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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