Still fab

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Mama’s Cuisine, 331 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 0399 947 229

One of our old faves has undergone a revamp and been bestowed with a new name – what was Afro Deli is now Mama’s Cuisine, and looking rather spiffy with new furniture and fittings.

We figure it’s time for a re-visit – and, heck, it’s been a month or so we’ve had a good Somalian feed.

The menu (see below) features our expected favourites – and a few intriguing items for us to try on another visit.

A breakfast dish of shakshouka eggs, for instance – made in a tomato sauce.

Or mandazi – Somalian doughnuts.

The lamb broth soup (above) is superb.

 

 

Unfortunately, the mighty sounding “Mama’s Special” of fried goat shoulder with herbs and served with vegetables and rice ($17) is not quite ready for us …

So I go for my trusty lamb on the bone, federation style with rice and pasta ($15).

All is delicious, and there’s plenty of charred/fried onion, capsicum and carrot to go with the tender meat.

 

 

Bennie, too, sticks to routine by getting pasta only. He likes it, but does prefer the more tomato-ey versions to be had elsewhere.

For him, and for the same price, the carnivore aspect is covered by on-the-bone camel meat – and it, too, is tender and beaut.

All that and we’re served complementary mango smoothies as well.

Mama’s Cuisine is right up there with the other great Somalian joints on this strip.

Will CTS ever stop banging on about the Somalian establishments of Flemington?

No.

 

 

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.

 

The rice is great, of course

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Somali Dish, 264 Racecourse Road.

When it comes time – in about a week or so – to collate the now traditional round-up of this year’s CTS highlights, there’s no doubt the Somalian food of Racecourse Road will be right at the top of the list.

It has given CTS – including Bennie and myself and various friends along the way – a lot of pleasure.

And now it seems this fabulous community of restaurants is on the cusp of richly deserved recognition beyond the local neighbourhood and even the inner west, with a Melbourne Food & Wine Festival scheduled for New Somali Kitchen.

In the meantime, what could be better in terms of building on the Somalian buzz than a new eatery?

Nothing at all.

So Bennie and I are only too happy to step into the latest arrival, Somali Dish.

It’s run by another husband-and-wife team, Ahmed Qahira and Sadia H Abdi, and is situated down towards the Quiet Man end of the strip.

I enjoy talking with Ahmed, whose pre-restaurant life seems to have been largely involved with community service of various types.

And he seems to enjoy our enthusiasm for and interest in the food being laid on here.

 

 

And terrific it is, too.

This classic federation-style platter costs us a grand total of $13 each and we love it to bits.

The rice is brilliant in the Somalian way, while the pasta sauce is even drier the usual with crumbly (but lovely) meat.

A super jumble of peas, carrots, onion and capsicum is abetted by fine salad.

And the lamb is all yummy and comes from the bones very easily.

We’re even served a couple of those sponge-like Somalian falafels.

This crew is just getting started, really, and in time the fare here will hopefully mirror the photos adorning the frontage, which portray – beyond our rice offerings – a range of snacky things and even lasagne.

 

 

CTS v Uber: And the winner is …

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Ethiopian feast from Ras Dashen.

 

As is clear from even the most cursory look at the CTS archives, we much prefer hitting the road and eating out to eating in, cooking or having food delivered.

We have such a mind-boggling treasury of great food within short journey confines, the food is ALWAYS better straight from kitchen to table – and we get, often, to meet the people who make it.

Before the advent of Uber and the somewhat earlier whizz-bang delivery apps, we did sometimes indulge in home delivery.

Pizzas from Motorino, for instance.

But truth be told, though pizzas seem to have been pretty much a foundation food when it comes to home-delivered food, we found the process really did affect the quality.

But now there’s Uber – and like many people we know, we are occasionally using it.

(The impression I get is that some are using it way more than occasionally!)

What is the attraction, over and beyond the other delivery apps?

The app, of course, is very slick and the photos gorgeous.

But most important, I think, is the geographically restricted catchment for any given address.

Obviously, this diminishes Uber for some who lack coverage.

But for us and many others, we must choose relatively local – and that’s a fine thing.

Obviously, there are broader issues involved with Uber and the like.

But on a micro, more local level, it works.

We even have a good CTS pal who drives/delivers for them who has suggested I do likewise.

As is well known, Uber takes a fair old whack from the eateries, but as the above linked story also illustrates there are advantages for them – most importantly, perhaps, the non-necessity to hire drivers themselves.

And often, customers demand it.

We have worked at finding what works for us – what is affordable, what we actually want to eat, what mirrors as closely as possible a restaurant experience once the food is plated.

For starters, we just won’t be doing fish and chips (despite some happy experiences with Dough! in Newport) or hamburgers.

Just not good travel potential going on there.

And we’ve found, in terms of Indian food, the likes of dosas and pooris are soggy dead losses.

By contrast, we’ve found biryanis to be a winner.

We’ve had chicken biryani from Sankranti, Dosa Corner and Spicy Chef – and they’ve all been good and affordable.

We’ve had some fine Vietnamese from Phu Vinh in Footscray.

The broken rice with pork chop, shredded pork, fried egg, meatloaf and pickles was truly spectacular.

But THE best we’ve found is Ethiopian.

So far, only two Ethiopian eateries service our area – Ras Dashen and Abesha.

We’ve ordered beyaynetu veg combos from both and enjoyed them, a key being that the injera is already moist and kinda soggy so the delivery process simply can’t do bad.

But in each case, the lentils (two kinds) and the familiar Ethiopian veg of carrots, spuds and beetroot have been delivered in the same container.

This is no biggie, really, as the dishes soon merge served on a platter.

 

 

However, last night I twigged that, with Ras Dashen at least, there is another way – the meat mains can be customised.

So for our Tuesday night dinner we had lamb tibs well done ($13), one extra piece of injera ($1), a small serve of both lentils ($3 – bargain!) and khey whot (spicy beef stew, $6) and side salad ($3.50).

Initially, we thought we may have over-ordered and not got enough injera.

We were wrong on both counts.

What a magnificent feast it was!

And at $31.50 (including $5 delivery), very little different from what we would’ve paid had we got in the car!

 

Chicken biryani from Spicy Chef.

House of Delicious

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House of Mandi, 326 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9077 3963

Eating at Somalian restaurants involves a similar dynamic to chowing down at, say, the Vietnamese eateries of Footscray or St Albans.

Many places have similar – even identical – menus.

But within those parameters, there can be wonderful worlds of variation and subtle differences.

 

 

For instance, the complementary soup at House of Mandi enjoyed at the first of two CTS visits is quite different from those offered elsewhere on Racecourse Road.

Instead of a mostly clear and tangy lamb broth, here is served a slightly thicker brew, stuffed with not just the expected carrot but also peas and corn, and seasoned – I’m guessing – with a good curry powder.

Different – but just as good.

 

 

House of Mandi has been running for about a year and is under the guiding hand of two husband-and-wife teams – Abdirahman Abdi and Fatuma Yussuf (above), and Yusuf Rabi and Amina Sirat.

The plain facade (see photo at bottom of story) belies the rather nicely elegant interior and friendly vibe inside.

 

 

Those subtle differences come to the fore with this marvellous meal in the “federation” style.

The name is a holdover from colonial days and, in the food sense, means the combination of both pasta and rice.

Here, the rice is laced through with carrot strands and studded with sultanas and whole chick peas.

The basto is cooked in a typically post-al dente fashion and served with a dryish tomato sauce with some minced meat on board.

The lamb shank looks rather unlovely, but who cares when the meat is so tasty and succulent?

Spiced yogurt and a fiery green chilli sauce are served on the side.

Lamb shanks, of course, long ago left the realms of cheap cuts and quite often, in other places and contexts, can be quite expensive these days.

So that makes this shank offering an outright bargain at $15.

 

 

For the subsequent CTS House of Mandi outing, this time with the ever excellent company of Nat Stockley, the soup is just a good – but this time comes with noodles.

 

 

We both opt for the non-shank lamb-on-the-bone in federation style, Nat with just mandi rice, me with mandi rice and pasta.

Mandi, I’m told, is a Yemeni word meaning juice that in the rice context refers to the meat being placed on the rice as it cooks and the juices seeping down and through.

Truth be told, there’s little evidence of that here – but the vibrant yellow rice is still Somalian wonderful, with subtle perfuming.

How wonderful is Somalian food when rice can be served in two such different yet equally toothsome ways?

This sort of lamb is very familiar to CTS, but I’m never sure quite what precise nature it is going display.

Here it is well cooked, some fall apart tender, some not-so-much, but all displaying yumminess of a high order.

There’s even a couple of ribs in there.

Following in the footsteps of shanks, lamb ribs have themselves become trendy in some quarters and, thus, correspondingly expensive.

So, once again (familiar refrain), our meals are sooper dooper bargains at $15.

There’s pan-fried veg under that meat to help liven our meals up even more, along with the familiar yogurt/chilli sauces and a good salad.

(There’s no photograph of the latter – they all turned out blurry; bad food blogger!)

 

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.

 

Memorable moments with Mietta’s mafia

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Amy, Gifta and Mietta.

 

Selam Authentic African Restaurant & Bar, 127 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 8383 2560
Small French Bar, 154 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 8479

A few years ago, Mietta Gibson began what has become a family tradition.

Each year, as Christmas approaches, she takes the sisterhood portion of her family out on a surprise adventure.

One year it was a Middle Eastern cooking class, another it was gift-wrapping for a charity.

And on another occasion, the whole crew attended a filming session of The Project.

This year, she began plotting and scheming many months ago, with no firm ideas in mind other than “western suburbs” and “food”.

Mietta, you see, lives on the Mornington Peninsula, her entire family lives in the eastern suburbs and she was keen to expose them to some different aspects and perspectives of Melbourne.

She was not having much joy in terms of online research – until she stumbled upon Consider The Sauce.

(Frankly, given our substantial online footprint, I’m surprised it took her so long!)

Anyway, in mid-October I received an email with the header “Seeking your help”.

A few emails back and forth, and then we were happily chatting on the phone.

And just like that (sound of fingers snapping), the deal was done – Team Consider The Sauce would proudly show these gals our backyard and we’d all have an absolute blast!

And so it turned out …

 

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As Mietta and her crew exit Footscray station, she has no trouble picking me out of the crowd; we meet up and make the whole round of introductions.

With her are her sisters Eliza and Natalie, her niece Matisse, her mum-in-law Kate and – all the way from France – her friend Iris.

What a happy, garrulous crew they are!

At this early point in our evening, no one involved except Mietta and myself have any idea about what is in store – the happy gasps and grins as our gameplan is explained to them are gratifying!

Then we’re off – first stop Littlefoot, Bennie and I explaining the familiar streets and places and faces as we go.

 

 

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After “looseners” all round, we pretty much retrace our steps to Selam on Nicholson Street.

There we enjoy a truly fabulous Ethiopian meal.

Nothing edgy or unexpected, mind you – it’s simply beautifully cooked and presented Ethiopian tucker.

Lentils three different ways; terrific salad; cabbage and excellent greens (silverbeet, I think).

And in the centre of our two platters is the dry derek tibs of pan-friend lamb pieces – so good!

Best of all, though, and by general acclaim, is the lamb soup – which I foolishly forget to photograph.

This zingy lamb broth – a bit like an Ethiopian version of the standard Somalian offerings at such places as Deli Afro – is a sensation, each of our bowls liberally studded with wonderful bone-in lamb meat.

 

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Mietta and her friends – for whom the western suburbs, Footscray AND Ethiopian food are all vivid new experiences – take to the Selam fare and non-cutlery eating with gusto and delight.

Truth be told, I chose Selam for our outing pretty much on a whim and because I liked the look of the place.

But chef/proprietor Amy has done us proud and the way she and daughter Gifti have looked after us has been superb.

 

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The cost? Including all that terrific food, some wine, a few beers and sundry soft drinks – just under $20 per head.

Amazing.

But we’re not done yet … dessert is on the menu.

Actually, Footscray at 9pm on a week night is not particularly auspicious for dessert.

But before our evening began, I’d worded up Stefan at Small French Bar that we might descend upon his establishment later in the evening.

 

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It’s a bustling, cheerful scene that greets us as we enter.

It’s crowded, but room is found for us.

 

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Naturally, we ignore the savoury aspects of the menu.

We ignore, too, the sorbet option.

What we do order is three portions apiece of the other three desserts …

 

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… fondant au chocolat …

 

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… creme brulee …

 

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… and profiteroles.

Gosh, they’re beaut – and we’ve ordered just the right amount for us all to have a good taste of each dish.

There is much happy sighing and clinking of spoons on crockery.

 

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For Iris, who has been away from France for two months, this is all a profound treat.

She says the place even smells French!

What a truly memorable evening we’ve enjoyed.

There was something about the nutty randomness of Mietta’s original email approach to us that appealed enormously to CTS.

And that hunch has been vindicated.

We hope to see these folks over our way again!

 

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