Searingly good Friday dinner

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Searz Caffi, 39 Challis Street, Newport. Phone: 9399 2393

Some of our hottest meals are deeply rooted in the most whimsical decisions.

So it is tonight.

Turn left at the end of the street – that means Spotswood, Newport, Williamstown, Altona.

It’s as we’re tooling along Williamstown Road, vague notions of pizza fomenting in our minds, that inspiration strikes.

Friday night!


We’ve been to this Newport cafe before, but since then a friend has keenly recommended the joint’s Friday Indian-style specials.

We enjoyed our earlier visit, but so terrific is what we have during our second that we decide there is no better cafe in the west – and we are left with a serious case of dead-set envy because it’s not in OUR neighbourhood.

A big part of Searz’s appeal, for us anyway, is its Asian outlook.

So many other cafes – across the west, across Melbourne – come across as dilettantes when it comes to incorporating Asian influences and dishes into their menus.

Sometimes this results in enjoyable food – but without ever quite nailing the funky spicy factor.

There’s no such problems at Searz – a wide range of deftly handled Asian dishes and flavours are on hand and Asian-ness is the very beating heart of the place.




Take Bennie’s Thai beef salad ($14), for instance.

From our table’s vantage point, we enjoy watching this being constructed, so by the time it arrives we know exactly what’s in it and how it was done.

It’s very good – and in terms of quality, portion size and pure yumminess, leaves most equivalent dishes at your average Thai eateries behind.

I try a piece of the beef and am very impressed – it’s tender, charry, wonderful.




But his salad is definitely aced by my Friday night curry special ($20).

The mix of biryani rice, chicken curry, dal with veg, fried hardboiled egg and apple/mango chutney is simply fabulous.

And while it looks to me, at first, a little light on for the price tag, such proves most certainly to not be the case.

Best of all, each and every component displays most admirable evidence of loving preparation and determination to produce a range of individual flavours.

The boneless chicken is more South-East Asian than Indian, but is superb with its salty, smoky seasoning.

All the rest is every bit as interesting and delicious.




By now, we’re having such a grand time we decide to indulge in dessert.

There’s two on the blackboard – we order both.

Banana nutella tart with banana fritter and chocolate mousse (above) and …




… peach and raspberry croustade with creme fraiche ice-cream and peach/rum coulis are both orgasmic and have Bennie and I doing our usual oooh-ing, aaah-ing, swooning and eye-rolling when presented with such finery.

These are the sorts of sweet treats we would normally only expect in more formal – and expensive – settings.

The price?

$8 each.


It seems only fitting in a sort of synchronicity way that the pal who tipped us to the excellence of Friday nights at Searz – Daniel of Woven and Container Cafe fame – turns up with his crew as we’re embarking on dessert.



WeFo cafe overload? Not yet …

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Dumbo Melbourne, 11 Argyle Street, West Footscray. Phone: 9078 2645

Like Lot 10 Eatery, Dumbo is a new arrival in the WeFo neighbourhood.

They join West 48, Pod @ PID, Brother Nancy and Jellybread.

This is some fairly intense cafe action.

But saturation point?

Not yet, it would seem.

Dumbo appears to have found its own niche rather quickly.




The old building next to Footscray West Primary School has been extensively revamped.

Much of the limited space is taken by the kitchen and serving area.

In the main customer space, there’s a big communal table and a handful of smaller types.

On my first visit, the “new paint” vibe was still going on and the mix of Motown and other R&B – just the sort of finger-snapping grooves that would normally have me happily bobbing my head – was unpleasantly “boomy”.

At a second visit, both had gone and all was good.

The menu (see below) has plenty of takes on the usual line-up to keep the breakfast fans happy.

From that list, the baked Moroccan lamb clay pot ($16) strikes us as something that could also do handy lunch work.

The lunch list itself has just three dishes – and CTS tries the lot.




Pearl couscous salad with herbs, tomatoes, Lebanese cucumber, chilli herb oil, blackened chicken and green pepper relish ($18) is super.

The chicken, moist and juicy, smacks of cumin and more in the seasoning department.

Best of all is the fabulous, tangy green pepper relish.

No mere garnish this, it is provided in sufficient quantity to really give the dish a hearty flavour bomb.




The quinoa zucchini salad with sun-dried tomatoes, dill, goats cheese, shallots, beetroot and smoked trout ($19) is lovely yet doesn’t quite have the same impact or striking delineation of flavours.

It’s undeniably constructed from top-notch ingredients all round, but is a little bland for my tastes.

Or maybe it’s this simple: Memo to self – never order anything that involves quinoa.




Eating at cafes such as Dumbo often means CTS has to re-calibre expectations in terms of taking on board that meals such as the above salads are not the massive mounds of biryani or pho we habitually consume.

And that $18 or $19 is the going rate for such fare – and we’re fine with that.




Dumbo’s brioche burger ($19) with “chorizo patty”, bacon, Swiss cheese, jalapeno cream cheese, caramelised onion and thin chips with harissa mayo on the side, however, does seem to fall short in the value for money department.

The verdict from Tony is that the quality is there but the quantity is less than generous.

But then again, maybe comparing a cafe burger with what is available at the many ritzy burger joints around is unfair.

We have been interested to see what precisely “chorizo patty” meant.

Would it be a patty all of re-formed, smoked, porky sausage meat?

Or would it be a beef patty with some chorizo meat included?

It is, as far as we can tell, the latter.




My cafe latte ($3.80) is outstanding and perfect in every way; and I suspect Tony’s double espresso is likewise.





Gelati – and lunch, too

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1565, 3 Gower Street, Kensington. Phone: 9376 1965

Since first writing about the gelati emporium that is 1565, we’ve dropped in for the odd and very excellent cone or cup.

On a recent visit, we discovered that Kensington joint is doing lunches, too, so I am happy to check it out.




The 1565 lunch routine is the epitome of simplicity …

Soup ($10) with a crusty bread roll.




There’s arancini for $5 ($9.50 with salad).

And those same superb rolls are used in panini ($9.50) – your choice of schnitzel, eggplant or beef.




My beef schnitzel job is medium rather than large, but there’s no doubting the good, fresh flavours and prime eatability of the meat, bread, rocket, roasted capsicum and scamorza cheese.




As well, there is a small but wonderful range of biscotti and cakes, all made on the premises.

Bros on show



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).




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.




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.




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.




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.




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




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.





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.




Great food, coffee? Industrial strength!

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Container Cafe, 4/2 Roussos Place, Truganina. Phone: 0466 148 762

Across the great swathes of the industrial/commercial west, there seem to be cafes at least every couple of kilometres.

These days, all but the most rigourously old-school seem to make some effort to provide a variety of food.

Some of it is even healthy – salads and the like.

Still, some habits die hard and there are traditions to uphold.

Recently, at the cafe nearest to the Star Weekly Keilor Park office, I saw a trucky being served a mountainous bowl of extremely creamy pasta carbonara.

His pasta was topped, at his request, with a large amount of roast pork – and crackling!




And I reckon most of these hundreds of places would cop complaints if the stalwart potato cakes and deep-fried, nuggety-hard dimmies weren’t on hand.

Despite all this, I am nevertheless expecting something different from Container Cafe, even though it is set in the industrial wilds of Truganina.

This place is being run, after all, by the same crew responsible for the very cool Yarraville cafe Woven, which has been turning out fine tucker for a few years now.

But upon entering the place for the first time, what do I see?




Yup, potato cakes and dimmies.

Turns out, in this sort of joint in this sort of place, some things just have to done.

The Container Cafe lads came to this conclusion during research that entailed checking out the competition for many miles round – and just like that competition, they, too, will be opening at 5am.

But as I look around the “container”, I discover plenty of good signs that this is not just another tradie-style eatery.

For one thing, space dictates that there is no bain marie here – so most everything is prepared fresh.

In a heated display cabinet on the counter, there are Ka Pies!




And alongside the cafe-regulation HP Sauce is a range of hot sauces.

Finally, there is the Container Cafe menu (see below).


Plenty of carb/grease standards should they be desired – but plenty else besides, including a hot line-up of burgers and sandwiches with high degrees of Woven DNA running through them.




My southern fried chicken burger ($11.50) is a killer – maybe even the best chook burger I’ve eaten.

The thigh meat is crisp on the outer, and oh-so-very juicy and delicious on the inner.

My outstanding burger is completed with terrific rough-cut slaw, very good melted cheese and pickles.

The crinckle-cut chips ($3.50) are hot and fab, though a tad too salty even for salt-addict me.




The Cuban sandwich is another outright winner – superb value for $10 and getting extra points straightaway for being made with the appropriate, Cuban-style bread.

The innards are wonderfully gooey mix of melted gruyere, pickles, pulled pork and ham.




My cafe latte ($3.50) is beaut.

From what I’ve seen on two visits, Container Cafe is already a hit with workers in the surrounding area – and why wouldn’t it be?

In finer weather, though, I fully expect to see this place attract a wider crowd from a broader area.

There’s a heap of outdoor seating that will make Container Cafe a fine food destination and parking is a breeze.

And the food, and the attention detail and pricing, certainly take care of business in  style.

Though you can get dimmies or potato cakes if that’s your go.

As well, as a post-lunch drive brings home to me, while residential Truganina is still some distance away from Container Cafe, and on the other side Dohertys Road, there is a lot of construction going on, meaning a lot more people looking for affordable good food and coffee.

And neither are thick on the ground in Truganina to date.

Container Cafe is open 5am-3pm Monday-Friday, though that could change depending on demand; EFTPOs facilities being installed this week.





Beautiful food, beautiful place in Seddon




Fig & Walnut, 11-13 Bellairs Avenue, Seddon. Phone: 0433 574 194

Consider The Sauce has long admired the twin rows of old shops on either side of the tracks near Seddon station, on Bellairs Avenue and Pentland Parade.

We’ve often wondered what the street scenes must have been like when those shops were in their heydays.

And we’ve sometimes mused how lovely it would be to see some street life returning to the area.

Of course, almost all the properties concerned have been turned over to purely residential uses in the subsequent decades.

And who could blame those who live there from being sensitive about and protective of their quiet neighbourhood?

Fig & Walnut proprietor Vera told us, as her cafe was coming together, that she did indeed have to put some serious and sincere effort into winning over the locals.

She did so – and I’m betting they’re all rapt about having this business on their collective doorstep.

Because Fig & Walnut is a stunner.




The old shop has been done out in bright and open style, with the wooden ceilings and brickwork retained.




The eating spaces include the front room of the next door shop and the lovely garden out back has a cute-as-a-button cubbie house.

But all that’s just the start …

The vibe here is bustling and cheerful.

And the food, based on our first visit’s meals, is marvellous – and those we eyeball that are headed elsewhere look, some of them, even sexier.

There’s breakfasts and lunches and two soups.

Given a superficial glance, the menu (see below) may seem to be mostly made up of variations on the cafe theme.

But the results bespeak skill, imagination and inspiration way beyond that …




Bennie’s pancakes ($18) are a fantasia of colours and flavours.

The gluten-free pancakes themselves are shaped more like burger patties or fat cookies – and taste kinda grainy yet also marvellous.

They’re attended by maple mascarpone, saffron-poached pear, grilled figs, berries, passionfruit and more.




There’s three salads on the menu, any of which can be supplemented by protein portions such as poached coconut chicken, eye fillet or salmon.

I feel no need to do so when ordering my roasted winter root vegetable salad ($16.90).

How good does it look?

It tastes even better, the perfectly cooked vegetables doing a sensual tango with turmeric yogurt and rocket pesto, both of which are delivered in perfect quantities to lube things along nicely.

Reads like cafe food, priced like cafe food – but delivering like a flash re$taurant.




Vera “shouts” us flourless orange cake ($6.90) and …




… chocolate brownie ($4.90) to go with our excellent coffees.

They, too, are wonderful, the brownie seeming to have some choc pudding DNA in its make-up.

Next time for me?

The insanely gorgeous-looking zucchini-and-haloumi skewers I see heading for another table.

Or maybe the Greek lentil soup with apple cider vinegar Vera tells me is her fave …

The cool Fig & Walnut logo was designed by local creative Liana Lucca-Pope from Hello Idea, also responsible for Littlefoot Bar’s brand identity. See the Hello Idea website here.







Square jewel




Little Sister Cafe, 55 Wingara Avenue, Keilor East. Phone: 9336 2270

Wangara Avenue is one of three streets that make up a secret Keilor East Square.

Sounds a bit nutty, hey?

But it’s true.

The square has an old-school small-town vibe and is within cooee of the busyness of both Millera Road and the Calder Freeway – but I doubt few beyond the locals know of its existence.

The square has all sorts of food outlets – kebab and chook shops, noodles, pizza and even, quite wonderfully, a craft shop that does stuff like scones. That’s for another post on another day.




The square hot spot without doubt is the fine neighbourhood cafe that is Little Sister.

We’ve eaten here before and are happy to do so again as guests of the management (see full disclosure below).

We arrive as the Saturday overlap between breakfast and lunch is in full swing and the many cheerful and on-the-ball staff are busy and doing a grand job.

All the eggy dishes we see go whizzing by look very nice, but I manage to steer Bennie away from the ricotta hot cakes and towards the lunch list.




He inhales with gusto the “Hanoi brothers” ($19.90) of prawns and calamari with Vietnamese herbs, chilli, tomato and lemongrass and pepper on steamed rice.

With its tomato base and Asian seasoning it has a touch of Ital-Asia about it.

He reckons his dish is superior – or the luckier choice – than mine, which is an amazing thing to say because …




… my oven-baked Atlantic salmon ($20.90), from the specials board, is wonderful.

The fish may have been cooked in the oven – to a pleasantly well-done degree by the normal rare-in-the-middle standards of this species – but it is finished in what amounts to a tomato stew with capsicum, onion and saffron.

The overall vibe is sunny Mediterranean and the toasted bread on the side is a fine foil.

This a terrific and keenly priced dish.




A side serve of chips (a $3 bargain) is very good.




For afters, we share a house-made brownie ($4.90).

It’s rich, of deep choc flavour and has a range of textures – and goes good with my beaut cafe latte.

Little Sister is a member of the stable that will soon unveil Dear Abbey at Moonee Ponds.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Little Sister as non-paying guests of the management. CTS chose the food involved and Little Sister neither sought nor was granted any access or say in the writing of this post.)