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.

 

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.

 

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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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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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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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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Mezmez – return visit

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Mezmez, 42 Ferguson Street, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 8804

We sometimes have a laugh about how fickle the winds are that blow Consider The Sauce this way and that as it embarks on its adventures.

It’s our Saturday jaunt, we’re hungry and feeling virtuous after about an hour’s worth of house-cleaning in our low-maintenance home.

Heading towards Fehon Street, we are confronted with road signs ruling out a right-hand turn and destinations such as Seddon, Footscray and beyond.

So a left turn it is … and Williamstown, with no specific destination in mind.

We park and check out a cool pizza place that is on our “to do” list, but they’re not rolling yet despite it being 12.30pm.

Maybe next time for them.

So we are happy to return to Mezmez, which we wrote about just a few weeks back – it’s a beaut and significant addition to the Williamstown food scene, and we’re eager to try some more of their dishes and write about them.

 

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Bennie has been given the run of menu, including the more substantial and expensive meals, but goes for the pide with BBQ zatar chicken, peppers, spinach and chipotle mayo ($14).

It goes down a treat.

He especially like the herby nature of the chicken.

 

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My salad of baby beetroots with walnuts, goats cheese, witlof, pasrley and orange dressing ($15) is fabulously brilliant.

It’s a big serve – I take a while longer to eat my lunch than Bennie does to eat his sandwich – and filling for a dish made up so much of water-based ingredients.

The way the various goodies both play off each other and meld together is magical.

The key ingredient is the witlof, the bitterness of which moderates the beet sweetness.

Wow.

 

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Mezmez today has some keen-looking baklava on display but we find we are unable to do anything but order another of their Nutella doughnuts ($3.50).

Both myself and the occupants of the adjoining table are bemused by Bennie’s display of inexpert cutting the sees us end up with two unequal doughnut halves.

Oh well – even the lesser of the two tastes divine to me.

Just like that, Mezmez has become a CTS favourite.

 

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Actually, better than A1

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 A1 Bakery, 18 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9375 7734

After an initial visit – covered here – Consider The Sauce has been eager for a return adventure at A1 in Essendon.

Primarily to partake of one of the more unusual and intriguing options among the more substantial meal platters they offer – samke hara, which features “three flathead tails baked in a spicy tahini sauce”.

Today, it being that time of year when my very good mate Penny is making her annual visit to Melbourne from Wellington, is the day.

Truth is, on previous visits Penny and I have had some really fine face-to-face catch-ups – we talk by phone at least once a fortnight about everything under the sun – but rarely have we enjoyed a really fabulous meal.

I put the blame for that squarely on my own shoulders in the category of “trying too hard”.

Anyway, we rectify that today – and in spectacular fashion.

As it turns out, the samke hara is unavailable.

So boss man Gabby offers to put together for me (and Penny!) a combo set of shish tawook (chicken) and kafta skewers with all the bits and pieces.

The above spread costs us $24; not pictured are an extra salad and a basket containing plenty of zaatar, olives and a couple each of small rice-stuffed peppers and puff-style kibbeh.

The single-meat deals are priced at $14.50, so I’m not sure our price accurately reflects what it would cost to buy all items involved separately.

And Gaby is perfectly aware there’s a blogger in the house …

But add another $10 or even $20 and it would STILL be a bargain.

I know there’s a handful of places around town that do Lebanese food in more formal settings (and at significantly higher prices), but I find it extremely difficult to imagine their food could be any finer.

As I once said of another Lebanese establishment, in the world of Consider The Sauce, this is as good as food gets – at any price.

As our meal arrives at our table, our day gets even better …

 

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Placing bowls full of wonderful before us, Gaby sighs as he says: “This is when I miss being in Lebanon – all the small dishes!”

Then he introduces us to his mum, Sandra, she being responsible for much of the food we are about to inhale.

And, I’m sure, almost all its heart and soul!

For CTS – which has been known on occasion to mutter, “We revere cooks but chefs don’t impress us that much!” – this is akin to meeting royalty!

Everything we eat rocks our world …

Stuffed vine leaves with a lemony tang and rice still displaying a nice, nutty al dente feel.

Fresh, luscious dips, with the ultra-smoky eggplant number a taste sensation.

Tabouli and fattoush, fresh and zingy.

Two kinds of splendidly crunchy and salty green olives.

And the meat skewers – served at room temperature, juicy, tender, packed with flavour and having the killer chargrilled tang in abundance.

All of the above, of course, can have only one outcome – yes, some time early in the new year and all going as planned, A1 Essendon and Consider The Sauce will co-host the first CTS Feast for 2015.

 

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Looks like Maccas, does real deal Lebanese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

There’s dips and salads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

But I feel sorry for him when his meal arrives.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Essendon A1 – FAR OUT!

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A1 Bakery, 18 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9375 7734

Bowling up to the brand, spanking new branch of the A1 Bakery chain, I am fully expecting a duplicate of its slightly older Werribee sibling.

I could hardly be more wrong – the Essendon joint is very, very different, and brilliantly so.

Here there’s a vibe that is 50/50 Middle Eastern and hipster cafe, and seems staffed somewhat along the same lines.

There’s exposed brick and old wood. The place is bustling with happy customers just a few days after opening.

 

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The food?

Oh my, happy days for Kenny!

There’s the expected full complement of pies and pizzas, including zaatar ($2), lamb ($3) and spinach/fetta ($4.50).

But there’s way more of just the kinds of things I like to see in such a place – stuffed vine leaves (three for $2.50) and kibbeh ($2), for instance.

There’s gorgeous-looking mountains of salad, including fattoush, tabouli and “zest salad”.

And for those looking for more than pies ‘n’pizzas or a tight line-up of eggy breakfast dishes, there’s platters – yippee!

 

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These include chicken (shish tawook), a rice and chicken dish called jaj a riz – and even one, samke hara, that features “three flathead tails baked in a spicy tahini sauce”.

As I am only of moderate appetite, I opt for the lighter touch of the falafel platter ($11, top photograph).

It’s simply wonderful.

The plentiful tabouli is as good and fresh and super as any I’ve had – anywhere, anytime.

The hommus is creamy smooth but packed with lemon-infused flavour.

The felafels themselves may have been sourced from the display cabinet and reheated, but are still fine – featherlight, crisp on the outer, fluffy in the inner.

 

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After my lunch, I talk with one of the proprietors, Robert.

He confirms what I suspected – that the proliferating A1 chain is basically a matter of franchising.

So while the Essendon joint may share fully in the A1 ethos and badging, the food is individual – and in this case, strongly guided by an angel I will call The Hand Of Mum.

And that, of course, is a very excellent thing!

I expect to return here in a matter of days and am excited about the prospect of doing so.

I just love a place that offers more substantial Lebanese fare in a cafe setting.

 

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Saj revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh happy day!

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

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

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

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

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

The meats are fine, especially the nicely seasoned kofta.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zing! Lebanese in the ‘hood

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Many thanks to Josh, Christine, Julian, You Know Who and Eliza for helping CTS check out the west’s new Lebanese eatery!

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

Saj Mediterranean Grill replaces a short-lived Turkish establishment in the showgrounds’ shopping precinct, which has never held much allure for us.

It’s a terrific new arrival – and Consider The Sauce makes the most of our first visit by rocking up with a nice bunch of our regular dining companions.

It’s done out in stark fast-food style, but the food on offer – see menu below – goes quite a bit further than the bakeries our western Lebanese experiences have thus far been restricted to.

We get real plates and cutlery – and cheerful service.

Saj is named after the saj grills, rounded dome plates used to grill the flatbread.

CTS has only ever seen these before at this Coburg institution.

Between us all, we try a good-sized chunk of the menu – but without any intent to do so, we mostly veer away from the more substantial sharwarma and mashawi (grill) wraps.

Even Bennie – given complete freedom to order whatever he pleases (i.e. hamburger) – dines elsewhere.

The skewered meats in the display cabinet look the goods but will have await a follow-up visit.

What we have ranges from good to very good and we’re all very impressed.

Having a new Lebanese eatery in the neighbourhood is a clicking-heels event around here!

Beyond basic descriptions and prices, my assessments and comments are to do with those dishes I personally taste.

 

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Kibbeh ($2) are hot, a little bit spicy, juicy and very fine. Some of my companions find pine nuts, but not so I.

 

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Warak-arreesh (stuffed vine leaves, $1.50 each) are smallish, plain and just right.

 

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Hommus ($5) is fresh and smooth but of only mildish taste.

 

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Baba ghannouj ($5.50) is fantastic – it hasn’t got that prized smokiness but it IS fresh, lemony and full of eggplant flavour.

Both dips are served with the same flatbread used to make the saj pizzas, and more of it is brought to our table without being requested.

 

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Did I say fresh?

Everything here is fresh-as – including this fattoush ($4.50), its joyful jumble of veggies beautifully dressed and anointed with crisp, fried bread.

 

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The tabouli ($4.50) is just as CTS likes it – wet and lemony. It’s a generous serve for the price, too.

 

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The cheese and turkey saj costs $7.50.

 

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Bennie describes his chicken fajita sanger ($10.50) with chook, caramelised onion, capsicum, mushrooms, avocado and cheese with “fajita sauce” as “nice”.

 

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The chicken mashawi ($9) is skewered chicken with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and sauce.

 

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A couple of us order the lahm bi ajin ($6) – saj of “mince meat, onion, tomato and spices”.

It’s nice enough but turns out the description is rather more lavish than what is pretty much the stock-standard “meat” pizza we get at other bakeries.

 

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Mediterranean salad ($6.50) has the same fresh vegetables seen elsewhere with wonderfully chewy, salty chunks of grilled haloumi.

 

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We finish off with a couple of choc banana sajs ($6.50) – a sweet delight with nutty extras!

We’re already looking forward to our next visit.

How can this place not be a hit?

 

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A bleak night in Brunswick

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Rezah Afghan Kebab, 595 Sydney Rd, Brunswick. Phone: 9387 3730

It’s a very odd few hours that end in sheer delight.

Good pal Nat Stockley and I have fronted for the launch of a new food truck, one that excites us both.

As he points out, whenever we tee up a foodie excursion, neither of us arrive at the appointed location early – but we are ALWAYS on time.

In this case, that is bad timing indeed.

The scene in a Brunswick back street is bleak.

It’s pissing down with rain and the dub music issuing forth from the venue is doing strange, unpleasant things to my internal organs.

Now look, I’m someone who has always fully embraced volume as a music asset – but this is just no good and no fun.

About three-quarters of an hour after the announced starting time, and with food seemingly no closer to appearing, we give it up and head for Sydney Road.

Our first stop, a perennially popular Lebanese joint, is chockers like I’ve never see it before – and will require a 15-minute wait for a table. If we’re lucky …

So we amble on up the Sydney Road hill and settle on Rezah.

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I’ve been here before, so know what I’m getting into. Nat has his reservations, but is soon won over.

We have a really, really fine meal in a restaurant that has now climbed onto the list of Melbourne places I most warmly regard.

Perhaps the love that unfolds is because of my previous visit. Or, more likely, the folks who run this joint are just extremely lovely people.

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Whatever … I soon start a dialogue with Firoz.

Firoz tells me the restaurant has been running for nine years and that he and wife Aasiah have lived in Australia for 16.

I’m even invited into the kitchen to see our dinner being prepared – so cool!

Nat and I, being of robust hungriness, go for the mixed kebab set menu that’ll cost us $20 each.

It’s terrific!

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The rudiments of our feast are the same as on my previous visit …

Wonderfully vinegary pickles of carrot, onion, cauliflower and even a plump, round chilli.

A minty chilli dip of only mild hotness and a stiff, tasty yogurt dip.

Chewy, hot Afghan naan – so different from the Indian variety.

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Our chicken one way and lamb two are fab, especially the lamb and chicken pieces – tender and extremely tasty, with that charcoal thing really going on.

The minced lamb sausage is nicely chewy but I find it a bit bitter in the garlic manner.

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The rice, festooned with currants and carrot strands, is every bit as good as that we love eating at this Westies winner.

It’s made, Firoz tells me, with stock made from long-simmered lamb bones and spices including two kinds of cardamom, cinnamon and cumin, as well as salt and pepper.

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In a testament to what kind of restaurant this is, Aasiah provides us with a complementary serve of aushak.

The green onion dumplings, smothered in yogurt and a pulse stew of some sort, are wonderful.

As we are wrapping things up, smiling Firoz several times places his hands over his heart to demonstrate his appreciation of our enjoyment of his family’s food and cooking.

He does so again when he makes clear his desire that we not pay for our dinner.

With gentle determination, we eventually persuade him that there’s no way we’re going to allow that to happen.

After a shaky start to our evening, Nat and I have had a fine old time.

And I even got to hear previously unheard – by me – details of my friend’s sordid rock ‘n’ roll past.

What do you reckon?

Would it be completely out of order for Consider The Sauce to arrange a CTS Feast in such a non-western suburb of Melbourne?

 

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