Thursday, October 28, 2010


"You have better watch out," said Mr Baklover, crisply snapping the sports section of the paper, "or you are going to become the Vietnamese Food Blog rather than the Footscray Food Blog".  "Well!" harrumphed I.  Yes, I have been to a disproportionate number of Vietnamese restaurants recently, I suppose, but that label - "Vietnamese restaurant" - is somewhat unhelpful.  I am reminded of a time eating on Victoria Street when a friend and I brought his sister to our favourite place.  We had been there once before with her, but she sighed and said, "Let's go somewhere different.  They're all the same after all," and before we could protest, had stepped into the place next door, which incidentally was more a BBQ meats place than a bun rice vermicelli salad place.

There's my problem, I explained to Mr Baklover - a "Vietnamese restaurant" could mean a pho joint, a hu tieu mi (clear rice/egg noodle soup) house, a no-nonsense com tam lunch spot, a crowded banh mi counter or a show-stopping, full-banquet, Vietnamese/Chinese extravaganza!  Nevertheless he did have a point, I suppose, so on date night we headed for Ethiopian.  Little did I know that the very diversity I had just acknowledged under the Vietnamese banner would now reappear where I least expected it.

Adulis is the newest East African restaurant in Footscray, having just opened in May of this year.  Eating out regularly in Footscray, we are so used to function rather than style, so the charming dining room and atmosphere came as a pleasant surprise.  The tables were draped with white tablecloths (albeit with a nonna-style clear plastic tablecloth over the top) and set with wine glasses.

The walls were painted in a very sexy bronze metallic tone and hung thoughtfully with African-style art.  Funky ethnobeat played on the stereo.  The delightful owner served us with charm and totally un-self-conscious flair.

Sambusa, $2 and Green Chilly, $2

This sambusa, a local version of the more widely-known Indian samosa, was yummy, filled with spicy lamb with just the right amount of richness.  The green chilli was simply a raw chilli, deseeded and split, and filled with a tomato and onion mixture made luscious through long marination in lemon and olive oil.  It was surprisingly delicious, like a fresh, healthy nacho chip.

Beb 'Ainetu meat ($20) and veg ($15)

Ethiopian restaurants are a paradise for the indecisive - there's always a chef's selection that gives you the best of everything.  A huge round platter was proudly presented to us, draped with kitcha or barley-based, pancake-like local bread.  Starting from the 12 o'clock position we had doro kulwha (mild "yellow" chicken), doro wat (chicken curry), zigni (sauteed beef), alicha (which I know as tikil gomen, cabbage and carrots), yellow lentils, "spinach" and misir wat (spicy lentils).

Oh boy - where to start?  This food was simply fabulous.  The doro kulwha was an absolute revelation.  Gingery, lemony and zingy, with the undertone of sweet caramelised onions and tender chicken.  Its spicier cousin, the doro wat, was a rich, earthy, earthly delight of red berbere spice, tomato paste and onions, surrounding tender chicken and a hard-boiled egg.  The zigni was similar to the doro wat but included small tender cubes of meat instead and was lusciously buttery.

Misir wat (red lentils) and spinach

Moving on to the vegies, the alicha was excellent - perfectly cooked cabbage, carrots and green beans in butter and turmeric.  The yellow lentils were cooked with similar simple aromatics like ginger and turmeric and provided a contrast to the misir wat or spicy lentils which, like the doro wat, had been cooked with berbere.  The "spinach" (which I think may have been kale?) was fantastic, a dry, perfectly cooked, just slightly pleasantly bitter delight with the tang of iron on your tongue.

Shoro (part of Beb 'Ainetu or chef's selection)

With a proud flourish, we were also presented with this intriguing pot of shoro (aka shiro) or chickpea-flour stew, served in a gorgeous shiny black pot complete with matching lid.  Oh gods, this was just divine.  I have had shiro before at Ethiopian restaurants and have never liked it, finding it to be a dry, crumbly pseudo-dal that is redeemed only by the green chillis spiked throughout.  Adulis' shoro is absolutely nothing like that.  It is rich and luscious, the chickpea flour smooth and thick, the undertones of onion and just a little tomato radiating throughout the whole pot.  So - totally - divine !

We also received this little dish of traditional hot sauce.  We had fun trying to unravel the many threads of flavour running through this little pot of red gold.  It is hot but not overly so, but the overwhelming flavour is that of smokiness, almost like chipotle chilli.  Yes, we did ask what was in it, but only got a shake of the head and a friendly wink - "Secret!"


As well as the barley-based, sturdier kitcha or pancake-bread upon which our meal was served, we received a basket of pillow-soft, tangy, wheat-based white injera.  This traditional East African bread is made by fermenting a batter of various flours (giving a pleasant sour flavour, just like sourdough bread) and then pouring onto a large, flat pan so that one side is covered in millions of little craters that act as sponges for all the delicious flavours.

We ate until we were stuffed and then we ate some more.  The food was that good.  Everything belied a really careful hand.  Sometimes Ethiopian dishes such as doro wat which involve slow-cooked onion can have a very slight bitter undertone if the onions were allowed to brown instead of caramelise - not so here.  Again, at some restaurants everything can taste a bit "same-same", whereas here at Adulis every dish had its own individual, very distinct flavours.  The ingredients were quality and had been treated with care - no grey hard-boiled egg yolk here.  My only criticism is they have no Ethiopian beers.

Most times I eat Ethiopian, after I finish I have to go and wash my hands straight away, not because I am overly fastidious (as anyone who has seen my bedroom floor would know) but because the food can be really, really oily.  This was absolutely not the case at Adulis - oil was used judiciously.  The flavours were so clean and the ingredients of such quality that there was no need to drown everything in cooking oil.

Later a friend asked how it compared to The Abyssinian in Kensington.  I replied it was as good if not better, and the comparison got me thinking.  The Abyssinian is actually Eritrean before it is Ethiopian, and with a little research, I believe Adulis is actually Eritrean too.  So next time you are out and fancy Ethiopian, ask yourself if you wouldn't rather try Eritrean.  Hey, even if you feel like Vietnamese, go try it.  Do support this delightful restaurant - you won't be disappointed!

Two cocktail umbrellas up - way up!

Adulis on Urbanspoon
Shop 1, 68A Hopkins St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9687 3375
Open:  Tuesday to Sunday

In respose to a reader request I am delighted to now include a small separate review on the restaurant's wheelchair accessibility as well as a "wheelchair accessible" tag for easy navigation.  Exactly what "wheelchair accessible" means has been somewhat of a challenge for me to work out, though!  There's no "checklist" or "wishlist" online I could find.  How high is too high for a step?  When is a lip a step?  What about the amount of room in and around tables?  Does bathroom access come into it?  Please write in and give me your suggestions as to how to improve this section.

Wheelchair Accessibility
Entry:  Double doors level to the ground.
Layout:  Spacious with plenty of room around tables.
Bathroom:  Not viewed.


  1. Great review and fun to read, Ms Baklover! We've been there, but a while ago, so I'll leave it at that. Yes, it's so true - in our little and very rich corner of the world, saying Vietnamese restaurant or African restaurant does a lazy injustice to food cultures that are rich and varied. I do it, too, even though I should know better! We're a long way down the road from "Chinese restaurant" meaning sweet and sour, after all!

  2. I really don't knw where to start when it comes to the local African (yes, OK, Ethiopian and Eritrean - and I'm sure other) restaurants. My plan was to start as close to my apartment as possible, and radiate out. I think Abesha might be first on the list? I'm definitely going to have to get some guidance from you!

    Kenny, I'm a lot closer to the "Chinese restaurants" than you - Poon's and Jim Wong's are both on my block! I still refuse to go there. :P

  3. Kenny, it wasn't Emu Cafe that you went to that used to be there? Adulis has only been there since May...?

  4. Billy, let me know when you are keen to go and perhaps we can go together! Abesha is supposed to be good: I love this part of that review:

    "But sometimes (who I presume to be) her son takes the orders. He is a gentle-mannered young man. I once asked for "a white wine and a scotch," and he gave me white wine and scotch - in the same glass - then watched me curiously from the counter."

  5. Lauren, yes our visit predates both places. Very uncool of me to visit sins of the predecessors on the current crew! I love the constant turnover! Keeps things fresh and interesting. Billy, I went to one of those place once. :)

  6. Billy & Lauren - I am up for it. this place sounds lovely!

  7. Yum--I am overdue for Ethiopian and this sounds great!

  8. Lauren, Adulis looks great. Have only managed Ethiopian once, solo, The Bloke is a bit hesitant for some reason. If you head off to Abesha and can squeeze one more in, let me know.

  9. Hi Lauren,
    I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for the reviews and photos. Look forward to coming reviews.


  10. The number for Adulis is not connecting... are they still open?

  11. buriramtourakom I don't think they are! They seemed to shut down like a week after they made it into the Age - so strange. Go to Dinknesh Lucy - so great, especially the zilzil tibs. I will do a post about them soon. Alternately African Taste in Victoria Street, Seddon is fantastic.

  12. Thanks Lauren! African Taste was booked out for the night I wanted, so I'm going to try Awash. But will definitely try African Taste and Dinknesh Lucy over the next few weeks. Thanks for your blog! It's been really helpful in giving me tips about my new side of town!

    (p.s. different profile, same person - LJ wasn't connecting)

  13. Katherine, it is a pleasure! Awash are great, reasonably priced and family-run. Their doro wat is pretty awesome. :)


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