Still fab

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Mama’s Cuisine, 331 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 0399 947 229

One of our old faves has undergone a revamp and been bestowed with a new name – what was Afro Deli is now Mama’s Cuisine, and looking rather spiffy with new furniture and fittings.

We figure it’s time for a re-visit – and, heck, it’s been a month or so we’ve had a good Somalian feed.

The menu (see below) features our expected favourites – and a few intriguing items for us to try on another visit.

A breakfast dish of shakshouka eggs, for instance – made in a tomato sauce.

Or mandazi – Somalian doughnuts.

The lamb broth soup (above) is superb.

 

 

Unfortunately, the mighty sounding “Mama’s Special” of fried goat shoulder with herbs and served with vegetables and rice ($17) is not quite ready for us …

So I go for my trusty lamb on the bone, federation style with rice and pasta ($15).

All is delicious, and there’s plenty of charred/fried onion, capsicum and carrot to go with the tender meat.

 

 

Bennie, too, sticks to routine by getting pasta only. He likes it, but does prefer the more tomato-ey versions to be had elsewhere.

For him, and for the same price, the carnivore aspect is covered by on-the-bone camel meat – and it, too, is tender and beaut.

All that and we’re served complementary mango smoothies as well.

Mama’s Cuisine is right up there with the other great Somalian joints on this strip.

Will CTS ever stop banging on about the Somalian establishments of Flemington?

No.

 

 

Fried chicken

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The Art Of fried Chicken, 320 Racecourse Road, Flemington.

The Art Of Fried Chicken has taken over two shopfronts that have long been empty since the days they housed two Asian eateries.

They – and the walkway between them that used to lead to the original Laksa King – have been turned into a single premises.

TAFC is a food truck operation putting down bricks-and-mortar roots, though I suspect the building as a whole is destined for development somewhere along the way.

It’s fitting, then, that this new fried chook joint has something of a makeshift vibe about it – less restaurant and more food-truck-without-wheels, with rudimentary seating.

That’s OK by us.

 

 

As well, we’re happy to give them some leeway in terms of assessment as we are visiting in the opening hours of their opening day.

Such is not ideal for CTS story purposes, of course, but that’s how the timing has worked out – post-Saturday morning kung fu, it’s been an easy and choice option.

Plus: We’re hungry.

We arrive about 12.20pm and are served quickly.

About 10 minutes later, the place is a whole lot more crowded; the word is out.

 

 

We ignore the opening day $1 wingettes and rib spcecials.

Of the menu listings (see below), we ignore those under the Things With Bread and the Chicken Without Bones headings.

Actually, we are bemused anyone would order the latter.

Why order breast when you can order Chicken With Bones?

Which is what we do.

What we get:

Three pieces of regular Art Of Chicken ($15, above photo).

 

 

Three pieces of Asian Hot Nashville Chicken ($16).

 

 

Mama’s Vietnamese slaw ($5.50).

 

 

And chips ($5.50).

It’s all pretty good.

Even the chunkier meat pieces are juicy (or at least not dry), though inevitably it’s the bone-dominated items that are the most tasty.

Bennie is disappointed at the mildness of the spice hit in the Nashville poultry, though the spicing appears to be a bit random, as the wing I have gives me a right nice glow.

He rates the chips highly.

Myself, not so much; they could, IMO, be hotter and less greasy.

(Just to re-iterate: This is opening day, so some leeway is in order.)

Perhaps best of all is the Viet slaw – it’s excellent.

If only more chicken places, of all kinds, took this route with their slaw offerings!

The Art Of Fried Chicken is destined to be a Flemo hit.

Will we return?

You bet.

Check out the Art Of Fried Chicken website here.

 

Another Flemo/Somalian jewel

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Sahra’s Kitchen, 303 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 0390 447 337

Sahra’s Kitchen is the final regular Racecourse Road Somalian eatery to be covered by CTS.

We’ve held off for a couple of reasons.

We’ve eaten here a heap of times, but truth be told it has long seemed to operate at least partially as something of a community hub for the local Somalian community.

While we’ve always been made to feel welcome, it has presented as being a little less open and viable for members of the general public.

Plus, the last time I stepped in here, they’d run out of rice!

There’s no such problems this time around as Bennie and settle in for a mid-week dinner.

Indeed, the place had been tidied up and refreshed.

There’s cool, matching furniture and even some artwork on the walls.

We find the service prompt and cheerful.

Sahra’s Kitchen is definitely open for your business.

And there’s rice in the house!

The menu (see below) is quite long and varied, running to breakfast dishes and a tuna sandwich.

There’s even a transnational touch in the form of an injera meal.

I’m told that’s unavailable this night, so Bennie and I opt for our regular rice/pasta with meat ($15).

 

 

But first, soup – of course!

Here the lamb-based concoction is cloudy – almost like a “cream of” soup.

It’s delicious.

There’s nary a trace of meat yet the whole thing is profoundly and deeply flavoured with lamb.

 

 

Bennie’s pasta combo with lamb and …

 

 

… my rice combo with lamb are excellent, matching in every way the quality found elsewhere on this magical strip.

Bennie’s spaghetti and its tomato-based sauce is not as wet as some, nor as dry as others, and a touch more oily.

He slurps up every strand with glee.

My rice is fine but plain.

All the lamb is tender and wonderful – even the more hunka chunks.

A friend commented this week how he finds the Somalian food at one of his new faves – a Footscray place we have yet to cover – varies depending on who is manning the stoves.

Yes, well – we like that about all our favourite Somalian joints, that the food is hardly ever the same.

It varies depending not just on who is in the kitchen but also on the hour of the day and the day of the week!

In this case, we are blessed with plentiful amounts of pan-tanned veg – onion, carrot, capsicum and even some broccoli.

If not the best part of our meals, the vegetable factor is certainly the crowning glory.

 

The rice is great, of course

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Somali Dish, 264 Racecourse Road.

When it comes time – in about a week or so – to collate the now traditional round-up of this year’s CTS highlights, there’s no doubt the Somalian food of Racecourse Road will be right at the top of the list.

It has given CTS – including Bennie and myself and various friends along the way – a lot of pleasure.

And now it seems this fabulous community of restaurants is on the cusp of richly deserved recognition beyond the local neighbourhood and even the inner west, with a Melbourne Food & Wine Festival scheduled for New Somali Kitchen.

In the meantime, what could be better in terms of building on the Somalian buzz than a new eatery?

Nothing at all.

So Bennie and I are only too happy to step into the latest arrival, Somali Dish.

It’s run by another husband-and-wife team, Ahmed Qahira and Sadia H Abdi, and is situated down towards the Quiet Man end of the strip.

I enjoy talking with Ahmed, whose pre-restaurant life seems to have been largely involved with community service of various types.

And he seems to enjoy our enthusiasm for and interest in the food being laid on here.

 

 

And terrific it is, too.

This classic federation-style platter costs us a grand total of $13 each and we love it to bits.

The rice is brilliant in the Somalian way, while the pasta sauce is even drier the usual with crumbly (but lovely) meat.

A super jumble of peas, carrots, onion and capsicum is abetted by fine salad.

And the lamb is all yummy and comes from the bones very easily.

We’re even served a couple of those sponge-like Somalian falafels.

This crew is just getting started, really, and in time the fare here will hopefully mirror the photos adorning the frontage, which portray – beyond our rice offerings – a range of snacky things and even lasagne.

 

 

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.

 

A Somalian wonder

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#Somali Eats, 333 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9042 6682

The latest Somalian eatery to grace Racecourse Road is fabulous.

Husband-and-wife team Abdi Mohamed and Amran Sean have crafted a thoroughly gorgeous cafe-style restaurant, with heaps of lovely wood and exposed brick.

The welcome is just as cheerful and welcoming as the surrounds.

All of which would count, perhaps, for very little if the food didn’t delight as equally.

It does.

It’s fully soulful Somalian tucker, beautifully cooked and at very, very low prices.

 

The CTS lads are pumped for Somalian lunch.

 

Bennie, Nat and I revel in a superb Saturday lunch.

The #Somali Eats menu (see below) offers a lot more variety than most of its neighbours.

Gosh, there’s even a hamburger!

And there’s a handful of house-made desserts.

But I quickly ascertain that two key elements of Somalian food are on offer – the bananas served with main dishes and the soup.

They are.

Our excitement levels soar.

 

 

The soup is a very fine variation on a familiar theme – almost no vegetable matter of any kind here; just tangy, awesome broth.

(The fiery green chilli sauce is served at every stage of our meal, but we use it only on our rice.)

 

 

Despite the depth of the menu, the truth is – going by what we witness during our lunch visit – about 90 per cent of #Somali Eats’ customers order the same thing.

That being the standard meat ‘n’ rice plate.

It’s pretty much to Somalians what pho is to the Vietnamese.

So that’s what Nat and I do, too, choosing the lamb option.

It comes in $10 and $13 versions.

Ours, of the bigger kind, are perfect in every way.

Here be perfect, epic Somalian rice, seasoned with cumin, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg, with currants and slices of fried onion, carrot and capsicum threaded through.

The plentiful meat, nicely browned, sums the art of Somalian cooking – the elevation of cheaper cuts into something akin to high art that is nevertheless earthy, simple and delicious.

Who needs lamb cutlets?

The salady bits are better – crunchier and fresher – than they appear to be at first glance.

 

 

Bennie opts for a $13 serving of basto, the pasta equivalent.

He digs it plenty and cleans his plate with gusto.

I note that the tomato sauce is a lot wetter than we’ve routinely had elsewhere in this neighbourhood.

 

 

We’d started with a serve of bajeyo (four for $3).

Described as falafel, these are very different from the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare of the same name.

Made from ground back-eyed peas, these – with their spongy texture – are more like the vadas of South India.

Still, deep-fried with skill, they a very nice.

We’ve arrived very much not in freeloading food blogger mode – not that we ever are.

So when Amran extends to us the previous day’s offer – “free lunch” to celebrate the joint’s opening day – it is unexpected.

We accept this gracious offer with thanks – but only with the understanding this non-payment will be the last of its kind.

At these prices, why wouldn’t we want to pay?

From the perspective of the usual CTS criteria, #Somali Eats could be described as the perfect restaurant.