Memorable moments with Mietta’s mafia

1 Comment
mietta6

Amy, Gifta and Mietta.

 

Selam Authentic African Restaurant & Bar, 127 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 8383 2560
Small French Bar, 154 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 8479

A few years ago, Mietta Gibson began what has become a family tradition.

Each year, as Christmas approaches, she takes the sisterhood portion of her family out on a surprise adventure.

One year it was a Middle Eastern cooking class, another it was gift-wrapping for a charity.

And on another occasion, the whole crew attended a filming session of The Project.

This year, she began plotting and scheming many months ago, with no firm ideas in mind other than “western suburbs” and “food”.

Mietta, you see, lives on the Mornington Peninsula, her entire family lives in the eastern suburbs and she was keen to expose them to some different aspects and perspectives of Melbourne.

She was not having much joy in terms of online research – until she stumbled upon Consider The Sauce.

(Frankly, given our substantial online footprint, I’m surprised it took her so long!)

Anyway, in mid-October I received an email with the header “Seeking your help”.

A few emails back and forth, and then we were happily chatting on the phone.

And just like that (sound of fingers snapping), the deal was done – Team Consider The Sauce would proudly show these gals our backyard and we’d all have an absolute blast!

And so it turned out …

 

mietta1

 

As Mietta and her crew exit Footscray station, she has no trouble picking me out of the crowd; we meet up and make the whole round of introductions.

With her are her sisters Eliza and Natalie, her niece Matisse, her mum-in-law Kate and – all the way from France – her friend Iris.

What a happy, garrulous crew they are!

At this early point in our evening, no one involved except Mietta and myself have any idea about what is in store – the happy gasps and grins as our gameplan is explained to them are gratifying!

Then we’re off – first stop Littlefoot, Bennie and I explaining the familiar streets and places and faces as we go.

 

 

mietta2

 

After “looseners” all round, we pretty much retrace our steps to Selam on Nicholson Street.

There we enjoy a truly fabulous Ethiopian meal.

Nothing edgy or unexpected, mind you – it’s simply beautifully cooked and presented Ethiopian tucker.

Lentils three different ways; terrific salad; cabbage and excellent greens (silverbeet, I think).

And in the centre of our two platters is the dry derek tibs of pan-friend lamb pieces – so good!

Best of all, though, and by general acclaim, is the lamb soup – which I foolishly forget to photograph.

This zingy lamb broth – a bit like an Ethiopian version of the standard Somalian offerings at such places as Deli Afro – is a sensation, each of our bowls liberally studded with wonderful bone-in lamb meat.

 

mietta5

 

Mietta and her friends – for whom the western suburbs, Footscray AND Ethiopian food are all vivid new experiences – take to the Selam fare and non-cutlery eating with gusto and delight.

Truth be told, I chose Selam for our outing pretty much on a whim and because I liked the look of the place.

But chef/proprietor Amy has done us proud and the way she and daughter Gifti have looked after us has been superb.

 

mietta4

 

The cost? Including all that terrific food, some wine, a few beers and sundry soft drinks – just under $20 per head.

Amazing.

But we’re not done yet … dessert is on the menu.

Actually, Footscray at 9pm on a week night is not particularly auspicious for dessert.

But before our evening began, I’d worded up Stefan at Small French Bar that we might descend upon his establishment later in the evening.

 

mietta7

 

It’s a bustling, cheerful scene that greets us as we enter.

It’s crowded, but room is found for us.

 

mietta12

 

Naturally, we ignore the savoury aspects of the menu.

We ignore, too, the sorbet option.

What we do order is three portions apiece of the other three desserts …

 

mietta11

 

… fondant au chocolat …

 

mietta8

 

… creme brulee …

 

mietta10

 

… and profiteroles.

Gosh, they’re beaut – and we’ve ordered just the right amount for us all to have a good taste of each dish.

There is much happy sighing and clinking of spoons on crockery.

 

mietta9

 

For Iris, who has been away from France for two months, this is all a profound treat.

She says the place even smells French!

What a truly memorable evening we’ve enjoyed.

There was something about the nutty randomness of Mietta’s original email approach to us that appealed enormously to CTS.

And that hunch has been vindicated.

We hope to see these folks over our way again!

 

mietta3

Ethiopian … in Fitzroy?

2 Comments
saba4

 

Saba’s Ethiopian Restaurant, 328 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 8589 0442

Of the foodie friends we break bread with, Marketa and Nick are two lovely folks whom we see too little of.

So I am only to happy to agree to a proposal to join them at a new Ethiopian eatery … in Fiztroy.

Turns out that Marketa and the Saba after whom the restaurant is named know each other from another place – a gym!

For Marketa, this will a first try of Ethiopian tucker; not so for Nick, though his single encounter is just a fading memory.

 

saba8

 

But even for me, veteran of so much western suburbs Ethiopian food, there will be something new.

As recounted in this story about Lemat Injera Bakery, for most of the Ethiopian community’s time in Australia, the grain from which injera is made – teff – was not allowed to be imported.

So the injera makers – as cultures have done through the ages – experimented and adapted, using a mix of grains, until they created something like, well, injera.

Those import restrictions have been lifted now but as far as I know this will be my first ever encounter with teff injera.

I arrive early so have time to talk with Saba and her staff about injera and Ethopian food in Melbourne.

 

saba3

 

The eatery – smack dab in the middle of Brunswick Street’s hipster heaven – is bright and light and the staff do a fine job.

As we’re enjoying our meal, people are being turned away.

Seems like Saba’s is going to fit right in in Fitzroy!

But Fitzroy isn’t Footscray so I have been bracing myself for prices way above what I’d pay for similar food much closer to home.

So, upon perusal of the menu (see below), I am pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the prices are above what we all pay on Nicholson Street or thereabouts – but not ridiculously so.

I’m happy to be in the house and catching up with my friends.

 

saba1

 

Other differences between Saba’s and the western suburbs Ethiopian eateries are the names of the dishes.

I don’t get around to asking Saba why this is so – but can tell, reading between the lines of the dish descriptions, that I am going to be eating in familiar territory.

Saba places a restraining hand on our eagerness in terms of ordering too much.

So what we end up with is a splendid Ethiopian meal of one meat dish, one pulse offering and two vegetable dishes.

 

saba2

 

It’s all very good, including the carrots-cabbage-spuds of dinish ($16) and the “side dish” beetroot, here called key sir ($12).

Our meat selection, keyih sebhi ($23.50) is a wonderfully rich, deep red stew of lamb with just the right chilli kick.

It’s almost like an Ethiopian bolognese!

As for injera made from teff, I can honestly say that I didn’t notice much difference – maybe this injera was a bit plumper.

 

saba6

saba7

saba5

Wonderful Ethiopian

7 Comments

das21

 

Ras Dashen, 121 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 3293

A chance Sunday night encounter in the Yarraville IGA finds me dining out in downtown Footscray on a Tuesday night with friends and friends of theirs.

Ethiopian is the preference and Ras Dashen is my suggestion.

I’ve been here a couple of times by myself though not recently.

So I’m a little concerned about how we might go so early in the week with a table of five that includes two vegetarians.

I need not have fretted as what we receive is magnificent.

The beyaynetu veg selection is provided at an amazing $10 per head – so the wonderful spread pictured above costs us $50.

Two kinds of lentils – aspicy and rich red number and a yellowish dal-like mix.

A jumble of mixed vegetables, a bowl of delightful beetroot and a typically zingy salad.

It’s all delicious.

On the side, I order the fitifit or beef rib soup ($10) enjoyed on a previous visit.

If anything, if it seems bigger, more meaty and wonderful than before. The broth is pungent – it comes across a bit like an Ethiopian version of pho, but without the star anise and so on.

It’s my new Favourite Thing.

Finally, our table snags a serve of zilzil tibs ($12, sorry no pic usable!).

This is unlike any tibs dish I’ve previously encountered.

It’s very dry, with pan-fried beef strips that have been rubbed – and I’m pretty much guessing here – cumin, a little chilli, salt, pepper and garlic.

It, too, is excellent.

The service we have been given has been beaut and it’s been a fine thing to see a Footscray Ethiopian joint bustling with activity so early in the week..

An Ethiopian welcome to Footscray

6 Comments
ko2
Kokeb Restaurant & Cafe, 247 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9689 0157
Snowtree, 119 Hopkins St, Footscray

 

Eliza was one of the many lovely and talented people with whom I worked at the Geelong Advertister.

IIRC, she left not too long after I did … to pursue a gig practising the black arts of PR on St Kilda Road.

As is so often the case these days, we both sort-of followed our respective journeys from Facebook, where – among other things – I monitor with interest the comings and goings of my extended family of media industry brothers and sisters.

That all changed a few weeks back when I received a wonderful tweet from Eliza:

“Hi Kenny, how are you? Am moving to Footscray tomorrow – will need to keep a closer eye on your blog!”

Cool!

My reply was immediate:

“Hi Eliza! Wow that’s great! Will you have dindins with me and Bennie?”

We took our chat into private channels and – bingo! – here we are just a few weeks later having a swell dinner with Eliza and her partner, Josh.

ko1

Kokeb joined the ranks of Footscray’s Ethiopian eateries a few months ago.

It’s a charming space and we are equally charmed by the service offered us by Helen and the music – on a Tuesday night! – of Melaku.

The menu has all the Ethiopian regulars covered, with a few more interesting items.

But we do away with all that – in the interests of easing “catching up” conversation – by going for the $22 a head banquet.

Eliza has us all laughing with stories of how her PR gig came unstuck and we quickly and in some depth swap notes on how we’re both faring these days, she as online editor and social media honcho … back at the Addy.

It’s a great role for her, I reckon.

But Bennie and I are just as delighted to have she and Josh as new neighbours, and excited to introduce them – for the first time – to the delights of Ethiopian food and injera.

They take to them with gusto – and so they should, as the Kobeb banquet spread is top-notch.

All is fresh, hot and tasty.

ko3

We get two kinds of lamb tibs – the regular “white” and the more spicy and red “Kokeb” tibs. Both very good.

There’s the chopped greens of gomen wot and the delicious and chunky carrot, cabbage and potato of cabbage wot.

And, of course, lentils a couple of ways.

Best of all, though, is the shiro, which is served separately from an earthenware pot.

It’s a hot, spicy split pea soup/stew flavoured with berbere.

There’s plenty of food for our admission fee, and we even take Helen up on her offer to top up our supplies of the vegetable dishes and injera.

Some of the cool, crisp contrast usually offered by the presence of tangily-dressed lettuce, cucumber and tomato would have been a bonus.

As our meal and the eating of it wind down, Bennie gets a case of the restless – so we send him off on the daunting challenge of finding us somewhere that is doing dessert relatively late at night and relatively early in the week in Footscray central.

Success!

So we all troop off to the Korean joint Snowtree.

ko6

To my surprise, they’re still serving what look like pretty acceptable Korean dinners – so maybe this is somewhere to take note of as being (maybe) open when all else is closed hereabouts.

But we make to do with a couple of serves of their “Snowtree Belgium waffle” ($7.50).

The waffles are just OK and the cream, I’m almost certain, comes from a can; but all is wolfed down anyway – including all the fruit and the frozen yogurt.

Welcome to the ‘hood, Eliza and Josh, and – yes – we’ll be making the housewarming!

 

ko4

ko5

ko7

ko8

Konjo Cafe & Restaurant

Leave a comment

Konjo Cafe & Restaurant, 89 Irving St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 8185

It’s a passing mention of Konjo Cafe at Footscray Food Blog that has seemingly and subconsciously steered me to Irving St, despite having pleasantly meandered along many streets and alleyways since parking at the market a half an hour before.

I’m very happy to find it open for business at lunchtime on a Monday, despite the upheaval presented by the heavy-duty roadworks currently underway right outside.

I’d popped in once a few months previously, so am used to the idea a limited menu may be available – the handful of dishes jotted down on a small blackboard doesn’t phase me.

From that list I choose lamb kai wot, which is described as “spicy lamb stew simmered in berbere”.

I soon discover the blackboard choices are mere suggestions and that the full menu – see below – is available.

The menu seems to have all the usual Ethiopian bases covered, with all but one dish selling for $12 – at the end of 2012, that seems like really good value.

No matter, I’m happy with my choice – especially once my request for a little salad on the side is granted.

That turns out to be the zingy jumble of cos lettuce, tomato and green chilli slices I was hoping for.

The kai wot is only mildly spicy but the gravy is rich, quite oily/buttery and delicious; the lamb is in small pieces and plentiful.

A single piece of injera suffices, and I even leave a little of the kai wot – it’s a serve that should really be shared between two diners in tandem with a vegetable dish or salad proper.

My cool lunch matches the cool cafe vibe here – the furniture is dark wood, the tables long-legged to match the stools. There is seating of a more traditional-style in a rear room.

The service is warm and obliging. The volume of the sweet African music is just right, too.

I’m told the roadworks are as much a pain because of the dust and noise as they are for deterring customers.

Still, no doubt just like the other restaurants and businesses on this stretch of Irving St, they’ll be very happy when the work is completed.

Flat-screen TVs: No.

Konjo Cafe & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ras Dashen

5 Comments

Ras Dashen, 121 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 3293

For a day off – the first of two in a row – it’s been a helluva day so far.

My nerves are rattled.

It’s taken me three goes – and three separate documents – to fill in the Working With Children Check correctly and with no messy scrawl-outs.

I’ve still got a stat dec to acquire.

As well, the world – or at least the newspaper part of it that’s such a big part of my life but may be so for not much longer – seems to be entering its End Days.

That’s common knowledge, it’s true, but it seems to be gathering momentum.

I need a blanky, some comfort food, some lunch – and the exquisite pleasure of writing about it afterwards.

Ras Dashen provides me with splendid succour.

121 Nicholson St last made an appearance in the guise of the nice but short-lived Baraka Restaurant.

Somalian food has given way to Ethiopian, with Ras Dashen – I’m told it means “mountain” – having been open about seven months.

It seems like less time than that I’ve been aware of the change, but time is flying.

There’s new furnishings and I feel right at home in the bright, cheerful ethnic cafe atmosphere.

The smiling, gentle and hospitable welcome I receive for Monday lunch is as important as the food.

The menu has many of the usual suspects – tibs, foul, “khey wot”, kitfo – but I know what I want.

I want soup.

Is there soup?

“Yes.”

“What kind is it?”

“Beef rib.”

“That’s what I want.”

I am offered a choice of bread or injera.

In the interests of maximum comfort factor, I choose the latter.

My soup ($10) arrives with one each of regular and wholemeal injera, along with a little bowl of chilli paste.

I’m often surprised that in all the coverage Melbourne’s African eateries receive there is so little mention of the soups that are available – based on our experiences, they’re certainly among the high points.

And this is an excellent one.

If you were to judge it on the vegetables – carrot, onion, celery and more – you’d be excused for thinking it not much different from a Western-style meat/vegetable broth.

But the result here is unmistakably African.

It’s there in the peppery tanginess and the random slices of fresh green chilli.

It’s there in the heady, intense and flavoursome broth that soaks up the injera so well.

My soup bowl has four bits of beef rib, with some meat sticking to them and more juicy, tender morsels doing magical stuff independently.

There’s just the right amount of meat to provide hearty fare without seeming like too much of a Monday midday carnivore.

This all makes the world seem like a much less threatening place as I go about my business.

Ras Dashen on Urbanspoon

Walia Ibex

2 Comments

Walia Ibex, 2B Clarke St, Sunshine.

It seems a little odd that the flowering of African culture and food that has occurred in the past decade or so in Footscray has not been mirrored in Sunshine or even slightly further afield St Albans.

Well, Walia Ibex – named after a threatened Ethiopian species – is making a start in Sunshine.

The place is kitted out in such a way that it could be interchangeable with any one of half a dozen African eateries in Footscray. No bad thing, that!

A lunch here about a year ago was quite nice, but more in the meat-and-rice Somalian tradition.

These days, the place is more like a proper organised restaurant, with a menu and all!

And the food is a whole lot more focussed – this is Ethiopian tucker through and through, with three different kinds of tibs, doro wot, kitfo and gored gored all featuring on the list.

All meals are a very reasonable $12.

I order the vegetarian combo – “yetesom beyaynetu” – not because it’s cheaper, it’s the same price as the rest, but because I don’t feel like a meaty meal.

The serve looks quite modestly sized but proves more than adequate for a lovely lunch. The single piece of injera is matched just right with the food in terms of proportion.

There’s lentils three ways –  a dry and crumbly mix of small brown lentils studded with slices of fresh green chilli; smoother and wetter red lentils that look like they’re cooked with tomatoes but are actually made, I’m told, with a special “Ethiopian chilli powder” (it’s very mild and unspicy); and finally a luscious and turmeric-yellow mix that looks likes it’s made with moong dal or channa dal but which is described as being made with “African beans”.

I love the way these three pulse components complement each other with contrasting colours and textures and flavours.

A highlight is the gorgeously multi-coloured mix of beautifully cooked beetroot and potato – I wish there was a whole lot more of it – while the stalwart mix of cabbage and carrot is tender and just about as lovely.

This is plain, homely food and I love it. It’s a little less oily than similar fare I’ve enjoyed elsewhere, too.

Walia Ibex already has the feel of being something of an African community hub, with lots of folks coming, going, chatting.

If I lived anywhere nearby, I’d be there on a weekly basis.