliced.

The “watercress” is most likely, says Nat (who knows way more than I about such things), a form of Asian spinach.

Whatever the case, it’s fabulous – and also a bit like coriander, in looks, not flavour.

Best of all there’s heaps of it – an integral part of the dish rather than a mere garnish.

There’s a heap of beans, too.

This is a non-spicy dish – the red tinge comes from tomato, not chilli.

It’s awesome in every way.

Westies hitting Vic Market are sincerely advised to check out Noodle House by Lao-Luangprabang for hassle-free and extremely cheap eating of a very fine kind.

 

 

Tasty on the Hudson

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Hudsons Road Wine & Beer, 2/88 Hudson Road, Spotswood. Phone: 9131 1069

Hudsons Road Beer & Wine has been open just a week or so, but is already a big hit on that strip.

And so it should – it’s a very cool place where the passion for the produce speaks very eloquently.

The accent is on small producers and quality all the way.

 

 

The fit-out, including furniture from neighbouring Quazi Design, is sleek and welcoming.

Partners Alistair Smith (a long-time reader and supporter of CTS) and Leigh Boin stock about 200 beers and 150 wines.

The deli section is compact and the hand-picked philosophy no less evident.

 

 

My lunch, for instance, is a simple and superb platter that costs me $16 and is matched with a glass of La guardianese fiano from Italy.

On my board is an amazing, fine-sliced Mr Canubi capocollo of dry cured pork neck, free range from the western plains.

Also in attendance are a wedge of Challerhocker (Swiss) cheese, ciabatta from Candied Bakery across the road, a gooey quince paste and some fresh pear slices.

The deluxe board for $45 shapes up as a very enticing lunch for two that Bennie and I will try soon.

Alistair and Leigh will continue to fine-tune their business hours, but as it stands they are noon-11pm Monday-Friday, 10am-11pm Saturday and 10am-9pm Sunday.

 

Williamstown, an interesting arrival

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Bob’s Diner @ Rifle Club Hotel, 121 Victoria Street, Williamstown. Phone: 9367 6073.

One Friday night, and long ago before Consider The Sauce started, Bennie and I ventured into the Rifle Club Hotel, having heard there was a some Thai food going on there.

That turned out to not be the case, and we fled, figuring the establishment – then – was no place for a boy and his dad.

Now we’re back after learning that a crew called Bob’s Diner has set up shop.

Truth be told, this pokies venue is not a good fit for us, but we’re prepared to give it a crack.

The dining room has been done out in basic diner style and, as expected given the the name of the place, burgers are big on the menu.

But there are also such items as poutine, chicken wings, fish and chips – and even a grazier’s beef pie with sauce and mash.

 

 

The chips ($5) come in a good-size serve and are enjoyed by us both.

 

 

My SouthWest Chicken Burger ($12) is an enigma.

Bun, coleslaw, briny pickle all good.

The chicken is crumbed and crisp.

But tastes of nothing.

Is it re-constituted like a chicken nugget?

I can’t tell, but it disappoints.

 

 

Bennie does a whole let better with his cheese and bacon burger ($12).

This is a good, solid burger that is priced right.

Given the dearth of eating options in the immediate neighourhood, Bob’s Diner is sure to be of interest.

But we’d advise savvy scrutiny of the menu and quizzing of the staff.

 

Reliable, excellent Malaysian

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Chef Lagenda, Shop 9-10/835A Ballarat Road, Deer park. Phone:8358 5389

Consider The Sauce is facing a very busy – but happy – few Saturday hours.

Kung fu class in Carlton from 11am to noon.

A 2pm appointment in Toolern Vale for a frolic at the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre with some dingo pups.

Do we have time for a quick bite of lunch in between?

Of course!

Though, mindful that there’s a bit of driving to do in a somewhat hicuppy car, I make sure we get a long way to our rural destination before parking at Deer Park.

There we pass by – for once – our regular Deer Park favourite and head for Chef Lagenda.

CTS reviewed this place way back in 2012 soon after it had opened.

These days there are four in the Chef Lagenda family – the most famous in Flemington, as well as Deer Park, Hawthorn and Richmond.

At the time it opened in Deer Park, there was a good deal of excitement in that neighbourhood.

Since then, the Deer Park strip has bloomed considerably in terms of food – is Chef Lagenda holding its own?

The answer is emphatic: “Yes!”

All we’re after is a quick, simple, affordable and tasty feed – and we succeed admirably.

The place is obviously a popular local stalwart, as it’s doing very brisk trade at 12.30pm on a Saturday afternoon.

Nothing much appears to have changed since our earlier visit – the bicycle is still on the wall and the service (cash only) is fine.

Chef Lagenda may be ostensibly Malaysian of food, but it roasts, Chinese-style, its own meats.

But we pass by those options and pragmatically opt for some straightahead Malaysian favourites.

 

 

Achar ($5.80) could do with a bit more spice and vinegary tang, but is fine nonetheless.

We pretty much automatically give a hearty thumbs up to any dish that involves cauliflower.

 

 

Bennie’s koay teow ($11.50) is a superb rendition – significantly less oily than some we’ve had and fully redolent of wok hai.

 

 

My regular curry laksa ($9.80) is, well, regulation.

But it’s also very, very good.

There’s a good handful of tasty, plump prawns in there.

The plentiful chicken meat is way superior to the scraggly chook that sometimes manifests itself in laksa outings.

Best of all is the eggplant.

I always eagerly look forward to the eggplant portion of a curry laksa.

But sometimes it can be bitter and not very attractive to eat at all.

This Chef Lagenda laksa has just a  single piece – to the left of the bowl.

But it’s long, meltingly tender and 100 per cent delicious.

In recent weeks, Bennie and I have discussed how prices have risen since CTS started.

Outside of a couple of banh mi, the days of a meal that covers us both for $20 seem long gone.

Yet, here in Deer Park, we’ve had a grand cheap feast when we weren’t even looking for a blog-worthy meal.

The total bill – including two mains, a side dish and two cans of soda pop – is $34.10.

And we reckon that’s excellent.