A pet crisis sees us visiting the critical care clinic of the University of Melbourne’s School of Veterinary Science in Werribee. It has been quite a while since I was last in Werribee – as a young child I used to fish for bream at the mouth of the Werribee River with my father and brothers. Back then, the town was a sleepy rural centre quite separate from Melbourne.
Bilby Blue’s online investigations have us heading for the Black Seed Café, and two small strokes of luck suggest that this was meant to be: first, we amazingly find a parking space right in front of the café; second, just as we enter the packed dining area a table for two is vacated.
Baked egg shanklish
The Black Seed Café presents as a typical modern café: footpath tables under branded umbrellas, commercial espresso machine by the cash register and a glass display case offering house-made savoury pastries and dessert treats. There are some attractive decorator touches – including a rusty ivy-entwined bicycle and large station clock – but nothing to mark this place as anything special.
Then you see the food being served to other patrons – excellent, imaginative presentations and generous portions stimulate the eyes and the appetite. The menu beckons.
The food options confirm the impression of a good on-trend café – a smashed avocado variation, a gluten-free muesli, eggs in various incarnations, a burger, and spicy calamari salad. There is a Middle Eastern slant to several of the dishes providing a point of difference. We are attracted to two in particular: baked egg shanklish and chickpea battered cauliflower fritters with sesame yoghurt, coriander, sumac and pickled onion.
What on earth is ‘shanklish’? Is it an ingredient, a cooking technique, or something else? Waleed, the owner and manager, cheerfully explains that shanklish is a cheese and offers us a taste. There are some similarities to feta – smooth texture with a sharp taste – but also differences, as shanklish is coated in pepper and intensely flavoured dried herbs such as oregano and basil. It is quite strong on its own, but Waleed assures us that it mellows and makes the baked egg dish very special, and he is right! You have to wait about 20 minutes for the baked eggs, but the wait is worth every minute. Two perfectly baked eggs wallow in an extremely moreish harissa tomato stew with eggplant, capsicum, sujuk (spicy beef sausage), labne and shanklish, served with a mountain of wonderfully toasted sourdough. As promised, the shanklish has mellowed and blended into the stew. It is a huge serve and full of flavour. I am very happy, mopping up the last traces of the stew with the sourdough.
These confirm that Black Seed Café is, indeed, very special.
Making good use of the wait for the baked eggs, we notice a waitress delivering a mountain of whipped cream studded with sweet goodies, all mounted atop a jar. “What was that?” we enquire as she returns past our table. ‘That’ was a chocolate milkshake, which explains why the milkshakes are $12, especially as the sweet goodies include a slab of chocolate brownie. Other options are berry surprise (which comes with a small berry-laden meringue) and salted caramel (with a caramel slice). Despite the very generous servings that we have just devoured, we succumb to temptation. Common sense suggests that we share a single serve. Salted caramel is our choice, with a chocolate brownie substituted for the caramel slice, which unfortunately has run out.
OverallGreat food and friendly, cheerful service in a popular family-run establishment. Waleed and his wife Faye have also deservedly won an award for the best café in the west.
We would happily make a special trip to Werribee to eat those baked eggs again. And for my next sweet treat I would order the raspberry hotcake (chocolate mousse, macadamia and coconut crunch with mascarpone).
Find it atBlack Seed Café
133 Watton Street
Werribee Vic 3030
Phone 0435 191 922