Wednesday, July 7, 2010

African Cottage

Nicholson St, south of Hopkins, has always been my least favourite part of Footscray.  In the past, there has been a dearth of good food options around this area, and despite the relatively recent makeover of the mall, it's still the place I would least like to sit on any given day.  A woman, arms folded across her chest like a straightjacket, walks barefoot with quick, angry steps as she stares at the ground.  Two men stride past, arms waving and eyes staring wildly, declaiming society's ills as their jackets billow out behind them in the wind.  The evidence of drugs is all around.  I'm not afraid for my safety; rather, it's just an unhappy place.

Something is happening in the southern section, though, between Irving and Paisley.  A formerly disused arcade between Nicholson and Albert Sts, now known as the Little Khartoum Arcade, has been reborn as a sandalwood-scented passage to Africa.  I love to walk through slowly and window-shop - everything from kitschy Afro hair products, mysterious spices in unlabeled packets, and furniture that Franco Cozzo would covet.  The positive vibe is now spilling out onto Nicholson Street, where new restaurants and cafes have sprung up between the forlorn shopfronts.  Now, men meet in the street, smiling and shaking hands, before ducking in to their favourite cafe for a meal and a chat.

Chan and I were craving some of Khartoum's luscious ful (a broad bean mash, not unlike Mexican frijoles or refried beans) but that Sunday, it was closed.  African Cottage beckoned - a first here for me.

African Cottage have a mix of traditional Sudanese dishes and modern café fare, like lasagna and tortellini.

We kept it old school and went for ful and omnemia, a lamb stew.

The chef presented us with this complimentary starter, a bowl of chicken broth.  If you didn't already know, I am a total stock tragic.  If I don't have at least two litres of it in the freezer, I get palpitations.  I will scope the chicken shops at the market, not looking for who has the lowest price on breast fillets, but to see who has the meatiest bones.  Full marks to African Cottage - this broth was brilliant!  It was so comforting, flavoursome, and had a soothing, slightly thickened texture.

Ful, $6

Top marks for excellent ful, too.  This was chunky, with soft broad beans and pieces of tomato, sprinkled with two types of cheese and tangy spring onions.  It came with an impossibly large basket of pita bread to scoop it up with.
Omnemia, $8

The omnemia was a rich, slow-cooked, chunky lamb and tomato stew.  It surrounded an island of aseeda, or cornmeal porridge.  It was just fantastic!  The stew was so rich, without being fatty at all.  If you put a sprig of thyme on the edge, it could have passed for a hearty Italian peasant dish.  The aseeda was much smoother than normal polenta, but just as tasty.  We pinched fingerfuls of it and used them to scoop up the chunks of meat, or just to dip in the rich sauce.

The chef here is so friendly.  They have a coffee machine and a range of African beers, too.  Check it out - the $2.50 coffee lives at African Cottage!  Oh, and the bill?  $7 each for two courses.  That puts me in my happy place!

African Cottage
133 Nicholson St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9687 8091
Hours: 7 days 

African Cottage on Urbanspoon


  1. I've been dying to check this place out!! One more thing to squeeze in this weekend then. Oh and I love Khartoum. Had a fried fish there recently which was served with this amazingly pungent green chilli sauce. Don't you love Footscray!!

  2. Hehehe I like how you opted for the 'ful' spelling and not the one in the photo!

  3. Hi Temasek - yes, go! It's great. I love Khartoum's fish and their chilli paste too!

    Hi Billy - yes, it is a rather unfortunately Anglicisation, isn't it?! You sometimes see cans of broad beans that have "Foul Medammes" or similar on them. Always makes me think of "foul madams", hee hee.

  4. yum--yet another place to put on my list! :-)

  5. I've never tried African food, though hoping to for the first time ever next week. As a beer nerd, I am rather intrigued by what African beer is like!

    I wish Footscray wasn't so far from me. You make me want to visit all these fantastic-sounding places :)

  6. Kurichan - I have a looong list too, which continually gets doubled back on as I can't resist old favourites! Sigh!

    Gem - ooh, I am excited for you! What sort of African are you going? I know Penny wants to try Cafe Lalibela in Foots - maybe we can do a bloggers' night out when I am back from o/s. The beer is awesome IMHO. BTW, there's a great West African restaurant in Dandenong called African Village.

  7. i have never tried the Sudanese ful, only the Egyptian kind which doesn't have cheese in it. This restaurant sounds and looks great, i just wish i could get food like this near where i live.

  8. Hi Elinor - interesting! I've never had Egyptian ful. It really reminds me of Mexican frijoles, which I also love.

  9. Oh man, that all sounds great. Bennie and me have looked in here a few times, but have always headed elsewhere; but this great review makes me much more interested.

    "I will scope the chicken shops at the market, not looking for who has the lowest price on breast fillets, but to see who has the meatiest bones." OMG, ha ha - as a fellow stock tragic I am comprehensively familiar with this outlook!


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