Meal of the week No.28: Tahini

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A mid-week appointment finds me in a good place to check out a newish CBD joint of Middle Eastern persuasion, Tahini Lebanese Diner (518 Little Bourke Street, off Guests Lane).

While the other end of Melbourne’s CBD has Chinatown and more going for it, the Spencer Street end teems with eateries and cafes in what seems like hundreds of alleys and laneways.

Trouble, in our experience most of them are average tending towards mediocre.

As I discover, Tahini is neither – it’s hot and cool, and if I lived or worked or both in this area, I’d be eating here at least a couple of times a week.

In the process of nailing down my fine lunch, I also discover that Tahini is tricky to find.

A few twists and turns, though, and I’m there.

 

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I discover a rather lovely cafe-style diner.

Lunch hour is just beginning and there’s a heap of on-the-ball staff members taking care of business.

It’s with a foot-weary sigh that I happily peruse the menu (see below), upon which I find listed very many familiar favourites from our many visits to Coburg, Brunswick and even – these days – various locations in the west.

Feeling like something light, I bypass such meaty items as the shish tawouk and kafta and even the reportedly world-class felafel, though it is fun watching the latter being made.

Zing goes my fatoush ($12)!

It is excellent, every piece of the jumble of cos, tomato, radish, red capsicum, onion, parsley, mint and pomegranate seeds singing with lemony joy.

A bowl of the same herbed pita chips that are in my salad is presented on the side.

Baba ghanouj ($6) is the real-deal, too, my rather modest portion – I mind not, as it’s all I’m wanting – tap-dancing all over my tastebuds with the expected and desired smokiness and lemon and garlic.

 

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Flaming Tarneit

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Flames Charcoal Chicken, 14 Lavinia Drive, Tarneit. Phone: 8360 3029

Hoppers Crossing guitar lesson done, we’re headed up Morris Road to Tarneit – in a sufficiently reckless mood that a regulation, delicious but naughty feed from a chook shop will go down nicely.

But we’re quietly hoping for something better – something even more tasty and perhaps even a more healthy.

A touch of the Middle East perhaps?

Flames Charcoal Chicken looks out upon on Wyndham Village Shopping Centre, home to a recently arrived Dosa Hut outlet, and is right next door to the recently reviewed Somalian joint, Ya Salam.

Turns out this Flames shop is one of four – there’s two others in the west and one in Bundoora.

I’m told the others run are more your typical charcoal chicken shop routines.

 

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But the Tarneit establishment – oh happy day! – does indeed sport a heavy Middle Eastern influence.

There’s wraps and rolls in the mix – but there’s also good salads, pickles and meat on sticks waiting to be grilled.

What we have is fine – significantly better than average fast food and but not quite up to the standards of a full-on Lebanese place.

The prices, though, are very low.

It’s set out rather nicely as a restaurant proper, our meals are served on wooden platters and we use real cutlery.

 

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Bennie chooses the “chicken with the lot deal” ($16.90).

There’s three kinds of grilled chicken on hand – regular, chilli and (Bennie’s selection) lemon and garlic.

His chook is fine, though not displaying much by way of the two listed seasonings.

All the rest – yogurt dip, pickles, chips and very though very tasty tabouleh – is good.

 

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My shawarma meal ($12.90, top photograph) comes with the same accompaniments, save for chips.

I wish there was more lamb off the spit – and would happily pay for it.

Because this lamb is wonderful – tender, profoundly tasty and skillfully seasoned.

Locals will surely love having Flames around.

It delivers a tasty, above average fast-food hit at good prices.

 

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Meal of the week No.15: Phat Milk

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CTS checks out the new F&C place in Moonee Ponds.

It’s lunch-time packed.

Worse, there is no provision for communal seating or solo diners – pure folly.

Nothing else in the Ponds appeals so I head on down to Phat Milk (208 Mt Alexander Road) – my first visit since a very enjoyable CTS Feast.

Returning here proves to be a masterstroke of luck.

I’ve a hankering for the burger I’m told they’re now doing but Sean tells me the last one is being eaten as we speak.

This, too, proves fortunate for me – as I now dive into on the Middle Eastern aspects of the menu and emerge an outright winner.

Lamb fatteh ($14) is outstanding.

There’s eggplant there in that lamb mince but it’s overwhelmed.

And the dish is on the monochrome side.

But gosh it eats like a dream and I mop every last bit.

Importantly for such a dish, the proportion of minted yogurt and wonderful pita chips to lamb is bang-on perfect.

Phat Milk is such a cool place – a cafe that always has surprising Middle Eastern slants on a menu that appears to be refreshed regularly.

And the coffee is always perfect.

See earlier story here.

Meal of the week No.13: A1 Essendon

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Bit by bit, more Lebaneese food and related Middle Eastern goodies have become available in Melbourne’s inner west.

But that doesn’t mean it’s no longer worth a short drive to Essendon for a visit to A1 Bakery (18 Napier Street).

It most certainly is.

I’m sure the pies and pizzas remain the mainstay of this place, but as ever I am irresistably drawn to the glass display cabinet of “mum made it” brilliance.

I have a fabulous smallish plate custom made.

Excellent kibbeh and stuffed vine leaf.

Warmed, incredibly fresh za’atar.

A big dollop of baba ganoush packed with smoky flavour.

And – best of all – zingy, damp, utterly perfect tabouli.

It’s an incredible lunch, the charge for which is $10.

 

 

Altona Meadows bakery cool

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Babylon Bakery, 40 Rosebery Street, Altona Meadows. Phone: 9369 2992

So here’s Consider The Sauce thinking it had a pretty good handle on the places across the west that purvey Lebanese pies and pizzas … when reader Carolyn comes up with a new one for us to try in Altona Meadows.

Babylon Bakery, just around the corner from a small neighbourhood shopping centre, has been in business for about four years.

Three of us rock up for Saturday lunch and have a fabulous time.

 

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After we occupy one of the outside tables, boss man Diya moves the big umbrella so it covers us, the table and our food in pleasant shade.

Sarah cuts all our oven-baked choices into three for sharing ease and brings the plates to our table.

We feel like kings of the world sitting on an Altona Meadows nature strip.

 

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As we’re sharing, we have the za’atar with vegatables done in open pizza style rather than as a wrap. It costs $5.

It’s very good.

As are our lemon-spinach-onion,  chicken and spinach-cheese pies, all of which cost a simply fabulous $3.50.

Our nutella pie (top picture, $5.50) is brought to our table looking like a work of art

Studded with plump, hot, oven-roasted sultanas, it’s a wonderful thing, thinner and less doughy than many we’ve had.

My cafe latte is scalding hot but excellent.

 

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Looks like Maccas, does real deal Lebanese

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Sheesh Grill, 255 Mickleham Road, Tullamarine/Westmeadows. Phone: 9330 3050

When I first visited Sheesh Grill a few weeks back, my heart sank at the very appearance of the place – it looks like any old franchise fast-food hole.

My heart sank and so, too, did my expectations of a fine feed.

So I was surprised and delighted to enjoy a lovely platter of Lebanese food that defied the setting by being very good.

This was genuine Lebanese food – fresh, tasty and excellent value.

Even better, all the baked goods are, I was told, baked on the premises.

I was keen to return with more eager hands and mouths around which to base an official CTS post.

Sheesh Grill does do hamburgers, and I reckon there’s enough going on in the menu to please just about anyone.

And I also reckon the fast-food ambiance could win over youngsters who otherwise might have nothing but contempt for the more wholesome and tasty goodies at hand.

 

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There’s starters such as filo pastries, kibbeh, stuffed vine leaves and falafels.

There’s dips and salads.

And there’s a heap of meat – shawarma and on skewers.

All of the above are available in a wide variety of configurations.

The member of our trio who orders the above-pictured Sheesh Feast ($18.95) does so on the basis of being “very hungry”.

But it beats her, with Bennie and I happy to help out as she winds down.

The platter has a skewer each of chicken and kafta, a sambouusek (sort of like a curry puff), a kibbeh, falafels, stuffed vine leaves, chips, rice (real Middle Eastern rice), tabouli, pickles and hummus.

I know on the basis of my inaugural visit how good are the stuffed vine leaves and tabouli.

The is a great value meal and would actually do two reasonably hungry people quite easily.

 

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I’ve been happy for Bennie to order a burger just to see how this place goes with that.

But I feel sorry for him when his meal arrives.

He reports that his Ultimate Burger ($10.95) is OK but nothing special. He gets a small chips and a soft drink as add-ons for $2 each.

I hope for a certain level of excellence in chips served at Middle Eastern eateries. These don’t quite qualify; the ones I had on my initial visit did.

It’s not that Bennie’s burger is any way bad or sub-standard – it’s just that the regular Lebanese fare aces it.

The lesson is simple – this place may actually do burgers but the more traditional Lebanese food is where it’s at.

 

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My “regular” sheesh lamb plate ($13.95) is excellent. The larger plates of lamb, chicken or kafta cost $17.95.

All is good or better – a tangy eggplant dip, fattoush, pickles, the same chips and rice as above, and two skewers of succulent lamb insterspersed with onion and capsicum.

Sheesh Grill is well worth a short jaunt up the Ring Road.

 

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Saj revisited

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Saj Mediterranean Grill, Shop 27 320-380 Epsom Road, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9078 2633

After a happy first-up visit to Saj, I was always keen for a prompt return.

Mostly to see if I could talk the staff into serving their marinated, skewered meats on a plate with accessories – my preferred option and delight.

Perusal of their menu – which can be seen in the story of that debut visit here – seemed to have the meats only available in wrap form.

As luck would have it, a return visit comes to be much more quickly than I had foreseen – five minutes after Nat Stockley and I arrange a quickie impromptu dinner, I’m in the car and headed for Ascot Vale.

And as it turns out, Nat’s eyes prove a lot sharper than mine – what I want is right there on the menu, he points out, under the heading of “Eat in deals”.

Oh happy day!

This is the sort of Lebanese platter I have been yearning for, and wanting in the west, for years.

We both order identical $14.50 plates with one skewer each of lamb, chicken and kofta.

The hommus and baba ghannouj are as on that first visit – excellent.

So is the tabouli, our plates graced with quite large serves of it in cabbage leave cups.

A special word of praise for this Saj salad effort – not only is it sublimely moist and lemony, it also includes the all-important fresh mint, something often omitted from eatery versions.

The meats are fine, especially the nicely seasoned kofta.

We both reckon, though, the meats have all spent about a couple of minutes too long on the grill, the lamb cubes in particular being overcooked – not to the point of being unenjoyable, mind you.

We mention this to the staff as we are paying and leaving, and are told of one customer earlier in the day who expressed distaste for having her lamb pieces “pink in the middle”.

So CTS advises open and frank meat discourse with the Saj folks!