May 28, 2012

 116 Lygon Street, East Brunswick
Rumi. Persian poet. Medieval North African numbering system. Middle Eastern restaurant on upper Lygon Street. Guess which one I visited a few weeks ago.

Relocated from its original position further up Lygon Street, Rumi continues to seduce Melbourne with its affordable and moorish Middle Eastern cuisine. Having seen the restaurant featured on Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Melbourne, I was very keen to try it out.

After perusing the menu online and a number of other food blogs, it came to my attention that their banquet menu involves quite a lot of food at ridiculously good value (from memory $45 per head), so I headed over one balmy evening with my brother and some friends (J and A) to try it out.

The restaurant is large and light, with interesting screens separating the dining room and creating more intimate areas. The waitstaff were polite initially, though towards the end of the meal they got impatient with us because they needed the table for another booking. So they kicked us out without us having finished our meal. Because they can’t manage two sittings. SO DISAPPOINTING. The food here is brilliant, no joke. But the sitting length, and the way they manage the timing of food? Godawful.

Let me start from the beginning. When I called to make our 6:30 booking, I was told we’d have to be out of there by 8:30, which is fine. Not ideal, but acceptable, I get that restaurants often need to do two sittings to turnover enough customers in one night.

We arrived at 6:30, where I immediately said to the waiter “We’d like the banquet please, if that’s available”. He warned me that dessert may be a bit of a squeeze if we didn’t decide what we wanted to eat asap, and I reassured him that a) we’d like the banquet, please, b) we understand time pressures but c) we’ve heard great things about your desserts and would love it if you could try to fit them in.

Twenty minutes later, he returns to ask, “So, have you decided whether or not you’re having the banquet?” Durr…All I will say is, I am glad Alex and I had such wonderful company to distract from the poor supervision of the meal!

So now it’s 6:50, and finally we’ve officially ordered the banquet.

Promptly, the first course of the shared menu arrives; mixed Lebanese and Iranian pickled vegetables; crudites and taratoor sauce; labne with lebanese flat bread; sigara boregi.

Circling clockwise from the top, the labne was tangy; the bread chewy and stretchy (though indistinguishable from the packet lebanese bread I buy in the supermarket). I love cucumber with salt, it gives it such a brilliant flavour, and we enjoyed dipping it into the taratoor sauce which is similar to hummus but with a stronger sesame flavour.

The sigara boregi are brilliant, a must-try. Filled with haloumi, feta and kasseri cheeses, these crunchy, warm little morsels went down in a flash! Obviously it’s not a particularly ingenious idea, wrapping something in filo and frying it, but these were really, really good.

Pickles! (Bernard Black)

We kept on trying to guess what the pink vegetable was; subsequently revealed to be turnip dyed in beetroot!

What with all of us being Greek and very keen on food, we polished the entrees off pretty quickly, and the next course was delivered at 7:15 (I’d been keeping tabs of the time).

The standout dish from this course were the spiced school prawns with tahini. I loved the crunch from the shells and the smokey flavour from the spices, all contrasted with the tang of the tahini.

Persian meat balls with an aromatic saffron and tomato sauce.

The braised greens look unappetising but they had a really lovely flavour and reminded me of how my grandmother used to cook wild greens with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

The next course arrive at 7:35 and I felt that, given the spacing between the courses so far, we were in good stead to squeeze in dessert. I reminded the waiter of our desire to try some sweets and he said he’d try and fit them in.

Another stand out from the evening, and one dish you simply must order if you visit Rumi is the fried cauliflower. I’ve raved about cauliflowers dishes at other restaurants including HuxtableCumulus Inc and Anada, though I have a funny feeling that Rumi has been serving this dish for far longer, making it the unofficial original.

The cauliflower trees have the most brilliant texture; outside they are slightly dry and crisp so that they almost dissolve in your mouth, but this exterior yields to a soft and warm interior, sweetened by the onions and currents. This was the table-wide favourite of the night.

Another brilliant veggie dish at Rumi (excellent dining option for vegetarians) is the cabbage salad, which comes with mint, almonds, raisins and pickled onion and is super fresh and sweet.

These two salads were served with two impressive looking skewers of quail in a sumac and garlic rub. We snatched at these with our fingers, being sure to nibble every last piece of tender flash off the bones before putting them down.

Ok, so we’d wrapped up this course by ~7:45. Then we waited. Our last savory course arrived at 8:25. Eight Twenty-Five. Five minutes later, at 8:30, our waiter says to us, “Uhh, it’s getting on 8:30 guys…” I shit you not, he said that.

Before I get distracted, here’s a quick run down of the last course. Cos salad, nice, refreshing.

Freekah salad, not my favourite, thought it had a bit too much bite, though I did enjoy the addition of cheese and almonds.

Braised lamb shoulder, very tasty and moist despite outward appearances, though my piece was mainly fat (not that I was hungry).

Throughout this course, the waiter kept on approaching the table and raising his eyebrows at me, and the people waiting for it (I know it’s not their fault) were standing only metres away looking at us, and honestly, the whole damn situation was really really uncomfortable and unpleasant.

ANYWAY, so I expressed my dissatisfaction politely to the waiter who kept on re-emphasising that I’d been told about the 8:30 finishing time when I’d booked. Yes, I’d say, but no one told me we wouldn’t be able to finish the main course of our meal. Also, to his repeated use of the line “It’s just that… well.. there are customers waiting for this table”? There are customers sitting at the damn table too. And yes, I may only be 21 and yes, the average age of the table was only 17, but dammit that does not mean you can treat us like children.

When the issue of dessert came up (and obviously I had lost all hopes of dessert by about the 8:15 mark), he kindly offered that we could “come back in three hours when the next sitting’s over”. Because, you know, I have nothing better to do.

Clearly I was creating too much of a fuss, because then he brought the manager out who, despite being a lovely lady, offered this gem of an explanation, “Sorry, but we can’t help that we’re really popular!” accompanied with a shrug as if to say, “we really can’t do anything about this situation, nor are we willing to accept any blame for it and, if anything, you’re the one being unreasonable”.

My issue isn’t so much that we didn’t get dessert, it’s more the terrible management of our meal that meant that the kitchen and the floor staff couldn’t coordinate well enough to send out the savory courses in a banquet (arguably a fairly standard menu they should be used to) in the available two hours. Not to mention poor communication with the customers.

Some advice? Sure, why not:

  • Don’t do two sittings. You obviously can’t handle them; or
  • Continue with your two sitting policy, but advise people in the first sitting that the banquet isn’t available due to time constraints. Advise them of this when they make the booking; and especially
  • Don’t send out the main course of a meal five minutes before the table needs to be turned over, and then proceed to repeatedly hassle the customers about leaving. It’s a huge turn off.


I went back to Rumi with D for a quick pre-movie dinner (we saw Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, by the way, it’s wonderful), and again we were put in the 6:30 sitting, again we had been warned on the phone about the 8:30 finish time. We ordered a serve of the sigara boregi, and then the lamb, the cauliflower, and the cabbage salad. AGAIN, the timing of the meal wasn’t brilliant; we had finished our mains by 7:45 and at 7:50 a waiter came by and, without even asking about dessert/tea/coffee said, “just letting you know, we need the table by 8:00”. Oh piss off.

So, if you thought I was being extreme the first time, it’s happened twice. Surely that’s not two coincidentally badly timed dinners but rather evidence of poor management at Rumi in general.

Back to my first experience, as we were being pushed out the door by the staff…

What did I do, in the end, re: dessert? Because I take this blog seriously and feel that my readers deserve to hear about the entire meal (the real reason being I am a food addict and had heard good things about the apricots), we took dessert home with J and A, where we could eat it peacefully and without being harassed.

The dessert (which we paid for, god forbid should they apologise for their horrid timing in any way) was turkish delight, dates stuffed with labne, and arak poached apricots. And yes, begrudgingly I admit that the apricots were brilliant.

Also, we were naughty and shared a slice of Miss A’s wonderful New York Cheesecake, only because it looked so damn tasty. The girl has some serious talent in the kitchen – read about her culinary adventures here – her dedication surpasses mine by a mile!

Green tea. Calming.

To finish, I was immensely disappointed by Rumi; the food was outstanding but completely let down and consumed by poor timing and lack of communication, which gave an unsavory taste to the end of the meal. Would I recommend it? Certainly not the early sitting, no. My experience, and the unapologetic response of the staff to my concerns means that, overall, I wouldn’t recommend Rumi. And I am truly sorry for it.

Also, while I’m at it, check out this hilarious themed notepad. I like the “and your mama, too” option. Next up on the blog: a positive (finally!) write up of Attica, keep your eyes peeled. N.

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