A Sunshine Star

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Afghan Star Restaurant, 251 Hampshire Road, Sunshine. Phone 0431 970 348

There are – I believe – three places serving the food of Afghanistan in Sunshine.

Amid the (mostly) Vietnamese hubub around Sunshine central and Hampshire Road, they are easy to miss – and Afghan Star is perhaps the most anonymous of them.

It looks, from the outside and inside both, like a humdrum takeaway joint of non-specific origins.

You can get a pizza here – with pineapple, if that’s your kind of thing.

The decor is utilitarian.

But after sporadic visits over the recent couple of years, I reckon it’s time for a CTS story.

Because I really do like this place.

And if the review visit – with Bennie Weir and Nat Stockley in tow – doesn’t quite reach the heights of my previous (solo) visits, I nevertheless remain enamoured of Afghan Star.

Here is less proper restaurant routine and more a place to grab some quick and very cheap Afghan food.

There’s a range of stews/curries called qorma. I’ve tried a couple of them; they’re good.

But really, the top action here is all about grilled meats.

 

 

But first let me note a couple of happy details – the sort of thing that tickles the CTS soul and makes us love places beyond the main gist of the food.

One is the wonderful fruit salad tablecloth with which we are blessed.

And, no, I am not being facetious.

 

 

The second is the stupendously wonderful flatbread – it’s hot, freshly made and enormous.

On each and every visit I have made to Afghan Star, I have taken at least half one of these home with me.

So good!

 

 

And if I order charcoal chicken, I end up taking some of that home, too.

Because a whole, excellent chook – with flatbread, some salady bits/pieces and a minty dipping sauce with a subtle yet important chilli kick – costs $14.99.

That’s a for-sure bargain!

The chicken is very, very good, best and most juicy/succulent on the bone, though inevitably a bit dry in the heart of the breast.

That’s what the minty sauce is for.

 

 

It’s a fine thing that there’s plenty of my chicken to go around, because Bennie is disappointed with his doner mix kebab platter ($10).

For starters, he doesn’t believe it accurately reflects the colour photo at the serving counter upon which he’s based his selection.

It’s OK – but amounts to HSP on a plate.

 

 

Much better – and returning to the heart of the Afghan Star matter – is Nat’s mix kebab platter, another $14.99 steal served on rice and with the same flatbread, salad and sauce.

The tikka/shish lamb meat is very tasty, though a tad on the dry/tough side. Just a tad …

The kobida/kofta minced lamb meat is much better – chewy and nicely (mildly) seasoned.

But really, these are minor quibbles – this kind of food/meat usually sells for more, and sometimes way more, than here.

Afghan Star gets the job done nicely and with smiling, efficient service – and all with a comprehensive lack of on-trend or hipster angles.

For that alone, I love it.

 

Pure Sunshine

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Ghion Restaurant & Cafe, 12 City Place, Sunshine. Phone: 0423 362 995

There’s no doubt the old Sunshine station – and its gloomy, even spooky tunnel/underpass through to City Place – deserved and needed to be replaced.

But given the new station edifice involves a much less direct and stair-heavy route, I wondered what impact the new station arrangements would have on City Place and the surrounding businesses and neighbourhood.

Surely, the curious would be much less inclined to venture to “the other side of the tracks” from Sunshine central and its much more numerous shops and eateries?

Well, yes – I guess so.

But something rather nice appears to be happening in the face of this enforced “separation”.

You see, it’s now possible to consider that City Place and the adjacent Sun Crescent constitute an entirely different neighbourhood.

Or even a different suburb – one with its own pace, space and vibe.

It’s very laid back, with none of the hustle and bustle of Sunshine proper.

I’d not go so far as to suggest this neighbourhood is prospering or constantly buzzing, but it does seem to be getting on with doing its own thing.

It’s tempting to describe the overall vibe as African, but that would be misleading.

There’s hairdressers/barbers, a cafe, groceries and an arts space.

The fine and long-term Chinese eatery Dragon Express remains in place, while around the corner on Sun Crescent is the utterly fabulous Panjali Banana Leaf Malaysian Restaurant, as well as a kebab shop, an Ethiopian place and a Sri Lankan outlet.

Back on City Place, Ghion is doing really good Ethiopian tucker and has become a regular haunt for those seeking a lightish casual lunch in a tranquil, relaxing setting.

I’m guessing it’s also on the ball come dinnertime.

The classic vegetarian combo yetsom beyaynetu is awesome here – as good as any I’ve tried.

Lentils/pulses three different ways; the familiar carrot/potato, beetroot and greens; sprightly salad – all beautifully cooked and presented, all in just the right quantities for a wonderfully balanced meal.

This winning offering costs a supremely cheap $12.

But if you visit Ghion on Wednesday – day or night – it’ll cost you a mere $10.

How good is that?

Among the various meat dishes, lega tibs ($13) is lovely.

It’s a tomato-based, zingy concoction with good lamb chunks and the onion providing nice crunch through being just the right side al dente.

Wait times at Ghion are spot on – long enough to bespeak much care in the kitchen, short enough to ward off hungry impatience.

Our kind of food

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Nat Stockley captured in his natural environment.

 

Panjali Banana Leaf Malaysian Restaurant, 3/10 Sun Crescent, Sunshine. Phone: 9193 1740

On the Panjali menu, there’s dosas, vadai, dal and curries.

But you’ll also find roti canai, mee goreng and nasi lemak.

I cannot recall – in what is now many decades of trawling funky eats places all over Melbourne – any other eatery that so thoroughly, wonderfully expresses a particular school of transnational cooking, in this case Indian/Malaysian.

Panjali has been open about three months and is popular – as I discover on a CTS reconnaissance trip for Sunday lunch.

The service is warm and the prices are extremely cheap. It’s closed on Mondays, but other than that it keeps long opening hours.

 

 

House-made curry puffs ($5 for two) are ungreasy and have a thick casing that is nevertheless good; the spud-based vegetable filling does the job.

 

 

On my initial solo visit, I go for the eponymous banana leaf meal.

 

 

When Nat Stockly and I return for a more in-depth exploration of the menu (see below), he does the same.

The basic banana leaf meal costs $9.90 and consists of a generous rice pile anointed with vegetable-studded dal, with various vegetable dishes arranged alongside, along with rasam, yoghurt, pickle and pappadams.

For an extra $6, I top my meal up with a truly excellent and big fried chicken piece. The chicken has been freshly cooked and placed in the bain marie just as I order, so is an obvious choice.

For $8, Nat gets a serve of lamb curry. It’s quite good, but could’ve been a bit hotter.

Nat opines that often the state of pappadams can be taken as a fair indicator of the rest of a restaurant’s food.

Ours are crisp and unoily.

I could eat them all day.

Perhaps it could be said this kind of food is not for everyone – the vegetables (cabbage, beans, pumpkin, okra, broccoli) are cooked down to quite an extent.

But the food and the place that serves it most certainly hit the spot with us, and will do likewise for dedicated CTS readers.

 

 

From the noodle line-up, mamak mee goreng ($10.90) is simple, lovely and surprisingly dry – in a good way.

No meat or seafood here, the dish getting its flavour kicks mostly from just cabbage and egg.

 

 

The many tempting roti variations will have to wait for another visit.

Instead we order chicken murtabak ($10.90).

 

 

It’s tremendous in every way – hot and fresh; and delicate and hearty at the same.

The stuffing is a great mix of onion, egg and shredded chicken.

And I love the lightly pickled fresh onion served on the side for extra crunch.

As we depart after a fine meal, Nat quips: “That’s my kind of food!”

And that, right there, gives me the headline for my story.

 

Meal of the week No.47: DaLat Hill Sunshine

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Perusing Sunshine Plaza on a casual walk-through, one might conclude it’s doing it tough.

There are a lot of premises without tenants.

The supermarket has become a Dimmeys.

The fresh produce/market Big Fields has become the otherwise identical Vicfields

And the deli next door has closed.

But …

There still exists here a community vibe of the sort that struggles to gain a foothold at the bigger shopping centre across the road and others of its kind.

The tables and chairs outside the aforementioned deli, for instance, seem to remain a friendly gathering place.

And Sunshine Plaza management continue to fight the good fight with regular FB updates on centre affairs.

Another crew that’s injecting life at the plaza is the one behind DaLat Hill Sunshine, which occupies one of the premises fronting Hampshire Road.

 

 

Despite its Vietnamese name, there’s no rice paper rolls or pho here.

Instead, they are going their own sweet way, developing a niche based around steak, along with regular cafe fare (see menu below).

Here you can get T-bone, ribeye, scotch fillet and the like at fair prices.

But the place’s big drawcard, one designed to get new customers through the door yet also remain an always available “special”, is the Special Rump Steak for $10.

We are a little surprised to be asked how we want our meat cooked, as we figure the $10 steak will be of the ultra-thin variety sometimes served as part of Vietnamese steak-and-eggs and for which precise cooking instructions are pretty much irrelevant.

So … medium rare for us both.

How good can a $10 steak be?

The answer, at DaLat Hill Sunshine, is … just fine.

Sure, you’ll not be chowing down here on prime, big-bucks beef, but our steaks are enjoyable nonetheless.

And they’re nicely sized for our Saturday lunch, steak not normally being something we would otherwise ever consider ordering for anything other than an evening meal.

And then, only very rarely.

Haha!

But what makes our meals more than just adequately satisfying – and propels them into realms of bargain pleasure – is the care taken with the accompaniments and the presentation.

The mashed potato is very, very good.

The asparagus spears are both cooked through and crisp.

The thin gravy is fine for meat dipping.

And even the rosemary garnish does its part by imbuing all with a just the right amount of perfume.

The service is fine and smiling – as are the Vietnamese iced coffees with which we depart.

 

Pumped up for the South Sudan wrestling

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South Sudanese Wrestling All-Stars at Chaplin Reserve, Sunshine: Inner states (Victoria, NSW and ACT ) v Outback states (SA, WA and Queensland)

Even after talking top several people, I remain – as an utter newbie should – largely ignorant about the finer points of South Sudanese traditional wrestling.

In this all-star tournament, the wrestlers and their camp followers are situated at opposing ends of the Chaplin Reserve soccer ground.

 

 

The wrestling itself – many bouts – is serious, though doesn’t appear to my untutored eye to be as tricky or technical as that practised at the Olympic Games, for example.

But it ain’t Mexican wrestling, either! Duh!

 

 

I’m told the young women self-create the beautiful chants in Dinkan dialect and that they’re all about supporting their teams.

A South Sudan take on We Are The Champions?

 

 

Hmmm, dunno about that!

But work of these singing queens is certainly more soulful, beautiful, stirring – and just plain better – than anything ever dreamed up by Freddie Mercury and Co; IMO!

 

 

While the athletes and their retinues were loud and proud in their finery, it is also notable that very many spectators among the big, happy crowd also are dressed to the nines and 10s.

What’s it all about?

Community!

I love it!

 

 

New pal Emily Yuille, who is very active in Melbourne’s South Sudanese community, provided the following appreciation!

Thanks!

“Wrestling is a contest traditionally between young men of the Dinka and Mundri tribes in South Sudan.

 

 

“Sport plays an important role in the lives of young South Sudanese people with wrestling being one of the greatest and most popular. People love it.

“While largely unheard of in Australia, the past several years has seen the sport grow across the country, with teams in most states: Queensland – Maroons
Canberra (ACT) – Powerhouse, Melbourne – Lions, Adelaide (SA) – Cobras, NSW – Blue Warriors, Perth (WA) – Western Empire.

 

 

“The contest is all about showing strength. The contestants don’t hit each other. Using their strength they force someone to the ground and if you’re still standing, that means you win. There is no harm to done each other.

“Wrestling matches happen in three-minute bouts, with a draw declared if neither competitor can force their rival to the ground.

 

 

“For many, competing is often a rite of passage. In some families, people’s grandfather or uncle could also be a wrestler, so it goes down the generations.

“When you start wrestling for a championship, it means that they are a young man growing up and get to leave your family and your youth life.

 

 

“While only men compete in South Sudanese wrestling, the women play a valuable role during competitions, often providing encouragement and songs of support in their native languages.

“They make songs for their champions to give them morale and energy, they sing in Dinkan dialect, which also teaches the younger kids how to sing and communicate in their language and get connected with their culture.”

 

 

The South Sudanese Australian Traditional Wrestling Association Facebook page is here.

Go here for a short SBS story and film about South Sudan wrestling.

 

Shiny grill time

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DeGrill, Sunshine Marketplace, Sunshine. Phone: 0402 189 860

A small, single-frame cartoon in the Sunday Age a few years back always makes me chuckle when I think of it.

Two blokes are surveying the Sunshine Marketplace shopping centre.

One says to the other: “Wow – this really is the United Nations of bogans!”

I like it because it’s bloody funny.

But I also like it because I like it that Sunshine Marketplace is like that.

We may live in Yarraville, hit the new fried chicken place in WeFo as soon doing so is viable and even frequent hipster places in Footscray proper … but we love all the west and its people and food.

Which is why CTS loves venturing to not only Sunshine, but also Werribee, Deer Park and beyond – and will continue to eat and review and tell stories from well beyond the ribbon that is the inner west.

 

 

So we applaud the opening of DeGrill at Sunshine Marketplace.

It’s a bold and adventurous move – it is situated, after all, right opposite Maccas and right next door to the cinemas.

I could say that DeGrill is aiming for the same sort of focus as Grill’d or Nando’s – but that would be doing DeGrill a disservice.

Because the menu is significantly more broad than such a comparison might imply.

I suspect the menu may have to be tweaked over time to find out what really works in this particular setting.

But over two visits, CTS and friends enjoy some good food and good service at (mostly) good prices.

The style is classy fast food and proper cutlery and crockery are in use, as are fine salt and pepper grinders.

 

 

There are three hot dog options on the menu, two featuring kransky or chorizo.

But the classic ($7.50) is constructed using a standard frankfurter.

So all is regulation here, but its recipient is pleased enough.

 

 

“Crispy” chicken ($9.50) has the wow factor aplenty.

The serve consists of three superbly cooked wings anointed with a tangy sauce.

Very good!

Especially when served with …

 

 

… a side of mash and gravy ($6).

This a rarity is Melbourne in general, let alone in a Sunshine shopping centre.

It’s OK, we all like it – but it’s not spectacular.

 

 

The menu’s “between the buns” section lists nothing that could be described as a beef burger, but based on our table’s orders of the cheese steak ($9, above) and …

 

 

… the only marginally different philly cheese ($9.50), this may be the way to go here.

Both are keenly priced and boast good ingredients and dressings.

The steak is thicker than routinely found in steak sandwiches and, best of all, is so well cooked that biting through for a mouthful is done with ease and without the whole sandwich falling apart.

Big thumbs up for that!

 

 

Under the heading “from the grill”, DeGrill offers dishes such as a flat iron steak ($17 and $26) and chicken ($16 for half, $29 for full).

These and others may fulfill the implied promise of more hefty meals.

Sadly, the beef short ribs ($16) do not.

It’s common knowledge ribs are expensive to secure and are inevitably at the upper end price-wise wherever they appear.

It’s common knowledge, too, the beef ribs can be fatty.

But these are very fatty indeed, and the three segments amount to not much more than a brief meal of not many more mouthfuls.

As well, as per the eatery’s name, these rib bits are grilled and not smoked, as you’d generally find at the numerous barbecue-style places across the city.

The coleslaw ($4.50) lacks crunch – maybe because its main component is savoy cabbage?

It’s under-done in the seasoning/flavour department, too, though some quick work with the salt and pepper grinders soon fixes that up.

 

 

CTS is over the mega shake thing – too often they seem to involve poor quality ingredients and unjustifiably high prices.

This DeGrill brownie shake ($9) defies both factors – good price, nice shake.

We wish DeGrill well.

Maye its arrival will inspire others to hang out their shingle in the same locale.

Thanks to Annie and Ali for helping us with this story!

Check out the DeGrill website – including full menu – here.

Very socially adept

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Sunshine Social, 64 Glengala Road, Sunshine West. Phone: 9312 0223

Sunshine Social is a hit and hoot and we love it to bits.

This is the biggest thing to hit Sunshine West for years – the adjacent Glengala Road shops barely seem to have changed for the best part of a decade.

In fact, this may be the biggest western suburbs food story of the year.

We bowl up just a few days after opening day, eager to check out the vibe, try the food and see if the widespread community interest and hopes are being fulfilled.

The answer is a rousing “yes” – albeit with a couple of food mis-steps noted below of the very easily forgivable these-are-very-early-days variety.

 

 

The old servo has been done up a treat, the swish fit-out preserving the old-time feel of the building and, best of all, the wonderful roof that once sheltered filling-up motorists from the elements.

It would be easy to describe the furniture, fittings and general ambience as “industrial”, but there is a bit more warmth to the place than that might imply.

As well, even on a busy Friday night, the noise levels are surprisingly subdued.

Three of us have drinks, two starters, three mains with various sides and a single, cheapo dessert and pay just a tad over $100 – so Sunshine Social represents good value for money as well as a whole heap of fun.

We arrive early after having dithered about a later start time involving a bigger assemblage of Team CTS, but are glad we’ve reverted to 6.30pm kick-off as the place rapidly fills up after that.

Sunshine Social doesn’t take bookings – it’s not that sort of place – so while it’s as hot as it is right now and the curiosity factor is high, it would be wise to pick your time with some thought.

Loosely based on the concept of old-school charcoal chicken shops, Sunshine Social goes from there to offer a menu that broadens out to take in some multicultural ideas, all the while offering a cohesive gameplan.

 

 

Marinated olives and chargrilled vegetables ($7.50) are a delightful way to get our meal underway.

It’s a deceptively big serving of beaut olives of various colours and dimensions and long strips of gorgeous red capsicum, zucchini and eggplant.

 

 

We try two of the five dips at $4.5o a pop (punters can get the lot for $16).

I am outvoted in my desire to try the beetroot and whole bean number.

Instead, we get the eggplant and pistachio/pea/mint versions.

The former is rather dry and crumbly but has robust roast cumin flavour.

The latter has little by way of nuttiness, the pea and mint dominating in a smooth operation.

 

 

Given the charcoal chook inspiration going on here, I was only ever going to order one thing – the very same thing that I ALWAYS order in chicken shops: Half a chicken with slaw and chips ($28.50).

The price here is higher, of course, but no more than expected.

The chicken near the various bones is excellent, moist and delicious.

The breast meat is dry – as it so often is, no matter the price.

But it’s not terminally so, and certainly all this could easily be fixed up with a small pot of gravy as per charcoal shop tradition.

The chips are very fine and the slaw – much drier and different in style from the usual – a crunchy, lightly-dressed delight.

 

 

The meat served with Nat’s order of “lamb shoulder with Mediterranean herbs” ($22.50 with one side) is tasty.

But we are both surprised the sheep meat is sliced and more like your regular lamb roast than the fall-apart epic the phrase “lamb shoulder” automatically suggests to us. And there’s not much sign of the advertised herbs, either.

In both the cases of my chicken and his lamb, neither of us feels the sweetish coating (chicken) or sweetish sauce (lamb) do anything to enhance our meals.

Chicken options with more high-powered seasonings taking in lemon, chilli and turbo-herbs would be a good move, we reckon.

 

 

The no-hesitation thumbs-up of the night goes to Bennie’s fried chicken burger ($13.50).

He loves the big, succulent, crisp chunk of fried chicken and gives his burger – abetted by slaw, cheese and jalapenos – an 8 out of 10.

He gets chips with his sandwich and an extra order of slaw on the side that is plenty big enough for both himself and Nat.

 

 

During the course of our meal, we’ve pondered dessert.

But predictably, we’ve loaded up plenty on the savoury segments of the menu, so treats such as choc ripple biscuit cake with peppermint slice shavings and cream will have to await a return visit.

I do grant Bennie his wish for a house-made choc top for $4.50.

He likes it.

You can tell by his unbridled display of passion and delight and enthusiasm for the camera.

We decide that there is nothing else quite like Sunshine Social in all of Melbourne – not that we know of anyway.

Sure, there’s a gazillion hipster burger places and almost as many barbecue joints and similar.

But a self-described “grill” that has no steaks and little seafood?

Nope.

On the basis of community reaction and our experience just a few days into its life, the place will endure and then some.

It is destined to become something of a second home to many.

And next time, we may expand our ordering horizons to the likes of pork ribs, grilled calamari, a range of meat on sticks or Moroccan lamb snags.

Check out the Sunshine Social website (including menu) here.