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!

****

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.