28th January 2016
86 Smith Street
Collingwood, VIC 3066
Kebab joints are a dime a dozen in Melbourne, so what’s so special about Biggie Smalls? Well for starters, there are no other places in Melbourne where you can get kebabs designed by Shane Delia, the brains behind the ever-popular Middle Eastern restaurant, Maha.
I’ll never understand how some of these big-name chefs always seem to nab the prime real estate, but Biggie Smalls sits on the main Smith Street strip, nestled amongst a series of other culinary big-shots. Appropriately enough, it is a conglomeration of cultures – the Aussie take-away counter transitioning into traditional American diner booths, and old-school hip-hop blaring whilst you bite into your kebab.
Like the restaurant itself, the menu is far from traditional. There is only one lamb kebab on the menu, and everything veers off wildly from there on. I mean, who’s ever heard of a fried shrimp kebab (The West Coast) or a pulled pork kebab (The East Coast)? You also get your choice of old skool (sic) sauce – garlic and mint – or new school sauce – kewpie mayo. On the side were a few salads and dips, including the ingeniously named Phat Touché. The meal is complete with dranks (their word not mine) ranging from Dr Pepper to boozed-up shakes. They even have juice boxes for the kids.
Oh and check out this sign! Unfortunately for me, I was actually having a good whinge about not getting a proper lunch today, on account of the cafe at work still being closed for the holidays. I guess I’ll just have to suck it up instead.
The kebabs came out within 10 minutes, which was impressive given that the restaurant was full, the al-fresco seating was full, and the take-away waiting area was also full. They came wrapped and labelled, which I thought was a pretty clever way to getting around the problem of everyone having to dissect the wraps to work out whose was whose. At least, that’s how it should be in theory; our labels actually got mixed up – something I only realised when I found peanut butter in what was supposed to be a lamb kebab.
Just to establish a baseline, I decided to have the most standard thing on the menu – the A-Rab ($10) with Old Skool Sauce – Biggie Small’s take on the traditional lamb kebab. Now this is not your standard kebab; rather, it’s a much more refined and gourmet rendition wrapped it up pillowy fried pita. The generous chunk of lamb inside is fall-apart tender and sticky, garnished with house-made pickles, smoky hummus, and plenty of chopped mint. Although it’s not as big or greasy as your standard kebab, it is still rich and moist, and more than enough to satisfy.
And then we followed up with arguably the oddest thing on the menu – The East Coast ($14) with New School Sauce. This time, the pita bread was full of juicy pulled pork and sweet, nutty peanut butter hummus. But what really made it sing was the combination of hot sauce and kewpie mayo, making every bite so rich, spicy, and satisfying.
I had heard some great things about the Hot Crinkles ($4, smalls), and there was no disappointment there. The chips themselves were fantastic – hot, golden, and crisp, but it was the za’atar-like mix of Middle Eastern herbs that really take them beyond the ordinary.
Biggie Smalls is a little different from what I had expected. What I envisioned was a bit like Jimmy Grants – souped-up souvlakis that nevertheless are still rooted in tradition. In comparison, the kebabs here are more like a cousin, twice removed. That’s not to say they’re not good; they’re just probably not what someone who wants a kebab would be after. Regardless of what you’re here for though, you’d better make sure you like listening to old-school rap and hip-hop while you eat.
Rating: 13/20 – is not doner, but is good.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.