Lebanese heaven aboard the Starship Riviera

6 Comments

 

Riviera Cafe & Restaurant, 55 Cumberland Drive, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 5534

The beautifully located, enormous restaurant room at Edgewater’s Lakehouse had been empty and unloved for so long that we’d pretty much lost interest in checking up on the place to see if there’d been any activity.

But then, after a hamburger meal further up the hill, I recently swung by once more – and got quite a surprise.

Wow – the place looked like it was all set up and ready to roll.

After parking, in I went – with more surprises awaiting.

The place looks a million bucks!

But it was deserted at a Sunday lunch hour, save for a couple of nattily-dressed waiters.

A greater surprise came upon perusal of the menu (see below).

For Riviera is serving traditional Lebanese food – and not just your dips and kebabs, either, but rather the entire restaurant routine.

Still, I found it easy to restrain my excitement.

I mean, how good could it be?

Full-on Lebanese food in a space that has often seemed like a combo of white elephant and black hole in the western suburbs food scene?

Best, thought I, to return that night by myself to check the food out first-hand before I started getting a group CTS hardliners together for a visit.

 

 

So return I did – and got the biggest surprise of all!

Early on a Sunday evening, Riviera was about half full – and in a room this big, that’s a handy number of people.

There were kids everywhere and going in all directions.

Also in evidence were a heap of hijabs, and there were even hookahs going at some tables.

So while Riviera, which has been going several months, may have – until now – flown under the radar of western suburbs food nuts, it seems the word is well and truly out among Melbourne’s Lebanese community.

And I took that as the best evidence possible – short of eating the food myself – that what is being served here is most excellent.

So it proved to be – my meal was very, very good within the limits of what a single soul can tackle.

On returning home, I hastily organised a CTS get-together and was happy that a bunch of enthusiasts were up for joining Bennie and I the following Sunday.

So thanks to Chris, Catherine, Nat, Justin and Will for doing CTS duty!

****

This time around, we find the room rather sparsely populated – there’s a nifty video on the Riviera Facebook page of the place rocking a pretty much full house.

But the welcome and service are fine.

Even better, the food arrives with such speed that it may have startled us had we all not been in such a lather of happy anticipation to try it all.

For simplicity’s sake, we quickly come to a collective decision to go with banquet option No.1 at a cost of $35 a head for the six adults in our group.

It turns out to be a most memorable Lebanese feast.

It is all good, very good or outstanding.

Here’s what we had/inhaled:

(And please keep in mind that the dishes pictured here represent just half of what is brought to our table – except where noted, two of each dish are provided to us.)

 

 

Crisp, moreish pita chips.

 

 

Also wonderfully crisp – the commercial but delightful pickled cucumbers and turshi.

 

 

Excellent dips – hummus, labneh, baba ghannouj.

 

 

Fattoush.

 

 

Glorious chicken wings – perhaps THE hit of the night.

 

 

Chips – perfectly acceptable, but a little shy of the perfection I expect in such a setting.

 

 

Makanek – Lebanese-style lamb sausages.

Others enjoy these more than I – for me they’re a little too sweet and rich.

And with their dark red colouring, they remind me – somewhat bizarrely – of black pudding!

 

 

Kibbaybat – deep-fried pastries with a filling of lamb and pine kernels.

These, too, are sweetish – and also juicy and very good.

 

 

Excellent meat on sticks – shish tawouk and shish kafta as advertised on the menu, and shish kebab as a surprise.

 

 

A single, big serve of this simple dish of lamb chops on rice is an unannounced addition to our banquet line-up – and is the same dish I tried on my solo exploration the previous weekend.

At first, I suspect this is going to be largely ignored by our lot in favour of the more glam kebab meats at our table.

But, no, in the end we all give this more humble dish a pretty good crack as well.

With its fragrant rice studded with currants, peas, cashews and more serving as a bed for beautifully cooked meat, this reminds me very much of the sort of Somalian meat ‘n’ rice dishes found at places such as this.

But I suspect variations on this theme can be found right across North Africa and the Middle East.

 

 

Finally, our fabulous meal winds down with super slices of chilled watermelon.

Just right!

That Riviera is serving top-notch Lebanese food – at Edgewater’s Lakehouse, of all places – fills me with profound happiness.

There is nothing cutting-edge, hipster or fusionesque about the fare here – and nor would I want there to be.

We all vow to return – and soonish.

It’s an interesting indication of how a place like Riviera can exist and prosper on its own terms and within its own community, yet fly entirely under the radar in the wider world – it has no Zomato listing!

 

Malaysian gem

Leave a comment

sambal3

 

Sambal Kampung, 38-46 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 7171

Words and photographs: ERIKA JONSSON

I fell in love with Malaysia during my first trip to Kuala Lumpur in 2009.

Being able to choose between great Indian, Chinese or Nyonya cuisine meant loads of variety – classic dishes tasted different but awesome no matter where we went.

Three years later we returned with our first son (then aged two) and found even more to love in Penang, where the laksa was fishy and bitter and the spices were fresh and local.

Since then we’ve struggled to find Malaysian food in the west that lives up to those glorious memories of eating chicken skewers by the side of a road drinking a cold teh tarik.

When we find ourselves in Maribyrnong around lunchtime on a rare lovely day, I remember a tip from a friend to try Sambal Kampung, her preferred Malay restaurant. The other half doesn’t take much convincing.

We are warmly welcomed and grab a high chair for our little guy.

Our waitress brings him over a plastic bowl, cup, fork and spoon – a welcome surprise that no doubt benefits all parties concerned.

The little guy tucks in quickly to some roti canai. The rich, delicious curry sauce is just a bit spicy for him, but we are happy to ensure it isn’t wasted.

 

sambal2

 

The other half orders the chicken laksa with hokkien and vermicelli noodles ($11).

Laksa often takes a little while to fully appreciate – the first mouthful of broth doesn’t always reveal the full richness of flavour that builds as you get further in.

This is certainly the case here. There is a stronger fishiness than most places dare to serve, and the other half is thrilled.

 

sambal1

 

I go for the kung pao chicken with rice from the list of specials ($9).

The sauce is slightly sweeter than I’m used to – it’s a winner in my book.

Roasted cashews add crunch and the dish isn’t overly spicy (until I eat up the whole chillies for some welcome heat).

The other half has to fight with our offspring for the cold teh tarik, which is strong and nicely sweet, while I just grab a soft drink. All up our bill comes to $32 and we can barely finish the roti.

Sambal Kampung is a family gem – like so many Asian restaurants it welcomes kids without needing to cater specifically for them.

The food arrives quickly and the prices are terrific.

We will be back with our older son very soon.

Meal of the week No.28: Shinmai Tasty

Leave a comment

shinmai22

 

Returning to Shinmai Tasty (44 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong, phone 9317 3830) for the first time since hitting the place with a gaggle of pals, I am intent on nothing more than quiet, solo lunch away from the cold.

Most of all, I am intent on having – again – the place’s fabulous soy udon soup chicken.

Instead, I am seduced by the menu’s other wok noodle dish – garlic and ginger prawn yaki udon ($18.50).

Topped with bonito flakes, it tastes every bit as delicious as it looks pretty – though in truth, I detect little by way of the advertised ginger or garlic.

It matters not!

The tips-on prawn tails number five – they are fat, fabulous and of great flavour; they have that terrific prawn poppy thing going on in spades.

The udon noodles, joined by spring onion, capsicum pieces and onion slivers, are covered in a sticky and quite oily sauce.

It’s an excellent lunch in an excellent place.

Once again, I marvel at how a newish establishment – with its cosy decor and magnificent artwork – has created such an attractive and welcoming western suburbs hidey hole.

Pork ribs you can afford

1 Comment

gorilla7

 

Gorilla Grill, 36 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 0401 830 800

It’s opening day – or, rather, night – at Gorilla Grill, the bricks-and-mortar carnation of the food truck of the same name.

With the recent opening of splendid Japanese eatery Shinmai Tasty just a few doors away, Edgewater Boulevard has, effectively for the first time, got something of a foodie buzz about it.

 

gorilla3

 

The Gorillas are churning out fries, burgers, fried chook and more – some, but not all, with a Korean touch – with rush-hour steeliness.

The place is smokin’.

Those who followed CTS BBQ adventures of the past couple of years – at, say, Smokehouse 101 or Up In Smokemay have noted we have a cost-based aversion to pork ribs.

We love ’em!

But the cost, including bones, inevitably seems out of whack compared to other available goodies such as brisket.

At Gorilla Grill, we feel liberated.

Here, a half rack costs $18 and a full rack $27 – both served with chips.

 

gorilla4

 

Hoorah!

Our half rack is excellent and is a goodly sized slab of meat.

There’s a heap of terrific, juicy meat on those bones, the sauce is excellent and the chips are fine, too.

This just about does the pair of us – for $18, it presents as a cracking meal for one.

OK, this is ribs in a fast-food setting, but we do not care.

Lip-smacking good is the verdict.

 

gorilla5

 

Coleslaw ($3) is nicely crisp jumble of white and red cabbage daubed with mayo; good but not a knock-out.

 

gorilla6

 

I’m so rapt with our ribs that I barely notice our Krusty Burger ($12) with its nice, crunchy chunk of chook, salady bits and bacon, though Bennie gives it a firm thumbs up.

 

gorilla1

gorilla2

Sooper dooper new Japanese joint

6 Comments

shinmai3

 

Shinmai Tasty, 44 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 3830

My first visit to Shinmai Tasty, the new Japanese eatery at Edgewater, was meant to be all about reconnaissance* – checking the joint out for a more in-depth subsequent look with more people on hand.

I had a lovely lunch, though to be truthful its three elements were enjoyed as something of a mixed bag – miso soup (OK but not great), bento (OK but not great) and dessert (sensational).

 

shinmai6

 

But there was something about the place and its happy, obliging staff that made me hasten about organising that return visit.

I felt a buzz of real excitement and an urgent desire to explore the menu in much greater depth.

That menu is a smartly devised two-page affair that runs fromh sushi and sashimi and starters through to salads, mains, bentos and dessert.

There are many classic dishes to be had and a few that appeal through unusuality.

But my excitement was based around more than that – it was and is also very much about the decor and the fabulous artwork.

 

shinmai4

 

The dining room is long, with one whole wall – opposite the bar/bench seating – adorned with two utterly gorgeous murals.

Normally, as regular readers well know, decor and artwork aren’t high on the CTS agenda.

But in this case they have massive impact, being wonderful eye candy on the one hand and bespeaking, on the other, a determination to provide an all-inclusive environment to enjoy eating Japanese food.

The art approach even extends to the loo (see below)!

Obviously, I am no expert on Japanese art of any kind, so I know not if this style of painting has a name. It’s not in the manga or anime style, though I do detect a connection with the settings portrayed in the Studio Ghibli films.

On to the food!

Here’s a round-up of what was tried over both visits – luckily I booked for the second, as it ended up with a group of seven (including myself) that made merry during a busy Mother’s Day lunch session.

 

shinmai1

 

Miso soup ($3.50 but served free with bentos) – very nice without being great, but certainly packed with lots of seaweed and very fine tofu cubes.

 

shinmai12

 

Nasu kara chips ($8.50) – just as well several serves of these eggplant chips were ordered as they proved a big hit and were, to my mind, stupendously fine.

The tempura batter was very good and the long eggplant strands within cooked to molten, delicious perfection.

Served with mayo and dusted with just the right amount of chilli powder.

A knock-out dish!

 

shinmai11

 

Edemame ($5) – salt-spirinkled soy beans, a nice snacky diversion for us all as we awaited our more serious, substantial fare.

 

shinmai21

 

Wagyu beef tataki ($16.50) – I am used to beef tataki variations being heavily marinated, very garlicky and (usually) served with a raw egg.

This was something different and lighter, the beautiful beef having something of citrus tang about it.

Good for sharing!

 

shinmai14

 

I tasted neither the agedashi tofu ($9.50) nor …

 

shinmai19

 

… the mixed tempura ($14.50), but the very happy recipient of both could hardly have been more emphatic in declaring both outright winners.

 

shinmai16

 

The sushi fan orderers of the mixed sushi/shashimi ($38) were a little underwhelmed.

Big tick for the sashimi; “indifferent” the word used to describe the sushi.

 

shinmai15

 

My soy udon soup chicken ($16.50) was superb, with super broth that was both delicate and robustly flavoured.

Along with the fat, slippery noodles and a goodly amount of seaweed, right there in the middle was a whole chicken thigh – a first for me, that I can recall, in a lifetime of eating soup noodles of various kinds.

I wondered how I was going to eat it – but it was so beautifully cooked, not to mention supremely tasty, that I had no trouble getting the meat from the bones.

 

shinmai2

 

On the first visit, I enjoyed the sashimi bento ($22.50) with its OK sushi, fine sashimi, very enjoyable sushi rice, seaweed salad, grapes and unmemorable salady bits.

 

shinmai13

 

That was mirrored in the second meal by various of my pals ordering bentos of the beef teriyaki ($20.50) …

 

shinmai17

 

… chicken teriyaki ($19.50) and …

 

shinmai18

 

… unagi (eel, $23.50) varieties, with their respective owners all happy with their lots.

 

shinmai9

 

First time around, I was presented with a complementary green tea brulee that I was, in any case, preparing to order!

I loved it then – so creamy and scrumptious, and an outright bargain at $5.90.

Those we ordered for our Sunday lunch were a little below that standard, being – to our collective mind – a little grainy in the texture department.

Still, I’d order it again in a heartbeat!

 

shinmai22

 

The green tea and hojicha (another variety of (roasted) green tea) ice-creams we are presented without ordering or paying were fine.

Why the complementary ice-cream?

Maybe because it was Mother’s Day, maybe because we were a largish group, maybe because they’d figured out a blogger/reviewer was part of that group.

I say the above merely to make clear that the mileage of individual patrons and groups may vary in this regard.

 

shinmai20

 

As, I hope, the above words make clear, not everything we tried at Shinmai Tasty unequivocally hit the spot.

But some dishes did just that.

We reckon this is a very welcome addition to the Japanese options available in the western suburbs and, in fact, fits in right nicely with the likes of Chiba, Ebi and Ajitoya.

Highly recommended, it is.

My heartfelt thanks to Liana, Dev, Christine, Julian, Eliza and Josh for enabling such an in-depth story!

***

*Haha – I can’t believe spelt that word correctly first time!

 

shinmai8

shinmai7

shinmai23

Very short Road trip

2 Comments
roti24

 

Roti Road, Highpoint. Phone: 9317 4293

When Consider The Sauce and friends hit Roti Road in Footscray – see story here – we enjoyed a good feed.

However, subsequent visits failed to back up that good impression.

One such visit involved myself and Bennie and also involved, IIRC, nasi lemak and Hainan chicken rice – both dishes being of the very average variety.

Another visit involved myself alone and was prompted by the restaurant’s claim on FB that it had listened to its customers and lifted its laksa game. I found that not to be the case, or not according to my laksa tastes anyway.

Since then, we have – as you’d expect – avoided the place, save for a very occasional visit for the reliable, cheap roti canai.

And that’s why Roti Road is pretty much the last of the eateries at the new Highpoint dining area to be checked out by us.

Bowling up solo just before Christmas, I wasn’t exactly feeling trepidatious but I certainly had no high hopes.

 

roti25

 

So I am surprised and delighted to find that my lunch – Hainanese chicken rice ($12.90) – is in every way wonderful.

Soup – hot and not too salty.

Condiments – chilli sauce and ginger mash just right.

Chicken – a big serve of beautifully tender and expertly boned meat luxuriating in cooking juices mixed with soy sauce.

Rice – stock-cooked and fine for the job at hand.

Really – one of the best versions of this famous dish I’ve enjoyed in recent years.

A more recent visit with two lads in tow fails to reach such heights but makes for a good lunch nevertheless.

 

roti21

 

Six chicken satay sticks are the real deal, coolly priced at $9.90 and served with a sticky and flavoursome peanutty sauce on the side..

I am irked that I must share them with two teens.

 

roti23

 

Mee goreng ($11.90) is a fine version of another staple dish – we like it a lot.

 

roti22

 

Vegetable curry with rice ($11.90) tries hard but doesn’t really get where it should be going.

We like that there’s myriad green vegetables such as beans and broccoli involved.

Bbut the eggplant is cooked down to mush and the whole impresses as steamed vegetables with curry gravy added rather than as a from-scratch curry.

Still, it’s not a bad way to ensure vegetables are had in a setting where it’s easy to give them miss.

Highpoint fried chook

5 Comments
nene5

 

Nene Chicken, Highpoint. Phone: 9318 2843

It’s clear that western suburbs have bought massively into Melbourne’s mania for burgers.

The fried chicken thing isn’t quite as manic and our western neighbourhoods have mostly not risen to it charms.

There’s invariably fried chook on hand at charcoal chicken shops, such as the newish Manok, but it often seems like an after-thought. We are never tempted.

There’s fried poultry at westside Korean places such as Frying Colours and Snow Tree.

But as for any joints specialising in fried chicken of the American, or southern American, tradition … well, nope.

Not so far as we know.

 

nene1

 

Nene is Korean, too, but we wonder on the drive to it if maybe it’ll constitute a western suburbs fried chicken hot-spot.

The utter folly of going to Highpoint on a 40-degree weekend day less than a week before Christmas proves to be of pleasingly little consequence.

The parking situation is intense.

But once we’re inside, things in general and all the people are surprisingly cool and civilised.

The Nene menu comes with so many variables, it takes us a while to work out what we think will work for us.

Here’s how, in the end, we order:

Kimchi chicken burger (9.95 – on a milk bun with salad, onion, dressing and kimchi with bulgogi sauce.

Regular original fried chicken ($10.94) – four pieces with coleslaw and pickled radish; upsized ($4.95) with chips and a drink.

Extra drink ($3.70).

This all pans out to $29.95 for a satisfactorily sized meal for Bennie and I.

 

nene2

 

Bennie’s kimchi burger is probably our repast’s highlight – it’s a refreshing change from the many kinds of beef and chook burgers we’ve had this year.

He gives it seven out of 10.

 

nene3

 

The chicken turns out to be five pieces rather than four – though it must be stated these are very small pieces.

It’s good and non-greasy without being in any way notable.

Despite the small sizes, I am happy for Bennie to have a couple.

His burger was good but it lasted all of a minute.

The cubed and sweetly pickled radish is nice; the coleslaw is rubbish – dry and tasteless.

 

nene4

 

The chips are fine and there’s plenty for both of us.

Nene Chicken strikes us as being just OK – and a long way short of fried chicken nirvana.

And there are several better options close by in the new Highpoint food precinct.

But it’s still better than the usual Kind of fried chicken grease-fests Found at such shopping Centres.