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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Indian flavor explosion in Footscray

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Sankranti Australia, 250 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9041 9899

Sankranti has been open a few weeks, and in that time I’ve enjoyed some nice food south Indian – pooris, a biryani.

But I’ve left it to do a story for the weekend the restaurant is doing a three days of special menus in celebration of the festival after which it is named.

On the plus side, for me that means a beaut – and very photogenic – feed.

On the down side, a one-off vegetarian feast can not be taken as representative of the regular menu.

So let’s look at it this way – my Saturday lunch meal may not be what you’ll get on a regular visit here, but it is representative of the care and love that goes into the Sankranti food.

 

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The Saturday Sankranti deal costs me $29 (see details below).

Quite a bit for a vegetarian thali, eh?

Well, no.

I’m happy to pay up and eat, such is diversity of tastes and textures, some of them familiar, many of them new to me and even challenging.

Latha talks me through some of the particulars and rituals normally involved with eating this sort of festive food.

 

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I even give the traditional eating order a go – sweets first, soup and yogurt last.

The sweets don’t look very appetising, do they?

Not so – they make lovely eating, though in quite a different way from more familiar Indian sweets such as kulfi.

But a lifetime of culinary indoctrination of the soup/mains/sweets school is hard to kick.

And the effort of mentally trying to match new and interesting names with specific dishes tumbles into the realm of information overload.

So in the end, I just go with my own flow and enjoy the dazzling array before me.

I especially like the rasam, the deep-fried and battered okra, the spicy coriander rice and the rice and vermicelli pudding that is payasam.

This has been a humbling reminder that for all the Indian food I eat, in terms of regional diversity and a fabulously rich food culture, I am a mere beginner.

 

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Nice feed at the G

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Stumps Tavern, Melbourne Cricket Club members, MCG.

New Year’s Day at the MCG – and as a guest of very good CTS pal Justin, who is a Melbourne Cricket Club member.

We’re in the house for the Big Bash Melbourne derby, but we’ve plenty of time, so Juz gives me the tour.

There’s no doubt some of the bars and food outlets, and the likes of the  library, are more well appointed than what is found around the rest of this very famous venue.

And as Juz points out with zeal, you can drink full-strength beer that has been poured into real glass.

 

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But by and large, there’s not much difference!

Juz hasn’t been a member for that long, but plenty long enough to have fully scoped out the eating options – and it’s on that basis that he leads us straight to Stumps Tavern.

During the Boxing Day Test, he’d enjoyed the cheese plate here.

 

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Tonight, we head for the more substantial dishes on the menu (see below).

We take up the three-for-$34 deal and do very well.

 

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Plump, juicy lamb koftas are real fine, with a dollop of cucumber tzatziki on the side.

 

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The pork mince concoction in the sum choy bow, hidden here under the bean sprouts and their veg compatriots, is actually more like a bolognese than the usual dry jumble that is the mainstay of this dish.

No matter – it tastes good and the extra dampness makes it easy to pile the goodies on the supplied lettuce leaves, of which there aren’t quite enough.

 

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Potato, pea and coriander samosas are another winner, though the coriander is – I’m guessing – constituted solely by the garnish.

The pastry casings are flaccid rather crunchy, though the mango chutney is beaut.

This is – by a very considerable margin – the best meal I’ve ever enjoyed at a sports venue.

And the game was pretty good, too.

 

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The Consider The Sauce 2016 wrap

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Vietnamese in our hood

It’s not like we were consciously hanging out for Vietnamese food in Yarraville – perhaps because we have become so used to travelling to Footscray, Sunshine or St Albans, and thoroughly enjoying doing so.

But the arrival of Friend or Pho and Hoa Sen has had a profound effect on our lives.

Its the scratch we didn’t even know needed scratching!

Going by the numbers of people we see in these two different yet complementary places, we are not along in enjoying them.

 

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Vietnamese elsewhere

But we have also loved the trip to Avondale Heights, knowing our destination is Bao & Pot Cafe.

This wonderful Military Road establishment does a fine line in Vietnamese staples – including a sinus-clearing bun bo hue (spicy beef noodle soup).

But here you’ll also find the fabulous turmeric brioche lemongrass beef burger pictured above.

 

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Seriously sexy Asian BBQ

We loved Vietnamese of a different kind at Phi Phi 2 in St Albans.

Here they proudly serve table-top cooking with roots in Korea and flavours fully redolent of Vietnam.

Delicious in every way!

 

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Speaking of burgers …

If you were to gauge the state of the burger in our western suburbs going solely by coverage in Melbourne’s food media – be they grand, print, digital and/or vacuous – you’d think there’s nothing much going on save for one particularly famous Footscray joint.

We know better.

A whole lot better.

Because we enjoyed very excellent meals at Gemelli in Point Cook, Burger Business in Footscray and Burgernomics in Braybrook.

 

 

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Latin Foods & Wines

The move by Marco and Maria from humble digs in Sunshine North to a flash, new and much larger premises in Deer Park was in many ways THE western suburbs food story of 2016.

We love what they’re doing, with all our favourite sandwiches and more still available but joined by a much wider range of eating options, including parrillada, South American-style barbecue.

This happy event was covered in various stories, including this one and this one.

 

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Pizza d’Asporto comes to Yarraville

Equally exciting was the opening in Yarraville of a branch of Pizza d’Asporto.

Doubtless we’ll still feel like venturing to the cool Williamstown mothership, but now we have these folk just a few blocks away!

We were thrilled to attend the pre-opening party and have been back for mighty pasta dishes.

We are unsurprised Pizza d’Asporto has been an immediate hit.

 

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The real soul food of Melbourne

In the past few years, CTS has eaten – and mostly enjoyed – a lot of food in Melbourne that is promoted as being American-style barbecue.

Sometimes, this stuff is also billed as being “soul food”.

We love those favours, the meats, the sides.

But like everyone else, we pay for the, um, privilege.

We reckon it’s all a bit of a trendy con.

So let’s re-brand what “soul food” can and should be.

“Soul food” should be what local folks eat.

It should be cheap as.

In Melbourne’s west, what we consider to be dinkum soul food comes in many guises – including Vietnamese and Indian.

But it’s Somalian fare we most think of in this context.

There’s still a bunch of Somalian places for still to check out on Racecourse Road in Flemington, but we truly love the food at Deli Afro Restaurant.

OMG – the soup!

We also love hitting Somali Star Cafe in the Footscray Hub arcade for equally fine food, with Ethiopian and crash-hot sambusas also available.

 

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A very cool night in Footscray

Our other African highlight for the year came courtesy of fabulous Ethiopian food at Selam Authentic African Restaurant & Bar on Nicholson Street as we hosted our buddy Mietta and various of her family members on their annual pre-Chistmas night out.

We loved showing off a part of our world and really enjoyed the company!

 

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A Newport classic

Is Searz our favourite cafe?

Could be.

We do know that we’ve loved fronting up a few times to check out the Friday night specials, revelling in amazing food at superb prices.

And when we visit Searz, we just know that we’ll be indulging in BOTH the alluring blackboard desserts!

 

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Indian sweets of a different kind

Despite our very deep love for Indian food, that nation’s sweets have mostly been found by us to be way too cloyingly rich.

You can get those full-on delights, such as barfi, at Kumar’s Sweets in Derrimut.

But our whole mindset about Indian sweets has been transformed for the marvellously delicious yet less rich treats they produce based mostly on nuts and dried fruits.

 

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Beyond the western suburbs

How much to we love a drive to Brunswick East?

Very, very much when Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food is on the menu.

We’re happy to pay Teta Mona, Mankoushe and Moroccan Deli-cacy the ultimate accolade of wishing they were in the western suburbs.

 

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Non-food event of the year

Grand final day!

Solid shopping centre Asian

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Asian Street, Shop 10, 50 Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing. Phone: 9748 6908

Hoppers Crossing shopping centre, right next door to the station, has had a revamp.

Honestly, with the opening of whizz-bang Pacific Werribee just up the road apiece, I thought the powers that be may have just called it quits at Hoppers.

But, no, it appear there is demand – so the show goes on.

Of course, nothing is going ever going to make the immediate neighbourhood around here salubrious, with its roundabouts and ceaseless traffic flow.

 

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But we’re interested to see what food is on offer.

We spy a banh mi place, a chic cafe, an Indian outlet – and Asian Street.

This place sells quite a wide range of Asian food – Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, some yum cha, and even provides Asian groceries.

The big question for us is this: Will the food here be any better than the usual shopping centre food court fare?

 

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The quickie take-away offerings appear to suggest not.

 

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On the other hand, we are encouraged by the knowledge that the Chinese roast meats on hand are cooked in house, giant ovens and all.

As well, the place serves dishes quite a bit edgier than normally found in a shopping centre context – spicy green bean jelly noodle, for instance, on the Chinese entree list, as well as a line-up of skewers.

 

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After contemplating the menu (see below), we start with a couple of curry puffs ($2), one vegetable and one chicken.

They look chubby and nice, but collapse when attacked.

They’re OK, but we don’t notice much difference in the fillings.

 

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Bennie happily devours his katsu curry on rice ($11.80).

It’s a solid and generous outing, though the pork seems a bit dry to me.

 

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I do much better with my double roast meats on rice ($12.80).

Soy chicken is not listed on the menu, but I request it on the basis of having seen the roasted birds hanging up!

The chook is fine.

The roast pork is, too, though it is very fatty.

What I’m mostly missing, though, is the attending bowl of chicken broth that routinely accompanies such a dish.

Bennie reckons I’m pushing my luck by requesting soup in such a place, fearing I’ll be brought another entire meal.

 

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Such is not the case!

My soup is brought graciously, speedily and without extra charge.

It’s hot, salty and very good.

There’s not a lot of the food offered by Asian Street around here.

I’d want to take staples such as mee goreng, ramen or cumin lamb skewers for a spin before really sitting in judgment.

In the meantime, Asian Street strikes us as a place that could be a real treasure for locals with a knack for smart ordering.

 

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Lebanese wow

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Teta Mona, 100A Lygon Street, Brunswick East. Phone: 9380 6680

We’ve successfully completed book shopping happiness in Carlton central.

But the parking restrictions and general madness drive us away in terms of lunching.

We’re thinking some of our fave haunts in upper Lygon – or even further afield in Pentridge Coburg – when inspiration strikes.

As Lygon bottlenecks at Weston Street, I recall pal Marcos recommending a Lebanese place situated pretty much right here.

He called it Lebanese Soul Food – or something like that.

We park and explore – and discover he’d got it mostly right.

The Place is called Teta Mona and “Lebanese Soul Food” is its sub-title.

 

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The business is set is a lovely, rambling old house with mighty pressed steel ceilings out front, a back room with photographs and a back garden.

 

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It’s out the back that I find Almaza, who is preparing chicken for that night’s tawook servings and from whom I get the lowdown on Teta Mona.

 

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The restaurant is named after her mum and run by her offspring, twins Beshara and Antoine and daughter Teresa. Her hubby, Gibran, figures in there somewhere, too!

Oh, yes, this is the sort of family business – with smiles and a genuine welcome in profound evidence – for which CTS lives!

 

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It’s been here a while, escaping our notice in an area we actively adore, but we’re very much in luck – lunch service started just a few days before our visit.

The lunch list is simple and very affordable.

Naturally, we go plates rather than wraps – and are delighted with what we are served.

This is the sort of top-notch Lebanese food that we leave the west searching for.

Much is familiar, all is very good or robustly excellent.

Just like the very similar fare we love getting at nearby Mankoushe and Moroccan Deli-cacy.

 

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Arnabeet ($16) is a dream of fried cauliflower with dukka, tomato, pickles, thyme potato and the pepper relish known as ajvar.

It’s all superb, but the big hit truly comes from the gorgeous slow-cooked potato.

 

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Lahem ($18) is slow-cooked lamb, chick peas topped with buttered almonds, tomato, cabbage and yogurt.

It, too, is very fine – but also has our one, single, minor quibble.

The lamb is so cooked down that it basically becomes a sauce for the chick peas – and thus is quite like the chick pea concoctions we get at various Indian establishments with cholle bhature, though with very different seasonings.

 

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Superb salads served with our dishes, and included in the pricing, are tabbouleh and …

 

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… fattoush.

 

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Upon inspecting the menu, we knew straight away this is a dessert-mandatory place – so on we forge!

Choco prince ($7) is a house-made cocoa and honey biscuit with wonderful cream, crushed pistachios and a fresh strawberry.

Very nice, it is.

 

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Rose crumble ($7) is equally delicious and simple – a rose water ice-cream topped with a semolina walnut cookie, another strawberry on the side.

CTS can get a bit sniffy about ice-cream not made on the premises.

But here, it’s as good as – made by a friendly wholesaler according to the family recipe.

A special word for our accompanying strawberries.

These are both so fruity, luscious, full of flavour and amazing, I’m simply not interested in eating a regular strawberry ever again.

How good is this place?

I even come away with a couple of CDs – one of Lebanese folk dancing music, the other of Lebanese classic pop hits from long ago.

 

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