Vego buffet wins

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Pandu’s, 351 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 8307 0789

Just recently, the Lost Footscray FB page sported a photograph of the Middle Footscray portion of Buckley Street – taken before the houses there were demolished.

And there it was – the original Pandu’s.

When I showed the pic to Bennie, he proclaimed: “That place was cool!”

Pandu’s, since then, has moved on to swisher, more roomy premises on Barkly Street – and we remain sporadic customers.

Truth is, though, the spicy buzz we used to get from Indo-Chinese food has faded.

Instead of the dry, crunchy, zingy stuff we firstly loved, our experiences of recent years seem to have been more of sodden and gloop.

But the expanded Pandu’s spreads its menu far wider – there’s biryanis, dosas and much, much more.

Including a bargain-priced weekend breakfast/brunch vegetarian buffet we are keen to try.

It’s beaut – and at $10.99 a super deal.

And it’s a hit, too, with the Indian community – closing in on 1pm on the Saturday we visit, Pandu’s is doing brisk trade.

 

 

The food is arrayed in a row of cookers and other containers.

There is – this is a buffet, after all – heaps and heaps of it.

Some of it is familiar, some not so.

The staff are working hard so the run-through explanation we are given passes in a bit of a blur and I struggle to take it all in.

Certainly, the three of us go nowhere near trying all that is on offer.

 

 

Partly that is because we’re old and wise enough to discard the ever-present buffet temptation of going hog wild and loading up our plates, though we all make second visits to the line-up.

Being a huge fan of both pooris and papads, I revel in a bottomless supply of both.

And the smooth, pale yellow vegetable curry that teams with the pooris is a treasure.

 

 

Plain, unstuffed dosas are part of the Pandu’s buffet set-up, but they are brought around separately by the staff – thus avoiding sogginess!

 

Meal of the week No.41: Victoria Hotel

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The announcement that the Victoria Hotel was introducing a Tuesday curry night claimed our attention.

And to be honest, we’re not sure why – with so many very affordable and often excellent curry options close to the refurbished pub (43 Victoria Street, phone 8320 0315).

Nat and I surmised that it might have been because we had such a fine time during our initial visit to the Middle Footscray establishment.

That visit’s favourable impression having since been reinforced by favourable feedback from friends and readers who had visited the place.

As well, based again on our enjoyment of the food previously, maybe the pub’s curry operation – hopefully – would provide something above and beyond the offerings of the local curry shops.

Whatever – we’re up for it!

So how do we go?

Pretty good, actually.

We’re offered two curry packages – paneer and peas makhani or kadai chicken.

We both go chook.

The curry meal deals cost $18 and come with a good-size bowl of chicken curry, rice, a fistful of papadums and red onion slaw.

Kadai, also known as karahi, is a simple curry made with many of the expected spices and capsicum.

Ours is mild and quite tangy.

We like that the boneless chicken has seemingly been chargrilled before being wed to the gravy.

The rice and papadums are fine.

The red onion slaw?

A bit disappointing.

We have been looking forward to an alternative to the frequently served (elsewhere) hard nobs of commercial mango pickle.

Our red onion mix is OK, but I would’ve loved a bit more tartness and zing.

Putting aside the likes of dosas, biryanis and thalis, if you ordered the components of our meal for dinner just about anywhere in West Footscray, it’d cost the same $18 or more.

Simple, sensational, $6.50

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Parotta Station, 28A Millers Road, Brooklyn. Phone: 9314 9934

At Parotta Station, you’ll be served south Indian food.

So anyone even passingly familiar with the west’s many dosa joints – or even its Sri Lankan places – will feel right at home.

There’s string hoppers, a simple dosa offering, the chopped bread dish that is kothu – along with things of broader Indian outlook such as lamb and chicken kormas, biryanis and a small range of Indo-Chinese dishes.

But the proprietor has some twists going on here very much down to his home state of Tamil Nadu.

Most emphatically, they come in the form of the eponymous parotta, a version of the eternal flatbread.

In this case, the bread is lovingly moulded into a scroll before being fried, the result being a marvellous, magical and flaky experience.

Parotta Station serves them in a variety of ways, including egg-stuffed ($3.50), two of which we take away for Bennie’s next-day school lunch.

 

 

But the big hit for us is the combo named “parotta with saalna” ($6.50).

Two standard, fresh and sublime parotta.

A salted fried egg.

And a generous tub of coconut/tomato curry gravy. We’re told this is meat-based to the extent it uses a mutton stock as part of the base. I’m sure it’d be no problem to have it substituted by  the potato or mixed vegetable dishes on offer.

How good is this?

Right up there.

We’d rate this as good a cheap eat as can be found and rank it right alongside the very best to be had at banh mi or dosa establishments anywhere.

 

 

These look like plump ginger cookies.

They’re not.

Shamiyan ($11.50) are patties made of lentils and lamb mince that taste and feel of neither.

They have a very mild spice kick and are very dry; we happily dip them in the curry gravy served with our parotta.

They’re an interesting experience, but not one that completely bowls us over.

 

 

Aatu kaal paya ($12.50) is a stew of lamb trotters.

Forget any ideas of similarity to pork hocks or even lamb shanks.

The most precise comparison here is with chicken feet – there’s no meat whatsoever, just various shards and lumps of random glutinous material.

So not everyone’s cup of tea – obviously!

But if you are hip to Chinese-style chicken feet, go right ahead.

But at Parotta Station, parotta are the main go.

We reckon we’ll be inhaling that “parotta with saalna” combo many times in the coming year.

Parotta Station is on Uber for those in appropriate postcodes and is closed on Tuesdays.

 

CTS v Uber: And the winner is …

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Ethiopian feast from Ras Dashen.

 

As is clear from even the most cursory look at the CTS archives, we much prefer hitting the road and eating out to eating in, cooking or having food delivered.

We have such a mind-boggling treasury of great food within short journey confines, the food is ALWAYS better straight from kitchen to table – and we get, often, to meet the people who make it.

Before the advent of Uber and the somewhat earlier whizz-bang delivery apps, we did sometimes indulge in home delivery.

Pizzas from Motorino, for instance.

But truth be told, though pizzas seem to have been pretty much a foundation food when it comes to home-delivered food, we found the process really did affect the quality.

But now there’s Uber – and like many people we know, we are occasionally using it.

(The impression I get is that some are using it way more than occasionally!)

What is the attraction, over and beyond the other delivery apps?

The app, of course, is very slick and the photos gorgeous.

But most important, I think, is the geographically restricted catchment for any given address.

Obviously, this diminishes Uber for some who lack coverage.

But for us and many others, we must choose relatively local – and that’s a fine thing.

Obviously, there are broader issues involved with Uber and the like.

But on a micro, more local level, it works.

We even have a good CTS pal who drives/delivers for them who has suggested I do likewise.

As is well known, Uber takes a fair old whack from the eateries, but as the above linked story also illustrates there are advantages for them – most importantly, perhaps, the non-necessity to hire drivers themselves.

And often, customers demand it.

We have worked at finding what works for us – what is affordable, what we actually want to eat, what mirrors as closely as possible a restaurant experience once the food is plated.

For starters, we just won’t be doing fish and chips (despite some happy experiences with Dough! in Newport) or hamburgers.

Just not good travel potential going on there.

And we’ve found, in terms of Indian food, the likes of dosas and pooris are soggy dead losses.

By contrast, we’ve found biryanis to be a winner.

We’ve had chicken biryani from Sankranti, Dosa Corner and Spicy Chef – and they’ve all been good and affordable.

We’ve had some fine Vietnamese from Phu Vinh in Footscray.

The broken rice with pork chop, shredded pork, fried egg, meatloaf and pickles was truly spectacular.

But THE best we’ve found is Ethiopian.

So far, only two Ethiopian eateries service our area – Ras Dashen and Abesha.

We’ve ordered beyaynetu veg combos from both and enjoyed them, a key being that the injera is already moist and kinda soggy so the delivery process simply can’t do bad.

But in each case, the lentils (two kinds) and the familiar Ethiopian veg of carrots, spuds and beetroot have been delivered in the same container.

This is no biggie, really, as the dishes soon merge served on a platter.

 

 

However, last night I twigged that, with Ras Dashen at least, there is another way – the meat mains can be customised.

So for our Tuesday night dinner we had lamb tibs well done ($13), one extra piece of injera ($1), a small serve of both lentils ($3 – bargain!) and khey whot (spicy beef stew, $6) and side salad ($3.50).

Initially, we thought we may have over-ordered and not got enough injera.

We were wrong on both counts.

What a magnificent feast it was!

And at $31.50 (including $5 delivery), very little different from what we would’ve paid had we got in the car!

 

Chicken biryani from Spicy Chef.

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.

 

CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival No.2: Sankranti wrap

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CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival 2: Sankranti, Sankranti, 250 Barkly Street, Footscray. Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

Well, the Sankranti crew really tuned it on for Consider The Sauce and guests for the second CTS Western Suburbs Food Festival event.

The food was fabulous.

 

 

So many thanks to Latha, Sree, Prasanth, Laya and the rest of their team – they did themselves proud.

The service was well-timed and the portion sizes just right for such a lengthy affair.

Among the many highlights were …

 

 

… succulent tandoori kebab meats, including beef (a first for many of us) and salmon.

Best of all … juicy, smoky chicken.

Oh my!

 

 

Manchow soup – how do they get such a massive, deep and – let it be said – meaty flavour from a vegetarian-based soup?

It remains a mystery!

(Chicken had been added but the base is meat-free, so the question remains legitimate …)

 

 

The curries were all fine, too, particularly the gonkura chicken with its tangy sorrel gravy.

Are they sprinkles – or hundreds and thousands?

Whatever – the topping of the “Sankranti special naan” variously bemused and delighted, usually at the same time.

 

 

The chutneys served with the mini-idlys were fresh and zesty.

 

 

Thanks to all who attended – I couldn’t have been happier.

 

MENU

Kebab platter – tandoori lamb, tandoori chicken, stone-cooked beef, fish tikka.

Spcial manchow soup.

Mini idly shots with assorted chutneys.

 

Three varieties of naan – garlic, sesame, Sankranti special naan.

Four varieties of Sankranti special curries:

Gutti vankay (stuffed eggplant).

Gonkura chicken (Sankranti’s signature dish).

Tomato dal.

Goan fish curry/beef saagwala.

Choice of one biryani – vegetable, chicken or goat.

 

Sankranti dessert platter:

Paan kulfi.

Mini-chocolate brownie.

Sticky date pudding

 

WeFo Ramadan specials

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Dosa Hut, 604 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 8592 4900
Dosa Corner, 587 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 8528 5120

Those of us who love Indian food owe the Dosa Hut crew a big vote of thanks.

As far as I am aware, they were the very first to brings dosas to Melbourne’s western suburbs.

These days, there are five Dosa Hut branches at various parts of the Melbourne.

But the change that first shop in West Footscray helped initiate extends well beyond dosas and extra branches.

It’s taken the best part of a decade, but in that time Indian eating-out in Melbourne has changed dramatically.

Not just dosas, but also the likes of idlis and vadas have become common.

And it’s not just about those dishes, mostly associated with South Indian food – now Dosa Hut, and their many competitors, do Indo-Chinese, biryanis and sometimes even thalis.

What this transformation means is that where once eating in Indian restaurants was once mostly rather formal, and correspondingly expensive, it is now informal and very affordable.

Even those places that would perhaps have preferred to stick with more formal a la carte offerings have been forced by sheer demand and expectations to cater to this market.

And hooray for that, we say!

I still eat at the original Dos Hut on occasion – and was definitely interested in trying out their Ramadan specials.

These include haleem, of which I am not a fan, and a couple of biryanis – lamb shank and “gutti vankaya dum biryani” (eggplant biryani).

Unfortunately, on the day I visit for lunch, the lamb shank number is unavailable.

But fortunately, settling for eggplant is by no means a case of second best.

My biryani ($13.95) appears at my table (top photo) looking pretty much like any other biryani.

Rice, gravy, raita – but no hardboiled egg.

 

 

But the proof is, as always with biryani, is hidden.

For within my rice are to be found two fat, rotund, tender and very tasty eggplants.

This dish makes for a nice change from my usual biryani order of chicken or lamb, though it is of rather high spiciness.

 

 

 

Right across the road at Dosa Corner, they’re also doing haleem for Ramadan.

And another dish I am most eager to try – paya ($9.99, roti $2 each).

This is a soup/stew made with sheep trotters.

There’s not a lot of meat involved, but as is so often the way, the flavour is of immense meatiness, along with being tangy and having a nice chilli burn going on.

In many ways, the broth/soup reminds of the equally meaty-but-meatless broths routinely served at many East African places, of which this Flemington establishment is our current fave.

The couple of pieces sheep trotter?

Well, no, not a lot of meat; but, yes, a whole bunch of gelatinous matter.

Not, in other words, a cup of tea for everyone.

Personally, I love it as something different and delicious.

And I reckon anyone with a fondness for equally fiddly and bony chicken feet will feel the same!