Got the Punjab covered

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Sada Bahaar, 308 Ballarat Road, Braybrook.

When Sadia – that’s her on the left – arrived in Australia from Pakistani Punjab about four years ago, she quickly realised she was going to need a driver’s licence for her new life.

In the course of obtaining one, her driving instructor was Ravinder – that’s her on the right – who hails from Indian Punjab.

Out of that experience grew a friendship and now a restaurant.

And along the way, Sadia, too, has become a driving instructor.

Sada Bahaar (it means ever-green) is situated on a stretch of Ballarat Road that is never, ever going to win any beauty contests.

But it is showing signs of increasing foodiness, what with the presence of a long-time Sri Lankan place we have yet to cover, a much newer, cheap ‘n’ cheerful Sri Lankan place, as well as a burger joint. Also nearby, just around the corner really, is the wonderful West of Kin.

 

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The origins in friendship of Sada Bahaar imbue this comfy eatery with a vibe that is almost unRestaurant – the same person who takes your order is also going to be among those knocking your food together in the kitchen.

We like that.

We like, too, the chance to explore some different and Pakistani dishes from the usual Indian stuff we devour on a weekly (at least) basis.

To that end, our very good buddy Nat Stockley has already made inquiries along those lines even before Bennie and I rock up.

We enjoy a very tasty meal that blends Indian and Pakistani tucker in fine home-cooked style.

 

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Dahi bhalay ($7.50) are deep-fried urad dal dumplings served with spiced yogurt, chick peas and onion bits.

They are also very nice – the blandness of the dumplings (they have, for all of us, a touch of the felafel about them) offset by the tangy toppings.

 

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Haleem is not so much a Pakistani dish but more a staple – made of grains, pulses, meat – across the Muslim world that is often associated with Ramadam.

This chicken version ($10) is very soup-like, the chook so finely minced that it all becomes one with the ingredients.

With its cool fried-onion topping, it reminds me of our favourite Iraqi soup.

 

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From the tight barbecue section of the menu we get lamb seekh kebab ($10) – two long, skinless snags of minced lamb that is quite crumbly but nevertheless delicious.

 

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All too often, the chick peas we get in Indian restaurants seem to be getting a bit tired on it.

By contrast, the Sada Bahaar Lahori cholay ($10) smacks of freshly cooked – but with the gravy and intact pulses nicely integrated.

And as you can see by the many flecks of chilli, this is quite highly spiced food – as are most of our dishes.

 

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Sada Bahaar special kahari ($14) is the triumph of the night and our meal.

A rich (and, yes, rather oily) chook curry, it has high-impact flavours that are boosted to another, higher level by the dish being festooned with many ginger strands and discs of fresh, green chilli.

The chicken pieces are quite bony, and some of our party get more meat than others, but this is a beauty.

 

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We get one each of the regular and garlic naans ($1 each, both pictured above) – they’re OK but unusual in that they’re more like flat bread than most naan we eat.

I prefer the chapati ($1, not pictured) we also order.

 

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On earlier, reconnaissance visit by myself, I enjoyed the very affordable ($9.95) chicken biryani – it’s a rather dry version, but the flavours are all there, the raita joined in this case by a plate of salad veg instead of the more usual gravy.

Sadia tells us that much praise for her cooking was often attended by suggestions she should start a restaurant.

We’re glad she’s spreading some of that love around.

Especially given the low prices and welcoming, low-key ambience.

Thanks to Nat Stockley for help with the pics.

 

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WeFo cafe overload? Not yet …

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

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

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

This is some fairly intense cafe action.

But saturation point?

Not yet, it would seem.

Dumbo appears to have found its own niche rather quickly.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Home-style Lebanese – brilliant

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

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

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

Since then, too, much has changed with Mankoushe.

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

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

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

 

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The verdict?

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

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

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

And there’s not a dip to be seen.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

It’s a very generous serve for the price.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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OMG, OMG, OMG – how good is this?

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

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

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

Dessert?

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

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

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

Mankoushe is a cash-only establishment.

Footscray soul food

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Somali Star Cafe, Footscray Hub (arcade between Nicholson and Albert streets).

The Footscray Hub arcade mostly seems wonderfully changeless in its lively Africaness.

But it’s only ever had, to the best of our knowledge, a single food outlet among its various hairdressers, clothes shops and more.

These days that shop goes under the moniker Somali Star and is, I reckon, at least the third incarnation of that food space.

It’s a small – there’s two simple booths so seating is restricted.

But most customers are of the takeaway variety and come and happily go for the sambusas.

 

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The sign saying “the sambussa is back” is, we reckon, a bit misleading.

Because we’ve had these African versions of the samosa from here before – but never like this.

 

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Oh no, these are bigger and better by quite some margin …

 

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… and, in the case of our lamb number, absolutely delicious, the flaky pastry generously stuffed with minced meat, onion and herbs.

And at $3.50, they’re a superb, dead-set bargain.

Effectively a light meal all on their own, it’s a sure thing these henceforth will feature at least once a week in CTS work/school lunches.

But while our sambusa is profoundly enjoyable, it is a holding pattern – pretty much – for our more substantial plates.

 

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Unlike its predecessors in this space, Somali Star has a wall-mounted menu, from which we are happy to make our selections.

We’re warned there’ll be a wait time of about 15 minutes. But we don’t mind that as we very much enjoying the moment.

That wait time stretches to more than 20 minutes but we continue to care not – even when one of dishes is forgotten, or did not register in the first place.

What we get is unfussy, very enjoyable Somalian food.

 

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Pasta/beef ($12) displays the Italian influence on north African food.

The noodles go just right with a sauce that is a bit like a Somalian version of spag bol.

Both are excellent.

The salad bits on the side are fresh and zingy and the commercial chilli sauce is added at our request.

 

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The rice/lamb ($13) comes without adornments – maybe because it has been rushed once the friendly realised our order for it had gone awol.

We’re familiar with Somalian rice being cooked in stock, seasoned with the likes of pepper and cardamom and served with slivers of onion.

This rice is quite different, pan fried (I think) with onion and small meat chunks.

The lamb is something else.

Normally, when eating lamb in neigbourhood/street food places, be they Indian, African or other, we are used to getting lovely meat that is nevertheless sporting its fair share of bone, fat and/or gristle.

We don’t mind that at all, as the quality cooking of the meat itself invariably outweighs the extraneous bits.

We admire the cooking skill that makes such delicious food out of the cheapest cuts of meat.

In the case of this here Somali Star lamb, we get all the cooking skill and none of the rest – save for the single, visible bone piece.

The meat is very simply cooked/grilled, and – as far as I can tell – unseasoned.

But it is so wonderful, tender and yummy that I reckon a heap of much flasher eateries/pubs/cafes would be happy to serve it and charge a whole bunch more in the process.

Soul food is a term bandied about a bit these days, often in tandem or alongside BBQ food of the American variety.

Given my interest in American roots music and culture, I find that appealing.

But when such food is served in trendy places and the prices hurt, it can seem like something of a pose.

Let’s think, instead, of Footscray soul food, western suburbs soul food as a bowl of pho.

Or a WeFo biryani or dosa.

Or a couple of plates of cheap, delicious Somalian food at Somali Star.

 

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Gelati – and lunch, too

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

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

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

 

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The 1565 lunch routine is the epitome of simplicity …

Soup ($10) with a crusty bread roll.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Very tasty in Footscray

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Viet Kitchen, 110 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 8528 1112

Viet Kitchen is right in the very heart of Vietnamese Footscray, sharing a block of Hopkins Street with such popular places as Sapa Hills and Bun Ta.

In our search for the Good Stuff all over the west, we do sometimes overlook what is right in the midst of the inner west.

So it’s taken us a while to get around to Viet Kitchen, despite receiving a few reader recommendations in the past year or so.

We end up awfully glad we’ve made the effort as we enjoy a really excellent meal.

Though things get off to humourously shaky start when our server assumes Bennie is my grandson.

Hah!

That was a common occurrence when my son was quite a lot younger and I was already old.

But now, when I’m not much older and he’s taller than me and still has plenty of growing to do?

No matter – my outrage is all of the mock variety.

Like its neighbours, Viet Kitchen makes a bit more of an effort than formica tables – it’s a sweet space.

Many of the customers seem to be regulars and we find the service and wait times to be fine.

 

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We like your regular spring rolls as served across the west as much as anyone, but my understanding is that in terms of the wrapping/pastry used they are an adaptation devised by the Vietnamese diaspora.

So when we spy the more authentic cha gio Viet Nam, we pounce with glee.

These chopped-up six rolls ($10.80) are fine, with a stuffing of seafood, pork and mushroom.

As good as those served at Xuan Banh Cuon in Sunshine with slightly different accessories?

Maybe … a matter of individual preference, I think.

 

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The spicy beef noodle soup is a sinus-blasting hoot.

And, yes, it IS spicy – though no more than any experienced Footscray food trawler will be able to handle.

The “beef” tag is somewhat misleading, as it refers only to the broth on which the dish is based – also in the bowl, along with brisket, are slices of pork and pork “ham” (sausage).

With the attending greenery – its variety a nice change from the standard herb/sprouts mix that comes with pho – this a straight-up, all-out winner.

 

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Most Vietnamese restaurants in the west, it seems and based on our wide-ranging adventures, only serve their various coleslaw offerings in large, family sizes – as with the “farm chicken” ($23) version served here.

So once again we pounce when we see a smaller portion of the rare beef rendition ($10) on offer.

It’s a zingy, tangy, crunchy wonder, with the plentiful and very good marinated beef still pink.

Our only wish?

Even more peanuts to really send the textural contrasts into overdrive.

 

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The Vietnamese pancake (with seafood, $16) is another successful order for us.

Despite the wetness of the rather bland filling (small prawns, calamari, fish, sprouts), only some of the large pancake becomes soggy – and it all gets devoured with yet another variation in the greenery/herbs department.

 

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CTS: HSP virgin no more

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Flemington Kebab House, 301 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 2767

As has been amply illustrated through its six-year history, Consider The Sauce is VERY partial to food with its origins in the Middle East or eastern Mediterranean.

But halal snack packs?

That’s something new, for me – I could even correctly be called a Johnny-come-lately.

It’s time to fix that.

In the course of asking a few people who I figure might know about such things, one name that came up was that of Flemington Kebab House – and I’m only too happy to return to this old favourite to break my HSP duck.

So … HSPs.

I love the idea. Most particularly, I love what a mate refers to as the “positivity” surrounding them and the noble concept of sticking it to Pauline Hanson and her ilk while eating top-notch, multicultural food.

But there’s things about HSPs that are definitely turn-offs.

The polystyrene trays?

Ugh.

The cheese?

Nope.

So while I know I really should, for the sake of journalism and realism, eat a straight-up, orthodox HSP, I am determined to do some customising.

For starters, I recoil with horror when the Flemington Kebab House staff member reaches for the polystyrene and my dinner is subsequently brought to me on one of metal platters on which all their other eat-in meals are served.

(In my half hour or so in the joint, I see quite a few Menulog orders departing …)

Hold the cheese.

 

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Finally, Flemington Kebab House, being a significant step up from  your basic kebab shack, I get to choose from three different kinds of meat – lamb, chicken or the composite/mince brew that is doner kebab.

 

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I go for the regular shaved lamb – on chips, of course, and with the regular yogurt and chilli sauces – for $16.

It’s good.

And the chips retain at least some of their crispness right down to the very last one.

But I remain unconvinced.

It’s a simple truth that a plate of meat – with dips, salads and maybe rice on the side, and with a stack of fresh, warm Turkish attending – is, to my mind, a much superior meal.

Especially at a very fine kebab establishment such as this one.