Flemington soul food




Deli Afro Restaurant, 331 Racecourse Road, Kensington.   Phone: 9994 7229

The Racecourse Road strip – already happily packed with a plethora of food choices – is these days home to seven African eateries.

That’s right – seven.

But Consider The Sauce aside, you won’t be seeing this celebrated elsewhere.

This is for the simple reason that, with a couple of exceptions, these mostly Somalian cafes lack – sometimes rather spectacularly – the sort of photogenic vibe and high degree of chic and/or hipster ambience that would make them of interest to the greater part of Melbourne’s foodie media.

Ranging from the metro newspapers through to the likes of Broadsheet and Timeout through to most of our city’s bloggers, that a place being covered has some sort of “look” seems as important – and often even more important – than terrific food made by beautiful people.




Look, CTS is not at all averse to eating and dining in pleasant, attractive, sexy surrounds.

But that comes a poor third in our world when compared with that sort of food and those sorts of people.

As it is, Deli Afro is rather more restaurant-like than some of its near neighbours.

Over several visits now, I have been welcomed, had food questions happily answered and generally had an all-round great time.

And the food is tremendous and very cheap.

No matter what you order here (see menu below), you will be served soup – one of the benchmarks of such places.




The Deli Afro version is a veritable nectar of the gods.

Unlike most, this has no vegetable pieces or strands of stock meat – it’s simply a lip-smackingly awesome, tangy, lemony, spicy broth.

The other benchmark, for me, of such fine cafes is the rice.

The rice that comes with my lamb ($15, top photo) is likewise perfect.

Every grain glistens, with just the right amount of diced veg, onion and sultanas included.

With this kind of cooked-in-stock rice, one word automatically comes to my mind – inhale.

The generous serve of lamb is very good, too, and I continue to be wowed how north-east African cooks do so much, albeit very simply, with humble barbecue chops.

I am also provided a side plate of greens and stewed, finely diced beef, along with a zippy chilli sauce.

The overcooked greens are the sort of thing I reckon warrants comparison with the side dishes associated with the “soul food” of the US. 




On another visit to Deli Afro, it is CTS pal Marnes who goes the meat-and-rice route while I happily explore another aspect of Somalian food – pasta.

These noodles are so much fun and beaut to eat, especially with liberal dosings of the chilli condiment.

There’s minced beef in there, but it is a very dry dish – it’s like a dry, jumbly bolognese.




I normally steer away from fish in your more humble-but-friendly ethnic cafes, fearing a serve of bony and/or trashy fish such as tilapia or basa.

At Deli Afro, by contrast, I get a handsome chunk of salmon – how about that, and also at $15 with the pasta?

It looks like it’s been blackened in the New Orelans tradition, but – no – it is as simply cooked as our lamb.

It is way overcooked by the norms most of us associate with this fish, but not ruinously so.

I enjoy it a lot.

Our Friday night dinner gets the full Somalian treatment through provision of a banana each to eat with our meal and then milky chai-style tea spiced with ginger and other spices.




Footscray soul food

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Somali Star Cafe, Footscray Hub (arcade between Nicholson and Albert streets).

The Footscray Hub arcade mostly seems wonderfully changeless in its lively Africaness.

But it’s only ever had, to the best of our knowledge, a single food outlet among its various hairdressers, clothes shops and more.

These days that shop goes under the moniker Somali Star and is, I reckon, at least the third incarnation of that food space.

It’s a small – there’s two simple booths so seating is restricted.

But most customers are of the takeaway variety and come and happily go for the sambusas.




The sign saying “the sambussa is back” is, we reckon, a bit misleading.

Because we’ve had these African versions of the samosa from here before – but never like this.




Oh no, these are bigger and better by quite some margin …




… and, in the case of our lamb number, absolutely delicious, the flaky pastry generously stuffed with minced meat, onion and herbs.

And at $3.50, they’re a superb, dead-set bargain.

Effectively a light meal all on their own, it’s a sure thing these henceforth will feature at least once a week in CTS work/school lunches.

But while our sambusa is profoundly enjoyable, it is a holding pattern – pretty much – for our more substantial plates.




Unlike its predecessors in this space, Somali Star has a wall-mounted menu, from which we are happy to make our selections.

We’re warned there’ll be a wait time of about 15 minutes. But we don’t mind that as we very much enjoying the moment.

That wait time stretches to more than 20 minutes but we continue to care not – even when one of dishes is forgotten, or did not register in the first place.

What we get is unfussy, very enjoyable Somalian food.




Pasta/beef ($12) displays the Italian influence on north African food.

The noodles go just right with a sauce that is a bit like a Somalian version of spag bol.

Both are excellent.

The salad bits on the side are fresh and zingy and the commercial chilli sauce is added at our request.




The rice/lamb ($13) comes without adornments – maybe because it has been rushed once the friendly realised our order for it had gone awol.

We’re familiar with Somalian rice being cooked in stock, seasoned with the likes of pepper and cardamom and served with slivers of onion.

This rice is quite different, pan fried (I think) with onion and small meat chunks.

The lamb is something else.

Normally, when eating lamb in neigbourhood/street food places, be they Indian, African or other, we are used to getting lovely meat that is nevertheless sporting its fair share of bone, fat and/or gristle.

We don’t mind that at all, as the quality cooking of the meat itself invariably outweighs the extraneous bits.

We admire the cooking skill that makes such delicious food out of the cheapest cuts of meat.

In the case of this here Somali Star lamb, we get all the cooking skill and none of the rest – save for the single, visible bone piece.

The meat is very simply cooked/grilled, and – as far as I can tell – unseasoned.

But it is so wonderful, tender and yummy that I reckon a heap of much flasher eateries/pubs/cafes would be happy to serve it and charge a whole bunch more in the process.

Soul food is a term bandied about a bit these days, often in tandem or alongside BBQ food of the American variety.

Given my interest in American roots music and culture, I find that appealing.

But when such food is served in trendy places and the prices hurt, it can seem like something of a pose.

Let’s think, instead, of Footscray soul food, western suburbs soul food as a bowl of pho.

Or a WeFo biryani or dosa.

Or a couple of plates of cheap, delicious Somalian food at Somali Star.



Ethiopian salmon




Betty’s Ethiopian Restaurant & Cafe, 819 Ballarat Road, Deer Park. Phone: 9363 0857

Consider The Sauce is not used to seeing fish on the menu’s of Ethiopian eateries.

And certainly, spying salmon kitfo ($17) on the menu at betty’s in Deer Park is a first.

It’s a beguiling dish.

The flavour of the chopped salmon is subtle but very present.

The fish dances atop of bed of near-creamed spinach and a base of ricotta and yogurt.

And there’s quite a high level heat provided by, according to the menu (see below), green chilli.

It’s beaut and, naturally, one of the more unusual dishes on the Betty menu.




On a visit earlier than my mid-week fishy lunch, Bennie and I tried the beyaynetu vegetarian combo ($15 per person).

It’s very good.

It has lentils three ways, the familiar mix of spud and beetroot, and cabbage/carrotconcoctions that display a bit more crunch and texture than is often the cooked-down case in the other Ethiopian places.

The beyaynetu is accompanied by a typically high-quality simple salad full of zing and crunch.

Betty’s is unusual in that it one of the very few Melbourne Ethiopian restaurants that makes its own injera – in this case with a mix of barley flour and Australian-grown teff.




Before opening their new cafe/eatery, Betty Diemsse and her husband, Beruk, ran a grocery store at the same premises alongside a small business importing Ethiopian spices and the like.

The Derrimut couple tell me that since opening recently they’ve welcomed into their restaurant all sorts of locals – Sudanese, Somalian, Eritrean; Aussies of many kinds, in truth.

Betty’s joins good Turkish and Vietnamese places, and the popular Chef Lagenda, on the the Deer Park commercial/eats strip.

With the looming arrival of Latin Food & Wines, which is moving from its long-time base at Berkshire Road in Sunshine, it could be said things are looking up food-wise in Deer Park.

Latin Food & Wines will be taking over the big premises that formerly housed Blue Cow Deli.

Their sensational sandwiches and empanadas will be joined by a range of more substantial South American dishes, an expanded line of groceries and a bottle shop.







New jewel for Racecourse Road




New Somali Kitchen, 284 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 8589 7631

There are a handful of African establishments on Racecourse Road, one of our favourite food destinations.

But mostly they seem content to keep themselves to themselves and their communities.

New Somali Kitchen – located in what for many years the strip’s charcoal chicken stalwart and, more recently, a short-lived burger joint – presents a more welcoming mien.

It’s done out in white tiles and dark wood and looks a treat.

Oddly enough, on my two visits so far, my fellow customers have been overwhelmingly from the Somali community!

I’ve found the service to be prompt and good.

The menu (see below) is admirably tight and very affordably priced.




A plate of warm salad ($13) I see being scooted off to another table inspires me to order likewise.

Initially, I am taken aback that mine is not drizzled atop with bright, white yogurt dressing and the advertised pine nuts seem in very short supply.

But this is still very nice – the dressing is mixed throughout; there’s a heap of chopped, crunchy, roasted almonds; and the many leaves are fresh as.

The lamb – in the form of a many charred chunks – is a delight.

It’s tender and close to being free of gristle or bone.




But the main game in mains at New Somali Kitchen – and the dish I’m guessing is ordered by at least half the clientele – is the NSK Classic ($10, $13).

This is the cheaper version – and a very good meal it iso.

The cooked-in-stock rice is marvellous and the fiery green chilli sauce is a piquant flavour hit.

The lamb is good – a bit on the gnarly side but nothing that anyone familiar with this kind of food is going to find unusual or unusually challenging.

Sadly, the accompanying lamb broth is unavailable for me this time around.




New Somali Kitchen sports a nifty line-up of very cheap and wonderful sides such as sambusa, meatballs and these gorgeous and tasty bajeya – an African version of the eternal falafel ($4 for three pieces) made with black eye peas.




Unlike many African eateries, New Somali Kitchen boasts a short list of house-made desserts – and they’re all good and well priced.

This cinnamon and cardamom cake ($4) is moister than it appears may be the case and anointed with yogurt.




The “mango & yogurt dessert” and “Somali Affogato” (both $5) are equally enjoyable.

See Nat Stockley’s review here.







Ethiopian … in Fitzroy?



Saba’s Ethiopian Restaurant, 328 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 8589 0442

Of the foodie friends we break bread with, Marketa and Nick are two lovely folks whom we see too little of.

So I am only to happy to agree to a proposal to join them at a new Ethiopian eatery … in Fiztroy.

Turns out that Marketa and the Saba after whom the restaurant is named know each other from another place – a gym!

For Marketa, this will a first try of Ethiopian tucker; not so for Nick, though his single encounter is just a fading memory.




But even for me, veteran of so much western suburbs Ethiopian food, there will be something new.

As recounted in this story about Lemat Injera Bakery, for most of the Ethiopian community’s time in Australia, the grain from which injera is made – teff – was not allowed to be imported.

So the injera makers – as cultures have done through the ages – experimented and adapted, using a mix of grains, until they created something like, well, injera.

Those import restrictions have been lifted now but as far as I know this will be my first ever encounter with teff injera.

I arrive early so have time to talk with Saba and her staff about injera and Ethopian food in Melbourne.




The eatery – smack dab in the middle of Brunswick Street’s hipster heaven – is bright and light and the staff do a fine job.

As we’re enjoying our meal, people are being turned away.

Seems like Saba’s is going to fit right in in Fitzroy!

But Fitzroy isn’t Footscray so I have been bracing myself for prices way above what I’d pay for similar food much closer to home.

So, upon perusal of the menu (see below), I am pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the prices are above what we all pay on Nicholson Street or thereabouts – but not ridiculously so.

I’m happy to be in the house and catching up with my friends.




Other differences between Saba’s and the western suburbs Ethiopian eateries are the names of the dishes.

I don’t get around to asking Saba why this is so – but can tell, reading between the lines of the dish descriptions, that I am going to be eating in familiar territory.

Saba places a restraining hand on our eagerness in terms of ordering too much.

So what we end up with is a splendid Ethiopian meal of one meat dish, one pulse offering and two vegetable dishes.




It’s all very good, including the carrots-cabbage-spuds of dinish ($16) and the “side dish” beetroot, here called key sir ($12).

Our meat selection, keyih sebhi ($23.50) is a wonderfully rich, deep red stew of lamb with just the right chilli kick.

It’s almost like an Ethiopian bolognese!

As for injera made from teff, I can honestly say that I didn’t notice much difference – maybe this injera was a bit plumper.





‘Wow!’ in Tarneit




Ya Salam Cafe and Restaurant, 20 Lavinia Drive, Tarneit. Phone: 97486 860

The Arabic “ya salam” translates as “that’s fantastic!” or “wow!” – and that’s pretty much how I feel upon visiting and enjoying a brand new African eatery in Tarneit.

Taking the scenic route along from Laverton and along Sayers Road, what awaits me in Tarneit – what kind of operation, what kind of food – has been a mystery.

So I am delighted to discover a new and brightly appointed eatery that has been open just a few days.

It’s located on a small retail strip that looks out to the Wyndham Village shopping centre, home to a newish branch of Dosa Hut.

Ya Salam shares the Lavinia Drive space with an Indian eatery (on one side) and (on the other) what appears to be a charcoal chicken place but is in reality a full-on Lebanese place.




How’s that?

Instant foodie destination!

Ya Salam proprietor Mohammed tells me business, so far generated by little more than word of mouth, has been good.

He’s finding his new project is appealing to not just the local east African community of about 300 families but also the Muslim folks and the community generally.

The heart of what he and his team are doing at Ya Salam is Somalian food but the menu (see below) also features a hefty Middle Eastern component along with dishes that display Mediterranean and even European influences – breakfast, too!

Readers can rest assured, though, that this sensible, broad-sweep approach in no way diminishes the quality of what’s being served.




I am served a complementary bowl of soup to go with my main dish – it’s listed on the menu as “Yasalam soup” on the menu, so I am not sure if this is going to be part of the regular routine.

Does it look familiar?

It is!

It’s basically the same lamb broth-based concoction that is served at our beloved Safari in Ascot Vale.

This version may not be quite as tangy but it is equally rich in flavour.




“Slow-cooked lamb shoulder” ($16.95) is also familiar, with its trademark and super cooked-in-stock rice.

Perhaps it may have been more visually appealing had the meat been browned off a bit.

But as with all places who cook these kinds of lamb cuts this way, I love the undeniable depth of meaty flavour.

And there’s lots of it.




Moving on over to the more Middle Eastern aspects of the menu, mixed grill is a bargain at $12.90.

It comes with the same rice and salad, a “chapati” and a tub of exuberantly garlicky dip.

There’s a skewer apiece of lamb, chicken and …




… lamb kofta, which is served separately as it takes a little while longer to cook.

They’re all terrific.





Meal of the week No.18: Walia Ibex




A lively FB discussion – inspired by a fellow blogger’s story about a Seddon institution and concerning the pros and cons of various Footscray African eateries – has me very much in the mood for injera and the stuff that goes with it.

But I’m not in Footscray.

I’m in Sunshine.

So I very happily hit Walia Ibex (197 Hampshire Road, 9312 3090).

This is a sister enterprise to the one a few blocks away.

That one is, I’m told, dedicated entirely these days to coffee and billiards.

If you want Ethiopian food, it’s to the Hampshire Road one you should head.

And you should.

While I continue to find it surprising that AFAIK this is the sole African eatery hereabouts, based on my profoundly enjoyable lunch, it’s at least a fine thing to know it’s a good one!




It’s a cosy place with an upstairs dining room.

Upon my arrival, the vapid nonsense of commercial TV is blaring forth.

Soon after, the audio is extinguished – leaving me and the other customers happily with just the familiar sounds of low-key, funky Ethiopian jazz.

The longish Walia Ibex menu has all the usual Ethiopian staples, and while I don’t check too closely, there may even be a few unusual items in there.

The standard vegetarian combo of yetesom beyayneto costs $12.




But I’ve a hankering for something lighter, healthier, cheaper – so foul it is.

I know there’s folks who would consider $10 a bit too much to pay for such a humble dish.

But so good is the Walia Ibex rendition that I consider it a bargain.

The creamy beans are hot and plentiful, anointed with onion, tomato, capsicum, egg, cheese and just enough chilli to make things even more interesting.

I’m provided, by request, injera instead of bread.

It’s a magical lunch.

Sometimes, often, that’s how it goes with the simplest of dishes.