Thursday, March 12, 2009

in search of lunch

It’s been a while since I blogged about lunch. The quest for a workday lunch in the CBD for the digestively fussy is a never ending search. Generally I go for rice over bread and if you’ve been reading my words for a while you will probably know that meat and dairy is off the menu. Throw in some MSG and I will never darken your doorstep again.

Too many places I like have shut down in my small patch of central Melbourne. Satay Bar is still a block or three too far in the nether reaches of Flinders Lane. Just after I spruiked the wonders of Invita the Hardware Lane café shut. No more tofu burgers for me. While there is the odd foray into the David Jones food hall, which never tastes quite right in that subterranean over chilled environment, I tend to rotate through my top three choices. So at long last - all is revealed

The Food Nazi's top three CBD lunches

1. 3 Nori Rolls and Miso at Sushi Monger

When Tokio in The Causeway reverted to 1 small shopfront I’m sure they were a little miffed to find the other half of their premises become another Japanese eatery. Tokio and I go way back, possibly 20 odd years, to when I first moved to this city. A family run business offering the usual “dons” (meat, prawns, eel or tofu on rice) plus gyoza, curry and a few other treats by the time they halved their floor size they’d also dropped down to just mum and dad doing all the serving and cooking. Prices rose, number of seats dropped and often the wait to be served seemed endless. I felt guilty defecting after so long but Sushi Monger offers the best nori roll deal in town. While the directly compete with their long established neighbour on various similarly priced hot dishes, people literally line up down the street to get some cheap sushi.

Sushi Monger has been open about 3 or 4 years now and despite a change of ownership, or at least in terms of the “face” of the Sushi Monger (Mr Sushi is now a guy I think of as “Slow Hand Luke”) and installation of a nori rolling machine, they go from strength to strength. Perhaps because their “3 rolls and a soup” deal for $6.80 has not gone up in price since they first opened. Now considering the high-end rolls, such as tempura prawn or fresh salmon (generous chunks) and avocado, sell for $2.50 a pop, getting three with soup is a money saver. The salmon always tastes fresh, the avocado is usually perfect and this place is understandably packed out every working day of the week.

The trusty "specials" board propped on a chair outside Sushi Monger hasn't changed since they first opened

2. Masala Dosai at Nila City

Down the quieter end of Degraves Street is a modest little Indian establishment by the name of Nila City. They have sister restaurants in Forest Hill and Brunswick, churning out classics from the region. There is only one dish for me, something I first tasted in some little restaurant behind Euston Station in London in the ‘80’s – a Masala dosai.

A dosai if you have never been lucky enough to have one is often described as a pancake but that is a totally inadequate translation. Sure there is a batter involved but this one is fermented and the flour is usually made from ground lentils. It is thinly applied to a a greased hotplate in swirls resulting in a huge, crispy disc. The Masala version at Nila is usually filled with potato curry and served with dahl and other condiments. The added bonus when consuming the tasty meal (for less than $6, though the outdated menu on the website is a tad out of date), is the Bollywood greatest hits blaring from the plasma screen.

3. Vegetarian Combination at Sheni’s Curries

Though hardly a secret to anyone with a weakness for Sri Lankan cuisine, Sheni’s Curries (near corner of Russell St and Flinders Lane, next to Yak Bar) is a place I love so much I have been reluctant to blog about it. I’ve been eating here on a regular basis since 1997 and it’s still as good as the first time I tentatively crossed their doorstep. This is the place I go when I want a decent feed at lunchtime. Don’t be put off by the bain marie – the food is all fresh and delicious but the real deal is the meal option – vegetarian or meat, small or large. The Sri Lankan curries are not for the chilli-averse but are rich in flavour and offer a very healthy lunch option – dahl, 2 vegetables curries (they change each day), along with rice, poppadom and condiments (including extra hot stuff is you so desire). If I am very hungry and the fish curry of the day is tuna, I might add that too for an extra dollar fifty.

I tend to ignore fried things in the cabinet typical Southern Indian fare, crispy and enticing as they arey. So too the interesting looking meal of the day that gets a wide following, as they are all meat based on the days I am in the city. The food is always good value and the so-called small serving option is very generous. One of the nicest things about the place (other than the lovely twins who run it) is the variety of vegetarian curries they make, meaning each visit may have offer a dish a little different to the last. There’s often a queue but it is worth the wait, your meals are served directly to you and it doesn’t take long at all.

But please, don’t all rush there at once!

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Blogger Bwca said...

'the board hasn't changed since they opened'

I love that. Indicates loyal clientele.

2:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rather like Shenis Curries myself...have eaten there with numerous people over the years...perhaps even with your good self! Often a squish but the food is ace. Anon

4:24 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Anon - you were the one wearing the pink carnation, right? :)

7:06 pm  

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