Meal of the week No.50: Punjab Sweets

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Home deliveries?

We  try to keep them to a minimum – and more based on empty fridge and pantry and all-round tiredness than any sense of celebratory extravagance.

But this week I spied a new arrival in the food delivery app world – Punjab Sweets (56 Irving Street, Footscray, formerly known as Saudagar).

So caved, I did.

When it comes to deliveries, we’re usually cautious about various kinds of breads.

Dosas, in particular, don’t travel well.

But then, the universal popularity of delivered pizzas leaves us bemused.

So how would Punjab Sweets’ chole bhature go?

Well, as it turns out … very, very good indeed.

To my great surprise and outright delight, the two fried breads/bhatura are hot, not overly oily and in such good nick it’s like they could’ve been whisked straight from the kitchen to an in-house table.

Wow!

The chick peas, too, are fine and dandy – al dente and all delicious.

Throw in the expected onion slices and yogurt and all is good.

This is a swell offering at $9.99.

And even at $15 all up delivered to our front door, it’s still a good deal.

Our kind of food

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Nat Stockley captured in his natural environment.

 

Panjali Banana Leaf Malaysian Restaurant, 3/10 Sun Crescent, Sunshine. Phone: 9193 1740

On the Panjali menu, there’s dosas, vadai, dal and curries.

But you’ll also find roti canai, mee goreng and nasi lemak.

I cannot recall – in what is now many decades of trawling funky eats places all over Melbourne – any other eatery that so thoroughly, wonderfully expresses a particular school of transnational cooking, in this case Indian/Malaysian.

Panjali has been open about three months and is popular – as I discover on a CTS reconnaissance trip for Sunday lunch.

The service is warm and the prices are extremely cheap. It’s closed on Mondays, but other than that it keeps long opening hours.

 

 

House-made curry puffs ($5 for two) are ungreasy and have a thick casing that is nevertheless good; the spud-based vegetable filling does the job.

 

 

On my initial solo visit, I go for the eponymous banana leaf meal.

 

 

When Nat Stockly and I return for a more in-depth exploration of the menu (see below), he does the same.

The basic banana leaf meal costs $9.90 and consists of a generous rice pile anointed with vegetable-studded dal, with various vegetable dishes arranged alongside, along with rasam, yoghurt, pickle and pappadams.

For an extra $6, I top my meal up with a truly excellent and big fried chicken piece. The chicken has been freshly cooked and placed in the bain marie just as I order, so is an obvious choice.

For $8, Nat gets a serve of lamb curry. It’s quite good, but could’ve been a bit hotter.

Nat opines that often the state of pappadams can be taken as a fair indicator of the rest of a restaurant’s food.

Ours are crisp and unoily.

I could eat them all day.

Perhaps it could be said this kind of food is not for everyone – the vegetables (cabbage, beans, pumpkin, okra, broccoli) are cooked down to quite an extent.

But the food and the place that serves it most certainly hit the spot with us, and will do likewise for dedicated CTS readers.

 

 

From the noodle line-up, mamak mee goreng ($10.90) is simple, lovely and surprisingly dry – in a good way.

No meat or seafood here, the dish getting its flavour kicks mostly from just cabbage and egg.

 

 

The many tempting roti variations will have to wait for another visit.

Instead we order chicken murtabak ($10.90).

 

 

It’s tremendous in every way – hot and fresh; and delicate and hearty at the same.

The stuffing is a great mix of onion, egg and shredded chicken.

And I love the lightly pickled fresh onion served on the side for extra crunch.

As we depart after a fine meal, Nat quips: “That’s my kind of food!”

And that, right there, gives me the headline for my story.

 

Fusion on Union

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Fork & Fingers, 230 Union Road, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9041 2436

Consider The Sauce and one of its regular dining pals had been vaguely talking about a visit to Fork & Fingers to try its Indian fusion food for more than a year.

In the end, though, it was with four other regular members of Team CTS that the deed was done.

As the arrangement were being made, one of them quipped: “Butter chicken lasagne – that place has piqued my interest. I feel it’s either going to be really good or terrible.”

Did our experience of that dish, and the food in general, attain for us such polarised extremes?

No.

Perhaps it would’ve been preferable for it to have done so.

 

 

Union Road, a few years back, was a regular haunt for CTS, but ebbs, flows and new horizons have subsequently taken us elsewhere.

So it’s good to be back; I check out some of the eating spots and their menus before joining my dining companions.

Fork & Fingers lives in a long room done out lovely, featuring exposed brick and all sorts of visual stimuli such as posters and murals.

Half the menu here is dedicated to familiar Indian dare such as paani puri and beef madras.

But the other half is dedicated to Indian fusion dishes – and it’s for them we’re here.

We toss up various ways of going about ordering.

My suggestion that two orders each of the five main courses would see us right is discarded.

Instead, we order the whole menu – one each of the three starters and likewise the five mains.

That turns out to be just right in terms of quantity for we five.

The service is very good and I appreciate the willingness to up the lighting at our table so photography can happen.

Here’s what we have:

 

 

Skinny vegan tofu meatballs ($14) are two spheres of tofu and vegan cheese.

They sit on a salan gravy, are topped by grated radish and are good in a crumbly way – though the flavours are low volume (this will become a recurrent theme).

 

 

Crab roll with Indian pesto and asparagus ($16) is another good-looking dish.

Going by the texture, we conclude there is real crab involved, though there is no discernible asparagus.

The accompanying “spicy soya Bollywood masala chutney” and fruit chutney are fine, serving as a flavour boost for the mostly tasteless roll itself.

 

 

Bery Indian falafel ($12) taste less like anything with Middle Eastern roots and more like the pakora they resemble, with a rather doughy interior.

They sit on a a zingy, gingery and lemony sauce/gravy that is excellent.

A good “strawberry spinach salad with bold sesame sauce” sits alongside, housed in a parmesan bowl.

 

 

So what of the butter chicken lasagne ($20)?

The menu describes it thusly: “Our version of Italian lasagna, battered chicken with fresh basil, mushroom, our special tangy butter sauce, melted three cheese.”

I find it a muddle of muted flavours that cancel each other out.

 

 

Lamb vindaloo tacos ($19) are simply that and good in a no-fuss way.

 

 

Lamb rogan josh shepherd’s pie ($19), like the lasagne, falls short of expectations.

It’s OK, but the lamb filling is rather dull.

And the topping appears to have very little potato content; instead it’s very cheesy, strands stretching away from the bowl like mozzarella from a pizza.

 

 

I’m no fan of paneer, so unsurprisingly the charms of the paneer tika sliders ($19) elude me.

The cheese is stuffed between black brioche buns with coleslaw.

The “Indian poutine” on the side is lacklustre.

A lot of thought and work has gone into creating these dishes.

But I can’t help but feel that it has been misdirected.

All meal long I was crying out for more striking flavours, a much higher degree of zing, big hits of tongue-tingling excitement.

We’ve had a lovely night of good friends catching up.

But I do not recall at any stage, anyone at our table exclaiming …

“Oh, wow!!!”

Or …

“OMG – that’s amazing!!!”

Instead, it was more a case of:

“Hmmmm, OK, next …”

Would any of us re-visit Fork & Fingers?

Not for the fusion line-up.

The regular Indian fare?

Maybe.

And the Tuesday night buffet for $22 sounds like it may be worth a look-see-eat.

The pricing?

Some of it may seem a tad on the steep side – two tacos for $19?

But it all evens out somehow, our meal – including one drink each – rounding out at a fine $30 per head.

Writing this gives me no pleasure at all.

If you cast around for reviews online – Google, Facebook – you’ll find it is very much a minority view.

And this excellent review on another Melbourne blog provides quite a different perspective.

Check out the Fork & Fingers menu – including menu – here.

 

Meal of the week No.46: Sankranti

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Ultra, mega low restaurant prices, we all know, inevitably mean someone is being ripped off.

But when those prices are seemingly offered only for a special, brief time in a bid to signal some new offering or opening hours tweak – well, we are happy to respond.

Especially when it’s one of our two favourite western suburbs Indian eateries that is doing the seducing!

(You’ll have to read our 2018 wrap in a month or so to find out the name of the other!)

With the arrival of warmer weather and daylight saving, Sankranti Australia (250 Barkly Street, Footscray) is throwing open its doors on Mondays.

And to get the word out, it’s offering three dishes at very, very low prices.

My understanding is that this low-cost trio will be available for at least one more Monday – beyond that, you’ll need to check with the restaurant.

Mysore bonda ($5.95, top photograph) are described to us as dumplings.

 

 

But they seem more to us like savoury doughhnuts – and is there anything better than deep-fried dough?

They are fresh, unoily, pliant to the point of sponginess, yummy and served with the same condiments that accompany dosas.

 

 

Andra kodi vepudu ($6.95) is simple dish of pan-fried on-the-bone chicken pieces in a bright red, tangy sauce.

 

 

Our chicken biryani ($6.95) lacks the standard hard-boiled egg half.

But at these prices, we’re hardly going to complain!

And with two chicken chunks immersed in the rice and good gravy and runny, onion-laced thin raita on the side, it’s just fine.

Beaut meal for two; $20.

Thanks!

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!

 

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.