Maha Bar & Grill

October 3, 2011

21 Bond Street, Melbourne
I am so far behind with the number of blog posts I need to write up, it’s ridiculous. I went to Maha with my parents (my unlucky brother was sick) on Father’s Day, a shamefully long time ago. Apologies.
As part of the Press Club Group owned by the adorable George Calombaris and Shane Delia, Maha has received quite a bit of attention recently, so I was keenly interested to try out their food. I am a particular fan of Middle-Eastern/Turkish flavours, I love their use of fresh ingredients like lemon, sumac and mint and I am pleased to report that Maha did not, in any way, disappoint on this acocunt.
The restaurant can be found along a dark, empty, rather sketchy looking alley near Queen Street, but once inside its subterranean space, you are calmed by the cool dark lines and series of wooden columns breaking up the room. The decor was quite minimalist, but was accented with some funky Middle-Eastern pieces like cushions, bowls and vases. Oh, and the token evil eye sitting above the bar, which seems to be a feature in every Calombaris restaurant I visit.
To drink we each selected a glass of wine: Mum had a Sav Blanc from the Loire Valley, I had a Rose from Heathcote, and Dad had a Shiraz from Morocco, which was fantastic and completely different to Australian Shiraz in taste.
On Father’s Day, as on every Sunday, Maha’s only menu is a banquet, which we happily subscribed to. To begin, we had chicken and lemon soup. I enjoyed the way this dish was presented; it began with a bowl of breadcrumbs, pinenuts, fried garlic, micro-herbs and an egg that had been coddled for an hour and was joyfully translucent and wobbly. Then the waiter poured over the broth, which I thought was a nice idea because it meant we could enjoy the look of the egg first.The soup was lovely, light and lemony (three of my favourite words starting with “L”): I loved the contrasting crunch of breadcrumbs and fried garlic, and the thickness of the egg’s yolk.

For our mezzedes course, we shared a few small plates, including olives marinated in a Maltese paste called “fel fel”, which is made up of bread and chilli and had a fantastic kick to it. We also had a pide with cheese, smoked bacon and shanklish which was great and smokey (surprise surprise). There was a lovely sweet dish of beetroot that was roasted and tossed with almonds, parsley and feta.

The last two dishes were a plate of bulgar salad with pomegranate molasses and capsicum (nice, almost crunchy), and a fabulous hoummus that we ate with the soft turkish bread provided.

Our three main dishes came out together, along with a side of rice and a salad. The first I tried was the chargrilled wild barramundi with dukka and artichokes. The fish was simply awesome, probably my highlight of the meal. The barramundi (my favourite fish) had a beautiful delicate flavour and was perfectly set off with the tang of lemon and salt. The tangy artichokes were a nice touch.

Second on my list was the slow roasted lamb shoulder with pistachio and olive tabouleh. Cue salivation. This was my (other) favourite from the lunch, the lamb was super tender and melted in your mouth. The tabouleh was also excellent, I enjoyed the clean and simple flavours of the lemon and parsley. Such a tasty dish, I loved it. The waiter told us this was one of the most popular dishes on the menu, and I’m not surprised.

The accompanying rice had an aromatic and delicate flavour, it was mixed with raisins and almonds.

The final main dish we had was the bangalow pork belly with celeriac, semolina, fried cauliflower and tahini. This was also very nice, although my least favourite of the three (but still amazing). There was a nice balance of flesh and fat in the pork, and it had an excellent crackling that we all enjoyed munching on. I also loved the snazzy little cauliflower floreets.

I finished our savory courses with a refreshing serve of Fatoush, what I like to think of as the Greek Salad of the Middle-East: the perennial favourite with simple, fresh ingredients that everyone likes. I especially loved the bits of crispy flatbread and the tangy sumac and mint dressing.

Last was glyka, sweets, and we were again presented with a smorgasboard, this time of desserts. First up was the chocolate and orange sponge, a quenelle of bitter chocolate sorbet and chocolate rice crisps. The rice crisps I thought were a little disappointing, basically coco pops, but the sponge and icy sorbet were a fantastic mix.
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My favourite of the desserts were the turkish delight filled maha doughnuts with almonds and rose water syrup. These were very similar to the Greek doughnuts my mum makes, crisp on the outside but soft and doughy inside, served warm. The turkish delight I thought was an inspired addition, but we would have enjoyed a larger piece in the doughnuts.

Finally, I had my portion of hibiscus jelly, yoghurt and toffeed walnuts. The yoghurt was ice cold (perhaps Maha should turn down their fridge temperature), but was the perfect foil to the super sweet jelly.

We finished the meal with Moroccan mint tea, a favourite of ours.

Upon departure, we were presented with a “little bit of Maha to take home” – DIY packs of the turkish delight filled doughnuts, complete with all the ingredients and instructions needed to make the tasty little morsels, complete with a YouTube link of chef Shane Delia making them. How considerate. I quite liked this idea, especially given how much I enjoyed those doughnuts!

 

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