Tina’s turns it on

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Tina’s Dumpling House, 54 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 8851

Tina’s Dumpling House is a major arrival in Altona.

We’d be tempted to opine it is the best eating place in Altona, but …

Unlike just about all other media outlets who comment on Melbourne food – from the MSM through to hobbyists, all with their endless selective/definitive “Top 10” and “Melbourne’s greatest” lists – we won’t be doing that for the simple reason that we haven’t tried all the eating places in Altona.

So let’s just say that the food at Tina’s is very good and the prices and service righteous – so much so that Altona locals will surely ensure its success and residents of the wider west are advised to consider it a destination.

Indeed, in terms of quality for this kind of food, the prices are bang on par with what’s available elsewhere.

As well, most dumplings can be had in variable serving sizes of six or 12 pieces.

Of course, Tina’s is not just about dumplings – there’s a broad range of main courses, rice dishes and noodles available (see menu below).

And, yes, you can get here lemon chicken or sweet-and-sour pork if that is your bent.

Tina’s has taken over a Pier Street premises long home to a previous Chinese restaurant.

It’s a lovely room in which to sup.

The wait time of 15 to 20 minutes for dumplings is re-assuring in terms of knowing a house-made philosophy is in play.

Pan-fried pork-and-cabbage dumplings ($7.80 for six, $11.80 for 12, top photo) are terrific.

All too often, we find the meaty centres of such dumplings have a turd-like toughness – even good ones!

At Tina’s, the fillings are luscious and tender.

Steamed prawn dumplings ($7.80 for four) are just as good, with a full quotient of that essential bursty prawn effect going on.

Steamed BBQ pork buns ($6.80 for two) are, for me, a revelation.

We usually order these for bun fan boy Bennie, while I remain bemused and/or unimpressed.

This plump pair are superb and make a fan boy out of me – like son, like father.

The fluffy/moist buns are stuffed with a more generous than usual mix of hot, sticky chopped pork heavily perfumed with rice wine.

Beef brisket soup noodle is one of our regular choices, but always with egg noodles.

At Tina’s, we stumble into a rendition made with rice noodles, their whiteness imbuing the bowl with a pallidness that suggests bland.

But there’s no doubting the robustness of the broth or the pleasure to be had from the excellent, tender chunks of beef ($11.80).

Food lore tells us that there nothing Singaporean about Singapore fried noodles – just as there is nothing Chinese about egg foo young.

But that doesn’t mean a dish of “Singapore” fried noodles, often less oily than other Chinese wok-fried noodle dishes and with a fetching grittiness delivered by curry powder, cannot be immensely enjoyable and satisfying.

Tina’s version ($11) is a winner – hot, mildly spicy and with plenty of veg, meat and seafood.

And, yep, seafood extender.

Birdcage Cafe – opening today!

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Birdcage Cafe Altona, 7 Harrington Square, Altona. Phone: 0414 224 821

Running a little ahead of time, I decide to take the scenic route to Altona’s Harrington Square.

But as I pass Bezirk cafe on Millers Road, I feel a twinge of guilt.

You see, I exchanged email a while back with one of Bezirk’s proprietors with a view to doing a CTS review/story – but we simply haven’t got around to it yet.

Now here I am, heading to another Altona cafe to do the biz on the eve of its big opening!

Oh well …

 

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Happily, after I enter Birdcage Cafe Altona, I discover the couple behind it, Adrian and Cath, are the very same folks who run Bezirk.

Problem solved!

Or rather, no problem at all!

 

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Adrian tells me their initial focus when looking to open a sister joint for Bezirk ran more along the lines of a hole-in-the-wall operation.

But when they found and secured 7 Harrington Square, they decided there was no other way for it than to run with gusto with the greater space at hand.

And a lovely space it is, too.

It’s kinda minimalist, but in a warming way.

 

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There’s a cute kids area.

 

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And these rustic, concrete-topped stools are surprisingly bum-friendly.

The table base is constructed from a papadum machine, maintaining a link with the premisies’ previous carnation as a curry house.

 

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Naturally, Birdcage Cafe is doing a fine line in brekkies, including the likes of breakfast pumpkin gnocchi and apple crumble pancakes.

But with more room, and more room to cook, Birdcage Cafe is going further than Bezirk in terms of lunch offerings, running to – for instance – a Thai beef salad and grilled salmon.

I’m told the menu (see below) testing has all been done and I’m on hand for a sort-of softish opening for friends and family.

So my lunch options are limited to the burgers – no matter.

 

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Now, take it on board that my lunch has been prepared in the knowledge it is to be eaten by a food writer and that I did not pay for it.

That said … IMO this fried chicken burger ($17) is a sensation!

There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about it, but …

A massive slab of crisp, juicy and tasty fried chook; cheese; rough-cut, excellent coleslaw; a single rasher of very good bacon.

Excellent chips on the side.

Really top stuff, it all is.

 

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And so substantial that I have no room left for a chunk of Nutella baklava.

Adrian tells me they’re creating some of their sweet treats in-house, but are sourcing others from local specialists such as Fresh Prince of Baklava.

Also keeping righteous local vibe going are meat from Paddock to Table in Laverton and hams and the like from Sycamore Deli in Altona.

 

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My straight-up cafe latte is marvellous.

 

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Bros on show

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Two Bros On Blyth, 51a Blyth Street, Altona.

Two Bros On Blyth in Altona has gone from agreeable neighbourhood cafe to something much grander.

A second storey has been added.

A much larger downstairs kitchen has been installed.

There’s two menus in place – see them both at the Two Bros website here.

A good deal of thought and creativity has been put into both.

Lunch runs to such attractive options as smoky spice rub chicken wings with bourbon BBQ sauce ($15 for half a kilo, $24 for a kilo), pulled pork and beef melts ($15), and reuben and cubano sandwiches ($16).

 

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But we’re here for dinner, my company on this occasion being Nat Stockley and his niece, Yaya.

Yaya is living away from her Thai home while she studies in Melbourne. She appears to be taking to Melbourne and its myriad ways with aplomb.

And given the company she’s keeping, it’s no surprise she is becoming a pro eater.

Eating Tim Tams for breakfast – like that.

I think it’s fair to say that she and I enjoy our meal more than her uncle – but overall we all have an enjoyable time of it.

 

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The upstairs dining room is far from ostentatious, but with its hanging greenery and roomy feel is a pleasant, tanquil space in which to dine.

The only downside we find is that our table is too small for the multiple dishes we order and which arrive simultaneously.

We order one entree, two sides, one of the big sharing-for-two mains and a dessert.

With a couple of non-booze drinks and a coffee included, the bill comes to a few bucks over $100, which I consider good value.

The service is fine.

 

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Lamb ribs ($16) are excellent – and significantly more meaty than other versions I’ve eaten recently.

The impact of the advertised salsa verde is negligible but the mild, tasty chilli concoction also included is worthy compensation and the cumin seasoning on the meat itself is ace.

 

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Hand-cut chips ($7) are good though there is only the scantiest trace of the listed “togarashi salt” seasoning. But I love the subtle pungency of the wasabi aioli.

 

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Broccolini with toasted almonds and preserved lemon butter ($7) takes care of the veg component.

 

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The dinner menu features three big, meaty share dishes – for two, the pork shoulder and brisket; for three or four, the whole braised lamb shoulder.

Our pork shoulder with chipotle adobo and coriander sports a heavy layer of fat, but I like it a lot.

The tender meat and its marinade/sauce have a fruitiness that is beguiling and overall this dish is a nice change from some of the drab pulled pork offerings that have come my way in recent years.

One of our trio grumbles a bit about the $48 price tag, but I figure that this dish is listed as a share deal for two and that $24 per person in that context is fine.

 

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Dessert?

Let’s indulge!

Chocolate brownie ice-cream sandwich with hot fudge sauce, Yaya’s selection, is a doozy.

It looks, somewhat necessarily, messy on the plate – and gets much messier very quickly.

But there’s no denying the intense pleasure to be had from the brownie’s crunch, the black-flecked vanilla ice-cream and the sticky sauce.

It’s worth every cent of the $12 we pay.

 

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Wonderful impromptu Italian

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Pier 71 Bar e Cucina, 71 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 8598

Bennie and I have an engagement in Altona – the launch party for a new place.

In truth, we’re not sure how – or if – this will work for us.

It’s a week night with school and work the next day, and it remains to be seen whether CTS will get enough of a look-see at the food to generate a story.

We get through the security cordon, stride up the stairs and find that, nope, this isn’t for us – it’s all about people standing around drinking, Bennie’s in his school uniform and we just don’t feel comfortable.

This place will have to wait for another day.

So around the corner we go, still chasing a dinner feed, to throw our lot in with Pier 71 Bar e Cucina.

This turns out to be an ace move on our part, as this very cool Italian has until now escaped our notice, even though it’s been around for a couple of years.

It’s all about casual Italian – something along the lines of Ovest in West Footscray or Mascalzone in Williamstown: Big on pizzas, pasta and salads, not so gung-ho about steaks and pricey seafood.

 

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The place is roughly split into three areas – a communal table at front, what amounts to a long hallway of both booth and table seating adjacent the kitchen/serving areas, and a flexible alfresco area out back.

We eat very well and find the service and timing fine for a busy mid-week night.

 

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Pizza Napoletana ($17.90) is as good as we could hope for – simple, very fine and expertly done.

There’s stacks of anchovies – good for me, not so good for Bennie!

 

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The chips that accompany our “hamburger (Italian style)” ($18.90) are superb – hot, crisp, plentiful.

The fried discs of chorizo atop seem something of an affectation to us, though, and our first conclusion is that we’d be happier if that effort had been put into putting more heft into our burger, which seems rather smallish for the price.

Bennie makes rude comparisons with the burgers we get elsewhere, but after eating I conclude he’s being unfair – because, as is so often the case, this eats bigger than it looks.

 

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And it is indeed in the “Italian style” – the meat is much more finely minced than is the case with burgers generally, be they old-school Aussie or the American style.

It’s a delight with its capsicum, onion, mozzarella and sauce.

We go for it in terms of indulgence by sharing the tiramisu ($10.90, top photograph).

It’s a dreamy, rich fantasy – much stiffer in terms of consistency than we’re used to, the booze-tinged cream a thing of grinning decadence.

Check out the Pier 71 Bar e Cucina website, including menu, here.

 

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Peak charcoal chicken

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Pier Street Charcoal Chicken, 73 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 6119

According to some people, charcoal chicken is about to “return”.

I concur to the extent of considering charcoal chicken goes unacknowledged for its central role in Australian life – I even think it’s a strong contender for our national dish.

But in other ways, to speak of a “return” is silly – as even the author of the above story admits – as charcoal chicken has nowhere from which to return.

On the downside, I find such ruminations a little disturbing as they conjure up visions of hipsterised charcoal poultry with fussy, over-priced side dishes and a food genre stripped of the spunk that makes it such a favourite.

Never mind – there will always be places that do it right.

Places such as Pier Street Charcoal Chicken.

Everything about this place is old school – the furniture, the salad line-up, the menu, the locals coming and going at a rapid rate.

The food, too, is old school – and very, very good.

This is peak charcoal chicken.

The coleslaw is fine and chopped more finely chopped than is often the case.

The chips are fresh out of the frier and beaut.

The tub of steaming hot gravy is wonderful for chip dipping.

I envisaged that the gravy would super, too, for dipping the dry breast meat.

This proves to be a pleasurable truth – but one that is completely unnecessary.

Here, the breast meat is moist and tender.

Yes – tender!

This is very unusual and to be wildly applauded.

The rest of chicken is equally fine.

The above meal, including a soft drink, costs me a handful of cents above $14.

AND it has been served on real crockery attended by metal cutlery.

 

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Altona’s new burger joint

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Between 2 Buns, 26 Pier Street, Altona.

A new burger place?

Another new burger place?

Truth is, I am suffering burger fatigue – after all, there is much more wonderful and affordable food in the world, particularly in Melbourne’s west.

Same goes for pulled pork – probably more so, actually.

But then, within days of Between 2 Buns opening on Pier Street in Altona, I start to see some feedback on social media – and it’s all good.

So off I go for a Saturday lunch.

Even early lunchtime, the place is building up a head of steam of curious and eager punters.

They all leave happy.

As do I.

 

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The place is done out nicely in hip burger joint style with an accent on black and white.

But unlike some of the franchise places, this one hums with a family-run vibe and high pride in the what is being done and the food that is being prepared.

The menu (see below) doesn’t  explore any outer reaches of innovation or experimentation, but that’s fine, too.

There’s six burgers, six varieties of fries, hot dogs, “donut sundaes” and shakes.

How about dirty fries of a large fries, chilli beef, cheese sauce, bacon, M2B sauce and spring onion?

An $11 meal all on its own.

My ambitions are more modest, for this visit at least.

 

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I get a classic burger ($9.50) with beef, cheese lettuce, tomato, red onion, mustard and B2B sauce, with bacon for $1 extra.

And a regular of the beer-battered fries.

Initially, my hearts sinks when I see the fries – they appear to have been doused in chicken salt.

Another thing of which I’ve had my fill!

But to my surprise, they don’t taste of chicken salt – they taste simply like good, hot fries.

The burger, as suggested by its name, is a classic burger.

Nothing fancy – just top-notch, fresh ingredients stuffed between the covers of a nicely soft bun, all making for a very enjoyable two handfuls.

The slightly chewy, slightly crisp bacon pushes things from good to very good very nicely.

 

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What I’d like to see in such burger joints:

Hand-cut real-spud chips of the kind found at Woven, Dough! and Zigzag  – blemishes and all. As opposed to the reconstituted “beer-battered” variety – the potato equivalent of chicken nuggets.

At least one non-meat burger or sandwich – perhaps a nice, juicy, well-seasoned mushie burger? Vegetarians will never be a real important part of a set-up such as Between 2 Buns but offering at least one non-meat option would surely be a winning strategy for those families and groups with diverse eating habits.

(And I know of one Altona local – a vegetarian – who has already become an inevitable non-customer.)

Finally, if you’re going to offer hot dogs I most certainly consider it’s worth paying a bit more – and pricing accordingly – for a fine smoked frankfurter such as those sold by Andrew’s Choice in Yarraville.

Others mileage may vary.

We’ll revisit so Bennie can make his expert call on Between 2 Buns.

He’ll certainly go for one of the more grandiose burgers.

And, most likely, those sinful and seductive dirty fries.

 

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Altona cafe scores

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PitStop Cafe, 300-330 Millers Road, Altona North. Phone: 9391 1775

Bennie and I wait about 10 minutes for a burgers and chips.

Here’s the thing – this wait is undoubtedly a Good Thing.

Because …

PitStop Cafe is situated in anew industrial-strength shopping precinct – nearby and adjacent are an Aldi, a Bunnings, Officeworks and a JB Hi-Fi.

It’s the kind of place, in other words, you’d expect wait time for a burger to be counted in seconds rather than minutes because said burgers would be lined up, wrapped and with lettuce wilting, in a bain marie.

Yuck!

That this not the case at PitStop – that our food is prepared from scratch with skill and devotion – is born out by the look and taste of our meals.

 

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The chicken schnitzel burger ($9.50) is beaut.

The chook is crisp on the outer, moist and tasty on the inner.

The coleslaw does the job and the bun is fresh.

The cheese seems a little unnecessary.

 

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The basic beef burger ($8.50) with bacon ($1.50) looks an absolute treat.

All is fresh and good.

But here’s another thing – the produce and presentation really does deserve better than the meat that comes with it.

It’s not bad, exactly, but it does have that sausage meat look, texture and flavour that is part of the deal in a typical fast-food Aussie-style burger – the kinds of things, in fact, that are seen regularly lined up in bain maries.

A step up in quality and commensurate lift in price would see, I’m pretty sure, PitStop Cafe match it with such fine burger establishments as Zigzag or 8Bit.

We share the burgers to great delight and get a small $3.50 serve of beer-battered chips with each.

The chips are so plentiful that a single serve would’ve easily sufficed.

They’re hot and fine – though I reckon they’re over-seasoned with chicken salt.

Bennie disagrees.

 

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After our meal, I get talking to boss lady Allison who knows exactly where I’m at in terms of the beef burger meat.

Her business is new, growing and evolving and she’s keen on going for a sort-of two-tier approach,

For the Monday-to-Friday tradie business, such meat is what is expected and demanded.

And for that trade, and Allison, $10 seems to be some sort of uncrossable barrier.

At weekends, though, she is keen to up the vibe with ingredients of greater quality.

She reckons she can pull of the feat of catering to both the tradies and the foodies.

I reckon she’s right – and the good-looking, eggy breakfast dishes we see around us seem to confirm.

Allison is keen on sourcing goodies from westie sources and to that end is proud to offer Sunshine dimmies and Ka Pies, those ones we love and which have become a regular part of our home dinner routine.

We wish her well and will hopefully check back soon.

There’s no reason PitStop can not rise above the sort of greasy spoon industrial precinct places that abound around my Keilor/Tullamartine office location and become a foodie destination in its own right.

 

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Westie barbers No.4: Sandra

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Sandra’s Barber Shop, 312 Blackshaws Road, Altona North. Phone: 9391 8676

When Sandra was pondering a career, training in hair care was not the way it is today with apprentices learning how to “do” both and female follicles.

She had to choose.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I think I’d like to be a barber’,” she says with a big smile. “I like talking to men!”

Sandra is prepping me for an all-in buzz cut and face shave.

The price she’s quoted me is a bit rich for my blood and more cash than I have on me – but we happily settle on a payment made up of my wallet’s contents.

I’m happy with that.

As she works, Sandra gives me a rundown of her barbering career.

In the city – McKillop Street, the Southern Cross Hotel, the driveway of the Regent Hotel, a side street near the Windsor.

It’s entirely possible she cut my hair at the Southern Cross while I was working at Flinders Street.

Being an Altona girl, she eventually made her way to Altona Gate shopping centre and then to Blackshaws Road about 16 years ago.

Until now, this shopping strip on Blackshaws Road has been of little interest to CTS.

But that is unlikely to remain the case now I know there’s such a friendly barber in residence and that the old-school continental butcher a few doors along is the meat source for our fave pizza joint.

 

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Altona/Willy eats goss

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Dropping into one of our favoured locals haunts – Altona Fresh at 62-76 Second Avenue – seeking coffee, great pork sausages, even greater lemon zest-marinated green olives, I am delighted to find coffee is now on the menu.

How marvellous!

 

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Now shopping for Altona Fresh’s superb goodies can be accompanied by an excellent caffeine chill-out and maybe even a $3.50 canoli fresh from Cavallaro’s in Footscray.

 

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The sorts of older shopping strips of the kind on which Altona Fresh is situated are our favourite foodie destinations – all this one needs is a bit of street life and it could be really lovely.

Even on a mid-week afternoon, with not many people around, it’s already apparent this coffee breakthrough could play a role in doing just that.

 

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Also talking Italian, but moving over a suburb, Pizza d’Asporto – which has rapidly become one of our very favourite regulars – has extended its trading hours.

It’s now open for lunches on both Thursdays and Sundays, as well as Fridays and Saturdays and seven nights a week.

Yum!

 

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Staying in Williamstown … fine Greek restaurant Santorini is hosting, with Consider The Sauce, a fundraiser to benefit West Welcome Wagon and its work with hundreds of asylum-seeker homes in the west.

It’s going to be a wonderful night!

See story here.

 

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Live in or near Altona North?

Love pho?

Give Window Cafe a try.

See story here.

Altona pho

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Window Cafe, 25 Borrack Square, Altona North. Phone: 9399 2442

Fresh red chilli slices.

There are none.

What kind of pho joint doesn’t have fresh red chilli slices?

Ahhh, the kind that does have raisin toast and ham and cheese croissants and does coffee.

But, heck, I don’t mind – because the pho I am served is very good.

Pho can be had in Altona-by-the-bay.

But Altona is a big suburb, so if you live away from the bay, for pho Footscray, Sunshine or St Albans beckon.

So if we lived hereabouts and had Window Cafe nearby, we’d still go often to Footscray, Sunshine or St Albans – naturally – but maybe a little less often.

 

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This is a simple, small place serving a tight range of Vietnamese and Chinese dishes.

As well as pho you can get the expected rice dishes, mee goreng and char kway teow (see menu below).

As far as pho goes, there’s only one size – big! – as is usual in non-pho specialist places away from the main Viet precincts.

 

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I go straight sliced beef – and am delighted with said meat’s quality and quantity.

Most of it is nicely lean and rare but there is also some good brisket of a slightly more fatty variety.

The broth is mildly flavoured but fine.

 

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Altona joy

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The House Of Beans Cafe, 25 The Circle, Altona. Phone: 0419 375 397

Bennie always showed more interest in the F&C shop at one end of The Circle’s shopping strip than I.

But that wasn’t hard as mine was pretty much zero.

My lack of curiosity continued when the premises became a cafe that – and here I am, judging a restaurant by its cover – seemed to offer little more than basic coffee.

So it is only happy circumstance – the Lebanese pizza shop up the road being closed – that forces me through the door to see what’s on offer.

My prior judgments based on appearances prove to be utterly false.

 

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In fact, House Of Beans serves a nice longish range of Lebanese food – think falafel, foul, hommos and the like – that puts it on the same footing as the fabulous Abbout Falafel House in Coburg.

And about that I am ecstatic.

Just think – no more driving to Sydney Road!

Unless we feel like a drive, of course.

For my first visit, I go for the “kefta in bread” ($6.50) and a small serve of fattoush ($7) (top photo).

 

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At first blush the kefta found between layers of lovely, toasted house-made flat bread appears to be very similar to the pinkish meaty smear found on your basic meat pizza up the road and elsewhere.

It’s nothing of the sort.

This is much more juicy, well seasoned and delicious – in short, it really is lamb kofta in a sandwich.

Marvellous!

The generously proportioned fattoush is wonderfully fresh but, if anything, the dressing is a little too lemony.

And regular readers will know that I really like a lemony dressing.

On the basis of what I’ve already, tried I am excited upon returning with Bennie.

Nahida helpfully explains the ins and outs of the five different varieties of foul on offer – basically they’re all variations on red beans, depending on the addition or not of tomato, tahini or chick peas – but we perversely go in the opposite direction.

 

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I let my young man have his way with an order of the most expensive menu item – mixed grill ($15).

It’s a ripper!

There’s a skewer apiece of kofta, lamb and chicken.

They’re all fabulous – heavy with amazing chargrill flavour, juicy and tender.

Throw in a good gob of hommos, some rice and the same good salad mix, and you’ve got a splendid meal.

 

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My falafel plate ($10) looks a little on the bare-bones side until the arrival of …

 

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… a fabulously tangy bowl of green olives, pickled cucumber and chillis, mint and onion with which Bennie and I both make happy.

The falafels themselves are fresh and yummy though a tad on the dry side for my tastes. Next time, I’m sure some yogurt will happily be provided to moisten things up.

 

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Nahida brings us some foul to try regardless of our regular order.

This one is an oily mix of red beans and chick peas that is slightly surplus to the rest of our meal.

But we enjoy most of it anyway.

I love how its plainness works in a harmony of contrasts with the various contents of our pickle bowl.

We love what Banjo (he declines to tell me from part of Lebanon his name comes), Nahida and their family have going on here and what they bring to the table in terms of swelling the depth of Middle eastern food available in the western suburbs.

We suggest you get there pronto – but take on board that House Of Beans Cafe is a lunch-only establishment.

 

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Sweet sensations

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Victoria Sweets, 216 Blackshaws Road, Altona North. Phone: 9391 2322

Early on in its history, Consider The Sauce dropped in on Victoria Sweets a couple of times … must have been on very slow days as on both occasions as we struggled to find anyone to serve us.

Since then we’ve been happily distracted by many hundreds of other stories but we’re game for another try.

Today we do better and we’re ever so glad!

The place has a humming smell of sugar and nectar and is crammed with Lebanese goodies that are sold at $20 a kilogram

We go out of our way to order items that are not baklava or in that style – we seem to have consumed plenty of them in recent months.

 

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Our tray of goodies, arrived at after much pointing, costs $12.

It’s only upon returning home that we discover just how fabulous, fresh and delicious the Victoria Sweets products are … we’re still working our way through them but we can report that the numbers that look like spring rolls are very sticky tubes supremely stuffed with a lush vanilla cream.

Victoria Sweets?

 It’s taken a while but I suspect we’re about to become very regular customers.

Heck, I may even try to wangle my way into kitchen visit to observe a baking session!

 

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We also note with interest the presence of good-looking gelati.

We’re told it’s made off-premises but within-business – this will be for another visit, hopefully before the weather turns nasty.

 

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Lunch surprise in Altona

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Two Bros On Blyth, 51a Blyth Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 8882

Consider The Sauce travels to Altona for a lazy mid-week lunch on the recommendation of a long-time reader who moved to the area a couple of years back.

She tells us she did, at first, miss her former Kensington home and its proximity to considerable eats depth, but she reckons things are looking up in Altona – and points to Two Bros On Blyth as a case in point.

The cafe is smallish, with communal or bench seating on the inner and three communal tables on the outer.

 

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I find the staff and the service to be fine.

The breakfast options are many; the lunch options less so.

I choose from a display-cabinet range of jaffles and baguettes and a single salad, though a keen looking Asian salad is added to the line-up as I depart.

I opt for a baguette of ham, brie and horseradish, wondering how those ingredients will combine and figuring the $14 price tag is about right these days.

So I am surprised and delighted when my lunch arrives beautifully presented on a board with “extras” that include cornichons and a salad.

 

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It’s the salad that lifts my repast way beyond a mere quick lunch and into the realms of something to be savoured rather more.

It’s a lovely mix of rocket, cucumber, fennel and small chick peas, all very well dressed.

I discern little or no sinus-clearing tang from horseradish, but otherwise my baguette is fine, with all the fresh ingredients making their voices heard.

 

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My $3.50 cafe latte is very nice.

I doubt Altona will ever be a first-choice dining option for us, but with the advent of joints such as Two Bros On Blyth, ya never know!

 

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Laughter amid the gloom in Altona

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Greek Orthodox Parish & Community – The Dormition of Our Lady, North Altona – launch day of their new church

It’s the launch party of the new Greek church on Millers Road and there’s a lot of people about.

A lot of happy, animated people.

It’s not raining – but it has been.

Leaden skies and sunshine are in an arm wrestle that ends in a draw.

 

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There is, however, a lot of dainty stepping around mud and puddles by people in high heels.

And even low heels.

 

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Antonio from Werribee and I bond immediately.

 

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I’m a bit bemused but not disturbed by the food on offer – corn, prawn skewers, falafel, fish and chips.

And lots of sweet treats.

Where’s the kebabs?

 

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The queue for the F&C looks way too long and tiresome.

So after a beaut corn cob I go for a $5 falafel sandwich. With tahini sauce and turshi, it’s excellent.

 

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I am unsurprised to run into emissaries of another western suburbs spiritual establishment.

 

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Anna, Vicki, Pat and Pam are manning the sweets stand with great aplomb and gaiety.

It’s from Pam that I learn the reason for the food – the church’s big day just happens to coincide with a Greek Orthodox fast day that dictates the non-consumption of meat or dairy products.

Yet there is beer on sale!

I buy a $10 tray of homemade, syrupy goodness to take home, with Pam throwing is a handful of Turkish delight cubes for good measure.

It’s my lucky day!

 

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After witnessing a punch-up in the queue for loukoumades – I take a $5 bunch of them home, too, and boy are they amazing! – I notice the crowd is thinning out and realise it’s time for me to do likewise.

Food trucks – Altona, Williamstown readers have your say!

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Disclosure – the two reporters who filed this Maribyrnong/Hobsons Bay Weekly story about food trucks in the west are colleagues of mine; I am quoted in the story and the newspaper has used a photograph provided by CTS.

But I confess to being bemused by the comments in the story by the spokeswomen for both the Altona Village Traders Association and the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce.

Of course, it is the job of such groups to promote and protect the businesses they represent.

But the idea of “running food trucks out of the town” seems a little, um, confrontational.

There are places we like to eat in and shop at in both Williamstown and Altona. We will discover more.

But I can only go with what numerous residents and readers from both suburbs have told me in the years CTS has been operating – that while there is plenty of choice, people in general think there is much that is “average”, over-priced or both.

So Altona and Williamstown readers, what do you think … food trucks, do you want them?

 

 

 

 

 

REAL old-school in Altona

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Alex Take Away Food, 11 Ford Rd, Altona. Phone: 9398 4267

“If you aren’t paying for a product, you ARE the product.”

Such is the charge often levelled at Facebook

We’re not blind to the creepier aspects of the social media behemoth.

But while keeping them in mind, we find it almost impossible to remain unmoved by the connectedness it can foster.

Take the Altona, I lived there FB page for instance.

In its short life, it has quickly racked up more than 2500 members and become a lively, entertaining focal point for all sorts of stories, photos and reminiscences about Altona.

And it’s how we found out about Alex Take Away Food.

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The address has nothing to do with what most of us non-Altonians think of when we think of Grieve Parade – the freeway exit after the Millers Road one.

Nope, this part of Grieve Parade requires taking the Millers Road exit, heading right down past the refinery, turning right on to Civic Parade and THEN  turning right on to suburban – as opposed to industrial – Grieve Parade.

On the early week night we visit, the place is mad busy.

There’s a heap of customers in-house and there seems to be just as many phone orders coming in.

Everyone but us is a regular. We feel like strangers gatecrashing an intimate gathering of friends and families.

Certainly, the pace is sufficiently frantic to preclude any chit chat and inquiries about just how long this community asset has been doing business right here.

But judging by the funky decor, I’m guessing at least since some time in the 1970s.

We’re in no hurry though, so happily enjoy the vibe until our order is taken.

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There are zero tables or chairs, inside or out.

And unlike almost all the other customers, we can’t simply whisk our goodies home – and even the beach, while reasonably close by, seems a stretch that will ruin our dinner.

So we prop on the footpath right outside the shop, get stuck in and make small talk with some local youngsters while we’re at it.

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Bennie loves his “with the lot” ($7.50).

He’s enough of a burger maven to understand and appreciate that there’s a difference between more American-style burgers and the Aussie variety – and that there’s a time and a place for both.

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My calamari rings ($1) are the of the surimi variety and just OK.

My deep-fried snapper ($7.50) is much better and a real classy piece of work.

The batter is crisp and deep brown, and adheres to the fish pretty good.

The snapper itself is a huge chunk of seafood and has juicy depth of the sort we’ve rarely encountered.

Our chips orders ($4) got lost in the hubbub somewhere, so we end up with some that appear to have been sitting for a while – they’re barely warm and a bit leathery.

But as we saw heaps of chips of what appeared to be excellent quality and appearance be prepared as we waited for our food, we wouldn’t let this minor lapse deter us from returning to this amazing and obviously much-loved neighbourhood joint.

 

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These foulish things in Altona

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Seaside Flatbread Cafe, 34 Borrack Square, Altona North. Phone: 9391 6655

It’s a lovely Friday but dad’s not working; nor is son at school.

He’s smashed his right foot something dreadful at school, to the extent we’ve had to get X-rays done.

But the news is all good – no fracture, no further treatment needed than the course of time and the natural healing process. And no need for spending the rest of the day in hospital, waiting to have a cast applied.

Still, he’s earned a nickname for the day – “Hoppy”!

Time for a well-earned lunch break at one of our favourite places.

Since rumour mongering about its imminent arrival and then writing about Seaside Flatbread Cafe and its food, several pertinent things have occurred.

For starters. we’ve become regulars. Not once a day or even once a week regulars, but often enough to satisfy our cravings for Lebanese goodness.

Then both Consider The Sauce and Seaside Flatbread Cafe scored generous, righteous mentions in a story by Nina Rousseau in The Age.

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Along the way, yours truly helped the business – for a small fee – in getting its Facebook page up and running.

That particular avenue of a career-like future generated by this blog is proving more tricky than anticipated.

I still think a lot of western suburbs eateries really, really need help with social media.

But convincing them of that fact – and that it’s worth paying some cash for – is something else entirely!

In any case, Seaside Flatbread Cafe seems to doing a fine FB job all on its own these days … and besides, we love Rouba, her family, their food and their business so much we’d do what we’ve done for free!

And with any suggestion of conflict of interest dispensed with, we can go back to telling you how much we dig the place.

The week previous to the foot injury, we’d visited with another youngster in tow for a fine lunch of pizzas, including divine Nutella pizzas for Bennie and his wee mate.

In the process, though, we noticed a couple of Lebanese blokes chowing down for another kind of lunch entirely, one we did not even know SFC was purveying.

So we’re back today with for the foul.

First, though, some of our usual faves …

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Tremendous stuffed vine leaves, this time – oh yes! – topped with slices of luscious, lemony potato I’m pretty sure have been part of the cooking process.

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Kibbeh ($2 each) tasty and tender, with the delicate lamb and onion mince so liberally studded with pine nuts.

Then it’s foul time …

Rouba tells us that normally she prepares her own fava beans, but as it’s Ramadan, the foul ($8) she whips up for us will be made using canned beans.

We don’t mind that at all.

And if anything, we seem to benefit from having a serve of foul specially prepared for us – the mix of beans, olive oil, garlic and tiny tomato pieces warmed through but not cooked is wonderful and more like a salad than a mashy stew.

On hand are pickles of the turnip, cucumber and very mild pickle variety.

But the real stars of our show are the one, then two terrific breads we are provided straight out of the pizza oven.

They’re big, round and inflated.

But unlike those of a similar bent we enjoy on Sydney Road, these are thin and crisp on top, thicker and moister on their bottoms.

This is a first for Bennie and he just loves the way the rotund breads emit steam when punctured!

Despite it being Ramadan, one other table is enjoying a foul meal.

So I ask Rouba why this dish is not listed on the printed or wall menus.

She tells me “our people” – meaning the Lebanese community – know foul is available without having to be told, and her family has been unsure whether such fare would be enjoyed or even desired by the wider community.

My sense of the situation is that Seaside Flatbread Cafe is feeling its way with what might work and that Rouba and her crew need encouragement to provide broader eat-in food than their very fine pizzas and pies.

In any case, asking what’s available beyond what is listed or otherwise obvious would seem to be a cluey way to proceed at this Altona gem!

One reader who commented on Nina’s story in The Age opined that making a song and dance about a Lebanese cafe in Altona was silly as the western suburbs were rich in Lebanese foodiness.

Well, that’s not my understanding of the situation at all.

Apart from SFC, there’s bakeries in Newport and Altona – and that’s it

If anyone knows otherwise, we’re all ears …

As ever, Bennie finishes with a Nutella pizza ($4).

Despite my skepticism, these really do work, the earthiness of the plain yet wonderful bread working hand in hand with the creamy richness of the saucey spread.

The Greekgrill

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thegreek1

The Greekgrill, 43 Civic Parade, Altona. Phone: 9398 5335

Getting in early seems to have become something of a Consider The Sauce habit of late.

When I ask the staff at The Greekgrill how long they’ve been open, they say since about midday!

Yep, it’s opening day.

That would explain why we haven’t noticed this establishment before.

It’s smack bang in the middle of a small shopping strip that has previously been of little interest to us, save for hitting the ATM of the correct flavour before heading to adventures elsewhere in Altona and environs.

The Greekgrill delivers a variety of options – yes, you can order a burger or kebab wrap or charcoal chicken here.

But what intrigues me are the more substantial and traditional Greek offerings.

And especially at attractively low prices. (As previously noted, we love Greek restaurant food, but that style loses out when the prices are steep compared to more affordable options.)

How about a plate of chicken or lamb gyros with “chips, salad, warm pita bread and tzatziki” for $16.90?

Or “char grilled baby snapper served with lemon and herb scented rice and salad” for $17?

Mixed grill for two goes for $36 and the seafood platter for two costs $42.

I entered seriously contemplating some of these heftier items, but while ascertaining if the taramosalata is house-made – the answer is “yes”, but it’s not on today – I switch paths and figure a light meal is just the ticket for this early evening chow down.

My mixed mezze plate (top photo) is beaut – particularly at $14.

The dips, eaten with warmed and lightly toasted pita bread, are super – an apricot-coloured spicy fetta number with a swell and very cheesy chilli kick, a plain cucumber and yogurt combo, a garlicky eggplant delight, and a beetroot blend that is less sweet than most of its kind but packed with that earthy beetroot flavour.

Elsewhere on my plate are two kinds of olives, kalamata and stuffed green jobs, a few cubes of rather ummemorable fetta and some roasted red capsicum.

I’ve been given a few extras over and above the menu description – perhaps because it’s opening day and they’re looking to impress or perhaps because of the interest I’ve shown.

Small red peppers stuffed with a creamy blend of fetta and ricotta also have a nice chilli hit, while the marinated octopus is chewy but nice enough.

A serve of “dolmadakia” (“vine leaves stuffed with herb rice”) costs $6.50, but I’ve snagged a couple at 50 cents apiece. They’re plain but good.

Judging by the number of locals dropping in to grab menus, it seems The Greekgrill will prove a winner.

 

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Seaside Flatbread Cafe

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Seaside Flatbread Cafe, 34 Borrack Square, Altona North. Phone: 9391 6655

Since first spying the soon-to-be-opened Lebanese food emporium in Borrack Square, I have driven by several times to check on progress.

And I have driven away hungry and looking elsewhere – until this Saturday lunch time.

Such is my excitement, Bennie suggests I keep my expectations in check.

Fair call that – but one that proves unnecessary.

We’re told the place has been open for three days and that it’s been a “madhouse”.

The word is obviously out.

Pizzas and pies are going into the oven and out the door at a hectic rate.

Multiple customers are coming and going. A few are hunkering down at the outdoor tables. But most are getting their pies and pizzas and heading for home.

We plan on inhaling something from that sector of what’s available, but we’re happily hungry and determined to see what else can be had as well. We grab one of the two indoor tables.

Such is our extravagant lunching enthusiasm, we keep only a partial check on pricing.

But a quick scan of your basic Lebanese bakery items fully indicates how things are here –  your basic oregano pizza costs $1.50, a cheese pie $2.50 and most of the rest of the pizzas $4, including our kafta number with “minced beef, tomato, onion, parsley and spices”.

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It’s a fantastic, delicate bargain – the meat and seasoning topping does indeed boast that distinctive kafta flavour.

Other pizza and pie varieties include spinach and cheese, vegetarian, soujuk, meat, shanklish and labne.

Our spread of other and more diverse Seaside treats is just as good.

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The fattoush and cabbage salad are unavailable at the time of our visit, but the tabouli makes a fine substitute – it’s wet and lemony, which is how we like it. Salads come in $3 and $4 sizes.

The stuffed vine leaves are advertised as costing $2 for three, but they’re quite small so we are given four. They, too, are exemplary, with the al dente rice tightly bound.

Our hummus and babaghanoush, mild and smooth, are fresh and delicious.

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Often the outer, bulghur-based shells of kebbeh can be old-boot tough.

Joyfully that is not the case with our two $2 delights – the shells are refined and a dark brown to match the scrumptious inner filling of lamb, seasonings and pine nuts.

Gosh, they’re good!

It seems inconceivable that Seaside Flatbread Cafe will not become a home away from home for us, just as there are already so many devoted customers.

Bennie is straining at the bit to get back there to try the nutella pizza ($3).

Me, I’ll be seeking an opportunity to ditch the at-home muesli routine to try the Traditional Lebanese Breakfast of “egg, soujuk, labneh, cucumber and served with fresh Lebanese bread” ($9).

Seaside Flatbread Cafe is open from 6.30am-5pm Monday to Friday and 6.30am-2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

 

Altona Fresh

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Altona Fresh, 62-76 Second Ave, Altona North. Phone: 9399 1390

At the launch of Feasting In Footscray, invited guests were provided with showbags of goodies, among which were copies of The Foodies’ Guide To Melbourne by Michele Curtis and Allan Campion.

At home, I proceeded to nonchalantly flip through the book, homing in – of course – on content concerned with the western suburbs, somewhat smug in the assumption that any such content would hold no surprises.

I was wrong.

Altona Fresh – what’s that?

Yet when I googled the address and checked out the street view, I realised we had driven past Altona Fresh in pre-CTS times.

The world looks very different these days, besides which the establishment’s exterior is a tad on the dull side.

So it’s a joy to set foot through the automatic doors and discover a true foodie haven.

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I enjoy chatting with Sandra, part of the family that has run the business here for 20 years and an earlier generation of which operated out the premises that continues as The Circle Fruit Fiesta.

It’s interesting to discover how the store’s product range has evolved as the area has changed.

So while there’s an undeniable Italian-ness about the place, there are, too, many products of a more rounded and diverse range.

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The Foodies’ Guide To Melbourne describes Altona Fresh as “being “like a mini-Mediterranean Wholesalers”.

It’s true this place is more compact than the famed Sydney Rd emporium, but I think the comparison does Altona Fresh a disservice.

There are, however, two major differences – Altona Fresh sells fresh produce and doesn’t sell alcohol.

More generally, though, the range and breadth of what is available here seems to match or equal anything to be had at Mediterranean Wholesalers.

Sandra tells me the fresh produce is these days taking up less space than previously, but what I see is of excellent quality and pricing.

For this first visit I only have a small shopping list, so this story and the photos that accompany it are necessarily a somewhat superficial look at what is sure to become regular fixture for us.

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I buy some Maltese sausages from the bustling deli section – $10.99 for snags that appear splendidly rich and highly seasoned.

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We’re not a big cheese household, but the Altona Fresh line-up impresses.

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And how about this swell array of olives and antipasti?

Check out the Altona Fresh website here.

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