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.
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.
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!
133 Nicholson St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9687 8091
Hours: 7 days