Real good Malaysian



Ya’Salam Restaurant, 2/14 Lavinia Drive, Tarneit. Phone: 9748 6860

We enjoyed our visit to Ya’Salam when the premises was being used to operate a Somalian eatery – though truth be told it was a bit too much of a drive to become a regular haunt.

Now there’s new management in the place.

They’ve retained the name – and even a page of Somalian food at the back of their new menu.

But the rest is all about terrific Malaysian food.

In fact, based on two visits we reckon this is some of the best, cheapest and most authentic Malaysian food you’ll find in all of Melbourne.

And word appears to have gotten out – we note with assured pleasure the happy, hungry tables on our visits.



Chicken laksa ($10, top photograph) is unlike any I’ve eaten – and as good as any, too.

The chicken is so finely shredded that it’s pretty much subsumed into the gravy, but that’s fine when the soup base is so funky, house-made and delicious.

Protein oomph is provided by two hardboiled egg halves and there’s plenty of cucumber and other veg bits to provide texture and crunch to go with the fat, short udon-style noodles.



Roti canai ($5) is a wonder.

Accompanying a just-right bowl of runny chicken curry (with a dob of sambal paste) are the two lightest, flakiest and best flatbreads of the Malaysian style we’ve ever eaten.

Simply: Wow.



Char kuey teow ($10) is a bit like our laksa – unlike any we’ve before tried.

This one comes in a bowl and – appropriately – is more like a hearty, thick soup than the drier dish we’ve been expecting.

No problems, though – because while the wok hei factor is predictably muted, there’s no doubting the flavours and all-round yumminess.



Given the obvious real-deal vibe of everything served us thus far, we are keen to try the Ya’Salam satays.

They’re unavailable, though, so we happily settle for these two fine curry puffs ($1 each).

Again, these are a far cry from your usual curry puffs.

The rich short pastry is stuffed with an extremely toothsome jumble of chicken mince and vegetables.

They could’ve been a tad hotter, however.

The Ya’Salam food we’ve tried has been really fine.

We’re usually not much concerned about notions of authenticity – but they have heaps of it here.

Next time we’ll be sure to try one of the many nasi goreng variations.

Check out the Ya’Salam menu here.

More dosa room in Tarneit

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Dosa Hut, Wyndham Village Shopping Centre, 380 Sayers Road, Tarneit. Phone: 8742 4263

We’re in Tarneit for the opening of Dosa Hut.

Well, not quite – we’ve been here before and this Dosa Hut branch has been open for a while.

But Dosa Hut Tarneit IS having something of an event to celebrate the unveiling of its extended premises.

There’s a buzz about the place, there’s VIPs and music and some speechifying.

Dosas – or, more accurately, dosas and the range of other Indian food that such places offer – are big business in the west these days.

So much so that even those Indian places that have generally long focussed on more regular curry fare have been forced to extend their menus to encompass dosas … and idlis and vadas and Indo-Chinese goodies.




Competition is fierce – there’s four Dosa Hut joints across the city now.

And here in Tarneit, Dosa Hut is going head to head with Dosa Corner – just as they do in West Footscray.

But it’s worth remembering that it was Dosa Hut West Footscray that first brought dosas to the west – and it’s on that basis that we’re happy to drop into the Tarneit office on this auspicious evening.

The menu appears to be the same, longish affair – and with quite a number of dishes struck out.

But nevertheless, we have a ball ordering a couple of dishes that offer points of difference and find everything delicious.




Beaut idlis are brought to our table soon after we have ordered – and on the house.

They make a nice light start – though at this point we fear way too much food may be coming our way.




Pav bhaji ($9.95) is a Mumbai-style snack dish – and utterly simple and wonderful.

The potato-based, mild vegetable curry is tremendous while the buttered rolls belie, I suspect, a lingering influence of English colonial days.




After experiencing some overly damp and flaccid Indo-Chinese food in recent times, it’s a joy to lay eyes on and devour this crispy goat ($12.95).

It’s dry, chewy, boneless and fragrant, the jumble of diced veg resembling the sort of trimmings that come with salt-and-pepper dishes in Malaysian and Chinese places.




Regular chicken biryani ($11.95) is really fine, as expected, all the bits and pieces in good order.

We depart full and very happy, only to discover a red carpet has been laid out since our arrival.

We give it a strutting, opening-night whirl anyway.



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.




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.




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.




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.






‘Wow!’ in Tarneit




Ya Salam Cafe and Restaurant, 20 Lavinia Drive, Tarneit. Phone: 9748 8660

The Arabic “ya salam” translates as “that’s fantastic!” or “wow!” – and that’s pretty much how I feel upon visiting and enjoying a brand new African eatery in Tarneit.

Taking the scenic route along from Laverton and along Sayers Road, what awaits me in Tarneit – what kind of operation, what kind of food – has been a mystery.

So I am delighted to discover a new and brightly appointed eatery that has been open just a few days.

It’s located on a small retail strip that looks out to the Wyndham Village shopping centre, home to a newish branch of Dosa Hut.

Ya Salam shares the Lavinia Drive space with an Indian eatery (on one side) and (on the other) what appears to be a charcoal chicken place but is in reality a full-on Lebanese place.




How’s that?

Instant foodie destination!

Ya Salam proprietor Mohammed tells me business, so far generated by little more than word of mouth, has been good.

He’s finding his new project is appealing to not just the local east African community of about 300 families but also the Muslim folks and the community generally.

The heart of what he and his team are doing at Ya Salam is Somalian food but the menu (see below) also features a hefty Middle Eastern component along with dishes that display Mediterranean and even European influences – breakfast, too!

Readers can rest assured, though, that this sensible, broad-sweep approach in no way diminishes the quality of what’s being served.




I am served a complementary bowl of soup to go with my main dish – it’s listed on the menu as “Yasalam soup” on the menu, so I am not sure if this is going to be part of the regular routine.

Does it look familiar?

It is!

It’s basically the same lamb broth-based concoction that is served at our beloved Safari in Ascot Vale.

This version may not be quite as tangy but it is equally rich in flavour.




“Slow-cooked lamb shoulder” ($16.95) is also familiar, with its trademark and super cooked-in-stock rice.

Perhaps it may have been more visually appealing had the meat been browned off a bit.

But as with all places who cook these kinds of lamb cuts this way, I love the undeniable depth of meaty flavour.

And there’s lots of it.




Moving on over to the more Middle Eastern aspects of the menu, mixed grill is a bargain at $12.90.

It comes with the same rice and salad, a “chapati” and a tub of exuberantly garlicky dip.

There’s a skewer apiece of lamb, chicken and …




… lamb kofta, which is served separately as it takes a little while longer to cook.

They’re all terrific.





Dosas go (further) west

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Dosa Hut, Wyndham Village Shopping Centre, 380 Sayers Road, Tarneit. Phone: 8742 4263

Dosa Hut in West Footscray has become an institution.

So much so that even the recent appearance of an upstart imitator right across the road has caused not a blip in Dosa Hut’s business.

But it should always be gratefully remembered that it was Dosa Hut that brought dosas – and related foods such as idlis and vadas – to Melbourne’s west.

Those introductions have wrought a revolution.

These days, it’s very rare to find an Indian restaurant on West Footscray’s Barkly Street Indian precinct – or Werribee’s equally busy Watton Street – that doesn’t sell dosas and the like.

As well, most who do so are these days also selling biryanis, Indo-Chinese dishes and even breakfast/snack dishes such as bhel puri and cholle bhature.

And they are often doing so without having on their menus once-were-staples such as beef vindaloo or butter chicken.

All this has been great for us punters – we’ve got more variety of Indian food in the west at lower prices than is normally the case in more formal a la carte joints.

It can even be argued that much of this new wave of Indian food is healthier!




But as we’ve been chowing down on our inner-west dosas, the western suburbs themselves have been expanding at a frenetic pace.

And in the new housing wilds of Tarneit and Truganina, there has been little or no Indian food to be had – until now.

I suspect the opening of a Dosa Hut branch at Wyndham Village Shopping Centre is a masterstroke – one that is soon to followed by another branch at Roxburgh Park.

The new Tarneit establishment has more obvious similarities to a fast-food place than its West Footscray sibling – the young and efficient staff are even decked out in uniform black, including caps, and the ordering process is conducted via tablets.

But as far as we can tell, the long menu is the same.

There’s enough that’s recognisable about our surroundings that we relax but we nevertheless stick to a couple of old stagers to share – just to make sure the food here is of the same high standard as closer to home.

As we fully expect it to be …




Masala dosa ($9.50) – with the crisp, fermented rice and black lentil crepe stuffed with spuds – is the default position when it comes to dosas; not as bare or unadorned as a plain dosa, not as rich as those stuffed with lamb, chicken or cheese.

This is a fine version with all the accoutrements lined up, including a very fine sambar (a soupish, curry mix of dal and vegetables), though the potato masala is bit more dry and crumbly than we are familiar with.




Chicken biryani ($11.95) looks a little on the plain, unseasoned side as it is brought to our table.




But spilling the rice, profusely studded with cloves and cardamom pods, on to our metal tray reveals a much wetter and more highly flavoured mixture.

Buried among it are a chook drumstick and a meaty thigh, both good of flavour.

The peanutty gravy and runny raita are the usual, expected and enjoyable accessories.

Just one, final word of warning – not all the food at the likes of a Dosa Hut is highly spiced and hot.

But most of it is – if you’re not used to very hot food, or who have children who are likewise, ask the staff for safe tips.

The BeeeasT of Tarneit



BeeeasT Burgers, 1 Alexandra Avenue, Tarneit. Phone: 9974 6971

It’s difficult to imagine a more whitebread upbringing than school life in particular and life in general than that experienced by CTS in the ’60s and ’70s.

There were occasional exotic influences and people – though not much in the way of exotic food – but by and large Maori people and culture in particular were something that happened in textbooks, the North Island or the All Blacks.

A later career move that found me living, and surfing, in Gisborne and, before and after, in Wellington brought a more homogenous New Zealand to my life.

Still, the Melbourne move when it came was made at least in part because of the desire not to simply slip into a Kiwi sub-culture in, say, Sydney or Brisbane.

I love my Kiwi brothers and sisters, whatever their genre, but I have no desire to be surrounded by them at the expense of all else.

But after almost 15 years in the west, there has been a change.

It started – or, rather, I started to notice it – at Bennie’s primary school, where one of his best pals was a young Maori lad.

It continued with the thoroughly Kiwi-infused vibe of the Footscray Bulldogs Rugby Union Club, for which Bennie played for a couple of seasons.

In more recent times, I have enjoyed monitoring the ups and downs of the Altona Roosters Rugby League Club, though I have yet to make it to a game.

As well, I am enjoying observing through Facebook the beaut work of Victoria Maori Wardens and their efforts to keep Maori and Islander youngsters from getting into big trouble. I will make it a point to meet them one day.

I even diary-marked a couple of Waitangi Day functions this year – one in Elsternwick, one in Altona – but sadly missed both.

Maori may not flow in my blood but it resides in my soul, and is capable of surprising me with the force and profundity with which it sometimes surfaces.




All these things are but a reflection of the fact the Maori and Islander population of Melbourne’s west has increased dramatically in the past decade or so, drawn like so many of us from around the world by housing prices but also, these days, no doubt by a sense of community as well.

Honey knows all about it.

She and her family live in Point Cook, but Honey travels to Manor Lakes p-12 College for her regular gig as assistant principal.

Assistant principal of a western suburbs school of 1800 or so kids?

Oh yes, she knows very well the changing face of the west in general and its Maori/Islander face in particular.

Incredibly, Honey has another job – she is a co-owner and co-proprietor of BeeeasT Burgers in Tarneit.

And the BeeasT itself, which shares a small business precinct with the likes of branches of Briyani House and International Foods, is testament to the growing Maori/Islander community in the west.

The business has been up and running since November yet in that time it has amassed a staggering 9000-plus Facebook likes.




So it is with an easy smile that I front up for a chat and a feed.

In truth, aside from sweet potato chips on the menu (see below) and L&P in the fridge, there’s nowt that is particularly Kiwi about the fare here.

But there is no mistaking the nature of the management or the joint’s customers.

Many of the burgers listed are more complex and grandiose than fit my immediate needs, so I go for the Fair Dinkum ($10) – minus the pineapple.

All Beeeast burgers come with chips.

Those chips appear a tad nondescript but are really excellent and hot.

Similarly, my burger looks modest but goes down a treat.

It’s like a cross between an Aussie-style corner store burger and Grill’d, mostly because the very good patty has a real beefiness about it.



The beauty of western vistas




The western suburbs have certainly got their hooks into me.

When I am visiting other parts of the city, even those generally deemed as being more aesthetically pleasing than the west, I am frequently beset by an urgency to get home to our “industrial landscapes”.

And in those landscapes, I find beauty and allure.

I revel in the weirdness and the sometimes startling juxtapositions.

I love tooling around western residential areas only to be blindsided by paddocks and old farm houses.

That’s why the work of Tarneit artist Rachel Hanna reverberated with me when I learned of it.

Rachel has been painting for 10 years and has lived with her family in Tarneit for two, and she too reverberates with the west.

“You can breathe over here,” she tells me while installing her exhibition, On The Way From Here To There at the Point Cook Community Learning Centre.

Rachel tells me that, among other things, she adores shipping containers as subjects – although she confesses she finds them difficult to paint.

Looking at the paintings in her exhibition, I find some that I recognise immediately, others that are less obvious – but they all have a genuine western vibe about them.

The paintings are for sale, ranging in price from $150 to $650.

When I venture that such prices seem rather low for exhibition works, Rachel quips: “They’re priced to sell – I need more canvases!”

On The Way From Here To There at the Point Cook Community Learning Centre, 1–21 Cheethamis  Street, Point Cook, until September 19.

For more details, go here.