Back on the burger beat



Beats Burgers, 255 Keilor Road, Essendon. Phone: 7018 3501

Blinking, hesitant, we are back in the world.

But not with any great confidence or elan.

We reckon we’ll be cautious for quite a while, preferring places we can get in and and out with a minimum of fuss and in which the distance thing is a given.

And that’s cool as it’s pretty much our regular routine anyway.

Beats Burgers has been on our radar for a while, but we’ve ended up here today somewhat haphazardly.

Having hit Bennie’s favourite comic shop in Moonee Ponds and picking up some groceries for the week ahead, we just kept on tootling up Mount Alexander Road and turned left.



Beats Burgers is a spacious place and, happily, there is just one other table occupied.

The walls are festooned with street-style art, with beats on the sound system close enough to the Roy Ayers we’ve been playing in the car to make a nice fit.

We eat good.



The chips are excellent – hot, crisp, yummy.

But I wish we’d been asked about yay or nay to chicken salt.



The Beats Deluxe burger is fine – just a good, straighahead beed burger with tomato relish, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickles.



The Chicken Houston is a definite step up in class.

It’s even simpler – just fried chicken, chopotle mayo, coleslaw and pickles.

But the chook chunk is wonderfully crunchy and teams up real well with the slaw.

Value for money?

We’re a bit half full/half empty on that score.

Our lunches have been combo deals – the burgers, chips and cans of soft drink for $20 each.

In some ways that seems a little steep, especially in regards to the beef burger.

But OTOH, it’s generally in the going rate vicinity for such burger meal deals.

We’ll happily step inside Beat Burgers when we’re in this neighbourhood again.


Joyfully juicy



Bird & Burger, 9 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9090 7265

Bird & Burger lives in a premises long previously occupied by a similar operation with different management.

But this new lot are doing more than maintaining the location’s chicken shop tradition – they’re doing so splendidly.

Here be fast food that really is fresh and delicious.



The interior is mostly black and white, with eat-in seating options down to stools and a bench on one wall and a handful of snazzy ottomans facing the front window and another bench.

There are, however, tall tables and more stools outside.


My heart sinks a little when I see the plastic cutlery atop one of counters, fearing these useless tool may be served with my chicken.

But no!

Not only am I supplied with metal cutlery, my meal is presented on a black platter, with chips and coleslaw in similarly angular bowls.

It all looks marvellous.

Tastes that way, too.

The chips ($3.95) are hot, liberally salted and fine.

The admission price of $6.50 for my coleslaw seems, at first blush, a little steep for what I’m thinking is just a side dish to a chicken meal.

But here’s the thing – it is worth every cent.

In fact, I’ll call it right here and now – this is quite possibly the best coleslaw I’ve ever had in a chook shop.

Made mostly of red cabbage, and boasting subtle whiffs of tarragon and dill, it is well dressed without being sopping, has crunch yet is pliable – and is 100 per cent wonderful.

My chicken falls into the “Yes, It Can Be Done” category.

That’s right – even the very heart of the breast meat is as juicy as the rest of it.

My half bird ($10.50) is marinated in the mild chilli sauce that is chosen from a list that also includes lemon and herbs, crunchy creamed peanut and outback BBQ.

All is beaut and succulent.



The classic beef burger ($12.50) comes from a menu that includes two other beef burgers, five chicken burgers and a lamb edition.

Our burger’s lettuce, tomato, red onion, tomato relish and herb aioli are joined – upon request – by excellent bacon for which no charge is levied.

The beef patty is nicely charry and superbly seasoned with – I’m guessing here, as the staff mumble something about “top secret” when quizzed – oregano and other goodies.

Every aspect of this burger is an outright winner.

If CTS used points, I’d deduct one for the fact that this burger is such a gloriously messy handful that I resort, in the end, to eating it with a knife and fork.

But in this case, I care not because everything is just so damn tasty.

Bird & Burger is a fine establishment.

CTS metaphorically clicks its heels as it saunters back to the car.

Classy Italian in Essendon

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400 Gradi, 110 Keilor Road, Essendon. Phone: 9351 6690

Keilor Road has always appeared to us to hold much food promise – promise that largely goes unfulfilled.

The Mount Alexander Road end, especially, seems to be perennially drab.

So we’re happy and excited to accept an invite to dine at the swish, new 400 Gradi, an invite that came to us through a media colleague for whom it was not a good fit (see full disclosure below).

It’s entirely possible we may have gotten around to trying the Gradi Brunswick sibling.

The one at Crown?

Very probably not.

But a sexy new place in Essendon?

Oh, yes!




The Essendon Gradi, on the ground floor of a newish apartment building, has high ceilings and two main dining spaces as well as stools at the bar.

Much is black and/or shiny.




We find the service to be spot on, while our table in the main dining area affords us the wait-time pleasure of watching the open kitchen and its inhabitants in overdrive.

We’re in two days before Christmas and the place is VERY busy.




Having watched the cured meats being sliced off in a neverending stream, that’s how we start – with 18-month prosciutto crudo di Parma Mornello ($15) with cornichons and caperberries.

It’s a delight to which some very good fresh bread is presented on the side.

We’re not paying so there are no financial factors stopping us from going for secondi such as slow-cooked capretto with lemon, paprika, white wine, tomato and olive oil ($30); or the Gradi porchetta with apple balsamic, cipollini and white cabbage ($35).

But it’s a hot day, we’re not much in the mood for meat – and we have our eyes on dessert.

So pasta it is for us.




In the past year or so, Bennie has developed an interest in gnocchi.

I tell him the gnocchi di patate with 20-year-old balsamic, black garlic and sage butter ($24) he is about to eat here will likely be the best he has tasted.

And so it is, the gnocchi being delectably fluffy pillows caressed by simple, high-quality accessories.




My seafood linguini with fish (salmon and white fish I’m told is snapper), prawns, clams, scallops, garlic, chilli, napoli sauce and herbs ($34) at first blush appears to be a standard offering.

But it’s a much superior outing, thanks not only to the quantity of seafood but also to its startling freshness.

Aside from needing – for my purposes – a bit more zing in the chilli department, its perfect.




And so to dessert …

We have a cone apiece of the house specialty gelati – margherita.

Its sweet, sophisticated and very Italian.

But its no match for the tiramisu (top photograph).

This is a stupendous masterpiece.

All the expected flavours and textures are in place but there simply seems to be more heft and substance and all-round yumminess than has been the case with most of the other, many versions we’ve tried.

The only downside to what has been a very enjoyable experience?

During a busy, silly-season, pre-Christmas lunch session, the noise levels have been very high.

I’m told some soundproofing is on the way.

Next time, we’ll take those pizzas for a spin.

400 Gradi is open for dinner seven days a week and lunch Thursdays to Sundays.

(Consider The Sauce dined at 400 Gradi as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meal. We chose from regular menu and had no restrictions placed upon us in doing so. 400 Gradi management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)



Essendon yum cha – very good

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Andy’s Yum Cha House, 13 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9370 9888

One member of today’s Team CTS grew up with yum cha.

She’s very open to all sorts of food experiences and has a cracking sense of humor.

But she reckons Andy’s – which has long been on the CTS “to do” list – is not really a real yum cha joint.




I know what she means.

It comes across as your average humble suburban Chinese eatery.

And certainly there are no yum cha trolleys whizzing every which-away.




But – and it seems I am somewhat alone in this assessment among our Sunday lunch table of four – I find the terrific meal we have at this Essendon yum cha outpost to be very good indeed.




My worst case scenario had been that the dumplings offered here would display the telltale signs of mass production and have come from plastic bags, frozen and then steamed.




But what we are served I find to be excellent.




For this meal I become a somewhat slothful food blogger so don’t keep track of what we have and how much each serve costs us.




Suffice to say that our dumplings – containing all the expected ingredients such as prawns, pork, coriander and more – evince a range of textures and flavours that I really adore.




A high point is the greens with oyster sauce – it’s expertly done and easy to eat.




We eat very well and the price ends up being a most excellent $15 each.

(This story has been sponsored by Moonee Valley City Council. But in all other regards it is a regular Consider The Sauce post – we chose the restaurant and when to eat there; we ordered what we wanted and paid for it ourselves; and neither oversight nor an editorial role were sought by the council.)




Meal of the week No.13: A1 Essendon

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Bit by bit, more Lebaneese food and related Middle Eastern goodies have become available in Melbourne’s inner west.

But that doesn’t mean it’s no longer worth a short drive to Essendon for a visit to A1 Bakery (18 Napier Street).

It most certainly is.

I’m sure the pies and pizzas remain the mainstay of this place, but as ever I am irresistably drawn to the glass display cabinet of “mum made it” brilliance.

I have a fabulous smallish plate custom made.

Excellent kibbeh and stuffed vine leaf.

Warmed, incredibly fresh za’atar.

A big dollop of baba ganoush packed with smoky flavour.

And – best of all – zingy, damp, utterly perfect tabouli.

It’s an incredible lunch, the charge for which is $10.



Actually, better than A1

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 A1 Bakery, 18 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9375 7734

After an initial visit – covered here – Consider The Sauce has been eager for a return adventure at A1 in Essendon.

Primarily to partake of one of the more unusual and intriguing options among the more substantial meal platters they offer – samke hara, which features “three flathead tails baked in a spicy tahini sauce”.

Today, it being that time of year when my very good mate Penny is making her annual visit to Melbourne from Wellington, is the day.

Truth is, on previous visits Penny and I have had some really fine face-to-face catch-ups – we talk by phone at least once a fortnight about everything under the sun – but rarely have we enjoyed a really fabulous meal.

I put the blame for that squarely on my own shoulders in the category of “trying too hard”.

Anyway, we rectify that today – and in spectacular fashion.

As it turns out, the samke hara is unavailable.

So boss man Gabby offers to put together for me (and Penny!) a combo set of shish tawook (chicken) and kafta skewers with all the bits and pieces.

The above spread costs us $24; not pictured are an extra salad and a basket containing plenty of zaatar, olives and a couple each of small rice-stuffed peppers and puff-style kibbeh.

The single-meat deals are priced at $14.50, so I’m not sure our price accurately reflects what it would cost to buy all items involved separately.

And Gaby is perfectly aware there’s a blogger in the house …

But add another $10 or even $20 and it would STILL be a bargain.

I know there’s a handful of places around town that do Lebanese food in more formal settings (and at significantly higher prices), but I find it extremely difficult to imagine their food could be any finer.

As I once said of another Lebanese establishment, in the world of Consider The Sauce, this is as good as food gets – at any price.

As our meal arrives at our table, our day gets even better …




Placing bowls full of wonderful before us, Gaby sighs as he says: “This is when I miss being in Lebanon – all the small dishes!”

Then he introduces us to his mum, Sandra, she being responsible for much of the food we are about to inhale.

And, I’m sure, almost all its heart and soul!

For CTS – which has been known on occasion to mutter, “We revere cooks but chefs don’t impress us that much!” – this is akin to meeting royalty!

Everything we eat rocks our world …

Stuffed vine leaves with a lemony tang and rice still displaying a nice, nutty al dente feel.

Fresh, luscious dips, with the ultra-smoky eggplant number a taste sensation.

Tabouli and fattoush, fresh and zingy.

Two kinds of splendidly crunchy and salty green olives.

And the meat skewers – served at room temperature, juicy, tender, packed with flavour and having the killer chargrilled tang in abundance.

All of the above, of course, can have only one outcome – yes, some time early in the new year and all going as planned, A1 Essendon and Consider The Sauce will co-host the first CTS Feast for 2015.



Not your average chicken shop



Essendon Charcoal Chicken, 6 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9078 3270

Consider The Sauce is told that business at Essendon Charcoal Chicken is way down ever since a certain AFL club uprooted and moved its training activities elsewhere.

That’s a shame, as right here on Napier Street and around the corner on Fletcher there’s a number eating establishment that look well worthy of exploration.

As is it is, I’m waylaid by Essendon Charcoal Chicken as I’m ostensibly on my way to lunch at an A1 place right across the road.

At first glance, this looks very much like just another charcoal chicken shop, right down to potato cakes in the bain marie.

Look just a little closer, though … and it’s clear there’s much more going on.

Lilydale free range chooks, for starters.




A salad lineup that a whole heap more attractive than the gloopy coleslaw usually found in chicken shops.




Roast spuds looking gorgeous and scented with rosemary and salt.




Some great looking lamb going round and round above the charcoal, sharing that space with the poultry.




And – finally – the chooks themselves, looking sensational and crusted with herbs.

My superb-looking lunch (pictured at top) of half a chicken, roast spuds and salad costs a very fine $12.90.

The chicken tastes just as good as it looks, though in truth the guts of the breast meat is dry.

Some gravy or condiments are needed here.

If anything, my sides are the highlight.

The spud chunks and divine and fall-apart tender.

The fresh, crunchy salad of all sorts of things is wonderfully dressed.

Chicken shop?


Beautifully dressed?





Kebabs with a difference

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400 Degree Tandoor Grill, 888 Mount Alexander Road, Essendon.


Full moon, start of the weekend, not a care in the world, no alarm to be set for the morrow … the timing is right for a slightly cross-town drive in search of something mighty fine to eat.

We’re headed to Essendon and the 400 Degree truck, which is part of the ever-evolving and growing Melbourne food truck scene but which seems to be making a name for itself away from the usual congregating points and by doing festivals and the like.

We’ve heard good things about what they offer, most notably from our very good pal Nat Stockley.

(We learn, however, during a flurry of messages while we’re ordering and eating, that Nat’s experiences with this crew has thus far been restricted to their chicken tikka box, which he describes as “kind of like a biryani” … no matter!)




There’s two happy blokes in the truck doing the food biz, and another out front playing a sort of meet-and-greet cum security role.

It being 10pm, this is pretty much opening time for these guys.

‘Round about midnight, the clientele no doubt increases in number and drunkenness, so security is probably a good idea.

We’re told, we presume somewhat jokingly, that the security even needs security.

I offer Bennie’s services at a discount but stir up little interest.




Bennie goes the tandoori chicken wrap ($9.50).

He likes it a lot; it disappears in under five minutes.

It tastes good to me, too.




I go the “9-hour” lamb ($9.50), and it, too, is a winner.

The shaved lamb is juicy and tasty.

I like the way the chilli sauce I have chosen mostly works its way down my wrap so the last few, delicious mouthfuls are the spiciest and sexiest of all.

Both our wraps are wrapped in pliable rotis that – along with the Indian-style fillings – really do set the 400 Degree products apart.

It’s been a fine feed.

As we drive home, we discuss the perhaps surprising fact that 400 Degree offers so little by way of extras … such as chips or samosas or curries of any kind.

We conclude that if they went down that path, they would end up being something other than a kebab truck with a difference.

Their simple approach works a treat.

Check out the 400 Degree website here.



Essendon A1 – FAR OUT!

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A1 Bakery, 18 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9375 7734

Bowling up to the brand, spanking new branch of the A1 Bakery chain, I am fully expecting a duplicate of its slightly older Werribee sibling.

I could hardly be more wrong – the Essendon joint is very, very different, and brilliantly so.

Here there’s a vibe that is 50/50 Middle Eastern and hipster cafe, and seems staffed somewhat along the same lines.

There’s exposed brick and old wood. The place is bustling with happy customers just a few days after opening.




The food?

Oh my, happy days for Kenny!

There’s the expected full complement of pies and pizzas, including zaatar ($2), lamb ($3) and spinach/fetta ($4.50).

But there’s way more of just the kinds of things I like to see in such a place – stuffed vine leaves (three for $2.50) and kibbeh ($2), for instance.

There’s gorgeous-looking mountains of salad, including fattoush, tabouli and “zest salad”.

And for those looking for more than pies ‘n’pizzas or a tight line-up of eggy breakfast dishes, there’s platters – yippee!




These include chicken (shish tawook), a rice and chicken dish called jaj a riz – and even one, samke hara, that features “three flathead tails baked in a spicy tahini sauce”.

As I am only of moderate appetite, I opt for the lighter touch of the falafel platter ($11, top photograph).

It’s simply wonderful.

The plentiful tabouli is as good and fresh and super as any I’ve had – anywhere, anytime.

The hommus is creamy smooth but packed with lemon-infused flavour.

The felafels themselves may have been sourced from the display cabinet and reheated, but are still fine – featherlight, crisp on the outer, fluffy in the inner.




After my lunch, I talk with one of the proprietors, Robert.

He confirms what I suspected – that the proliferating A1 chain is basically a matter of franchising.

So while the Essendon joint may share fully in the A1 ethos and badging, the food is individual – and in this case, strongly guided by an angel I will call The Hand Of Mum.

And that, of course, is a very excellent thing!

I expect to return here in a matter of days and am excited about the prospect of doing so.

I just love a place that offers more substantial Lebanese fare in a cafe setting.



La Manna Direct


10 English St, Essendon Fields. Phone: 9026 9209

Essendon Fields is a bit like a cross between a shopping centre and an industrial estate – with an airport attached.

Having pre-planned my journey to avoid tolls – up Mt Alexander Rd and Keilor Rd, along Matthews Ave, turn right on to English St – I enjoy the drive, rubber-necking at many shopping strips. This can be a bit of trap, of course! Eyes on the road, Kenny!

I’d been hipped to La Manna by Consider The Sauce visitor Marine when she commented on one of our early posts – Fresh On Young in Moonee Ponds.

Having done some online sleuthing, I’m aware that I’ll be able to enjoy a lunch and a shopping foray at La Manna. I am bearing a fairly long, for us, shopping list. Our cupboards are bare!

My first stop is the La Manna cafe.

Considering the pronounced Italian and/or Mediterranean flavour of the whole enterprise, and the slogan “For the love of food” emblazoned outside, I expect more of the cafe. Maybe some soup and good bread, or some pasta.

Instead, I find an eating place with a few salads, some good-looking stuffed baguettes, pies and the like.

I’m hungry and not too fussy. I settle on a Bocastle Cornish pastie ($4) and a slab of frittata ($5).

The pastie filling consists of little more than potato strands and a very meaty-flavoured mince. It’s peppery and good.

The frittata is better. So packed with vegetables – leek, mushroom, carrot, tomato, capscum and even red beans – that it’s not even very eggy, it’s a satisfying and affordable lunch.

Then it’s out in the cavernous space of La Manna proper, one hand pushing a shopping trolley, the other grasping camera, shopping list nearby.

I start at the end that hosts the cheeses, cold cuts, antipasto items, meat and seafood, adjacent the cafe.

The glaring lights make taking photos a challenge.

Unsurprisingly, the range of products is amazing.

But I’ve already discovered my enthusiasm is dented by the amount of plastic used on all the meats, cold cuts and seafood. I’m no purist – we accept plastic shopping bags and re-use them at home – but this seems excessive.

And all that packaging means there’s no deli counter – and not much else by way of face-to-face inter-action with the staff.

This makes me realise that our food outings are about much more than a mere exchange of a credit card for goods. I miss the banter and questions and answers and humanity that are part of every transaction at our favourite shops, markets and stores.

As well, knowing I’ll be making a Greek salad for dinner, with no deli counter I am unable to buy a piece of fetta just right for the job, forced to settle for more than I want at a steeper price than I’d envisaged. Nor can I buy a handful of fresh kalamata olives. Worse, the packaged fetta, when I make my salad, manages to be both rubbery and tough.

There is, though, a lovely lady cooking up Hahns ‘Merican-style hot dogs and offering samples to customers.

And, yes, there are staff members everywhere, all of whom would no doubt be happy to help me.

But the stock seems presented in such a done-and-dusted way as to discourage individuality.

Moving on, I scoop up 500g bags of dried apricots ($5), roasted almonds ($8) and sultanas ($4) for muesli – not super dooper bargains, but not bad either. Likewise three sacks of Lowan rolled oats at $3.36 each.

The fruit and vegetables seem priced pretty much at Coles/Woolworths levels. And our local Sims in West Footscray is selling Fuji apples for under $5, a whole bunch less than La Manna.

Moving along once more, I start to find real fine buys:

It’s time to make a new batch of pasta sauce, so I grab up an armful of La Gina chopped tomatoes tins at 80 cents each.

A couple of packs of Reggia spaghettini cost $1 each.

Lavvaza Crema e Gusto coffee sets me back $4.

Best of all, I snap up a 500ml bottle of Olive Valley EVOO for $4. This product comes from Nar Nar Goon in Victoria and the price is amazing.

Serious shopping just about done, I toss in a parcel of mixed almond biscotti ($6.95). I have three of them at work that night. They are brilliant – moist, fresh and even better than I’ve had from the likes of Brunetti’s or Cavallaro’s.

Apart from the daily delivered “specialty breads”, it seems all the cakes, biscotti and so on are made on the premises.

If I find the La Manna experience a tad sterile, it says more about my preferences than anything else.

If I had a larger family to feed and La Manna was closer to home, it’d become a regular stop for sure.

I receive a nice surprise at the checkout counter – I’m eligible for that week’s 10% discount on my bill total, taking $71.08 down to $64.77.

Timing visits to coincide with such offers would seem to make a lot of sense.

In any case, I’ve applied for a customer loyalty card at the La Manna website, which can be found here.

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