Home-style Lebanese – brilliant

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Mankoushe, 323 Lygon Street, Brunswick East. Phone: 9078 9223

Back in the early days of Consider The Sauce, we frequented on several occasions  a wonderful hole-in-the-wall cafe/bakery in Brunswick East that did a red-hot line Lebanese pizzas and pies.

In the several years since then, we have moved on to other things and places.

Since then, too, much has changed with Mankoushe.

A year or so after our story, a Mankoushe restaurant proper was opened right next door; and then about six months ago, the bakery was closed – though the restaurant still does those great pizzas ‘n’ pies, with the lunch menu dedicated to them.

You can check out the lunch and dinner menus at the Mankoushe website.

So it’s a mighty hoot to try the extended Mankoushe restaurant with CTS pal Marco.

 

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The verdict?

No kidding, this is brilliant Lebanese food at ridiculously affordable prices – a match and more for any of our favourite Coburg haunts and even fancy places such as Ablas.

Even better, the accent is very firmly on home-style cooking.

There’s just a single dish on the Mankoushe dinner menu that mentions the word “kebab” – and that’s an entree.

And there’s not a dip to be seen.

Mankoushe is an outright champion  for vegetarians, too – we almost go meatless ourselves, but are seduced by the meatiest of the three main courses.

It’s a busy Sunday night and we haven’t booked, so end up perched at the window bench right next to the door – but the food is so amazing, we care not.

Our various choices arrive with admirable promptness and the service of fine and friendly.

 

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House-made pickles ($5) are crunchy, of mild sourness and very good – jars of the various veg are on sale to take home.

 

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Stuffed vine leaves ($12) are warmed though, heavy on the lemon (yay!) and with just a touch of dill and chilli.

It’s a very generous serve for the price.

 

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Roasted cauliflower salad with minted yoghurt and sultanas ($10), one of three salad offerings, is another generous serve – so much so, we do not finish it off.

It’s gorgeous – and manages that neat trick, one we always admire, of being both a little crunchy and very pliable.

 

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One of our two mains (top photo) is purple turnip stuffed with, green peas, basmati rice and fresh herbs and topped with walnut tarator.

It appears to be of modest proportions for the $21 asking price – but as is so often the case, eats bigger than it looks.

The turnip lends a slightly bitter tang to proceedings, but there’s no doubting the quality and yumminess of the filling.

The walnut sauce is nice but is swamped by the tomato sauce in which our turnips reside.

 

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OMG, OMG, OMG – how good is this?

Wood-fired short lamb leg with chickpea dressing ($28) is another ripsnorting bargain – we’d expect pay an extra $10, $15, $20 or more for this in a flash eating house or pub.

And paying the equivalent of $14 each, we two eat till we metaphorically drop.

It really is amazing, the meat every bit of fall-apart tender and juicy as we could ever expect.

Dessert?

Two are listed – coffee and cardamom poached dates with labne ($8), and milk pudding with Iranian wild figs and sugar syrup ($11).

Based on our meal, I’m sure they’re awesome – but we have eaten so well and so much, they’ll have to wait for another visit.

Mankoushe is a Melbourne star, its prices and unassuming comfiness a stark and wonderful contrast to the excellence of the food.

Mankoushe is a cash-only establishment.

Fine sweeties, wholesale prices

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Mediterranean Wholesalers, 482 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Phone: 9380 4777

After we moved to the western suburbs, we maintained regular visits to Mediterranean Wholesalers – that repository of just about everything Italian on Sydney Road – for several years.

Maybe it was because there was then less available in the west of what we were seeking – oil, great cheese and sausages, pasta, pulses and much more.

And maybe, too, it was simply a matter of not then, yet knowing where to source such goodies in the west.

That pleasurable habit fell by the wayside many years ago now … but very recently Bennie and I had some to kill before a hospital visit and it gave us a great deal of pleasure to re-visit Mediterranean Wholesalers.

We had lunched elsewhere – at our new fave non-westie joint – so were thinking only of coffee and some sweet treats.

It was a great fun to be in the place again – all appeared to be the same: The smells, the stock, the aisles of wonderful.

 

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Smiles aglow, we had a slice of lovely flourless chocolate cake ($3) and a baby ricotta canoli ($1.50).

My very good cafe latte clocked in at $2.50 and Bennie’s San Pelligrino chinotto cost a fabulously cheap $1.50.

If only all cafes sold San Pelligrino soft drinks at such prices we’d be regular chuggers.

Incredibly, our brief and enjoyable visit cost us less than $10.

 

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A Tamil feast

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Tamil Feasts, Ceres, Stewart St & Roberts St, Brunswick East.

Tamil Feasts have been run at Ceres Community Environment Park in Brunswick for about eight months.

They are held on Monday (pescatarian friendly with vegan options) and Tuesday (vegan friendly) nights every week.

 

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I arrive early on the Monday night I attend, which gives me plenty of time to take in the set-up and meet several of fine folks involved.

There volunteers working hard but the main heft of the cooking and its inspiration falls to a half-dozen or so Tamil asylum seekers.

 

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My understanding is that these wonderful cooks are still seeking refugee status but are free to live and work in the community.

After years of being detention, being able to prepare food for hungry guests not only earns them income but a whole lot of satisfaction.

Though, as event co-ordinator Molly points out, two days hardly provides a livable pay packet.

But still …

 

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The tables for a sell-out crowd of 70 are beautifully set.

And as more guests start arriving, it strikes me – this party is just like a Consider The Sauce Feast or fundraiser for West Welcome Wagon!

The people and the food (see menu below) are very familiar.

And that’s a good thing!

 

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Our feast starts with bhajis of onion, silverbeet, curry leaves and spices served with a mild tomato-coconut sambal.

These are magnificent – crisp on the outer and quite moist and juicy on the inner.

 

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Then follows our waonderful main fare, served upon thali plates.

Devilled prawns.

A super, spinachy dal.

A green bean and carrot curry.

Unusually flavoured roast garlic with sugar.

A salad of roast eggplant spiced with coriander, lemon, chilli and more.

And another salad of parsely, coconut and chilli.

It’s all very good and well worth every cent of the $30 we have paid.

 

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The evening has been an unalloyed pleasure and the event has been very well run.

Highly recommended!

Many thanks to Goya and her friends for inviting me!

To make a booking, go Tamil Feasts at website or Facebook page.

 

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Moroccan magic

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Moroccan Deli-cacy, 313 Lygon Street, Brunswick East. Phone: 9387 6805

What a wonderful adventure and discovery for Bennie and I!

After a routine hospital visit, we steer clear of the obvious destinations of Fitzroy, Carlton or Collingwood and head up Lygon.

We have notions – but only vague ones – of hitting Mankoushe, the fabulous Lebanese bakery we haven’t visited for a couple of years.

I’m sure it still does great things – but happily for us it is not open.

So we cast around and wander into Moroccan Deli-cacy.

 

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This is familiar territory for me.

Once, very early in my Melbourne days, this was pretty much home territory.

I ate often at the Italian restaurant just a few doors away.

And I remember the Middle Eastern nut shop – Miramar – that was on this very corner.

So what has happened?

 

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Well, it still does the nuts – and spices and cookies and olives and lots of other groceries.

But it has also been transformed into a wonderfully colourful, welcoming and cheerful Moroccan eatery.

We know for certain we’re in the right place when we’re told there is no written menu – only a “spoken menu”.

And on that menu, there is just a single dish – an open plate of vegetarian goodies ($15).

“Yes please, we’ll have two of those!”

 

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We receive identical plates of amazing.

Everything is fabulous, every mouthful a joy …

Turshi and pickled red cabbage.

Hummus that looks like it may be dry and tasteless but which is moist and lemony.

Grain-heavy tabouleh.

A slab of crusty, golden-grilled haloumi.

Incredible roast vegetables – carrot, eggplant, cauliflower.

A slice of dukkah-dusted sourdough bread.

A tangled salad of long pasta lubricated by a creamy, spicy sauce.

An equally tasty and spicy bean stew that may be called ful.

Through the now several years, I have written many foolish things on this blog.

But not among them were those in a proclamation of several years ago, about a likeminded eating establishment located not far from Moroccan Deli-cacy: “Food, in my world, simply does not get any better – at any price.”

The same words are true of the food we have enjoyed today.

 

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We also enjoy an iced version each of lovely Moroccan coffee called nus-nus, which basically means half-and-half. Our cool drinks are all quirkily upside down, with the coffee on top and the milk on the bottom!

After we have enjoyed our lunch, I get talking to Hana Assafiri, known for her work with Moroccan Soup Kitchen.

Rather than being considered boss or owner, she tells me she consider herself Moroccan Deli-cacy’s “custodian”.

Custodian, too, not just of an eatery but also of traditions – inner-city, urban, multicultural, eating, Muslim, feminist.

She is relishing the opportunity to breath new life into a long-standing business that, like so many of its kind, was at risk of being ploughed under for apartments sake.

That new life has included the bringing from Morocco of all the lovely, tiled and vibrant furniture.

 

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And the feminism?

Well, without being too earnest about – this is, after all, a joyous place – she and her colleagues are setting about asserting (by deeds rather than words) a feisty role for women in the ongoing dialogue about Muslims and their religion.

She points out that as with so many religions, the role of women is often seemingly defined by men but that there is always debate and dialogue going that is not always – if ever – apparent to non-Muslims.

To that end, she recently organised a “speed date a Muslim” event at Moroccan Deli-cacy.

Cute name, that, but in reality it wasn’t about “dating” or romance – it was simply an opportunity for anyone to drop in and have a chat with variety of Muslim women, to “ask a Muslim a question, any question over a cup of mint tea or juice”.

 

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As Narissa Doumani posted on her blog post about the event: “Before us is a bevy of bubbly women. They are perched on barstools, sipping green juice; they are ethnically and culturally diverse; some wear hijabs, others don’t; some were raised Muslim, others adopted the religion later in life; all are ready and raring to break down barriers and dispel misconceptions – about their expressions and experiences of faith, their personal and cultural identities, their roles within the Muslim community and broader society – one conversation at a time.”

I wish I’d known it was being held!

On Sunday, March 6, there will be an afternoon festival in the side street right outside.

Read another review of Moroccan Deli-cacy at Green Gourmet Giraffe here.

Best Indonesian

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The Uleg, 312 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Phone: 9388 8606

Our friends Nick and Marketa have asked us to join them on a Friday night at an Indonesian joint they’re keen on.

After long weeks of work and school, we’re not exactly bursting with enthusiasm as we hit the road, anticipating – and finding – a handful of bottlenecks along the way from Yarraville to Brunswick.

Our energy levels have hardly been boosted by the Facbook message I’d received from Marketa the previous night: “The portions are small and take a bit of time to arrive so have a little something before dinner!

What?!

But make the trek we do.

And end up being oh-so-glad we’ve done so.

The Uleg is the bomb.

It serves the best Indonesian food I’ve ever had.

Now, that may not be saying all that much at all.

But … the food here has high levels of homemade personality and soul, downhome refinement and distinctiveness I’ve never before encountered in an Indonesian eatery – and that we rarely encounter in eateries of any Asian persuasion.

It earns the top-shelf Consider The Sauce accolade – we wish it was in the west!

 

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The Uleg is located on a portion of Sydney Road that is these days heavily hipsterised, though as with almost the entire length of the road there are many good and/or interesting eating options around.

Uleg’s longish dining room is lovely in wood and has the feel of a place that has been around for a while.

The service we find to be as warm and personable as the food.

The menu (see below) has about a dozen entrees in the $4 to $9 range.

Mains number about 50 and average about $13.

Save for a handful of snapper and barramundi dishes for around $17 and $24 respectively, they’re all configured as single-person dishes though that doesn’t deter all of us from tasting everything on our table.

 

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Long wait times?

Our entrees turn up smartly.

But it’s true that our four mains arrive in a procession with up to about five minutes between them.

I’m led to believe there’s minimal staff in the kitchen and, besides, the wait times are no problem whatsoever considering the quality of the food.

Small portions?

Well, no, not really – though I know what Marketa means.

The serves aren’t food-court, cheap-eats ginormous – but they’re more than adequate.

But that quality’s the thing, right down to the hand-made condiments.

Besides, we order freely, eat very well and end up paying a most excellent fee of about $25 each.

 

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First up – freshly squeezed lime juice over ice ($4).

So very, very good!

Bennie and I do two of these apiece.

There’s probably enough sugar involved to rival the canned soft drinks we habitually slurp with spicy food but this stuff nevertheless rocks our world as a tart, lip-smacking alternative.

 

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Fried calamari is the most expensive entree at $8.50.

It’s fresh, tender, very lightly battered and good without being spectacular.

 

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Tahu isi ($5.90) is two very enjoyable big cubes of fried tofu stuffed with beans sprouts, carrot and so on, and served with a very sticky soy sauce.

 

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Nasi goreng ($9.90) we share.

It’s excellent, with fine wok-charred flavour and good-size chunks of chicken.

On to our mains!

Iga goreng ($11.90, top photograph) is beef ribs served with Balado sambal.

Oh my, this is wonderful!

The meat is tender and comes from the bones easily; there’s fat but it’s easily discarded.

The flavour-packed meat harmonises beaut with the chilli mash.

 

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Chicken “Crunch” A.K.A ayam penyet ($11.90) is good, too, though it turns out to be the most mundane of our dishes so stiff is the compeition it faces.

The chook maryland is fine enough and is adorned with fried garlic flakes.

 

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Beef rendang with roti ($10.90) is another trumph.

We often find restaurant rendang to be OK but dull.

This one is not like that – it sings with hand-mixed spices and deft cooking.

 

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Finally, ox tail soup ($11.90) – bit of an odd man out that nevertheless fits just with our other selections.

It’s bigger than it photographs.

It’s salty in a good way.

It’s like a cross between two Vietnamese dishes – beef pho and on-the-bone beef stew.

Just without the star anise.

It has a heap of fat but also a heap of fall-apart-tender meat.

And submerged in there is a plump, deep-fried “potato cake” – no, most definitely not your typical Aussie F&C shop potato cake.

This one has spud cubes encased in a rich batter, the whole flavoursome and disintegrating at just the right pace as the soup eating progresses.

How I feel as we happily skip into the night, having had our weekend kickstarted in the most wonderful way: “Sorry for ever doubting you, Marketa – you’re a gun and a pal!”

 

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A bleak night in Brunswick

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Rezah Afghan Kebab, 595 Sydney Rd, Brunswick. Phone: 9387 3730

It’s a very odd few hours that end in sheer delight.

Good pal Nat Stockley and I have fronted for the launch of a new food truck, one that excites us both.

As he points out, whenever we tee up a foodie excursion, neither of us arrive at the appointed location early – but we are ALWAYS on time.

In this case, that is bad timing indeed.

The scene in a Brunswick back street is bleak.

It’s pissing down with rain and the dub music issuing forth from the venue is doing strange, unpleasant things to my internal organs.

Now look, I’m someone who has always fully embraced volume as a music asset – but this is just no good and no fun.

About three-quarters of an hour after the announced starting time, and with food seemingly no closer to appearing, we give it up and head for Sydney Road.

Our first stop, a perennially popular Lebanese joint, is chockers like I’ve never see it before – and will require a 15-minute wait for a table. If we’re lucky …

So we amble on up the Sydney Road hill and settle on Rezah.

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I’ve been here before, so know what I’m getting into. Nat has his reservations, but is soon won over.

We have a really, really fine meal in a restaurant that has now climbed onto the list of Melbourne places I most warmly regard.

Perhaps the love that unfolds is because of my previous visit. Or, more likely, the folks who run this joint are just extremely lovely people.

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Whatever … I soon start a dialogue with Firoz.

Firoz tells me the restaurant has been running for nine years and that he and wife Aasiah have lived in Australia for 16.

I’m even invited into the kitchen to see our dinner being prepared – so cool!

Nat and I, being of robust hungriness, go for the mixed kebab set menu that’ll cost us $20 each.

It’s terrific!

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The rudiments of our feast are the same as on my previous visit …

Wonderfully vinegary pickles of carrot, onion, cauliflower and even a plump, round chilli.

A minty chilli dip of only mild hotness and a stiff, tasty yogurt dip.

Chewy, hot Afghan naan – so different from the Indian variety.

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Our chicken one way and lamb two are fab, especially the lamb and chicken pieces – tender and extremely tasty, with that charcoal thing really going on.

The minced lamb sausage is nicely chewy but I find it a bit bitter in the garlic manner.

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The rice, festooned with currants and carrot strands, is every bit as good as that we love eating at this Westies winner.

It’s made, Firoz tells me, with stock made from long-simmered lamb bones and spices including two kinds of cardamom, cinnamon and cumin, as well as salt and pepper.

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In a testament to what kind of restaurant this is, Aasiah provides us with a complementary serve of aushak.

The green onion dumplings, smothered in yogurt and a pulse stew of some sort, are wonderful.

As we are wrapping things up, smiling Firoz several times places his hands over his heart to demonstrate his appreciation of our enjoyment of his family’s food and cooking.

He does so again when he makes clear his desire that we not pay for our dinner.

With gentle determination, we eventually persuade him that there’s no way we’re going to allow that to happen.

After a shaky start to our evening, Nat and I have had a fine old time.

And I even got to hear previously unheard – by me – details of my friend’s sordid rock ‘n’ roll past.

What do you reckon?

Would it be completely out of order for Consider The Sauce to arrange a CTS Feast in such a non-western suburb of Melbourne?

 

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Rezah

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Rezah, 595 Sydney Rd, Brunswick. Phone: 9387 3730

Meet my new favourite things.

They’re aushak, they’re Afghani dumplings and they’re incredible.

I’ve ordered a half serve of them ($15), instead of one of the $20+ kebab mains, so I can get a taste of other bits of the menu at this lovely Afghani restaurant.

It’s a tactic to which I often resort when eating by myself, one that can often go wrong and worse.

But tonight I feel like a bleeding genius of ordering.

Encased in silky pillow casings, each of the dumplings is stuffed with splendidly vivid green sliced spring onion.

The distinctive bitter flavour of the onions goes absolutely divinely with the slightly sweet, slightly but just rightly chilli glow of the meat sauce and the minted yogurt around the fringes.

I can’t remember the last time I deliberately slowed my eating to linger over every mouthful.

But by the time I’m down to my last dumpling, it’s stone cold.

Yes, that good.

Accompanying my meal is a serve of toorshi ($3.50), described as “pickled vegetables in vinegar”.

These watery pickles, too, are just plain fantastic – mouth-puckering sour, there’s onion, cabbage, potato, chilli, cauliflower, cucumber, all of it soft to the point of mushiness but so fine.

Watery, sour and excellent, too, is the dip/chutney of “fresh tomato, coriander, garlic, fresh crushed green hot pepper” ($3.50) I order, which is joined by a regulation mint/yogurt raita, which I haven’t.

The aushak sauces, the dips and the pickles are all gleefully mopped up by nicely chewy fresh flat bread, which is like a cross between the Turkish and Lebanese varieties.

Rezah is decorated with Afghani artwork and photos, the service has been lovely and the food delivery as prompt as can be expected.

Frankly, I’m drooling at the thought of returning.

There’s plenty of meat on the menu (see below), including familiars such as tandoori chicken and various biryanis.

But there’s some points of difference, too, such as asheh lubia – homemade noodles with red kidney bean sauce and yogurt.  Sounds pricey at $25, but you never know …

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