Indian flavor explosion in Footscray

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Sankranti Australia, 250 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9041 9899

Sankranti has been open a few weeks, and in that time I’ve enjoyed some nice food south Indian – pooris, a biryani.

But I’ve left it to do a story for the weekend the restaurant is doing a three days of special menus in celebration of the festival after which it is named.

On the plus side, for me that means a beaut – and very photogenic – feed.

On the down side, a one-off vegetarian feast can not be taken as representative of the regular menu.

So let’s look at it this way – my Saturday lunch meal may not be what you’ll get on a regular visit here, but it is representative of the care and love that goes into the Sankranti food.

 

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The Saturday Sankranti deal costs me $29 (see details below).

Quite a bit for a vegetarian thali, eh?

Well, no.

I’m happy to pay up and eat, such is diversity of tastes and textures, some of them familiar, many of them new to me and even challenging.

Latha talks me through some of the particulars and rituals normally involved with eating this sort of festive food.

 

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I even give the traditional eating order a go – sweets first, soup and yogurt last.

The sweets don’t look very appetising, do they?

Not so – they make lovely eating, though in quite a different way from more familiar Indian sweets such as kulfi.

But a lifetime of culinary indoctrination of the soup/mains/sweets school is hard to kick.

And the effort of mentally trying to match new and interesting names with specific dishes tumbles into the realm of information overload.

So in the end, I just go with my own flow and enjoy the dazzling array before me.

I especially like the rasam, the deep-fried and battered okra, the spicy coriander rice and the rice and vermicelli pudding that is payasam.

This has been a humbling reminder that for all the Indian food I eat, in terms of regional diversity and a fabulously rich food culture, I am a mere beginner.

 

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Indian yum cha, anyone?

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Tiwari Tea House, 1/578 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 8529 5960

According to a recent story in one of the papers, the growth of skycscraper canyons in central Melbourne has been a thoroughly unplanned, haphazard process.

I figure much the same can be said for the flowering of Indian food in West Footscray and, to some extent, the surrounding areas.

I doubt that, 10 years or so ago, a bunch of ambitious Indian business people sat down and said: “Righto, we’re going to take over Barkly Street in West Footscray!”

Cities and their neighbourhoods often move in mysterious ways and, equally often, it’s only in hindsight that patterns can be perceived.

Count us among those who see what has developed in West Footscray as quite fabulous – something worth celebrating.

We have our favourite food there and favourite places, depending on our whim of the moment.

 

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One thing we do look for is a point of difference.

Tiwari Tea House has that in spades.

While other Barkly Street eateries feature chaat – savoury Indian snack-type dishes – this place does nothing but.

The food is all vegetarian.

Four of us get into the menu (see below) and come away happy, and perhaps even feeling refreshed from eating snacky things so devoid of the heavy spicing and meatiness we often enjoy hereabouts.

 

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As the name makes clear, this place is also much about tea – so we go with that flow, Bennie and I having the masala chai ($9.95 for two), while our pals Julian and Christine have black ginger tea.

This seems rather pricey for a couple of cups of chai.

We find it enjoyable, but wish we had ordered after our food started arriving – or even at the end of our meal – as we are pretty much done with it even before we start eating.

Maybe we’re missing something in terms of Indian chaat-eating and tea-drinking rituals and protocols?

No matter – we enjoy all our food, and love some of it a lot.

Big hits are our vada pavs ($6.95 each, top photograph).

Looking like tall, chubby burgers, these are bread buns stuffed with wonderful potato patties.

The potato is heavily infused with turmeric, but otherwise mildly seasoned.

That’s a lot carbs, right?

Yet the overall effect is much lighter than we may have been expecting and the flavours hit the spot.

 

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We have two sets of crispy cutlets ($8.95 for two), served with dipping sauces of the tamarind and green chilli variety.

Leastwise, I think that’s what the sauces are – and I could certainly be missing some of the specifics.

The spinach-cheese cutlets are on the dull side.

No such problem with the mixed vegetable varieties – they’re both stuffed with a mix that is colourful and tasty.

 

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These cute guys are dahi puri ($7.95 for six) – a close relative of the more familiar pani puri.

So closely related, I suspect, that I struggle to tell the difference, apart from the inclusion of yogurt – though there’s no doubt these sev-topped flavour bombs are delicious!

 

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Aloo tiki chat ($8.95) is another big hit with all of us – we should’ve double ordered!

Yes, more potato.

Here, the spud rissoles appear to be even less seasoned, yet – nice surprise! – have a semblance of chargrill flavour.

They’re topped with a sticky jam/chutney, tomato, raw onion and more sev.

These are very, very nice.

I can see myself dropping into Tiwari Tea House with some regularity – when I feel like Indian flavours, but am not up to confronting a full-on biryani or some such.

 

 

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Memorable moments with Mietta’s mafia

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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 …

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

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

 

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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 …

 

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… fondant au chocolat …

 

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… creme brulee …

 

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… 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.

 

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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!

 

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Footscray eats goss 2/12/16

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Ascending the stairs to The Creators Lounge (116a Hopkins Street), my cynicism seems boundless.

I mean, really …

A brand new mega-hipster haven right in the guts of Footscray.

Combining a cafe (jaffles, loaded fries, poutine) with a barbershop, and with a retail outlet and podcast studio to come.

 

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All of it located right above the venerable Foostcray institution that is Nhu Lan, king of banh mi.

My resistance begins to crumble when proprietor Josh provides exactly the right answer to my question …

Q: Can people bring their Nhu Lan banh mi’s up here to eat?

A: Yes!

 

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The Creators Lounge Proprietors Johnny (not the in-house barber) and Josh.

 

Josh comes from a background of radio work with the likes of Fox, MMM and 3AW – hardly known as prime hipster breeding grounds!

He tells me, BTW, that the Nhu Lan folks are actually their landlords here and that the first-floor premises were once a yum cha place.

I suspect that must’ve been many years ago.

 

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Next question …

Q: Why would I consider getting a buzz cut here for $20 when I regularly get one right across the road for $8?

A: Josh tells me being in the hands of Johnny The Barber is a whole trip all on its own and worth every cent.

Hmmm, I’ll take that on board.

 

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My cynicism pretty much disappears completely with the arrival of my lunch – the haloumi sandwich, which shares the sanger list with the likes of a reuben, turkey bacon club and a bacon & egg.

At $12, this is about three times the price of a Nhu Lan banh mi – but it’s also very good, with lovely, pan-seared cheesy flavour mixing it with beetroot, tomato, spinach and mayo.

A most excellent $3.80 cafe latte seals the deal – I really do like this place!

 

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The Creators Lounge is a big, open space with live US sport on the telly, a pool table and very many comfy, lived-in leather sofas.

 

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Josh tells me they’ll have tap beer on some time soon after Christmas, but that the place’s vibe will remain more “chilled out” than a regular bar.

 

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The coming retail outlet will sell – among other things – shaving gear and beer gear.

 

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Meanwhile, elsewhere in Footscray …

The corner site of the former HM Quan appears to have found a new tenant, with a fit-out seemingly underway.

 

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A few doors along, long-standing Ethiopian eatery Awash is “under new management” with “renovations in progress”.

 

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On Leeds Street, the premises that formerly housed Korean joint Snow Tree has become a massage business.

 

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A little further along Leeds, what was for many years Vietnamese stalwart Tan Truc Giang is now Huong Viet and offering vegetarian and vegan fare.

Bennie and I checked out the menu, finding many interesting items, with tofu and mock meat in much evidence.

 

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On the corner of Droop and Nicholson streets, the former convenience store that for several years housed highly regarded Sen has come full circle – and is once more Ha Long!

 

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On Barkly Street, and opposite Lentil As Anything, another new cafe is taking shape.

Going by its website, it’ll be offering old-school cafe fare including breakfasts, burgers, schnitzels and a kids’ menu.

An unplanned review

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newebi22

 

Ebi Fine Food, 18A Essex St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3300

A “whoops, wrong day” scheduling misunderstanding meant I could not take Tony and his son, Nick, to the Somalian place I had planned for them as I’d had lunch there about six hours before.

So off we went, ending up – after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on my part – in Essex Street.

CTS has written bout Ebi a number of times – the last more than a year ago when new management had recently taken over.

But we’re happy to do so again in order reassure readers that things are running smoothly and Ebi is still, well, very much Ebi.

The menu, and the specials board, appear to be unchanged.

 

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The staff are smiling and engaging.

At first, early on a Saturday evening, we were seated outside, but it was a little on the chilly side so when bar stools became available we were happily ushered inside.

Most importantly, the all-important attention to details – things such as a crisp lotus root chips and the many kinds of pickle – remain very much in evidence.

I turned my back on the superb Ebi fish and chips I have been eating here for years and chose instead the chicken katsu curry rice bowl ($17).

 

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It was sooooo good – pretty much the best Japanese rice-bowl meal I’ve ever had.

Rich curry gravy boosted by a tantalising just-right whiff of bonito flakes, lots of pickles and lots of perfectly cooked, crunchy chook, the equilibrium between rice/gravy/chicken balanced so all “run out” at precisely the same time.

My friends’ choices of the fish-three-ways bento and the chilli prawn bento (both $19) seemed the usual Ebi spot-on.

What a gem this is – small, friendly, neighbourly and miles from any of the established food strips.

I really enjoyed seeing somewhere so familiar, however briefly, through the eyes of visitors to the west.

Dining policy

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Fundraiser for independent candidates, 501 Receptions, Barkly Street, West Footscray.

If local politics seems more interesting to me than the national and state equivalents, there are reasons.

For starters, many of the local issues overlap with the food-based concerns that are Consider The Sauce’s meat and potatoes.

 

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As well, we’ve lived in the west for 15 years now so many of the broader issues impact on us. And on the local, municipal level there lives the reality our communities can make a difference in how and what decisions are made.

And inevitably, after all such time living in the west, I know people actively involved in local politics.

 

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But none of the above would normally be sufficient to entice me to attend a fundraiser for a bevy of Maribyrnong council candidates.

But in this case there were other mitigating factors that helped me take the plunge.

 

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For one, CTS pal Mia McGregor is one of those candidates.

For another, the event was being held at 501 Receptions on Barkly Street in West Footscray.

 

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This famous operation is soon to be history, so I was keen to get to at least one event there before it disappears forever.

Seems like all the public events there in recent years have been for women only – not that I have any problem with that.

 

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And there was food!

Truth be told, the Cantonese tucker laid out by the in-house catering crew was serviceable more than anything else.

 

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But otherwise, I had a ball.

I found it fascinating talking with Mia about the steep learning on which she is travelling.

 

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Likewise with her dad Ray, who is acting as Mia’s campaign manager.

And I enjoyed a good conversation with retiring councillor, and former mayor, Nam Quach.

 

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While the slate of indie candidates being spruiked is quite diverse, the whole shebang was very much the product – in terms of organisation – of the local Vietnamese community.

So I loved getting insights from Cr Quach about the nature and dynamics of local politics.

In terms of dress code, I was definitely the under-dressed (hairless) hippie!

 

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WeFo cafe overload? Not yet …

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Dumbo Melbourne, 11 Argyle Street, West Footscray. Phone: 9078 2645

Like Lot 10 Eatery, Dumbo is a new arrival in the WeFo neighbourhood.

They join West 48, Pod @ PID, Brother Nancy and Jellybread.

This is some fairly intense cafe action.

But saturation point?

Not yet, it would seem.

Dumbo appears to have found its own niche rather quickly.

 

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The old building next to Footscray West Primary School has been extensively revamped.

Much of the limited space is taken by the kitchen and serving area.

In the main customer space, there’s a big communal table and a handful of smaller types.

On my first visit, the “new paint” vibe was still going on and the mix of Motown and other R&B – just the sort of finger-snapping grooves that would normally have me happily bobbing my head – was unpleasantly “boomy”.

At a second visit, both had gone and all was good.

The menu (see below) has plenty of takes on the usual line-up to keep the breakfast fans happy.

From that list, the baked Moroccan lamb clay pot ($16) strikes us as something that could also do handy lunch work.

The lunch list itself has just three dishes – and CTS tries the lot.

 

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Pearl couscous salad with herbs, tomatoes, Lebanese cucumber, chilli herb oil, blackened chicken and green pepper relish ($18) is super.

The chicken, moist and juicy, smacks of cumin and more in the seasoning department.

Best of all is the fabulous, tangy green pepper relish.

No mere garnish this, it is provided in sufficient quantity to really give the dish a hearty flavour bomb.

 

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The quinoa zucchini salad with sun-dried tomatoes, dill, goats cheese, shallots, beetroot and smoked trout ($19) is lovely yet doesn’t quite have the same impact or striking delineation of flavours.

It’s undeniably constructed from top-notch ingredients all round, but is a little bland for my tastes.

Or maybe it’s this simple: Memo to self – never order anything that involves quinoa.

 

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Eating at cafes such as Dumbo often means CTS has to re-calibre expectations in terms of taking on board that meals such as the above salads are not the massive mounds of biryani or pho we habitually consume.

And that $18 or $19 is the going rate for such fare – and we’re fine with that.

 

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Dumbo’s brioche burger ($19) with “chorizo patty”, bacon, Swiss cheese, jalapeno cream cheese, caramelised onion and thin chips with harissa mayo on the side, however, does seem to fall short in the value for money department.

The verdict from Tony is that the quality is there but the quantity is less than generous.

But then again, maybe comparing a cafe burger with what is available at the many ritzy burger joints around is unfair.

We have been interested to see what precisely “chorizo patty” meant.

Would it be a patty all of re-formed, smoked, porky sausage meat?

Or would it be a beef patty with some chorizo meat included?

It is, as far as we can tell, the latter.

 

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My cafe latte ($3.80) is outstanding and perfect in every way; and I suspect Tony’s double espresso is likewise.

 

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