8th February 2016
63 Errol Street
North Melbourne, VIC 3051
I have done something very uncharacteristic. In a combination of warm weather and serendipity, I went out and had vegan food not just once, but TWICE in a row. Mind you, I wouldn’t call Smith and Daughters ‘real’ vegan food on account of how outside of the box and non-vegan tasting it is, but still. By the end of the two meals however, I was seriously craving some animal-based protein. And no, low fat cashew cheese will not do.
And what better way is there to satisfy the meat craving with some delicious Lebanese food? Meat grilled on a spit served with bread and fresh dip and salads is just what the pharmacist ordered. But Agraba is so much more than that. Although they do have the standard meat skewers on rice, what really sets them apart is the alluring array of traditional mezze.
Although the small restaurant looked cosy and comfortable, it was a warm and breezy afternoon, so we decided to sit outside to enjoy the fresh air after a day at work. Fresh mint water was poured as we sat down to contemplate the menu.
The Arnabeet Meklieh ($9.9) was nothing like I had expected. Instead of golden, crumbly pieces of deep-fried cauliflower and broccoli, the veggies served to us were crisp and verdant, and only lightly pan-fried for some crispy edges. Although largely unexciting, they were fresh and satisfying when combined with the thick, nutty tahini.
The surprises continued with the Shanklish ($9.9). Having expected a chunk of cheese with toppings, I was once again surprised by the layered plate of crumbled cheese, tomatoes, and herbs. But you know what? This was fantastic scooped onto flatbread, the combination of creamy cheese, sweet tomatoes, and sharp spring onions made it taste like a cross between Greek salad and tabouli. I especially loved the generous amount of za’atar folded through, giving it a rich and intricate flavour.
More surprises! This time it was the Kibbeh Meklieh ($15.5). Our waitress described this as lamb layered with spices and pine nuts, and baked with burghal, so you’ll have to excuse me for imagining something like a cottage pie. Regardless, these were still delicious. The golden shell of baked burghal held a moist, fragrant mixture of spiced lamb, and was complemented perfectly by the cool yoghurt sauce.
The desserts looked fabulous, and I had to save room for the Mahlabia ($9). The thick, milky bowl of custard was flavoured with orange blossom water, and garnished with crushed pistachios and halva. Though I initially found the scent of orange blossom to be too strong, it eventually grew on me, especially in combination with the sweet, nutty halva.
And finally, a long cigar of Baklava ($4). In my opinion, when it comes to baklava (and most things really), the fresher the better. Unfortunately this piece has been sitting around long enough for the layers of filo to become soggy and dense. But as I ate, I began to enjoy the way the syrup oozed its way out of the pastry, and in the end I hate no trouble polishing this off.
I really wanted Agraba to be more special than it is. On paper it looks endlessly tantalising, with each mezze seeming more unique and exciting than the last. In the end though, the best word I can use to describe Agraba is ‘nice’. The food was of good quality, but flavour-wise it hovers somewhere around average. Still, my overall experience was a rather pleasant one, and the prices were also fairly reasonable. All in all, I wouldn’t be upset if I had to come back.
Rating: 12.5/20 – prince ali, fabulous he.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.