"Are you sure this is such a good idea?" said my friend as we rounded the corner. At the top of the stairs, though, the hearty albeit pleasantly surprised welcome from the owner made us feel instantly at home. Vardar Grill is on the first floor of a quiet shopping strip in St Albans and is an extended "Dad's pool room", decked out in fishing trophies, pennants, flags and scenes of the old country. It's a welcome refuge for the western suburbs' Macedonian community but also warmly welcomes seekers of grilled meats and quiet conversation.
I know very little about Macedonian food. I had a Macedonian housemate once but his only acknowledgement of the food of his homeland were his mad scientist-like yoghurt experiments, which left the stovetop a perpetual shade of burnt and bubbled brown and the house infused with the alternating smells of boiled or off milk. He was never successful. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all he would say of Macedonian cooking was that it was "hard".
Here at Vardar, there is a small menu in Macedonian (its English transliteration, at least) above the bar. Vardar specialises in grilled meats and we happily deferred to the owner's suggestions. The fish was perfectly cooked, dusted in flour and fried quickly. We also sampled cevap or skinless sausages which were super-meaty, juicy and rich. An accompanying salad of vinegared coleslaw and just-sliced cucumber was excellent.
Look for the red sign on the balcony - entrance on the side of the building (there is a sign ;)
We sipped our beers and then an impeccable short black. As the world outside darkened slowly, one of the guys on the balcony fetched a huge accordion-like instrument and with his friends, began to sing. Outside the Sydenham line rushed past and the gum trees came into relief against the summer night sky. The Macedonian presence in the west is perhaps not immediately apparent, but like a folk song carried on a Balkan breeze, if you care to listen you will be richly rewarded.
More Macedonian treats can be found at Kings Fresh Burek, 58 Kings Rd, St Albans (amazing spinach & cheese burek) and Michael's Deli, 50 Leeds St, Footscray (the best sausages - try the kolbasi)
First floor, cnr Furlong Rd and Willaton St, St Albans (map)
Phone: 9364 1440
Hours: Mon/Tues 2pm-11pm, Wed-Fri noon-midnight, Sat 2pm-2am, Sun noon-11pm