24th March 2016
350 Nicholson Street
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
One of the best things about a new workplace – aside from learning all the new pharmacy things – is making new friends. New friends who love to eat, and who are ready to recommend their own cast of favourite restaurants. The recommendation for Mama Manoush comes from the lovely Nadera, who’s proven that she has pretty great taste in food. Combine that with an Entertainment Book voucher, and I was pretty eager to hit up Mama Manoush.
Located further away from the crush of the Melbourne inner-north, Mama Manoush has room to sprawl out on the edge of the suburbs. Unassuming from the outside, the interior boasts bare brick walls and soaring ceilings held up by carved columns. The maze of narrow passages hides all sorts of nooks and crannies, each with their own distinctive personalities.
The rustic wooden furnishings and glittering chandeliers are lovely and all, but what really stole the eye were the murals painted in vivid pastels lining the entire wall of the restaurant. On the same side of the restaurant sat a wood-fire oven, which is a bit odd given that Mama Manoush is a Lebanese restaurant. But hey, whatever floats their goat.
We chose to have the Mini Banquet ($40pp), and of course the first thing to come out is the Dips and Bread to Share. I’m a little bit over Hummous, but this smooth dip of chickpeas and tahina was rich and aromatic, and got me right back onto the hummous bandwagon. Just as good was the Baba Ghannouj, a fresh, smoky purée of eggplant with a well of light olive oil in the middle. And as a palate cleanser, a cool Labne, the thickened yoghurt mixed through with slivers of cucumber and a dash of lemon juice. These were some of the loveliest dips I have ever had.
Ok so I know the bread is basically an inflated pita but look at how enormous it is! Tearing into it released tufts of steam, and I enjoyed the contrast between the soft doughy parts, and the crispy sections burnished by the oven.
Our next course consisted of a selection of mezze. Now in case you were wondering, we didn’t have to share one piece of mezze between the two of us; for some reason, our waiter was under the impression we only wanted one banquet between the two of us. This was quickly rectified and another platter came out within minutes.
These flavoursome little morsels were a delight to eat. The Kebkabett was a little ball of lamb mince, flavoured with cinnamon and fried in a crisp casing of bulgar wheat. The Vine Leaf was soft and comforting, filled with a moist filling of rice cooked in stock, whilst the Cheese Cigar was contrastingly crispy, with a centre of squeaky cheese wrapped in filo pastry. Less exciting was the Meat Sambousik, which tasted like a sausage roll.
But the best of all was the Marinated Wingettes and Drumettes. Intensely flavoured with mounds of lemon, garlic, and chopped coriander, the zesty aromas all but exploded on the palate, leaving me gnawing at the bone to get every last vestige of flavour.
It ain’t Lebanese without skewers, and we had our fill with the Shish Tawook and Shish Kafta. The Shish Tawook was top notch, the chunks of chicken infused with a light marinade then grilled until juicy and tender. The Kafta was similarly delicious, the lamb mince smoky and rich, folded through with specks of onion and a hint of mint.
The side Fattoush salad was crisp and vibrant, and veggies dressed with lemon and chopped herbs, and was a great accompaniment to the meats.
Now I would like to note here that the banquet came with the choice of fattoush OR tabouli, but our waiter blundered again and thought we had ordered extra fattoush on top of the tabouli. This was also fixed quickly but I have to say, two mistakes in one meal does not a good experience make.
To round out our meal was a plate of Rizj Al Jaj, a fragrant pilaf of fluffy rice cooked in stock, tossed through with slivers of chicken and chopped almonds.
Ok let’s talk about the food at Mama Manoush. I thought that it was fantastic beginning to end; everything was cooked beautifully using fresh ingredients, and there was more than enough to go around. I thought the dips were especially gorgeous. Unfortunately, once you add in the well-intentioned but spotty service, it does take away a bit from my enjoyment of the meal. It’s not big enough of a deal to stop me from coming back, but consider yourself warned.
Rating: 14.5/20 – so close.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.