House of Delicious

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House of Mandi, 326 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9077 3963

Eating at Somalian restaurants involves a similar dynamic to chowing down at, say, the Vietnamese eateries of Footscray or St Albans.

Many places have similar – even identical – menus.

But within those parameters, there can be wonderful worlds of variation and subtle differences.

 

 

For instance, the complementary soup at House of Mandi enjoyed at the first of two CTS visits is quite different from those offered elsewhere on Racecourse Road.

Instead of a mostly clear and tangy lamb broth, here is served a slightly thicker brew, stuffed with not just the expected carrot but also peas and corn, and seasoned – I’m guessing – with a good curry powder.

Different – but just as good.

 

 

House of Mandi has been running for about a year and is under the guiding hand of two husband-and-wife teams – Abdirahman Abdi and Fatuma Yussuf (above), and Yusuf Rabi and Amina Sirat.

The plain facade (see photo at bottom of story) belies the rather nicely elegant interior and friendly vibe inside.

 

 

Those subtle differences come to the fore with this marvellous meal in the “federation” style.

The name is a holdover from colonial days and, in the food sense, means the combination of both pasta and rice.

Here, the rice is laced through with carrot strands and studded with sultanas and whole chick peas.

The basto is cooked in a typically post-al dente fashion and served with a dryish tomato sauce with some minced meat on board.

The lamb shank looks rather unlovely, but who cares when the meat is so tasty and succulent?

Spiced yogurt and a fiery green chilli sauce are served on the side.

Lamb shanks, of course, long ago left the realms of cheap cuts and quite often, in other places and contexts, can be quite expensive these days.

So that makes this shank offering an outright bargain at $15.

 

 

For the subsequent CTS House of Mandi outing, this time with the ever excellent company of Nat Stockley, the soup is just a good – but this time comes with noodles.

 

 

We both opt for the non-shank lamb-on-the-bone in federation style, Nat with just mandi rice, me with mandi rice and pasta.

Mandi, I’m told, is a Yemeni word meaning juice that in the rice context refers to the meat being placed on the rice as it cooks and the juices seeping down and through.

Truth be told, there’s little evidence of that here – but the vibrant yellow rice is still Somalian wonderful, with subtle perfuming.

How wonderful is Somalian food when rice can be served in two such different yet equally toothsome ways?

This sort of lamb is very familiar to CTS, but I’m never sure quite what precise nature it is going display.

Here it is well cooked, some fall apart tender, some not-so-much, but all displaying yumminess of a high order.

There’s even a couple of ribs in there.

Following in the footsteps of shanks, lamb ribs have themselves become trendy in some quarters and, thus, correspondingly expensive.

So, once again (familiar refrain), our meals are sooper dooper bargains at $15.

There’s pan-fried veg under that meat to help liven our meals up even more, along with the familiar yogurt/chilli sauces and a good salad.

(There’s no photograph of the latter – they all turned out blurry; bad food blogger!)

 

Cool joint does Indian brilliantly

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Curry Cafe Canteen, 332 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 0498 003 970

Curry Cafe Canteen is a new arrival that adds much colour and wonder to the already diverse offerings of one of our favourite food strips.

It’s an outpost of an already established Curry Cafe in Northcote, with the Flemington branch offering a bit more of an accent on Indian street food.

The place – done out in wood and stools, and very chic in a comfy way – has been open just a few days when we visit for a Sunday lunch, but has been doing Uber deliveries for a month or so on the back of the connection with the Northcote mothership.

 

 

And – as we discover to our ecstatic delight – it is raising the bar for all Indian food offerings in the western suburbs.

Seriously.

It’s not so much that the menu (see below) offers anything unusual, spectacular or innovative.

It’s just that everything we try has the stamp of Indian cooking expertise all over it.

Even better, there is a level of freshness and an exuberance of flavour that leaves most Indian places for dead – including many that are rather more expensive and famous.

And they do it all at prices that fit, with room to move, into the cheap eats category.

And there’s craft beer and organic wine on the way.

 

 

Take Bennie’s pav cholle ($8), for example.

All to often, when we order an Indian snack dish the involves a chick pea curry, the curry is dull and appears and tastes tired.

No such problem here – the chick pea brew is fresh and alive with vim.

The buttered brioche rolls and kachumba salad are similarly fine.

 

 

My thali ($12) comes with vibrant lamb madras that puts the meat curries served in most Indian places to shame.

On board, too, are the same salad, a pappadum and rice.

The pickles vividly illustrate, again, the freshness of the Curry Cafe Canteen food and the care put into it.

I love the sour flavour boost that pickles give to an Indian meal, and am quite happy to accept commercial pickles.

But so often those pickles involve a chunk of mango that is as tough as old boot.

Here the pickles are made in house using lemon, lime, pepper, mango, lotus stem and garlic – and they’re soft.

Another point of difference is the dal makhani.

In most Indian eateries, this dish overloaded with cream.

Not so here – it’s a way more austere and plain pulse offering, and all the better for it.

 

 

While we’re about our Sunday lunch, we get some extras from the lunch menu.

Garlic naan ($2.50) and roti ($2) are very good.

Onion bhajji ($3, top photo) are excellent Indian onion rings.

 

 

A serve of two smallish samosas ($3) again affirm the high quality of the food here.

These are a bit more delicate than we’re mostly familiar with, expertly fried, have peas on board, are wonderful and are served with more of that salad and a nice tamarind chutney.

I’m told that the pav dishes and the thali set-up is available for lunch only.

I reckon that’s shame as thalis are so very, very cool for those dining solo – as I often do.

But the place is finding its feet, so could be open to persuasion in these regards.

But even going a la carte with the evening menu will surely be a winner.

After all, all curries are in the $10 to $13 range and half a tandoori chook costs $10.

 

They’re off – new Flemo burger joint

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Straight Six, 336 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 2333

Based on its proximity to Flemington racecourse, this flashy new burger joint – on the corner of Racecourse Road and Pin Oak Crescent, and right opposite the Doutta Galla pub – has enthusiastically embraced a theme based around horse racing.

Yep, from the name and onwards, it’s all very horsey.

There’s garish, internal neon signs proclaiming “feeling lucky?” and “burgers so good you’d put your house on”.

The burgers themselves sport the names of famous steeds of the past.

And the staff are all wearing T-shirts telling you they’re stewards – just in case you miss the drift.

It all seems a bit, well, lame to me – but then, I’m in no way a fan of horse racing.

 

 

The lack of subtlety doesn’t stop with the repeated racing motifs – the place is, generally speaking, bright and loud, the music overbearingly so.

But, hey, I’m probably not in the focus demographic for such a place.

It’s been open a little more than a week and has been busy the whole time, Uber bags by the dozen heading out the door from day one.

They’ve even had to hang up the “sold out” sign on occasion.

We do the burgers and sides routine with happy results.

There are some unexpected options on the menu (see below) we may take up on a future visit – fish and chips, for instance, or chicken ribs, loaded fries and a chicken/waffle/bacon offering.

 

 

The Phar Lap ($11) is one step up from the basic cheeseburger (the Saintly, $8).

Phar Lap tastes fine with its 120g patty, cheese, Straight Six sauce, pickles, onion, lettuce and tomato.

But it’s made for those of medium appetite only – it’s gone in a flash.

If you’re wanting something with more heft, go for …

 

 

… the Think Big ($14).

Oh yes, this is more like it.

The double 100g patties, double cheese, excellent bacon, spicy Straight Six sauce, jalapenos and onion combine to create a beaut burger.

It eats bigger than my photo indicates!

 

 

A small serve of beer-battered onion rings is generous for the $4 asking price.

They’re well cooked, but oh-so-very-decadently rich and more like beer-battered batter than onion rings!

Good, though, if that’s your thing.

 

 

The chips, small serve for $4, are also a fine deal.

They’re very good.

Perhaps it’s all about – or much about – timing and location.

And perhaps pizzazz, too.

A year or so ago, a burger enterprise arose further along Racecourse Road, folding quietly after a few months having made no impression whatsoever.

Straight Six, by comparison, has been an instant hit.

I may not dig the racing theme, but we have enjoyed our burgers and sides a lot.

 

Flemington soul food

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Deli Afro Restaurant, 331 Racecourse Road, Kensington.   Phone: 9994 7229

The Racecourse Road strip – already happily packed with a plethora of food choices – is these days home to seven African eateries.

That’s right – seven.

But Consider The Sauce aside, you won’t be seeing this celebrated elsewhere.

This is for the simple reason that, with a couple of exceptions, these mostly Somalian cafes lack – sometimes rather spectacularly – the sort of photogenic vibe and high degree of chic and/or hipster ambience that would make them of interest to the greater part of Melbourne’s foodie media.

Ranging from the metro newspapers through to the likes of Broadsheet and Timeout through to most of our city’s bloggers, that a place being covered has some sort of “look” seems as important – and often even more important – than terrific food made by beautiful people.

 

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Look, CTS is not at all averse to eating and dining in pleasant, attractive, sexy surrounds.

But that comes a poor third in our world when compared with that sort of food and those sorts of people.

As it is, Deli Afro is rather more restaurant-like than some of its near neighbours.

Over several visits now, I have been welcomed, had food questions happily answered and generally had an all-round great time.

And the food is tremendous and very cheap.

No matter what you order here (see menu below), you will be served soup – one of the benchmarks of such places.

 

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The Deli Afro version is a veritable nectar of the gods.

Unlike most, this has no vegetable pieces or strands of stock meat – it’s simply a lip-smackingly awesome, tangy, lemony, spicy broth.

The other benchmark, for me, of such fine cafes is the rice.

The rice that comes with my lamb ($15, top photo) is likewise perfect.

Every grain glistens, with just the right amount of diced veg, onion and sultanas included.

With this kind of cooked-in-stock rice, one word automatically comes to my mind – inhale.

The generous serve of lamb is very good, too, and I continue to be wowed how north-east African cooks do so much, albeit very simply, with humble barbecue chops.

I am also provided a side plate of greens and stewed, finely diced beef, along with a zippy chilli sauce.

The overcooked greens are the sort of thing I reckon warrants comparison with the side dishes associated with the “soul food” of the US. 

 

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On another visit to Deli Afro, it is CTS pal Marnes who goes the meat-and-rice route while I happily explore another aspect of Somalian food – pasta.

These noodles are so much fun and beaut to eat, especially with liberal dosings of the chilli condiment.

There’s minced beef in there, but it is a very dry dish – it’s like a dry, jumbly bolognese.

 

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I normally steer away from fish in your more humble-but-friendly ethnic cafes, fearing a serve of bony and/or trashy fish such as tilapia or basa.

At Deli Afro, by contrast, I get a handsome chunk of salmon – how about that, and also at $15 with the pasta?

It looks like it’s been blackened in the New Orelans tradition, but – no – it is as simply cooked as our lamb.

It is way overcooked by the norms most of us associate with this fish, but not ruinously so.

I enjoy it a lot.

Our Friday night dinner gets the full Somalian treatment through provision of a banana each to eat with our meal and then milky chai-style tea spiced with ginger and other spices.

 

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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.

New taco joint? Sweet!

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Sugar Skulls, 185 Mount Alexander Road, Flemington.

Sugar Skulls is located on lower Mount Alexander Road, right opposite the fine cafe that is Phat Milk and in a premises that was formerly occupied by a beauty shop.

It’s been open about five weeks.

We arrive early and hopeful on a Friday night.

 

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At first there’s a little confusion about whether, upon being directed to wait our turn at the serving counter, we’re in the house for takeaway or eat-in.

That’s quickly sorted and we’re shown to a window table with the proviso we must be gone in 45 minutes.

No probs!

 

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Sugar Skulls is a compact and classy operation, with a concise menu (see below) that encompasses food and beer, wine and mixed drinks.

But there is a fast-food element to proceedings, so I’m not sure why they’re bothering with bookings – especially as there is no phone number provided on either their website or Facebook page (the website has a bookings facility through OpenTable).

And certainly we make the 45-minute deadline with time to spare – this is some of the quickest food delivery we’ve ever experienced.

That’s entirely appropriate for what is pretty much street food and we’re happy because we’re hungry.

We order about half the menu.

 

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From the list of “little things” – potato gems ($4), guacamole ($4) and corn chips and salsa ($6).

They’re all fine and very keenly priced – though I’m left wishing for a bit more spice and zing from the rather bland salsa.

 

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Much the same could be said of our tacos – we order two each of the chicken, pork and prawn at $6 a pop.

They’re lovely and fresh, and each has its own distinctive dressing and adornments.

We especially like the tempura-like vibe of the prawn outings.

But, yep, I wish for a bit more ooomph in the chilli/lime/lemon/salt department.

Mind you, there is a nice range of hot sauces on hand if that’s your wont.

We use a couple of them to slather on the extra serve of corn chips we order – both the chips and the tortillas come from nearby La Tortilleria.

That takes our bill for a satisfying, drinkless meal to a fine $54.

 

 

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A BBQ dinner of two halves

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Chinese BBQ, 301 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 6929

With I Love Dumplings having successfully transported itself down the road to the old bank building on Racecourse Road, its old premises have duly become Chinese BBQ – though they are both run by the same management, going by the receipt I receive for our meal.

Its is, clearly, dedicated to Asian-style BBQ – though this is more strictly in the Chinese tradition … as opposed to the Viet vibe of the superb meal Bennie and I recently enjoyed at Phi Phi 2 in St Albans.

I am looking forward to a good mid-week feed in which I can ponder the differences!

For company I have CTS trooper Marns, a woman of robust appetite and great sparkle.

 

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The menu (see below) is roughly divided into two parts – skewers and BBQ.

We’re told the minimum for skewers is $20 so we order freely – shrimp, calamari, lamb, chicken, Chinese cabbage, enokis, broccoli, lotus root.

They cost per skewer ranges from 50 cents to $2.50.

From the regular BBQ we order ox tongue ($15), corn ($6) and potato ($6).

 

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The latter follow the arrival of the glowing coals for our BBQ set-up and very sesame dipping sauce, kimchi and marinated sprouts.

Then we’re off …

It’s heaps of fun.

 

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The ox tongue, frozen so it can be thinly sliced, cooks the fastest, and is a treat.

The vegetables take quite a bit longer and I am a little dismayed to that some of the spud slices initially turn black.

But it all comes good in the end, the potato browning up nicely and the corn being delicious.

In fact these humble husk discs turn out to be one of the highlights of our meal – so good to have barbecued corn that is also juicy.

Such is not always the case!

Then it’s on to our skewers … and it’s at this point that our meal and evening goes a bit nutty, maybe even a bit haywire.

 

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The skewers are brought to our table all dunked in a bucket of what we take to be some sort of marinade.

We quickly make happy by throwing some on the grill.

Only to be immediately told – no, no – that’s not how you do it.

The skewers, we’re told, have already been cooked out back – steamed, apparently – and are ready to go.

Oh.

That would explain, perhaps, the flare-up when Marns puts some of the meat skewers on the grill.

We’re a bit non-plussed but soldier on.

Some of what we have – the Chinese cabbage, the lotus root – is far from impressive.

Some – the easily-peeled shrimp, the broccoli – is good.

The broth/soup/marinade in which the skewers have been bathing has oil, chilli (mild by request) and no doubt many other ingredients, the nature of which I am unable to learn from the staff because of language issues on my part.

The lusty, musty and only (for me) partially attractive seasoning recalls in large part some of the flavours much earlier enjoyed – again without being much the wiser – at a Moonee Ponds hot pot joint.

 

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Look, the confusion can be largely attributed to us – it says plainly on the menu (if in rather small type) that the skewers are “hot & spicy pot” food.

On the other hand, it seems very natural that customers only a little familiar with this kind of food, such as we two, would grab a table at an eatery with “BBQ” in its title and “skewers” on its menu … and put the two together in our minds.

No harm done and we have an otherwise enjoyable meal.

But the dunked skewers haven’t provided the sort of charred, smoky tastes for which we came here.

Perhaps a bit more explaining of the place’s food and ordering routines by the staff to new customers is needed here.

Our meal, including two cans of soft drink, comes in at a very reasonable $60.

 

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