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.

 

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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