Cafe high point

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Rustica, Highpoint.

The existence of a branch of famous Fitzroy cafe/bakery Rustica at Highpoint came as a complete surprise to us.

But, asked to meet friends there, we are eager to try.

Highpoint Rustica is located well away from all the other centre’s food outlets and courts, in the newer, swisher part of the centre.

It’s easy to forget it’s in a shopping centre – and that’s a fine and no doubt deliberate thing.

There’s indoor and outdoor seating – well, sort-of outdoor!

The staff do an admirable job and the pricing is thereabouts in comparison with other western suburbs cafes presenting food of similar quality and sophistication.

 

 

The not so good first.

My slow-roasted garlic and rosemary lamb baguette ($19) looks the part with its greens, pomegranate, pickled onion and garlic labneh.

But it is dull, lacking the zing the ingredients so strongly suggest.

The best bit is the side serve of potato salad.

 

 

In some ways, the menu disturbs with its long-winded and extravagant lists of ingredients for many dishes.

The dish called Smashed Peas ($20), for instance, stacks up thusly: Beetroot cured salmon, snow pea tendrils, radish, zucchini noodles, puffed wild rice, goats whip, beetroot hummus and poached egg on quinoa-soy-linseed toast.

Tendrils?

Ha!

But this is a winner and I love every mouthful, wiping the plate clean.

To my cynicism-fuelled surprise, ALL the ingredients/flavours fit just right.

The egg is superbly done.

The fish is mild of flavour but very good.

The greens and salad bits are of prime freshness.

I’d order this again without hesitation.

 

 

The Spiced Chickpea Falafels ($19.50) are equally fine.

The good falafels are fat and a little dry.

But that’s no problem at all when they’re keeping company with roasted zaatar carrots and cauliflower, pickled red cabbage, pomegranate, more of the beetroot hummus stuff and grilled ciabatta with zaatar seasoning.

It’s a colourful jumble of joy, full of crunch and taste tingles.

The coffee here is excellent.

And I’m told by one who knows that the likes of their almond croissants and cronuts are to live for.

 

Outlook: Very sunny

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Cafe Sunshine & SalamaTea, 21 Dickson Street, Sunshine. Phone: 0491 605 775

CTS observed yesterday, on the Cafe Sunshine Facebook page, a very nice looking falafel plate being spruiked.

A dish that wasn’t on the menu when we visited at the weekend.

And the dishes enjoyed on two previous solo visits by CTS senior are no longer on the current menu (see below), either.

Cafe Sunshine & SalamaTea is a newish operation right in the heart of Sunshine.

If they’re still finding their feet, some menu tinkering is for sure in order.

Even better, I suspect new and surprising dishes will continue to pop up here with regularity, depending on the whims and passions of whoever is in the kitchen and what is available from the joint’s suppliers.

This will suit anyone prepared to go with the freewheeling flow of the place.

Perhaps not so much those who expect a menu to be a menu and that’s that.

That would very much be their loss – for the food here is rather wonderful, provides a distinct point of difference in Sunshine and is ultra-affordable.

As well, the place is also very much about providing employment and more for refugees and asylum seekers. See Star Weekly story here.

The simple fare is largely of Persian nature, with eggs the big players, in a warm and welcoming cafe.

And I’m told evening meals are in the soon-come category.

 

 

Bennie likes his Persian breakfast ($13) very much – including the tahini dip flavoured with honey.

This is a surprise to his father, as it tastes just like the halva he generally sneers at.

Also included are fig jam, butter and a concoction of walnut and sheep feta.

All this is teamed with Afghan flat bread sourced from the Afghan bakery that has opened up just around the corner on Hampshire Road.

 

 

I share the same basket of bread – more is happily supplied upon request – with my Persian omelette ($15).

This is simple and sensational – eggs and feta sent into the dizzy heights by the plethora of fresh mint and other herbs on the side.

The vegan baklava (top photo, $3) does show the absence of butter – it’s drier than regular baklava – but is still enjoyable, as are our $3.50 cafe lattes.

 

 

Enjoyed by me on previous visits were a tangy noodle soup utilising a variety of pulses and …

 

 

… Persian scrambled eggs with feta and herbs.

Yes – a very, very close relative of my weekend omelette!

 

Mid-East treats in South Kingsville

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Dukkah, 23 Vernon Street, South Kingsville. Phone: 9399 3737

Dukkah is a bright new arrival on Vernon Street.

The long dining room has been done up a treat.

 

 

It’s casual and elegant, spacious and warm.

There’s a lot of old, gorgeous wood in use.

At the bar in the form of doors (above) …

 

 

… and even rulers for the outdoor seating.

 

 

Bennie and I choose the easy option of getting stuck into the share platter, which sells for $48 for two people.

It starts with three dips, all with clear and concise flavours – and all offering something different from most Mid-East eats emporiums.

Lemon turmeric hummus with Egyptian dukkah, fel-fel (chargrilled capsicum cream cheese with sweet paprika, walnuts and chives) and beet labneh (caramelised beetroot and yoghurt with black sesame seeds) come with good toasted bread that runs out just before we’ve slurped the last of the dips.

But as Bennie quips, more bread and we’d be stuff before the mains arrive.

 

 

And the mains?

Oh my golly gosh – they are splendid!

Two fat, exemplary cigars of lamb kofta – dense, perfect and with just the right mild level of ME-style seasoning.

Two skewers of chicken shish tawook with capsicum and red onion.

The chook chunks look sufficiently and worrying large to promise dryness, but such is emphatically not the case.

In other words, superb.

Out meaty skewers are accompanied by very nice quinoa tabouli and rice pilaf in exactly the right proportions.

As we gleefully devour all, father and son banter a bit about the merits of our meal – and its price.

Bennie reckons $48 is a bit steep, with the sort of deal he gets at his beloved Footscray Best Kebab House colouring his views profoundly.

I beg, very much, to differ.

Dukkah is a quite different sort of place and the quality – especially of the meats – is above that of the majority of kebab shops.

And the combined regular cost of our dishes from the menu would be $54.

 

 

No such quibbling is possible with the Dukkah desserts – and we try both.

Om ali – puff pastry pudding with coconut, cinnamon milk, hazelnut and sultanas served in a tagine – is the Egyptian version of bread-and-butter.

It’s wonderful, rich, quite heavy.

This beauty – which could easily serve two – clocks in at a very cheap $12.

Kunafa (layers of shredded angel hair pastry, mango and cream topped with pistachio dust and rose petals, top photo) is lighter, a good deal more playful – and just as tasty.

It, too, is priced keenly at $11.

The days when Vernon Street was a regular haunt for us – remember Famous Blue Raincoat? – seem long ago now.

As a food destination, the street faded for a while there, with the introduction of one-way traffic undoubtedly altering the neighbourhood’s dynamics and probably the viability of some business.

But perhaps Dukkah is joining other local businesses in creating something of renaissance here.

We’d like that.

Check out the Dukkah website – including menu – here.

 

Iraqi feast = peak CTS experience

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Bakhdida Cafe and Restaurant, 42 Knight Avenue, Sunshine North. Phone: 0403 440 174

Prowling the back streets of Sunshine North after dark is a weird feeling – creepy even.

No one around, the panelbeaters and all the other businesses hereabouts closed, little by way of street lighting.

But as we arrive at the block on which Bakhdida lives, parking is at a premium.

Entering the restaurant – the main room is really more of a hall – we discover the reason for that: A couple of dozen guests happily playing cards and the like.

Yes, this is an eatery-cum-social club of the kind found all over the west in a dizzying array of cultural affiliations.

But don’t let that put you off.

Actually, let me re-phrase that: DEFINITELY don’t let that put you off, because you REALLY, REALLY do want to visit and enjoy Bakhdida.

Here you’ll be served wonderful Iraqi food.

Much of the long and extremely affordable menu is familiar in the Middle Eastern way, though there are a few points of difference along the journey.

Proprietor Abraham Pitros and his crew are really on the ball, with our many dishes arriving looking gorgeous and after what seemed like hardly any time at all.

The restaurant is named after the northern Iraqi town from whence Abraham originated.

Pickles are served with several of our other dishes as garnishes, but it’s a good thing we order a dedicated serve of them ($5) with olives – because we love them a lot and eat of them heartily.

Cabbage, celery, some carrot and – best of all – many cauliflower florets have a turmeric hue, are delicious and are made with love by Abraham’s mum.

A good whack of turmeric is also at play in the dipping concoction that comes with our falafel ($15).

The falafel – in the shape of small donuts and looking a bit like vada – are golden outside and in, very plain in the seasoning department and very good.

Mixed dips ($10) – eggplant, gagic, hommus – are every bit as excellent as you’d expect and accompanied by a sort-of ratatouille and cabbage salad.

We enjoy them with good house-made Iraqi bread – hollow in the middle like the Lebanese variation with which we’re familiar, but a bit thicker.

Under the roof of pita chips is a top-notch rendition of fatoosh ($5).

Sliced beetroot ($5) is OK, but is so plain it gets a bit lost amid all the other zingy flavours we are loving.

Just like all the other guests this night, we get to try (at no charge) this un-named kitchen trial dish.

It’s made of large yellow cucumber slices and come across as a cross between a pickle and a salad.

It, too, is great.

Lamb shawerma ($16) is chewy, a little crispy and quite salty – just as we like it!

Mixed skewers ($16) are succulent, awesome – and seemingly unseasoned in any way.

But that’s fine, actually, as there’s plenty of hyped-up flavour action going on elsewhere on our table.

Saving the best until last?

Pretty much!

In meat tashreeb ($16), the cooking juices soak into the bread, upon which resides a generous serving of lamb shank meat – gamey, tender, superb and plentiful enough for all five of us to have a good taste.

Will we return to Bakhdida?

Yes.

Again and again and again …

It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Thanks to Julian, Nat, Christine and Bennie for making up the evening’s Team CTS.

Lebanese heaven

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Tanoor Breakfast House, 1/69 Forsyth Road, Hoppers Crossing. Phone: 8360 3468

As the less established parts of Point Cook, Tarneit, Truganina and Williams Landing have become more so in recent years, a number of eating houses have opened in response to a demand for Indian food.

That has not been the case for those desiring Middle Eastern and/or the food of the eastern Mediterranean – until now.

Tanoor Breakfast House – don’t worry, it does lunch, too! – is here to make our day and maybe even our year.

It doesn’t serve full-blown Lebanese food as found at Riviera at Edgewater.

Instead, it serves (see menu below) a wonderful range of pizzas and pies (man’oush and man’oush calzone) right through to a Lebanese Big Breakfast and a Turkish Big Breakfast.

Best of all, for our tastes and wants and needs, it serves a wonderful line-up – under the heading Traditional Breakfast – of dips and the like served with accompaniments and house-made bread.

Oh yes!

This is the kind of thing for which CTS routinely travels to upper Sydney Road.

Now Tanoor Breakfast House has rendered those sometimes tedious and stressful traffic-light drives to Coburg superfluous – and we couldn’t be happier.

“Hummus b Lahme” comes with three components:

These still-warm and fresh-as housemade breads.

The full suite of salady and tart accessories – pickled turnip, cucumber and chillis; green olives; fresh mint, tomato and onion.

And – oh, the glory of it! – a generous bowl of smooth, fresh hummus, in the middle of which sits an equally generous serve of lamb mince studded with toasted pine nuts.

It all works and tastes like a dream, the sourness of the pickles complementing perfectly the sweetish sheep meat.

The pine nuts – with their unmistakable yet subtle flavour and characteristic soggy crunch – are the icing on the cake.

This is simply fabulous food.

It costs $10.

Which is frankly ridiculous, as it is tantamount to a light meal that could easily serve two.

The falafel plate ($12), with a slightly different configuration of bits and pieces, is just as good.

Just the turshi (pickled turnip) in terms of pickles.

And, this time, a wonderful wet-and-lemony tabouli and small bowl of tahini to join the hummus, bread and tomato.

The half a dozen falafel orbs are superbly fried, of mild flavour and quite delicate.

Our takeaway coffees are great.

Tanoor is open seven days a week from 6am to 3pm.

Lebanese heaven aboard the Starship Riviera

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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!

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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!

 

Vegan feast

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Mankoushe, 323 Lygon Street, Brunswick East. Phone: 9078 9223

It was only after the relatively recent discovery that Mankoushe had long since evolved from a hole-in-the-wall Lebanese-style pizza/pie shop to become a real, live bona fide restaurant that I ensured I was within their social media loop.

And it is only by doing that I find out they’ve been running semi-regular vegan feasts – and that another is scheduled very soon.

We – as in three members of Team CTS – are in!

 

 

A wild vegan spread of food under a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern spell sounds grand to us, especially at what sounds like a bargain price of $25 per person.

On the drive there from the west, we speculate about what a Middle Eastern vegan line-up may look like.

 

 

I have long believed that were I to move to a meat-free diet, then going largely or even wholly going the Middle Eastern route would be an obvious direction in which to move.

Such wonderful food!

 

 

But vegan?

That does make it a little trickier – no yogurt or cheese, just for starters.

 

 

So … lots of nuts, seeds and grains, we surmise.

Lots of “meaty” vegetables such as eggplant, cauliflower, beetroot and potato.

And that’s how it is – with a few twists along the way.

Including a wonderful and chewy kibbeh made of various nuts.

 

 

The food is not served to us in the multi-course fashion we may have been wishing and (secretly) hoping for.

Instead, two sharing platters are brought to our table laden with goodies laid out buffet-style at the back of the dining room.

When we’re done with them, another is brought – this time with our top picks from the previous serves and with a few things we missed out on first time round.

 

 

And we could’ve gone on from there, had we had any more room to fill.

The food is as we have been expecting – both in quantity and quality.

It is very, very good.

 

 

And if it’s been buffet-style rather than the out-and-out banquet the phrase “vegan feast” tends to suggest, $25 is still a bargain.

I’d be happy to do this again anytime.

 

Lebanese wow

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Teta Mona, 100A Lygon Street, Brunswick East. Phone: 9380 6680

We’ve successfully completed book shopping happiness in Carlton central.

But the parking restrictions and general madness drive us away in terms of lunching.

We’re thinking some of our fave haunts in upper Lygon – or even further afield in Pentridge Coburg – when inspiration strikes.

As Lygon bottlenecks at Weston Street, I recall pal Marcos recommending a Lebanese place situated pretty much right here.

He called it Lebanese Soul Food – or something like that.

We park and explore – and discover he’d got it mostly right.

The Place is called Teta Mona and “Lebanese Soul Food” is its sub-title.

 

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The business is set is a lovely, rambling old house with mighty pressed steel ceilings out front, a back room with photographs and a back garden.

 

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It’s out the back that I find Almaza, who is preparing chicken for that night’s tawook servings and from whom I get the lowdown on Teta Mona.

 

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The restaurant is named after her mum and run by her offspring, twins Beshara and Antoine and daughter Teresa. Her hubby, Gibran, figures in there somewhere, too!

Oh, yes, this is the sort of family business – with smiles and a genuine welcome in profound evidence – for which CTS lives!

 

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It’s been here a while, escaping our notice in an area we actively adore, but we’re very much in luck – lunch service started just a few days before our visit.

The lunch list is simple and very affordable.

Naturally, we go plates rather than wraps – and are delighted with what we are served.

This is the sort of top-notch Lebanese food that we leave the west searching for.

Much is familiar, all is very good or robustly excellent.

Just like the very similar fare we love getting at nearby Mankoushe and Moroccan Deli-cacy.

 

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Arnabeet ($16) is a dream of fried cauliflower with dukka, tomato, pickles, thyme potato and the pepper relish known as ajvar.

It’s all superb, but the big hit truly comes from the gorgeous slow-cooked potato.

 

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Lahem ($18) is slow-cooked lamb, chick peas topped with buttered almonds, tomato, cabbage and yogurt.

It, too, is very fine – but also has our one, single, minor quibble.

The lamb is so cooked down that it basically becomes a sauce for the chick peas – and thus is quite like the chick pea concoctions we get at various Indian establishments with cholle bhature, though with very different seasonings.

 

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Superb salads served with our dishes, and included in the pricing, are tabbouleh and …

 

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… fattoush.

 

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Upon inspecting the menu, we knew straight away this is a dessert-mandatory place – so on we forge!

Choco prince ($7) is a house-made cocoa and honey biscuit with wonderful cream, crushed pistachios and a fresh strawberry.

Very nice, it is.

 

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Rose crumble ($7) is equally delicious and simple – a rose water ice-cream topped with a semolina walnut cookie, another strawberry on the side.

CTS can get a bit sniffy about ice-cream not made on the premises.

But here, it’s as good as – made by a friendly wholesaler according to the family recipe.

A special word for our accompanying strawberries.

These are both so fruity, luscious, full of flavour and amazing, I’m simply not interested in eating a regular strawberry ever again.

How good is this place?

I even come away with a couple of CDs – one of Lebanese folk dancing music, the other of Lebanese classic pop hits from long ago.

 

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Home-style Lebanese – brilliant

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Mankoushe, 323 Lygon Street, Brunswick East. Phone: 9078 9223

Back in the early days of Consider The Sauce, we frequented on several occasions  a wonderful hole-in-the-wall cafe/bakery in Brunswick East that did a red-hot line Lebanese pizzas and pies.

In the several years since then, we have moved on to other things and places.

Since then, too, much has changed with Mankoushe.

A year or so after our story, a Mankoushe restaurant proper was opened right next door; and then about six months ago, the bakery was closed – though the restaurant still does those great pizzas ‘n’ pies, with the lunch menu dedicated to them.

You can check out the lunch and dinner menus at the Mankoushe website.

So it’s a mighty hoot to try the extended Mankoushe restaurant with CTS pal Marco.

 

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The verdict?

No kidding, this is brilliant Lebanese food at ridiculously affordable prices – a match and more for any of our favourite Coburg haunts and even fancy places such as Ablas.

Even better, the accent is very firmly on home-style cooking.

There’s just a single dish on the Mankoushe dinner menu that mentions the word “kebab” – and that’s an entree.

And there’s not a dip to be seen.

Mankoushe is an outright champion  for vegetarians, too – we almost go meatless ourselves, but are seduced by the meatiest of the three main courses.

It’s a busy Sunday night and we haven’t booked, so end up perched at the window bench right next to the door – but the food is so amazing, we care not.

Our various choices arrive with admirable promptness and the service of fine and friendly.

 

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House-made pickles ($5) are crunchy, of mild sourness and very good – jars of the various veg are on sale to take home.

 

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Stuffed vine leaves ($12) are warmed though, heavy on the lemon (yay!) and with just a touch of dill and chilli.

It’s a very generous serve for the price.

 

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Roasted cauliflower salad with minted yoghurt and sultanas ($10), one of three salad offerings, is another generous serve – so much so, we do not finish it off.

It’s gorgeous – and manages that neat trick, one we always admire, of being both a little crunchy and very pliable.

 

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One of our two mains (top photo) is purple turnip stuffed with, green peas, basmati rice and fresh herbs and topped with walnut tarator.

It appears to be of modest proportions for the $21 asking price – but as is so often the case, eats bigger than it looks.

The turnip lends a slightly bitter tang to proceedings, but there’s no doubting the quality and yumminess of the filling.

The walnut sauce is nice but is swamped by the tomato sauce in which our turnips reside.

 

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OMG, OMG, OMG – how good is this?

Wood-fired short lamb leg with chickpea dressing ($28) is another ripsnorting bargain – we’d expect pay an extra $10, $15, $20 or more for this in a flash eating house or pub.

And paying the equivalent of $14 each, we two eat till we metaphorically drop.

It really is amazing, the meat every bit of fall-apart tender and juicy as we could ever expect.

Dessert?

Two are listed – coffee and cardamom poached dates with labne ($8), and milk pudding with Iranian wild figs and sugar syrup ($11).

Based on our meal, I’m sure they’re awesome – but we have eaten so well and so much, they’ll have to wait for another visit.

Mankoushe is a Melbourne star, its prices and unassuming comfiness a stark and wonderful contrast to the excellence of the food.

Mankoushe is a cash-only establishment.

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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Peak charcoal chicken

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Pier Street Charcoal Chicken, 73 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 6119

According to some people, charcoal chicken is about to “return”.

I concur to the extent of considering charcoal chicken goes unacknowledged for its central role in Australian life – I even think it’s a strong contender for our national dish.

But in other ways, to speak of a “return” is silly – as even the author of the above story admits – as charcoal chicken has nowhere from which to return.

On the downside, I find such ruminations a little disturbing as they conjure up visions of hipsterised charcoal poultry with fussy, over-priced side dishes and a food genre stripped of the spunk that makes it such a favourite.

Never mind – there will always be places that do it right.

Places such as Pier Street Charcoal Chicken.

Everything about this place is old school – the furniture, the salad line-up, the menu, the locals coming and going at a rapid rate.

The food, too, is old school – and very, very good.

This is peak charcoal chicken.

The coleslaw is fine and chopped more finely chopped than is often the case.

The chips are fresh out of the frier and beaut.

The tub of steaming hot gravy is wonderful for chip dipping.

I envisaged that the gravy would super, too, for dipping the dry breast meat.

This proves to be a pleasurable truth – but one that is completely unnecessary.

Here, the breast meat is moist and tender.

Yes – tender!

This is very unusual and to be wildly applauded.

The rest of chicken is equally fine.

The above meal, including a soft drink, costs me a handful of cents above $14.

AND it has been served on real crockery attended by metal cutlery.

 

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Westie eats goss 13/3/16

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Down on sleepy Woods Street, Laverton, Seven Star Chinese Restaurant has been open a few months, inhabiting a property formerly occupied by an Indian grocery.

 

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Strolling inside, I am delighted to find a rather lovely and swish dining room.

At Seven Star, dishes such as beef with black bean sauce and satay beef with vegetables are relegated to the “Oz style Chinese dish” section of the menu.

Under the “Authentic Chinese dish” section are to be found such overtly interesting fare as garlic pig tripe, fish flavour eggplant with pork mince, crispy pig trotters and boiled fish with pickled cabbage and chilli.

There’s also a cold list that includes fried peanut salad, oily chicken, wined chicken, pig ear in chilli oil and braised chicken giblets.

CTS will be checking this place out for sure, so stay tuned for a review!

 

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Taste Of The Middle East is on Synnot Street in Werribee, right next to Coles.

Following up on a reader tip – thanks, Clint! – I am surprised to find that it’s no longer in the “coming soon” category but is up and running for Sunday lunch.

However, I soon discover a menu that’s dedicated to eggs, steak sangers, parmas and the like.

Turns out the regular cafe menu will continue to run in the mornings and I’m a day early for the Middle Eastern goodies, which will kick in later in the day – beginning the day after my brief visit.

We’ll be checking this one out, too.

 

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Coming soon is Dosa Palace in Altona.

Brought to us by Nagesh of Hyderabad Inn fame, it’s located on Millers Road, Brooklyn, between the West Gate Freeway and Geelong Road.

This is undoubtedly a novel place to open a restaurant, with solid commercial/industrial on one side of Millers Road and a rather lovely residential neighbourhood tucked away on the other.

Will be interesting to see how it goes.

Despite the name, expect pretty much a full-service Indian line-up of food.

The lure of Sydney Road

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Al Hana Charcoal Chicken, 417  Sydney Road, Coburg. Phone: 9354 4300

Despite the improved situation of Middle Eastern food in the western suburbs, CTS continues to feel the pull of Sydney Road in Coburg.

The starting part of Sydney Road, upwards from Royal Parade, has some marvellous food even if it’s looking more like Fitzroy these days.

But it is the kilometre or so south of Pentridge Prison that draws us.

Sometimes it’s just about needing a bit of a drive.

A time to ponder, to chill, to work through a knotty problem or even write a story in my head while listening to some pounding sounds.

And sometimes it’s just about the food.

I like the fact that as I cross the freeway, the houses on the narrow streets are different from those of the west.

I love the diversity of this part of Sydney Road.

The shop spread is a kaleidoscopic marvel.

Most of all, perhaps and putting aside our favourite eating places hereabouts, I love most the handful of really old-school arcades running off Sydney Road.

This is a retailing style that is pretty much extinct, though there are a few such arcades off Keilor Road in Niddrie.

 

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Al Hana is like a cross between a regular Aussie charcoal chicken shop and a Lebanese grill house.

There’s lamb here but it is chook that dominates.

This is my second visit to Al Hana and I order the exact same meal – the half-chicken meal for $17.95.

This time around, the chicken is a bit of a disappointment.

The breast meat is too dry and all is simply a bit on the bland side – even the skin.

The leg is a winner, though.

The accoutrements are outstanding.

Three dips – a creamy garlic, smoky eggplant, hoummus – are all terrific.

The chips are hot and crisp.

The tabouleh is wet, fresh and lemony.

And there’s two kind of pickles – cucumber and turshi.

There’s so much food, I barely make use of the pita bread provided, instead dipping the chips in the dips.

Makes a difference from the ubiquitous mayo or aoili of burger bars!

 

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Moroccan magic

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Moroccan Deli-cacy, 313 Lygon Street, Brunswick East. Phone: 9387 6805

What a wonderful adventure and discovery for Bennie and I!

After a routine hospital visit, we steer clear of the obvious destinations of Fitzroy, Carlton or Collingwood and head up Lygon.

We have notions – but only vague ones – of hitting Mankoushe, the fabulous Lebanese bakery we haven’t visited for a couple of years.

I’m sure it still does great things – but happily for us it is not open.

So we cast around and wander into Moroccan Deli-cacy.

 

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This is familiar territory for me.

Once, very early in my Melbourne days, this was pretty much home territory.

I ate often at the Italian restaurant just a few doors away.

And I remember the Middle Eastern nut shop – Miramar – that was on this very corner.

So what has happened?

 

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Well, it still does the nuts – and spices and cookies and olives and lots of other groceries.

But it has also been transformed into a wonderfully colourful, welcoming and cheerful Moroccan eatery.

We know for certain we’re in the right place when we’re told there is no written menu – only a “spoken menu”.

And on that menu, there is just a single dish – an open plate of vegetarian goodies ($15).

“Yes please, we’ll have two of those!”

 

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We receive identical plates of amazing.

Everything is fabulous, every mouthful a joy …

Turshi and pickled red cabbage.

Hummus that looks like it may be dry and tasteless but which is moist and lemony.

Grain-heavy tabouleh.

A slab of crusty, golden-grilled haloumi.

Incredible roast vegetables – carrot, eggplant, cauliflower.

A slice of dukkah-dusted sourdough bread.

A tangled salad of long pasta lubricated by a creamy, spicy sauce.

An equally tasty and spicy bean stew that may be called ful.

Through the now several years, I have written many foolish things on this blog.

But not among them were those in a proclamation of several years ago, about a likeminded eating establishment located not far from Moroccan Deli-cacy: “Food, in my world, simply does not get any better – at any price.”

The same words are true of the food we have enjoyed today.

 

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We also enjoy an iced version each of lovely Moroccan coffee called nus-nus, which basically means half-and-half. Our cool drinks are all quirkily upside down, with the coffee on top and the milk on the bottom!

After we have enjoyed our lunch, I get talking to Hana Assafiri, known for her work with Moroccan Soup Kitchen.

Rather than being considered boss or owner, she tells me she consider herself Moroccan Deli-cacy’s “custodian”.

Custodian, too, not just of an eatery but also of traditions – inner-city, urban, multicultural, eating, Muslim, feminist.

She is relishing the opportunity to breath new life into a long-standing business that, like so many of its kind, was at risk of being ploughed under for apartments sake.

That new life has included the bringing from Morocco of all the lovely, tiled and vibrant furniture.

 

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And the feminism?

Well, without being too earnest about – this is, after all, a joyous place – she and her colleagues are setting about asserting (by deeds rather than words) a feisty role for women in the ongoing dialogue about Muslims and their religion.

She points out that as with so many religions, the role of women is often seemingly defined by men but that there is always debate and dialogue going that is not always – if ever – apparent to non-Muslims.

To that end, she recently organised a “speed date a Muslim” event at Moroccan Deli-cacy.

Cute name, that, but in reality it wasn’t about “dating” or romance – it was simply an opportunity for anyone to drop in and have a chat with variety of Muslim women, to “ask a Muslim a question, any question over a cup of mint tea or juice”.

 

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As Narissa Doumani posted on her blog post about the event: “Before us is a bevy of bubbly women. They are perched on barstools, sipping green juice; they are ethnically and culturally diverse; some wear hijabs, others don’t; some were raised Muslim, others adopted the religion later in life; all are ready and raring to break down barriers and dispel misconceptions – about their expressions and experiences of faith, their personal and cultural identities, their roles within the Muslim community and broader society – one conversation at a time.”

I wish I’d known it was being held!

On Sunday, March 6, there will be an afternoon festival in the side street right outside.

Read another review of Moroccan Deli-cacy at Green Gourmet Giraffe here.

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.

Big Yarraville excitement

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Little Advi, 16 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9689 0004

For a lot of people, particularly those who live and work in the village, their Yarraville eatery has arrived.

As you’d expect, the food line-up at Little Advi, which has slotted into the premises of a former boutique on Ballarat Street, closely resembles that of the mothership, Cafe Advieh, on Gamon Street.

Equally as expected, though, there is no diminuation in terms of quality, freshness, affordability and service.

 

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The place looks gorgeous, with a lot of old wood, brick and tiling.

The staff area really on the ball in every way.

The menu (see below) has brekky, wraps, focaccias and a longish list of really appealing plates with fritter, falafels, skewers, dips and salads.

 

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I go for the large dips plate.

I pay $13.50 but it’s so generous that the small at $10.50 may have been a wiser choice.

The dips – eggplant, yogurt ‘n’ cucumber and eggplant – are so fresh they sing with flavour.

Even better, they are personalised in the Advieh fashion, making them delightfully original in texture and taste, especially when sprinkled with sesame seeds and chopped pistachio nuts.

With them – and olives and two very nice stuffed vine leaves – come two Lebanese pita breads, brought in, warmed and more than enough to go with the dips.

Little Advi is s breakfast-and-lunch establishment.

 

Little Advi on Urbanspoon

 

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Altona joy

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The House Of Beans Cafe, 25 The Circle, Altona. Phone: 0419 375 397

Bennie always showed more interest in the F&C shop at one end of The Circle’s shopping strip than I.

But that wasn’t hard as mine was pretty much zero.

My lack of curiosity continued when the premises became a cafe that – and here I am, judging a restaurant by its cover – seemed to offer little more than basic coffee.

So it is only happy circumstance – the Lebanese pizza shop up the road being closed – that forces me through the door to see what’s on offer.

My prior judgments based on appearances prove to be utterly false.

 

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In fact, House Of Beans serves a nice longish range of Lebanese food – think falafel, foul, hommos and the like – that puts it on the same footing as the fabulous Abbout Falafel House in Coburg.

And about that I am ecstatic.

Just think – no more driving to Sydney Road!

Unless we feel like a drive, of course.

For my first visit, I go for the “kefta in bread” ($6.50) and a small serve of fattoush ($7) (top photo).

 

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At first blush the kefta found between layers of lovely, toasted house-made flat bread appears to be very similar to the pinkish meaty smear found on your basic meat pizza up the road and elsewhere.

It’s nothing of the sort.

This is much more juicy, well seasoned and delicious – in short, it really is lamb kofta in a sandwich.

Marvellous!

The generously proportioned fattoush is wonderfully fresh but, if anything, the dressing is a little too lemony.

And regular readers will know that I really like a lemony dressing.

On the basis of what I’ve already, tried I am excited upon returning with Bennie.

Nahida helpfully explains the ins and outs of the five different varieties of foul on offer – basically they’re all variations on red beans, depending on the addition or not of tomato, tahini or chick peas – but we perversely go in the opposite direction.

 

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I let my young man have his way with an order of the most expensive menu item – mixed grill ($15).

It’s a ripper!

There’s a skewer apiece of kofta, lamb and chicken.

They’re all fabulous – heavy with amazing chargrill flavour, juicy and tender.

Throw in a good gob of hommos, some rice and the same good salad mix, and you’ve got a splendid meal.

 

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My falafel plate ($10) looks a little on the bare-bones side until the arrival of …

 

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… a fabulously tangy bowl of green olives, pickled cucumber and chillis, mint and onion with which Bennie and I both make happy.

The falafels themselves are fresh and yummy though a tad on the dry side for my tastes. Next time, I’m sure some yogurt will happily be provided to moisten things up.

 

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Nahida brings us some foul to try regardless of our regular order.

This one is an oily mix of red beans and chick peas that is slightly surplus to the rest of our meal.

But we enjoy most of it anyway.

I love how its plainness works in a harmony of contrasts with the various contents of our pickle bowl.

We love what Banjo (he declines to tell me from part of Lebanon his name comes), Nahida and their family have going on here and what they bring to the table in terms of swelling the depth of Middle eastern food available in the western suburbs.

We suggest you get there pronto – but take on board that House Of Beans Cafe is a lunch-only establishment.

 

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Sweet sensations

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Victoria Sweets, 216 Blackshaws Road, Altona North. Phone: 9391 2322

Early on in its history, Consider The Sauce dropped in on Victoria Sweets a couple of times … must have been on very slow days as on both occasions as we struggled to find anyone to serve us.

Since then we’ve been happily distracted by many hundreds of other stories but we’re game for another try.

Today we do better and we’re ever so glad!

The place has a humming smell of sugar and nectar and is crammed with Lebanese goodies that are sold at $20 a kilogram

We go out of our way to order items that are not baklava or in that style – we seem to have consumed plenty of them in recent months.

 

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Our tray of goodies, arrived at after much pointing, costs $12.

It’s only upon returning home that we discover just how fabulous, fresh and delicious the Victoria Sweets products are … we’re still working our way through them but we can report that the numbers that look like spring rolls are very sticky tubes supremely stuffed with a lush vanilla cream.

Victoria Sweets?

 It’s taken a while but I suspect we’re about to become very regular customers.

Heck, I may even try to wangle my way into kitchen visit to observe a baking session!

 

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We also note with interest the presence of good-looking gelati.

We’re told it’s made off-premises but within-business – this will be for another visit, hopefully before the weather turns nasty.

 

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Eat Like An Egyptian

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The Stuffed Pepper, 727 Nicholson Street, Carlton North. Phone: 9078 8131

My pal Corinna has a bung foot.

It’s on the mend and she’s hobbling around in the manner of folks wearing moonboots.

But still, it means our catch-up lunch will, of necessity, be in the vicinity of her North Carlton pad.

Her place, the soon to re-open local pub?

Whatever …

But, of course, I scope the neighbourhood out on the magic maps and …

I see you have an Egyptian place nearby,” I say to her.

“We do?” she replies.

You see, the name The Stuffed Pepper conjured up in her mind visions of, well, Italian food – so she’d not taken much notice.

But it’s not.

Italian, that is.

Instead, it is very, very Egyptian – and becoming more so.

Oh sure, there are non-Egyptian items on the menu, but the feedback the wonderful Giselle is getting from her customers is along the lines of “bring on the hardcore”.

So she is, with a love and passion for her food and recipes imbued to her by her mum and dad.

All this is, of course, is music to the ears of Consider The Sauce.

Even better, as of February 28, The Stuffed Pepper will be doing dinners as well as lunches.

Below I have published the Egyptian sections of menu.

 

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Corinna chooses the hawashi (closed Egyptian pizza, $12.90), which consists of ground beef, onion, tomato and capsicum combined with Egyptian spices spread in Middle Eastern bread and grilled until toasted.

It’s spectacular and very different from every other Middle Eastern pie or pizza I’ve experienced.

The meat filling is quite deep and very juicy.

The pastry is anointed with yogurt and very good tabouleh.

Wowee!

 

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I go for the kushari ($13.9), which is described as a delicious Egyptian vegetarian dish consisting of green lentils, rice and tomato-based sauce topped with macaroni and finished with a crispy onion garnish accompanied with a garden salad.

It looks like a simple, humble dish.

It is, but it’s also very sexy.

Giselle furnishes me with a separate bowl of mildly spicy and very good yet thin tomato sauce, which I duly pour over my dish.

I mix the salad in as I go, as instructed.

It’s perfect and just what I was feeling like consuming.

I remark that with its combination of pulses, tomato, pasta and fried onion, my kushari has been like a solid version of the Iraqi soup that has become a feature of CTS Headquarters home-cooking.

Giselle laughs, as that soup is a staple – with variations – right across the Middle East, so she knows exactly what I am talking about.

All the Egyptian food at The Stuffed Pepper comes her family’s store of recipes, and is mostly prepared by her, too.

She even makes her own turshi from scratch, while the falafels are of the green variety, being made with fava beans and herbs.

She does have a cook, Nick, who is helping her out.

She tells me he is of Indian background but is rapidly “becoming Egyptian”.

 

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I really wish The Stuffed Pepper was in the west.

As of the dinner debut, CTS will return with as many pals as we can round up.

Corinna and I only have a small sample of the lunch menu, but’s it’s top rate-stuff.

My mind boggles at what the meat, fish and various ful dishes might be like and how good they might be.

And how about beleela, “a combination of cooked and barley”, which is offered by Giselle in two version?

Check out the Stuffed Pepper Website, including full menus, here.

 

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