The Horn

June 13, 2012

20 Johnston Street, Fitzroy

Ever tried African? I certainly hadn’t, so when Nic suggested we try out The Horn on Johnston St, I jumped at the chance. The place was quiet when we arrived, but soon became busier. The restaurant has a small front room but a rather expansive covered courtyard with comfy looking chairs, hanging plants and African rugs.

We tried a couple of African beers, which were nice but nothing particularly special. The Harar was quite crisp, while the Meta had more of a malty taste.

We liked the sound of a number of dishes before deciding on two to share; the Ethiopian/Eritrean menu was alien but appealing. The Godin Tibs (foreground) was a spicy serve of lamb ribs pan-fried with garlic, red onion, tomato, green chili and ‘traditional spices’. The Doro Wot was a large piece of chicken cooked in a rich red onion sauce with ginger, tomato, garlic, a boiled egg and ‘traditional spices’.

I wish they’d provided more detail than just ‘traditional spices’ – I feel like other cuisines use proper names and it forces us to learn them, so why not here? That said, both dishes were delicious with just the right amount of heat. They don’t provide cutlery; instead you rip off pieces of a sour flatbread and pick the food with your hands (so you’ll probably want to come here with people you’re comfortable enough with to have them touching your food). The chicken, being an entire piece, was a little bit difficult to eat in this sense.

Now, on a somewhat sensitive topic – the owners are caucasian. This initially surprised me – given the nearby African community in Collingwood and other suburbs, I thought it strange that we didn’t see anyone of African descent in the restaurant. But then, to be honest, I don’t go to Italian restaurants and ask “Where are the Italians?”. Jamie Oliver is, after all, well known for his Italian food. Neil Perry just opened a Chinese restaurant in Crown.

After chatting to one of the owners I began to appreciate that, rather than a bunch of impostors, here were people who had been to Africa, spent some time there, fell in love with the culture and the food, and developed a desire to recreate that cuisine back home. We also found out that they employ people from the local community because, as the owner admitted, ‘often they know better’.

So actually, good on them. And as I said earlier, the food was great and the vibe was chilled out and casual.

Then because it was farking cold, we traipsed down Gertrude Street till we reached Wilde, where they were offering mulled wine and a seat by an open fireplace for $9. I’ve never eaten there but it looks like pretty decent traditional English pub-style food, so might be worth while exploring in winter.

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Filed under: African, Fitzroy