Cafe splendid

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Haiki & Co, 33 Beachley Street, Braybrook. Phone: 0408 396 921

Coverage of Braybrook at Consider The Sauce, through the years, has been scant.

Well, apart from those eateries we have enjoyed on the Ballarat Road aspect of the suburb.

Nevertheless, every time we are scooting up South Road, bound for Sunshine or elsewhere, we inevitably grab a fleeting glimpse as we pass of the gorgeous old shopping strip on Beachley Street, always hoping for some kind of food stuff to be going on there.

Now there is in the form of Haiki & Co.

Actually, there has long been foodiness here, though not with neon lights blazing.

Haiki & Co itself resides in the premises formerly occupied by Romu, which afaik was a rather ritzy and much-loved take-home/catering sort of affair.

And, as we discover during a guided tour of the precinct by one of the Haiki owners, other Beachley Street shops are active in the fields of baking and chocolate.

The early morning aromas can be, I’m told, rather intoxicating.

Haiki & Co is a cafe – of sorts.

Internally, it is – as it now stands – all kitchen, with eat-there options down to a couple of outdoor tables.

This means the joint is very reliant on take-away and delivery services – it is on Uber Eats and DoorDash.

And while regular dinner hours are being observed, impromptu openings for the odd lunch service are being posted on the eatery’s Facebook page.

So it behooves food fans to follow them there for updates.

We have – and that’s how we end up enjoying a sunshiney lunch on a public holiday.

And what a fine time we have.

The food we enjoy is very good, remarkably priced – and the whole deal is pretty wonderful.

From the entree list (all priced at $8, see full menu below) we start with cauliflower falafel with babaganoush.

They are excellent in every way, containing combining traditional chick peas with cauliflower in superbly deep-fried packages.

Such skilled frying so early in the day – we are the day’s first customers – augurs well, we reckon, for the chips to be served with Bennie’s soon-come burger.

We are happily compensated for being served three falafels (instead of the listed four) by being presented with the missing patty accompanied by a serve of samosas.

These, too, are terrific.

Yes!

The chips that come with Bennie’s chicken burger are just as good as we expected.

The burger itself ($16, bacon $2 extra) is a no-fuss, straight-up tidy piece of work.

Nothing too flash – just good ingredients well done.

My Asian-style linguini ($18) is a treat of a quite different sort – but just as lovely.

The noodles aside, the main ingredients are chicken and mushrooms.

It looks a bit like pad thai or char kway teow and tastes like neither – which as it should be.

It’s only mildly spiced, despite the many chilli flecks mixed through.

Haiki & Co is a massively cool and friendly place to dine – or get takeaway!

Veg Ethiopian makes our hearts sing

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Abol Africa, 221 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 7016 0886

We are three, we are headed for Footscray – and we are aiming to chow down on some ace Ethiopian tucker.

Ahhh, as it turns out, the restaurant we have in mind is unavailable to us.

So we do what we always do in such situations – we walk about half a block up the street and eat somewhere else.

It’s that easy – and ongoing testament to the sublime luxury of living so close to Footscray and a number of other westie suburbs with high food concentrations.

Yum.

Actually, in this case, way more than mere yum and into realms of giddy delight.

It’s fair to say the Ethiopian we enjoy at Abol is as good as any we’ve consumed.

Abol African has been open about a month when we visit.

Boss man Abel tells me that prior to this he ran Jambo, just up the road apiece, for about seven years.

The menu at Abol African has a section devoted to fish dishes.

That aside, though, it is basically an out-and-out vegan place (see full menu below).

That’s fine by me – even if we’d paid more attention to the veg-inclined signage outside, I still would’ve insisted we eat here just out of curiosity.

And besides, it’s strongly embedded within me that on the occasion of countless previous Ethiopian meals, the meat dishes have been enjoyable but it’s been non-meat side things that has really been the heart and soul of the food.

The fare we enjoy at Abol Africa is emphatically in line with such ruminations.

It is spectacular.

We order one of four combo selections – the Hudade Special for two to three people at a cost $40 all up.

Wow!

That turns out to be an extraordinary bargain!

One of the menu-listed dishes is missing from our platter, but we barely notice.

The rest are superbly cooked dishes, some familiar, some less so.

The lentil salad (azila), seen at centre, is zingy and brilliant.

The shiro wot (chick pea stew, far right) is a smooth delight.

The duba wot (pumpkin stew, far left) is fine, too, but me ‘n’ Bennie – being not pumpkin fans – mostly leave that to Veronica.

But it is all wonderful, all extremely delicious, with a highlight being the profoundly spuddy dinich wot (potato stew, top right).

And we get extra injera at no extra cost.

Before tucking into our main feast, we devour three sambusa ($3 each).

Again, these are state-of-the-art and as good as any we’ve experienced.

Crisp, ungreasy, beaut.

And, yes, despite the filling being an unmeaty mix of lentils, onion and spices.

Abel tells me he uses a mix of avocado, olive and mixed vegetable oils in his cooking.

It shows.

Look, we love/enjoy a good old doro wot swimming in oil/butter as much as anybody.

But the Abol Africa cookinge leaves us with an equally profound sense of having eaten well and healthily.

Abol Africa is a pleasant, bright space to spend some time – and there is a fine-looking and tabled garden/outdoor section out back.

Leaf it alone? No way!

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D Roti King, 290 Ballarat Road, Braybrook. Phone: 8528 0064

Our Saturday banana leaf lunch at D Roti King is among the very best such meals we’ve enjoyed.

Perhaps even the very best.

Saturday?

Well, for time being at least that’s only day of the week the joint’s banana leaf meals are available.

Want to check it out some other time of the week?

No problem – a couple of other offerings are discussed below and the entire menu is down there somewhere, too.

Based on the evidence of our two superbly yummy visits thus far, we reckon there’s a very good chance anything you order here will be terrific.

The basic veg banana leaf meal costs $14.90.

Only the rice, dried chillies, pickle and some deep-fried bitter melon rings sit atop the banana leaf, with the rest of the meal’s bits arrayed around thali-style.

Clockwise from bottom left, they are …

A fine spud-studded dal.

Rassam/broth.

Raita filled with more chunky bits (cucumber, carrot, onion) than is customary in such settings.

Chick peas, also with potato chunks.

Greens with tofu.

A luscious eggplant concoction.

Everything is very good or better, though the chick peas could do with some more heating.

The outright star?

The eggplant – it’s sweet, unctuous and completely wonderful.

And, yep, there’s papadums as well.

The basic banana leaf meal is very generous – in quantity as well as quality.

Really, it stands as a fine meal in it’s own right.

But curry add-ons are available for $7 to $9.

Of course we go for it!

Our selections – from left, chicken 65, chicken varuval and lamb curry – are all exemplary in their tastiness and ingredient quality.

Wow!

A little less than a week earlier, we’d enjoyed some of D Roti King’s other fare.

Oh boy, we do great.

Bennie’s nasi lemak with fried chicken ($14) has all the necessary bits and pieces and hits the spot nicely.

My roti/curry combo costs $15 and is stupendous.

Chicken curry is swell. Three pieces on the bone, the meat falling away easily.

Dal/gravy beside them.

And two rotis – hot, moist, perfect.

D Roti King is a cheerful, bright, clean space to spend some time and we found the staff smiling and on the ball.

Great cafe find

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Vamoska Cafe, 22 Hunter Road, Altona North. Phone: 9193 3374

Let’s face it – the broader western suburbs are not without their share of unlovely shopping centres.

But even in that context, Millers Junction Village is a doozy.

Spectacularly ugly, it is.

Actually, it is more like a shopping enclave than centre; there are roads and stuff.

And while Bennie and I may make fun of the place and its predominantly grey-on-grey colour scheme, it serves the local community very well. And that includes us.

So much so that even about noon on a public holiday Monday, the place is a-bustle with people and cars.

Happily for us, Vamoska Cafe is tucked away in a far corner of the village/centre/enclave, mostly surrounded by gyms and fitness places.

Parking is no problem.

Even better, the full menu is available. It ranges from the full gamut of breakfast dishes through to burgers.

But son and dad are more up for lighter lunch/brunch fares.

Bennie chooses the Bao Wonder.

The basic dish clocks in at $17 and includes three bao, Asian slaw, mint, coriander, sriracha mayo. And a side of fries. With tomato sauce!

Fried chicken or fried tofu are added at $3.

The fries are real fine, but seem a bit incongruous with the bao.

We can’t help feeling the fries should’ve been omitted and the $17 bao trio provided already loaded with chicklen/tofu.

But these are minor quibbles – the bao are excellent, the chicken crunchy, the flavours zingy and the meal surprisingly substantial.

I go with the Miso Steamed Salmon Salad ($19).

The salmon has no doubt undergone steaming, but it’s also experienced some kind of grilling as the skin is admirably crisp.

The fish is well cooked and cooked through, but far from dry.

It goes just right with the tangy sauce.

Both fish and sauce sit atop beaut cauliflower rice.

The garnishes all go down well. They include a jumble of the sort of flowers/micro-herbs that would normally have me snorting with derision.

But here, in the context of this sort of dish, I gleefully gobble the lot.

That includes “cider-soaked figs” and “pickled target beetroot” that contribute to the whole but whose cider/pickle components are not discernible.

But again, these are quibbles – my lunch is a very fine, light yet pleasantly filling.

Vamoska Cafe presents as a treasure; we’ll be back to road test the burgers, which we suspect may be awesome.

Mighty bonus: Our takeaway coffees – latte for me, decaf flat white for him – are as good as coffee gets.

Vamoska Cafe is currently open for brunch/lunch seven days a week.

Meal of the week No.52: Chatkora’s

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A sit-down restaurant/cafe-style meal at Chatkora’s will have to wait, it seems, another couple of months.

But they ARE using the real-deal kitchen out the back – and maybe that’s the reason our Sunday lunch there is the best ever Chatkora’s feed we’ve enjoyed.

The staff being freed, after all, from the confines of the truck now parked out the back at Unit 4, 45 Leakes Road, Laverton North.

Or maybe the Chatkora’s Indian street food is simply very, very excellent.

Which it is.

Our latest visit is an opportunity to reflect on how this eating house has become such a charming, yummy part of our lives.

We do it for weekend lunches – when the roads involved are pretty much free of the industrial-strength traffic that chokes them on week days.

And even, I suspect, week nights.

It’s a sweet weekend romp – along Geelong Road, Grieve Parade, Dohertys Road, Foundation Road and then back a wee ways on Leakes Road, thus avoiding any potential bottle necks associated with Lavo Market.

No in-house seating/tables? No problem – we’re happy to prop at the rear end of our car, it’s dusty boot acting as a table.

My choice this time is Old Delhi matar kulcha ($16.95, top photo).

It is a riot of flavour/texture explosions and supremely enjoyable.

The raita is studded with puffed rice.

The matar curry is wonderful – and made using, maybe, yellow split peas; as opposed to the chick peas that feature in several other Chatkora’s dishes.

The flatbread – kulcha – is quite different from most other Indian flatbreads in that it is leavened. It is a little fluffy and all crash hot.

As with my lunch selection, a key component of Bennie’s pav bhaji ($16.99) are the two kinds of red onion – raw chpped chips and pickled strands – which seal the deal on texture.

Pav bhaji can be eaten as a kind-of burger, with the thick veg curry gravy slathered between the soft buns/pav.

Or eaten in the usual curry-with-flatbread style, as Bennie does.

Chatkora’s – go on, make that drive.

See earlier story here.

Chatkora’s is open Tuesday-Sunday.

Masterfully delicious

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Master Parotta, 218/220 Ballarat Road, Maidstone. Phone: 0403 687 339

Master Parotta is a sooper dooper Ballarat Road food truck.

It serves Malaysian food.

Malaysian food that is also, in many ways, Indian food – something along the lines of Panjali in Sunshine and Orange Hat in Altona.

Unsurprisingly, there are also similarities with Parotta Station in Brooklyn – though that is more your straight-up Indian eatery.

We love musing upon and enjoying the overlapping commonalities between these sorts of places – though really, referring to Indian food” or “Malaysian food” can seem a little silly when the lines are so blurred.

Same dynamic applies, more broadly, from the north Africa and the eastern Mediterranean right through to Japan.

The red lines drawn in colonial times – and sometimes redrawn since then – are meaningless to countless generations of cooks.

What fun!

Master Parotta, where the food is halal, has some seating and parking available, though I’m led to believe things can pick up here later at night, so both may then become scarce.

Don’t let that put you off!

We – myself, Bennie, Juz – eat very, very well.

With just one unknowing mis-step that will be rectified next visit – and that’ll be soon.

Lamb murtabak ($16) is wonderful in every way, a key ingredient being the slightly under-cooked onion that provides crunchy texture.

The parotta here come flatbread style – as opposed to the escargot/scroll versions at Parotta station.

Two egg parotta ($6.50 each) are excellent.

Important to note: The gravy/sauce that is served with both our murtabak and egg parottas is very good.

A sort of mix of veg and dal, it has more substance than the runny gravies we know from elsewhere.

As such, two egg parottas – or two of the other varieties (see menu below) – can constitute a light and affordable meal all on their own.

Mee goreng ($12) is fine, mildly spiced, nice and moist and with shredded/cubed chicken throughout.

Parotta Cobra is the most expensive dish on the Master Parotta menu at $20.

It’s described as “2pcs parotta, half boil egg, and come with chicken varuval”.

We enjoy it muchly, but rather wish the curry and egg (fried, not boiled) were not placed atop the parotta in a tub.

The curry has a heap of bones but is very tasty; and wetter than varuval we’ve enjoyed elsewhere.

Next time, we’ll order plain parottas ($8 for two) and a serve of one of the curries ($10-$12) so we can do the combining/mixing ourselves.

The cream scene

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Kariton Sorbetes, 50 Leeds Street, Footscray.

Think there’s a buzz and hububb, a pronounced air of delicious trendiness, surrounding Footscray’s new Filipino gelati joint?

You’re right!

Bennie and I first check it out a day or so after it opened.

It was Australia Day and 34C.

Yet still, as spied during our drive-by, the queue was something like 50 metres.

Um.

No thanks.

We’ll wait until the fuss has died down.

Maybe this year; maybe next.

But then, just days later, on a Saturday of lunching and market shopping – when you’d expect the crowd to be just as intense – we find the place pretty much deserted.

So in we go.

Looking at the Kariton FB page and website, we’d somehow gained the impression the place is mainly about fancy pre-made specialties.

Think “curated”, “styled” or maybe “designer-constructed”.

So we are thrilled to discover that in addition to such fridge items, Kariton does indeed serve up a range of flavours by the scoop and in cup or cone.

Yay!

It’s a neat place to hang while slurping.

Seating is down to a plain wall-side bench, while we prop at the stand-up bar at the window.

Bennie goes with ube halaya, described as “creamy purple yam (ube) gelato topped with our rich and decadent ube jam, preserved blackberry and malty, toasty latik (caramelised coconut curds)”.

For me, it’s a scoop of buko pandan – “velvety coconut and pandan gelato with pandan jelly, candied coconut and crispy, toasted pinipig (rice flakes)”.

Wowee, this is some really great stuff and absolutely worth every cent of the $5.50 admission fee.

The experience is quite unlike Italian gelati – and seemingly a lot more creamy.

I reckon Kariton will become a regular for us when we’re in the icy mood.

In the process, we’ll no doubt check out some of the more adventurous flavours.

Though we’re bound to be cautious when it comes to ingredients such as durian and fish sauce!

Balkan sanctuary

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Avliya Balkan Cuisine & Desserts, Shop 78, Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre, Point Cook. Phone: 0423 470 458

In a couple of decades adventuring all over, around and in Melbourne’s west, we have enjoyed quite a range of Balkan food.

But in a shopping centre? This is a new wrinkle for us.

We discover that Avilaya is tucked away in a corner of Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre in a cool spot that offers both indoor and outdoor dining.

The white and somewhat frilly ambience at first seems to indicate to us that it’ll be the kind of place we will for sure be offered to us coffee and sweets/cakes – and maybe burek if we’re lucky.

We’re wrong about that – Avliya offers a much more in-depth and broad range.

Even better, there’s a deep love of food going on here, evinced by the fact that everything – including bread and several kinds of side dishes and dips – is made in house.

Trahana ($7.50), listed as “traditional Balkan soup”, is a nice light starter – beef broth-based, it comes across as a sort of near relative of chicken noodle soup.

My Spicy Balkan Burger ($22.50) looks rather plain and unadorned, eh?

But it doesn’t eat that way at all!

The chargrilled bread remains moist and all delicious, the nicely-spicy patty is great and all the bits and pieces – including excellent and very hot crinkle-cut chips – are fine.

It barely needs the house-made ajvar I am nevertheless provided at no extra cost.

The more substantial offerings here are really big; I finish precisely three quarters of my burger, despite commencing with a robust appetite.

Bennie enjoys his by-request chipless Bosnian Souvlaki ($15.95), which is served with a nice side salad and tazatziki.

Me, I’m sort conflicted by the mixture of chicken and cheese!

Our second visit to Avliya is the result of a rather wonderful spontaneous accident – we’re in Point Cook having picked up a Gumtree comic purchase.

It’s hot and we’re a bit stumped for a lunch location and in no mood for going out of our way – so we plump for Balkan and braving the potentially ugly parking/crowd situation at Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre.

All that proves a breeze and we once again appreciate Avliya’s coolish and secluded location in the centre scheme of things.

And food-wise we do even better – this time taking the route of the aforementioned burek.

They are awesome – the best we’ve had!

We share the standard beef model (above, $15.95), served with a tub of yoghurt, and …

… and the zeljanica ($12.95), which we’re told is stuffed mainly with cottage cheese, some rictotta and a little bit of egg. The side tub of tomato goes just right!

Our goodness parcels make for a superb and lightish lunch.

One day we will journey to Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre intent on trying at least a couple of Avliya’s sweet treats/cakes – they really do look awesome.

But the substantial size of the meals at both our lunch visits renders them a no-go zone for us.

Steak of the art

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Bar Romanee, 25 Anderson Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 8451

In which we upscale one of our favourite lockdown treats into a real-deal dine-in experience.

Along with park picnics of takeaway food in slightly more far-flung environs of the west, we survived the most recent Melbourne lockdown thanks to several partakings of Bar Romanee’s Monday steak night.

Up to that point, we’d tried Bar Romanee for nothing more than a Cup Day steak sanger, also consumed in a nearby park – it was very good, too.

More in-depth exploration of the swish, clubbish joint being delayed, of course, by circumstances.

But our takeaway Monday steaks?

Hoo boy, they were utterly excellent – we both happily concluded they were the best we’d had from anywhere at any price at any time.

Being eaten on cardboard perhaps even heightening that sense of deluxe, our steaks were joined by good chips and wonderful slaw.

My suspicion that steak – and chips – were not suitable takeaway material was ameliorated by teamwork and the closeness of Bar Romanee to our home.

Park outside, grab the beefy goodies and then swiftly home – in each case, we were dining in style in well under five minutes.

But now things are a bit looser, we’re actually in the house on a Monday night.

What a lovely place this is!

There’s a Yarraville buzz on and there’s a nice crowd in, yet the buzz is not rowdy, noisy or oppressive in any way.

We’re told by our wait person that some Monday punters go with picks from the broader menu, but just about everyone we see around us is steaking it.

So we do, too.

It’s all brilliant – medium rare genius, a rich sauce, chips that are hotter than we’d managed to rush into our living room and superb slaw, studded with cuke and radish slices and scented with dill.

Look, we know there are other steak specials around – we’ve even tried some of them.

And some of them are significantly cheaper than the $30 Romanee price.

But in terms of deliciousness and value for money, Romanee is unbeatable.

Very sweet Greek

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Marko’s Greek Kitchen Bar, Shop 13/71-79 Kororoit Creek Road, Williamstown. Phone: 7013 0470

We’d eaten Greek at this specific address – located in Rifle Range Shopping Centre – but then things changed.

A whole lot of things changed, actually.

The virus came along.

And somewhere along that way, the place underwent a change of name.

And changes of personnel and, we suspect, management.

And the food changed – going from good/basic to something truly great, something to be adored.

Here’s how it unfolded for us …

Marko’s became one of a handlful of places across the inner west at which we regularly engineered lockdown picnics as a way of enjoying eatery food while eating-in was strictly a no-no.

And our orders were always the same: The combo deal of a basic souvlaki upgraded for an extra $5 with a serve of chips and a can of soft drink.

Bonza deals, packed neatly into carboard containers and swiftly transported to nearby Jawbone Reserve and equally swiftly consumed.

Consumed with ear-splitting grins.

Now we’re back for a sneaky eat-in lunch to see if our lockdown lunch joy holds up in a less stringent regulatory environment.

Yep, it sure does.

This is not mere takeaway food – it’s really excellent Greek tucker.

We’re well used to finding the best chips going around frequently come from eateries of various Mediterranean persuasions.

Marko’s is an upholder of that tradition.

The souvlakis are simply superb and simplicity itself.

These are not massive, two-fisted monsters, but real souvlakis of Greek tradition.

Toasted, Greek-style pita, garlic/yoghurt sauce, lettuce, tomato, onions and a few chips.

And the meat.

Ah, yes – the meat.

Each and every time we’ve visited over a couple of years now, we’ve reveled in lamb that is simultaneously crusty, salty and tender.

So wonderful!

We’re tempted to ascribe this meaty marvellousness to the fact we often seem to be the day’s first customers, therefore lucking into meat that has been exposed to the flame for a good while.

But, really, it’s happened so often, it’s probably wiser to conclude that these folks really, really know what they’re doing.

Meanwhile, we keep telling ourselves that the compact but alluring range of house-made cakes/slices/treats will have to wait until next time!

Myth lustre

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Myth Cafe, 48 Rosslyn Street, West Melbourne. Phone: 0460 659 400

Journeying to Myth Cafe – for the first of two visits – we muse about its location.

West Melbourne? Qualifies as western suburbs under our always rubbery definition!

West Melbourne? Kinda handy to our inner-west home, actually – a nifty, sweet drive that is easier to navigate than, say, St Albans or Werribee.

West Melbourne? Close to North Melbourne shops and Victoria Market, but not a part of either; just sort of a small nowhere it seems to us.

So despite the ease of our journey, we wonder: Why?

We soon find out.

Myth Cafe is located in shop-level premises of a modern apartment block. There are others like it nearby, as well as many cool houses, many of two levels, of the type so prevalent in the residential areas that fringe Melbourne’s CBD.

Moreover, this housing – and local workplaces – seem to provide a handsome supply of Myth Cafe customers.

For good reason – the Myth Cafe food is excellent. It is very affordable. It’s a small and newish operation that is destined to soar and is already garnering many hot google reviews.

Out advice: Get in before the hordes respond to inevitable coverage in Broadsheet, Timeout or similar.

Delivering Malaysian food, Myth Cafe is still in the process of marshalling its resources.

So far, this means its specialty – yong tau foo, “a very Chinese (Hakka) dish common in Malaysia” (thanks to a knowledgeable friend for insights on the food here!) – is served up during the week, with a small range of broader and more diverse dishes available on Sundays.

But sometimes on other days, too! It’s a changeable situation.

More advice: Lock into Myth Cafe’s FB page, on which its crew regularly updates what’s what and what’s to be got.

Yong tau foo? Ha! We’re very cool with that, having enjoyed it quite a few times at M Yong Tofu in Flemington and a few other places, too.

Bennie enjoys the chee cheung fun premium ($17.50), with the various surimi-style stuffed items surrounding wide noodles bathing a tangy bean paste-based sauce.

For me, it’s the same yong tau foo with curry noodles ($15.80) – it, too, is most excellent!

Predictably, we both enjoy the luscious stuffed eggplant the most, but all the yong tau foo is superb.

The great thing about it here is that despite all being made from the same base ingredients of smashed pork/fish/tofu, each piece/variety seems to have a different texture and even flavour.

Cooking smarts in abundance!

On our follow-up visit, we respond to FB notification that two of the Sunday specials will be available to us as week-day lunches!

Yay!

Stonking good they are, too!

My khao jam ($17) is a marvel of flavour and texture – it’s a sort of rice-based salad plate!

It’s served with fried chicken, salted egg (very, very, very salty!), fish crackers and various kinds of sublime crunchiness.

Bennie’s nasi kak wok ($15) is less flamboyant, but no less enjoyable.

Chicken curry and marinated fried chicken are accompanied by steamed rice and accesssories.

He particularly enjoys the marinated chicken.

And not for the first time, we muse that when it comes to fried chicken of various kinds, countries that start with the letters M and J generally have it all over those that start with US!

Kensington soul

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Sahara, 465 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 5071

Did we miss Somalian food – and eating in Somalian restaurants?

Heck, yes!

As soon as we were able to do so, we headed to one of our faves – Mama’s Cuisine on Racecourse Road in Flemington.

Yes, yes, yes.

It was a lovely low-key return to something like normality.

Fabulous complementary lamb broth/soup and juice, super meat and rice.

This time, with much anticipation, we are headed to a new joint – this one in Kensington.

We had the existence of Sahara pointed out to us by Nat Stockley a long ways back. Between lockdowns, I think.

The premises will be familiar to anyone who has lived in the west for more than a few minutes – for decades, it was a Kensington landmark in the form of the Macaulay Road Taco Bill.

We never supped there.

Funny that.

Upon entering Sahara, we take in the spick-and-span surrounds and take much reassurance from the presence of locals enjoying typical Somalian fare – with bananas on the side.

We have a swell time.

The Sahara food we enjoy is terrific.

But be warned – serves are very, very big.

And there are some twists and tweaks here that are part and parcel of the eatery’s self-description as serving both African and Middle-Eastern food.

For instance, there is no complementary soup. No probs for us – we understand not all Somalian eateries partake of this tradition.

Nor are we offered bananas – but given the serving size, we do not pursue that matter.

Bennie goes for the mixed grill ($28) – and it’s a ripper.

One skewer apiece of chicken and lamb, another skewer of a tender kofta and a lamb cutlet.

All the meat is delicious and the kofta has a sweetish and very distinctive flavour – in a good way!

Nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin?

Something like that!

Bennie’s grill line-up sits atop plentiful fettuccine liberally doused in a good, basic tomato sauce and the salad bits and pieces on the side are fine.

My mandi lamb ($20) is equally wonderful.

We find Somalian rice is a bit like pho – they’re all the same and, at the same time, they’re all different.

This version – spiked with pomegranate seeds and quite light in colour but deep in flavour – is right up there with the best.

Plentiful fried/grilled veg hide equally plentiful lamb chops – again quite light in colour, more fawn than the usual deep tan, but very, very tender and easily eaten.

The Mid-East influence here is illustrated by my plate sporting not just the usual chilli and yoghurt-based dips, but also a good hummus.

I suspect Sahara will become one of our regulars.

The service has been fine, our food arrived at our table in good time and there appears to be ample parking available on adjacent Eastwood Street.

Steak in a motel

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Blazed Bar & Grill, Sunshine Motor Inn, 608 Ballarat Road, Aredeer. Phone: 9363 1717

We’re not real big on steaks.

Maybe because so much of the new-world food we love chops beasties up into bits more akin to bite-size.

But maybe, also, because we’ve had some very average steaks in the west, ones that have sat lumpen and leaden in our tummies.

But we can be persuaded.

During the most recent lockdown, for example, a couple of times we indulged in the Monday night $30 special from Romanee in Yarraville – perfectly cooked steak, fries, slaw, whipped home and being consumed within a couple of minutes.

I believe the same deal – eat in or eat out – continues to be offered.

Then there is Blazed Bar & Grill.

This has become a scratch that demands to be itched and I eventually co-opt Justin into a visit.

Part of it is the online reviews – though I know well enough not to lend them too much credence.

Part of it, too, is the constant CTS desire to eat and blog in the less congested eating spaces of the west.

But mostly, I confess, I am simply tickled about the idea of chowing down in a motel – especially one located on an otherwise mostly inedible, “nowhere” part of Ballarat Road, just south the ring Road.

My slightly dodgy hunch and enthusiasm end up being fully vindicated – and Justin, too, is won over, despite initial bemusement-verging-on-wariness.

We are impressed right from the start thanks to the friendly staff and, soon thereafter, the presence of chef Varun Mathur.

Varun explains the sourcing and grading of the house specialty – steaks – and dispenses advice with genuine warmth that sets us at ease.

We are seated in the huge dining room, which is deserted on an early week night. There’s a few customers in the adjacent bar who presumably belong to the numerous trucks parked all over.

Then – steaks for two it is.

Justin is very happy with his sirloin ($36), remarking that it is very, um, unusual to be presented with his steak cooked precisely rare as ordered and in this kind of setting.

The chips are good and the salad much more varied, crisp and colourful than predicted.

We’d cynically expected a typically sloppy balsamic-based dressing, but instead he gets a good mix of coriander, lime, mint, chilli and vinegar.

My ribeye ($38) delights in every way – cooked medium rare, juicy, delicious.

I would’ve preferred the chips/salad combo to accompany, but choose the veg option simply for variety’s sake.

And I am stoked about that.

The saffron mash and chargrilled mushroons and asparagus are excellent.

Blazed has been a wonderful – and somewhat unexpected – experience.

But there are aspects here worthy of a return visit or three.

The dessert list’s vanilla slice for one.

And the $20 burger-and-chips combos available in the bar.

In the meantime, we depart with a simple conclusion – Blazed does meat biz every bit as well and in every way as at least three inner-west pub-type venues of high repute we can think of.

Hot stuff!

Spicy? Yes.

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Spicy King, 21 Sun Crescent, Sunshine. Phone: 0410 574 523

Did we miss eating-out food?

Cafe, eatery, restaurant, greasy-spoon, pub, hole-in-the-wall food?

Well, of course.

But it was complicated – and still is in some ways.

And we’re sure that was and is also the case with all our readers.

For starters, we discovered we really don’t like take-away food – whether eaten on the hoof or at home.

The same is true, even more so, for delivered food.

All those containers – ugh!

And, it unsurprisingly turns out, what we really, really enjoy just as much as the tucker are the sights, smells, smiles and sounds of our fave eating places, old, new and still to come.

But such is our life-affirming addiction to western suburbs food and its undoubted benefits – nutritional, spiritual, emotional – that we did find a way.

It’s a mental health issue, hey?

Basically, we embarked on a rolling series of picnics, wherein take-away food from a revolving gang of some of our fave places was enjoyed at nearby parks and outdoor spaces.

I suspect that at least some of the time what we were up to was outside the restrictions in place at any given time, in terms of kilometres from home and perhaps social distancing.

But we certainly felt we were operating within the spirit of restriction requirements, if not the actual letter of them.

And, of course, we were far from alone in our adventures.

One of the place often favoured for our lockdown picnics was Spicy King, a Sri Lankan outfit in Sunshine.

I’d been aware of – and had eaten at – Spicy King before the world went all nutty.

But, to be honest, I found the food a bit on the basic and rough-hewn side and very, very spicy.

But over the course of several virus-induced outings, we fell in love with Spicy King’s food.

So, when we are able, we leap at the chance to dine in.

We do so grandly – two plates, two soft drinks, a pack apiece of chilli cashews and of chilli peanuts and we barely bust $30 in terms of spending.

Spicy King offers a range of rolls and snack items, as well as string hoppers and puttu, but the latter seemingly come into play at dinner time only.

Lunch is all about the bain marie and combos.

Bennie enjoys his deal of chicken curry, okra, breadfruit and two parottas ($10).

I, too, go for the chicken – I guess neither of us liked the bedraggled look of the lamb and beef options; such is often the way with bains marie.

My poultry is accompanied by rather chewy breadfruit, good dal and a jumble of beans, carrot and more, with my combo costing $11.

It’s all fine, though we both wish the beetroot dish had been available for this visit.

And we both love the coconut roti ($2.50) we acquire out of hungry curiosity.

Spicy King will continue to enjoy sporadic visits from us, lockdown or no, and we love having another Sri Lankan option from which to choose.

But buyers beware – the food at Spicy King is mostly very spicy. It’s no problem for us, but IS pretty much at the outer limits of what we find comfortable.

Super Syrian

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Shaam Restaurant, 376 Keilor Road, Niddrie. Phone: 7021 1021

Well now – here we are.

Experiencing another post-lockdown catch-up/chow-down.

Presumably it’ll be the last one.

Ever.

But so nutty have the past few years been, no one would bet on that outcome, hey?

In any case, it is with no little joy that Bennie, Veronica and my own self head to Niddrie to meet up with the famous Nat Stockley.

It’s been a long time between drinks. Or meals.

We’ve had good meals in this neighbourhood, but it always strikes us that it presents as the sort of strip that should positively bristle with great eats yet always falls some way short of that promise.

No matter – we’re definitely up for some Syrian food.

What are we expecting?

Quite a lot that is familiar from our various other numerous outings involving Middle Eastern and/or Mediteranean food across the west.

And, hopefully, some pot/oven stuff that is less likely to be seen in a restaurant setting.

That’s what we hope for – and that’s what we get.

The service is good and our food arrives with admirable swiftness.

As ever, we really enjoy any iteration of the tradition found across many food cultures of serving guests dishes that simply arrive without being ordered.

Think of lamb broth and bananas in Somalian eateries. Or little, tasty appetisers at good Japanese places.

At Shaam, we get a good fatoush and …

… and a creamy hummus in that tradition. Lovely! These are priced, respectively, at $14 and $13 if specifically ordered.

Before moving on to our three main dishes, we indulge is some more little dishes.

Kibbeh traboulsye ($3 each) are fine and meaty, though could’ve been a bit more that just barely warm at their centres.

We don’t like wedges. Generally hate them, in fact.

So we are bemused and delighted when our order of batata harrah ($13) turns out to be … wedges.

Excellent wedges.

Their deliciousness is lifted, a lot, by the piquant “traditional dressing” of chilli, garlic and coriander.

On to our main courses …

The shish tawook platter ($27) has a familiar look to it, with all the nuts and bolts in good working order.

The chicken meat is a little dry and very garlicky.

Pot food, unrestaurant offerings?

They come to us as Syrian specials of the day as indicated on the menu.

I endeavour to discover their names and get only the non-evocative “daily dish meat” (top photo, $25) and …

… “daily dish chicken” ($22).

The lamb shank dish comes with an intense tomato sauce liberally studded with okra.

The chicken dish is the best of our meal.

The plain maryland swims in a wonderful and very lemony spinach sauce.

Both these dishes are rather austere in terms of seasoning and in relation to the sort of spicy, fiery food we devour so frequently.

But we relish the righteous home-cooking vibes. And the superb rice/pasta.

We’ve enjoyed our meal very much and reckon a bill total that clocks in at just under $30 per person – including a round of drinks – is pretty darn good.

Will we return to Shaam?

Sure thing!

Street wise

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Chai n Dosa, 310 Ballarat Road, Braybrook. Phone: 0420 262 274

“Street food”?

Ugh.

That term has been soiled and sullied into meaningless submission, perhaps by too many “lifestyle influencers” and perhaps also too many careless and glib mentions in various media outlets.

Of course, at the point this kind of coverage in those kinds of places of that kind food springs forth, there’s almost certainly little that is “street” about the “food”.

Here in the mighty western suburbs of Melbourne, we all have regular access to real-deal street food.

At Chai n Dosa that availability runs to seven days a week.

OK, OK – if you want to get all technical on me, Chai n Dosa is not actually on any street.

Instead, it’s on what used to be on a used car lot.

Used car lot?

Anyone who has been up and/or down this particular stretch of Ballarat Road will know exactly what I mean when I say … it’s the one with the wagon wheel!

But in every other way, Chai n Dosa is the epitome of street food.

Low prices.

Rudimentary eat-in facilities. Just a handful of chairs, actually. Though there are a handwash basin and plenty of paper napkins on hand.

You’ll find those napkins handy as you’ll want to do what all the other customers do – ignore the plastic cutlery and eat with your hands.

And do so while sitting on one of the chairs – or squatting or standing; or maybe using your car bonnet or boot lid as a picnic table.

We use the boulders embedded in the adjacent nature strip – and for sure we aren’t the first to do so!

The menus (see below) are mostly vegetarian and mostly familiar.

The Chai n Dosa crew serve up the likes of chicken pulao later in the week, but for the rest it’s all about carbs.

We like the look of the bonda!

But for our Sunday lunch, we stick to the familiarity of masala dosa ($8.50) and …

… idly and vada ($8.50).

The food is all excellent – and the vada are particularly noteworthy.

They’re a little crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside – and that’s a far cry from the the doughy doughnuts sometimes served up elsewhere.

The accompaniments – sambar and chutney – are likewise exemplary.

And you know what?

It’s all very subjective, but we reckon the food tastes better and we enjoy our meal more for it being had from such a funky street food set-up.

Sri Lankan heights

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Hop N Spice, 284 Ballarat Road, Braybrook. Phone: 9310 2000

“Under New Management.”

They’re words that are regularly seen emblazoned on the windows of all sorts of businesses all over, including eating places of the western suburbs.

They represent many stories – new hopes and dreams, as well as shattered dreams and hard luck yarns.

Hop N Spice has new management.

I know this because one of the new bosses contacted me, just before we were all struck by virus/lockdown madness, with a view to enticing me/us to try out their food.

So, as Bennie and I front up for Saturday lunch, it’s taken this long for us to try the new-look Hop N Spice.

We have eaten here – under the previous regime.

At least a couple of times, though I am a little surprised none of those meals was recorded here at Consider The Sauce.

Then, a few years back, I arranged to meet Nat at Hop N Spice for dinner – this was as our mutual love of Sri Lankan food was reaching intense heights, as represented by our meals at the now defunct White Elephant in West Footscray and sadly missed Curry Leaves in Sunshine, as well as the superb Fusion Ceylon in Werribee and Kites in Clayton South.

I was a little early, so while waiting for Nat I entered the restaurant as it was then – and was aghast.

It was dingy and dismal.

Worse, in the hand-wash basin right there in the dining area were the remants of someone’s meal – or food scraps of some kind.

I beat a hasty retreat and we dined elsewhere that evening.

So it is with just a little trepidation that Bennie and I enter today’s Hop N Spice to do the CTS business.

And that trepidation, it very happily turns out, has been illogical and unfair.

Because in this case, “Under New Management” very much means a whole new deal.

The wash basin is still there and clean-as, but all else is changed.

The place looks bright and breezy, it’s spick and span and the food in the bain marie looks ace.

Even better, the super friendly staff are all smiles and welcoming, eager to explain the food to us when it’s needed.

That food is superb – and we are ecstatic to find such fine Sri Lankan tucker so relatively close to home.

Bennie’s meal deal costs $11.

This is absurdly cheap – I mean, really, this is 2021, not 2011 or 2001, you know?

(A slightly more elaborate set-up is available to dinner time for $13.)

His meal includes a great, tangy coconut sambol and jackfruit curry.

His third veg concoction looks like it involves celery.

The stalks are, we’re told, what in the world of Sri Lankan cooking/eating are known as “drum sticks”.

The stringy stalks are inedible.

Instead, you scoop out the tender, internal peas the same way you eat an artichoke.

Very nice!

His meal is capped off by papadum, rice and a very good lamb curry that is all tender meat and no bones, fat or gristle.

Like Bennie’s lunch, my lamprais (top photo, $13) is presented/plated with style and elan we seldom see in eateries of this kind.

It’s all terrific, though a slim band of banana leaf is all that denotes “lamprais”. No matter!

The same lamb curry is matched with the customary HB egg, pickled eggplant moju, fish croquet, sweet onion sambol and top-notch rice.

Hop N Spice?

We’ll be back for sure!

Top tasty cafes with a Japanese tang

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The Usual Joint, 32 Furlong Road, Sunshine.
Coracle Cafe Restaurant, 63-65 Anderson Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9315 1411

We just love The Usual Joint.

The Sunshine cafe is far enough away from our home base to miss out on being subject to weekly – or even monthly – visits by us.

But we’ve had some cracking meals there so have no hesitation in heading that way for the first day of a new menu.

While our previous meals at The Usual Joint have been of a Vietnamese persuasion, the new list takes quite a different tack – with the usual capable crew taking a poke at the currently very “in” rice bowl fad and a likewise Japanese-influenced noodle salad.

We reckon they’ll be pretty darn good at it.

They are.

My salmon soba noodle salad ($17.50, top photo) is lovely and bursting with fresh, clean flavours.

The luscious cubes of chargrilled salmon are assisted by similarly configured tofu, enoki mushrooms and seaweed salad, the rice and greens quite heavily dressed in a sesame concoction. Not that I mind!

 

 

Bennie’s katsu chicken curry rice bowl ($16.50) looks just as sweet and tastes the same.

Here the potato and carrot pieces are swimming in the curry gravy while the crumbed, crunchy chicken is adjacent.

Rice, pickles and a big, fat dollop of may0 complete the picture.

 

 

Savoury offerings aside, what The Usual Joint prides itself on are its cream puffs and crepe layer cakes.

We’re big fans of the latter so indulge this time out in a ridiculously delicious wedge of their pandan and coconut ($10).

Swoon we do!

 

 

Coracle of Yarraville IS a local for us, one we should perhaps visit more often.

Though it is a very busy place!

Nevertheless, we are happy to heed a suggestion from a friend who knows her stuff and rates the current cooking here as terrific (Hi, Deb!).

She’s right; we enjoy some smashing food on our return visit.

 

 

The lunch offerings here evince a similar Japanese, fusiony outlook as at The Usual Joint – a little flashier and more elaborate, a few bucks more.

And well worth it.

My mapo tofu rice bowl ($20) is a dream.

The pork mince and tofu with Szechuan peppercorn and green peppercorn is a funky, earthy flavour bomb – and something quite different from the slick, glazed and glib versions often found in Chinese line-ups.

It is pungently wow.

Accompanying are choy sum, pumpkin in mirin, pickle carrot; and housemade soy sauce with Chinese pickles and cucumber.

And – to finish – perfumed iced tea gently clinking with ice cubes.

 

 

Bennie’s brothless kakuni ramen ($21) doesn’t quite have the same immediate knockout appeal, but he enjoys it nonetheless.

Kabuki, we’re told, means slow-braised pork belly in master stock.

That porky stuff is served with Japanese ramen eggs, light wabasi dressing, beancurd skin, charred baby corn and spinach ohitashi.

 

Homely and heavenly

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Afghan Bread, 250 Hampshire Road, Sunshine. Phone: 0468 559 955

The eatery/bakery known simply as Afghan Bread has been mentioned here before – as part of a CTS Westie eats goss post a year ago.

But that was just in passing.

On this lovely Sunday, we’re back in modest force simply to eat.

And we do.

Really, really well.

 

 

In quite a few ways, Afghan Bread – which spruiks Afghan and Persian cuisine on its window signage – is the epitomy of what CTS adores in an eating place.

Seemingly something of an accidental restaurant, its dining room (such as it is) has just a few tables and chairs, the place’s bakery operation spilling out into this area via a flatbread-carrying conveyor belt.

The menu is mounted above the serving counter, with the prices being very low.

The service is welcoming and smiling, albeit requiring goodwill and patience to surmount happily a language barrier.

There you go – just about everything we love!

And while, given its nature, this isn’t the sort of place to have won attention and plaudits in the wider community (yet), the buzzing coming and going we observe as we enjoy our meal leaves no doubt this is very definitely a mainstay of the Afghan community and others “in the know”.

 

 

Bennie and Deb both choose the tikkah kebab ($15).

This consists of fabulously delicious cubes of high-class lamb, barbecued just right.

The serves are huge.

Marinated?

We think so, though nothing so robust as cumin. The meat speaks and eats for itself.

Bennie even opines: “I think this may be the best lamb I’ve ever eaten!”

 

 

The meat dishes are accompanied by a wonderful dipping sauce – minty, vinegary and of only mild spiciness.

Cheap prices?

Well yeah, but the dishes are basic – add-ons up the overall cost just a little.

We order two breads ($2 each), a bowl of yoghurt ($5) and a plate of rice ($5).

But even then, we eat royally for a miserly total of $55.

And most of the rice and yoghurt – and one of the breads – go home with us.

 

 

My chicken korma ($13) is cooking of quite different kind.

More stew than curry, it is a typically Afghan concoction – cooked down, tomatoey, mildly seasoned.

It, too, is wonderful.

And not a bone to be found.

 

 

Because of my excitement over our Sunday lunch, I forget to photograph the bread.

So I return a few days later for a solo lunch, this time choosing the shami kebab.

So far as I can tell, these are the same as – or very similar to – what in other places are usually referred to as shish kofta.

The meat is sublimely juicy and I buzz with the joy of it.

The shami kebab ($13) plus one bread see my lunch costing $15.

 

Malaysian heights delight

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Orange Hat Cafe, 16 Harrington Square, Altona. Phone: 0433 264 887

We reckon it’s pretty cool to see life – and food – blooming at Harrington Square, and Orange Hat Cafe is right in the thick of it.

We have visited previously.

But that was pre-winter, pre-lockdown – and subsequently seems a long time ago.

So, inevitably, I end up asking the same questions again.

Or more precisely, inquiring exactly what kind of food does Orange Hat serve?

The answer is Malaysian. With a hint of Singaporean. And a flourish of Indian – especially with a new chef on board, one with an Indian family background.

As well, some of the staff members wear hijabs, so of course the food here is halal.

So I figure Orange Hat is something of a halal twin for another of our favourite places, Panjali in Sunshine, where the food is likewise Malaysian, but the spiritual flavour is Hindu.

Not that any of this matters, really, but I do like to get such things right.

And besides, the most important things about Orange Hat are the following – the welcome is toasty warm, the smiles wide and the food very, very good.

If we lived in Altona, or anywhere near it, we’d be here once a week.

At LEAST once a week.

Orange Hat Cafe is gearing up again after the long, unopen winter.

We’re told “specials” such as banana leaf meals will return in the new year.

And – who knows? – perhaps the current opening hours of Thursday-Sunday and noon-5pm may be extended.

In the meantime, we are restricted – during our Sunday lunch visit – to the “Permanent Menu” (see below).

And that is no hardship at all.

 

 

Bennie rates his nasi lemak rendang ($14) as right up there with “the best” he’s ever had.

It’s all very simple, with all the requisite bits and pieces laid out beautifully.

The beef is very coconutty – and manages the neat trick of having the feel and flavour of homecooked food, as opposed to restaurant cooking.

Cool, eh?

 

 

My mee rebus ($12) is a 10/10 soup noodle dish; it’s superb.

There are plentiful cubes of no-bone lamb in there and lots more besides, all luxuriating in a viscous “shrimp/peanut broth”.

Hardboiled egg, noodles, bean sprouts, tofu.

You get the picture.

It’s a big serve at a low price.

 

 

Having enjoyed our savoury lunches so very much, we are in such an expansive mood that we partake of a trio of the sweet offerings – the pinkish kuih lapis (steamed layer cake), the yellow bingke ubi (baked tapioca cake) and apam gula melaka (a sort steamed apple cake).

We love the first two; the last, with its earthy flavour, not so much.

We reckon Altona locals are extremely lucky to have Orange Hat Cafe in their backyard.

And we also reckon westies from all over, and Melburnians generally, should make the drive and the effort.