CC – it’s pretty darn good

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CCWok, 464 Victoria Street, North Melbourne. Phone: 0468 783 168

We remember it well – our first visit to CCWok in North Melbourne.

The personnel involved were Kenny, Bennie and Nat – a formidable and regular trio.

The meal included, IIRC, chicken curry mee, nasi lemak and one involving roast pork.

But despite us having a swell time, I cannot – despite several searches – find any record of a subsequent blog post or even photos on my desktop.

Nope; it just didn’t happen.

Possibly it got lost in the rather giddy times between lockdowns or some such.

Or, more likely, the photos and reaction to that meal were “saved up” to be added to those of a subsequent visit.

Ah well, too late now.

But here we are again – just father and some this time, our Saturday lunch venue the latter’s winning suggestion.

Because during and after another splendid meal, we happily conclude that CCWok is right up there among our very favourite Malaysian places.

We enjoy our meals very much and ogle with envy many of those we see around us.

The corner restaurant is roomy and always bustling – or so it appears to me; this is, in fact, my third visit.

And here’s a real neat thing – each time the place has been very busy, but there’s always been a table for us.

The mains prices mostly fall in the $15 to $20 range; the serves are big, the service happy and the delivery prompt.

Bennie delights in his kon lou mee hoon ($17.80) and its multiple flavours and textures.

The soy carbiness of the skinny noodles is offset by bean sprouts and wonton pastry chips, with a soy hard-boiled egg, lard croutons and pickled chillies also arrayed around.

The roast pork – the main drawcard for him – is very nice and quite unlike that usually found in Chinese eateries.

For me it’s one of the weekend specials – the CCWok variation on the banana leaf theme ($23.90).

With one caveat, it’s a fantastic meal – and again it’s the contrasting textures and flavours responsible for a high pleasure rating.

The crispy wafer appears to be house-made. A Malaysian version of a papadum?

The green beans and a couple of luscious eggplant cubes are fine, the okra even better. The latter achieves the neat trick of being al dente outside and having inside just the right quotient of characteristic slime. Yum!

The deep-fried mackerel flakes away nicely; the apparent pervasive bones factor proves no barrier to ease of eating.

The curry gravy with the four plumps prawns is also very tasty.

The shellfish themselves peel with ease – but, sad to say, are pretty much completely tasteless.

Still, it’s a fine thing in the ongoing story of our banana leaf explorations.

CCWok offers also a range of snacky things and dumplings.

We try just one as we await our mains – one of Bennie’s very favourite things.

The BBQ pork bun ($4.50) is state-of-the-art good – fluffy and fresh, the stuffing sweet and sticky.

It’s been grand – and it’s highly likely we’ll be back quite a bit sooner than later.

Check out the CCWok menu here.

Chai N Dosa, sit-down style

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

Since first writing about Chai N Dosa more than a year ago, it has become a mainstay for us.

We found it especially useful during those long lockdown months, wherein we joined the many fans of the place for takeaway goodies that were always enjoyed, picnic style, in nearby Cranwell Park.

Mostly we’ve been OK with the wait times.

But there have been times when shuffling around the used car lot with other customers has been a bit of a drag.

And there have been, too, times when we’re read the signs of bulk customers and an eating service barely coping so we’ve split for elsewhere.

So we are delighted, upon fronting up for a Saturday lunch, that Chai N Dosa has become a restaurant proper.

The long-observed building activity has produced a real neat dining house.

Heavy on wood, it has a lovely airy and rather rustic feel about it.

It has, mind you, a perfectly fine fast-food vibe going on.

And there seems no doubt that takeaways and deliveries will continue to be the outfit’s mainstay.

But we are VERY happy to be seated and sheltered.

The kitchen is WAY bigger than that in the pokey caravan/truck that preceded this bricks and water (joke for a former colleague) version of the business. This is no doubt a boon for the hard-working staff.

And while polystyrene containers continue to be headed out the door, eat-in service is done utilising cardboard.

Chai N Dosa, it seems, will remain a lunch destination for us.

So that means we miss out on the specials we see on Facebook such as fry piece chicken with pulao.

So I am delighted to opt for a special posted on the menu board – poori with aloo curry ($11.99).

Pooris? Could well be my favourite kind of deep-fried dough!

I devour my three with glee.

The aloo curry is not what I’m expecting at all – but it is very good.

The fine spuddy sludge is dotted with corn and cashews!

Bennie opts, as on so many other occasions, for the standard masala dosa ($10.99).

It maintains the high standard we have come to expect from Chai N Dosa.

Great Gonzo

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Mr Gonzo, 28 Melrose Street, North Melbourne. Phone: 0449 536 317

Flat bread, made from corn and originating from the Americas, various parts?

We’ve enjoyed heaps.

But nothing quite as fine as the arepas at Mr Gonzo.

The thick arepas are toasted is such a way as to be both crunchy and chewy; simply marvellous.

They’re formed into something that resembles a pita pocket.

Father and son both choose the beef brisket filling.

It is fabulous, shredded and very, very tasty and easy to eat.

The meat is abetted by some avocado and a “traditional Colombia sauce”. The latter no doubt contributes to the overall effect, but imbues no specific flavour to proceedings.

Whatever the yumminess, the admission fee of $17 seems a bit steep, eh?

Not a bit of it!

The above photo lies.

These are a deluxe lunch, much more fulsome than they look and worth every penny.

(Plain beef, no avocado, costs $14.)

Our mid-week arepa lunch was preceded by quite a different visit – on a busy Fathers’ Day.

We roam elsewhere on the menu (see below) to good ends; if our selections don’t quite have the same sensational zing as the arepas, the combined effect is more than enough to ensure we will become regulars at this cosy eatery.

Bennie loves is “tamal” ($16).

Round and tubby, it rather resembles a lamprey.

Encased in the banana leaves are rice, pork, chicken, egg, carrot and green beans.

A hearty thumbs up for this!

My combination patacone ($22) has the same beef as the arepas, equally fine chicken, potato sticks, mayo, avocado and, yep, tomato sauce.

It’s all very nice – sort of like a South American nachos.

The array of toppings is sullied, just a little bit, by the plantain base being really tough and hard to cut.

Our Fathers’ Day treat started with two chicken empanadas.

Oh boy – like the arepas, these two soar to the very top of our collective empanada reckoning.

The very corny casings are superbly deep-fried and the innards are impeccably flavoursome.

They may seem a little pricey at $4.50 each; the three-parcel combo for $12 seems like the go.

Well done, Bennie my son, for finding this tucked-away gem on a lunchtime foray from your nearby workplace, introducing us in the process to a lovely corner of North Melbourne we’ve never previously explored.

Indi treasure in Newport

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Indi Kitch, 2/451 Melbounre Road, Newport. Phone: 8383 4296

Vanitha Naidu is quite something of a numinous, unheralded hero of western suburbs food.

Unheralded thus far, that is.

CTS digs her, her food and her restaurant so much we’re very happy to give things a nudge in the right direction.

It’s rare for CTS and its pals to meet someone so firmly and deeply into their food and cooking, nor so happy to discuss them.

Just about everything at Indi Kitch is created from the ground up.

There’s a lot of spice roasting and grinding going on here.

And show me someone else who takes the time to hand stuff okra!!!

She’s lived in Australia for 40 years, yet describes herself as second-generation Indian via Malaysia – with a nifty side serve of Goan god aunts!

Vanitha has been running Indi Kitch since the beginning of the year and is having to be patient.

That means she has continued to foster the tradie/commuter morning and lunch coffee trade that comes as a legacy of the previous tenants in this cozy Newport space.

And it means, too, that inevitably it is taking time to get the word out to the thousands of nearby residents about the fine food available here.

This is not an area that conjures up mental images of spicy, delicious Indian and/or Malaysian food, but Vanitha tells me those local residents who have found the place are very happy indeed.

Finally, Indi Kitch is – no surprise – beset by the staffing problems that are near universal in the restaurant/cafe game at the moment.

So, in the short term at least, Vanitha is unable to open the couple of nights a week for dinner that are a cherished ambition.

Take-home meals are available, but if you’re regular working/schooling person unable to mid-week lunch it and want to eat in, you can have your pick of a Saturday or Sunday lunch!

It’s a Sunday for us – Nat, Bennie and myself – and we’re very happy to be here.

We can choose from the regular lunch menu of laksas, rotis or nasi lemak (see below).

But given the chance to go banana leaf style, we do so.

Of course!

The basic vego banana leaf set-up here costs $18.90.

That’s a few bucks more than we’re accustomed to elsewhere, so we all decide to keep it simple and go without any of the meaty side curries available.

That’s not just a matter of penny pinching, I suspect, but also largely about we three wanting something relatively light for our Sunday lunches.

We have no regrets about these tactics.

Our banana leaf spreads are excellent, delicious and unlike any we have previously tried.

For starters, these are real-deal healthy – there’s a noticeable lack of the oiliness and saltiness that we might normally expect.

And that in turn means that the food must deliver it’s flavour bombs through deft cooking and seasoning.

And deliver it does.

Silverbeet cooked with both red lentils and toor dal.

A tangy chutney made of coconut, yoghurt and mustard seeds.

Okra stuffed with coconut, chilli and other spices.

A powerfully fragrant lime pickle.

Mildly spiced potatoes, semi-mashed in a way that recalls the textures of American southern-style potato salad.

And, naturally, dal and rice. And a papadum!

All good, all delicious.

Earlier, our keen interest in the food and its preparation had been rewarded by a freebie serve of tuna samosas (normally $3 each).

They are superb!

Tuna and chilli encased in brilliant, crunchy flaky pastry cocoons, all with a whiff of empanada about them.

We depart feeling extremely well fed and very happy.

But foolishly, I forget to take pics of the restaurant’s exterior, giving me the perfect excuse to return the next day for a solo lunch.

Oh, yummy, yummy – Goan-style green curry with rice and more of that coconut/yoghurt chutney ($14).

Under that tangy sauce is a chubby, meaty, bone-in thigh of wonderful chook.

What makes it so green?

All the green stuff – spring onions, mint, coriander, curry leaves.

Meal of the week No.53: Ollie’s Deli

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Life has been a rollercoaster for Ollie’s Deli in the past few years.

But they’re keeping on keeping on.

And, after watching their story unfold from afar, I’m very happy to be stepping inside the sanger shop – located in the what was once the Royal Hotel – for my first taste.

The mostly white-and-bright and tile-heavy interior is a surprise, conjouring up images of fast food and blandness.

But those impressions are swiftly, handily swept aside by the cheerful staff and the quality of the food.

I’m in for a mid-week lunch, so am unable to secure one of the weekend specials.

Normally, in this sort of setting, I’d hone in on anything pastrami/reuben on the menu (see below).

Today though I go for the Italian Deli Bagel ($15), even though it’s the kind of thing I’d create out of the fridge.

And maybe I go for it because it kinda seems like a New Orleans-style muffaletta.

It is, too – though a lot less pungent and garlicky.

It is very, very good.

And generous!

Piled high are mortadella, salami, ham, roast capsicum, spinach, provolone and mayo.

The bagel itself is equally excellent – both fresh and chewy.

And because I’m in the mood for a meal rather than a snack, I get extras – potato crisps and pickles for $3 each.

This, of course, nudges the bill upwards quite a bit.

But happily the serves of both are also generous and crunchy, making for a fine repast.

I like Ollie’s Deli a lot – they’re offering a yummy point of difference in Footscray Central.

And judging by the number of orders going out the door, it’s working.

Vietnamese. In Spotswood?

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Spring Rolling, 608A Melbourne Road, Spotswood. Phone: 9017 5913

Through more than 15 years with one agent across three properties, we are well used to property inspections.

This time, though, there’s something of a wrinkle – the property manager doing the biz, for the first time that I can recall, is a bloke.

He’s bemused to be chatting with Kenny Consider, whose food rantings he once enjoyed in a certain suburban newspaper chain.

Back when that was a thing.

For my part, I am bemused to be handed an intriguing tip – one of this South Kingsville resident’s fave places is a Vietnamese joint.

In Spotswood!

Duly noted and set down for almost immediate exploration.

So off we head for a Saturday lunch.

Well, no wonder we’ve never noticed Spring Rolling.

It’s been open since March, but we could drive past for years without it registering, such is the anonymous nature of the piece of Williamstown/Melbourne Road on which it resides, that vague impression fanned by the fact that the traffic here is something of bottleneck requiring stern driver attention.

Spring Rolling is, as we’d guessed, geared very much towards takeaway/delivery business.

But the interior is pleasant and cheerful, with a couple of tables and window bench seating.

We make ourselves at home.

We are not expecting anything by way of exotica or regional dishes.

So no surprises for us that the menu (see below) is a mainstream collection of greatest hits.

And that, too, is fine by us.

The food we enjoy is excellent – fresh, zingy and delicious.

Our food is presented in the same cardboard containers that are heading out the door.

Fine – we customise by ripping off the flaps for eating ease.

Bennie goes the bun/vermicelli route – with fresh sliced beef ($15).

He pretty much inhales the lot.

In quick time.

A winner!

For me it’s com/rice with grilled chicken ($15).

The chicken is not high on smoky grill flavours, but is fabulously tender, chooky and yummy.

As with Bennie’s meal, all the bits, pieces and accessories are in fine order.

What a wonderful boon Spring Rolling must be for locals on both sides of Williamstown Road.

Hudsons Road and Vernon Street are not without their charms and assets, but Vietnamese food – or, really, anything like it – is not what they’re about.

We see a bunch of Saturday lunch delivery drivers come and go as we dine – testament, surely, to the place’s popularity.

And despite being situated right on a very busy road, parking is plentiful on the side streets.

Turkish love vibes

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Gozleme Pide and Sweet House, 311 Racecourse Road, Kensington. Phone: 0481 269 556

Gozleme Pide and Sweet House is a Turkish restaurant, true.

Yet somehow that description seems inadequate to describe a wonderful place where so much is going on.

Here you’ll find the dips/bread/salad/meat combos expected of a “Turkish restaurant”, though it is a long way from being a “kebab shop”.

Here there be also – as the name indicates – gozleme and pides.

And the desserts?

Oh my – there’s a startling array of sweetness to be had, one we are only starting to get our heads, and taste buds, around.

Topping off all this excellence are Hakim and Sevgi (she’s the baker).

From 2011 to 2020, they ran Flemington Kebab House, just a few doors up the road.

With their new joint, open since March, they are running full blast with the idea of home-style food with a profound emphasis of fresh and yum.

Their genuine customer care and delight in sharing their food raises them to lofty status.

Hakim intuitively understands our desire to try a wide range of the available without over-ordering, so he delivers us a couple of plates/bowls that are “off menu”, as well as mixing up the dips that are part of our mains choices.

Lentil kofte ($10 for six) are beaut, lemony cigars made mostly of bulgur.

We have eaten – and eat – a whole lot of chilli sauces/dips/gravies derived from cooking traditions the world over.

But I don’t think it’s any kind of stretch to state that Turkish chilli dip is our all-time fave – and the version served here is right up there with the very best.

We just love the chilli bite matched with tang and crunch.

The yoghurt/cuke and red capsicum dips are just as good.

Lentil soups are another world-wide staple with which we have wide experience, including at home.

The Gozleme Pide and Sweet House rendition is of the smooth, mild, blended variety.

It’s nice, but doesn’t really grab us. Perhaps the other soup (white bean) for us next time.

For me, it’s the grilled chicken meal for $20.

The many chicken pieces are superbly tender and tasty.

They’re abetted by spot-on accompaniments – more chilii dip joined by great hummus, tabuly, grilled tomato and capsicum, and cabbage salad.

Bennie and Veronica choose the lamb kovurma meal ($20).

The lamb kovurma is plain and tender, simply all chopped up and finished in the oven.

Both plates are topped with a couple of lamb kofta patties and yet more of those fabulous salads ‘n’ dips.

Our main have been presented with what at first I take to be a regular Mid-East serving of rice laced with broken vermicelli.

Wrong!

Turns out this actually bulgur with the aforementioned noodle bits – and it’s a pre-prepared product.

We will getting some of this for our pantry; such a great thing to have with dips, koftas and the like.

We three are rather joyful to be eating so well and, mostly, so healthily.

Sweets – including baklava – go home with us, while the gozleme and pides will wait for another day.

High Noon

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Noon, 31B Sun Crescent, Sunshine. Phone: 9078 9089

Things are certainly proceeding in a more measured manner these days at Consider The Sauce.

Quite a lot of that is due to events that have affected everybody and everything; and quite a lot, too, is down to me leaving the regular workforce.

So a couple of posts a month seems fine.

Urging these tendencies on is also about myself losing the hell-for-leather outlook that years back saw me hoisting four or five posts a week.

Losing, too, a hard-edged competitiveness I am happy to relinquish.

I no longer endlessly peruse news and reviews in other media outlets or keep myself up to date with what other bloggers are doing.

Yet while the stats tell me visitation and reader numbers are well down on a half a dozen years ago, it’s clear there remains a hardcore of readers, fans, supporters and friends who continue the journey with me and us.

These fine folks are by now, I’m sure, well aware of and comfortable with our modus operandi.

Stated simply, I think it’s largely about embracing uncertainty.

Seizing with glee upon the random and whacky!

So that means we often have only a vague idea of where we’ll be dining when we head out to eat.

And that means, too, being completely unfazed when our destination eatery turns out to be closed – regardless of whether Google or Facebook has informed us otherwise.

Opening hours have, as you all know, become even more random because of staff shortages, so it’s only sensible to be relaxed about the situation.

No menu?

No problem!

This kind of approach finds little sympathy with readers such as the gentleman who wrote me a pithy letter of complaint several years ago.

He’d responded to a review – I fully forget of which joint – by booking a table and driving all the way from a distant eastern suburb.

Upon arrival he found … the restaurant closed.

Not a happy camper.

For those happy to embrace the CTS ethos, we recommend Noon Restaurant, a newish place in Sunshine serving Sudanese food.

We’ve been frequent Sun Crescent visitors over the years to eat at such places as Panjali and Spicy King, but the premises occupied by Noon had escaped my notice because they’re tucked away some distance from the main grouping of shops.

Bennie tells me it used to be a tradies-style cafe.

It’s a huge place, but is doing quite good business on the mid-week night we visit.

No menu?

That is correct.

But between the items that are listed on the eatery’s DoorDash page and much arm-waving and consultation with our friendly server we get there.

She, by the way, is from Nepal – which strikes us as another splendid piece of random.

She intuits, correctly, that we – myself, Bennie and Veronica, joined by Justin later on – are pretty much open to anything and everything.

So that’s what we are presented with.

And what we are presented with is some very tasty tucker bearing a resemblance to other North African (and Middle eastern) food we have enjoyed, with a few engaging twists thrown in.

We dine without any pricing being made known to us, trusting in the process.

Lamb shank soup is tasty and packed with a robust sheepy flavour of the kind we are so familiar with from similar concoctions served in Flemington’s Somalian restaurants.

Though this one is quite a bit more fatty!

Then it’s on to some serious pot food – served in the manner of dips.

Two have meaty lamb bones residing within and at least one is made with okra.

They’re all good!

These are Bennie’s favourite part of the meal!

Served with these stews is a Sudanese-style flatbread.

A bit like a thinner, drier version of injera, it’s just right for the job at hand.

We’re also provided with some chubby Turkish-stlyle rolls. They’re fresh and warm and fit right in.

My favourite?

These super dooper barbecued lamb pieces, some on the bone.

They’re well cooked and some would consider the meat tough.

I’ll settle on “nicely chewy”!

They remind us of the cumin-laced lamb skewers we enjoy in regional-style Chinese places.

A word on the salad side trimmings served with our various dishes: They are all excellent, fresh and crunchy – something we invariably find to be the case in African eating places of various persuasions.

Justin and I make quick work of the fish – two tilapia, deep fried.

I’m usually quite snooty about these farmed fish, but these are fine.

Plenty of bones, but also plenty of mildly flavoured flesh.

Bennie and Veronica, not being the fishy kind, sit out the tilapia.

But they’re not done yet!

They spy a passing lamb shank, very much like the look of it, so order one for us all.

It’s the biggest shank I’ve ever laid eyes on – more like a smallish leg, really.

The meat is, it seems to me, very plain and almost unseasoned – but still yummy.

It’s been quite a feast – one for which we pay a few cents above $100, an amount that seems entirely reasonable for feeding four of us darn well.

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.