25th February 2016
365 Sydney Road
Coburg, VIC 3058
I’m going to confess to a bad habit of mine: I stop off at Al Alamy about three mornings a week for breakfast instead of making my own like a grown-up. And the worst bit is, I can’t find anything wrong with doing that. After all, a spinach and cheese pie fresh from the oven within 2 minutes covers all 4 bases of the holy quadrilateral – healthy, cheap, tasty, and fast.
When I’m peckish for middle-eastern baked goods after work however, I’m out of luck. Or so I thought. Recently I realised that just around the corner from Al Alamy sits Zaatar, which is open for all three meals of the day.
Being used to the very traditional combination of a bakery within an ethnic grocer, Zaatar came as a massive surprise. Instead of tables crammed between shelves of pungent spices, Zaatar is wonderfully bright and modern, complete with a very shiny coffee machine in the corner. Similarly surprising was how friendly and chatty the staff were.
Although very similar to other Middle-Eastern bakeries, the menu at Zaatar has been updated to include a wider range of options. Aside from pizzas and pies, there are also build-your-own mezza platters, a variety of freshly made salads and dips, house-made desserts, and zoccacias – their take on the focaccia, but made with zaatar bread. One thing that hasn’t changed though is the smell of baking, thank goodness.
My 3 Mezza with Dip and Salad ($8.5) was a simple, delicious feed. The three items I chose were the Lamb Sambousik, Kibbe, and Potato and Pea Ball, and each piece was packed full of spices and flavour. The Eggplant Dip was cool and fresh, with just a faint whiff of smokiness. The accompanying Fattoush Salad was crisp and vibrant, the vegetables mixed with chopped parsley and a dash of lemon for flavour, and baked pita pieces for crunch.
The Aleppo Meat Pizza ($4) is a bit different, and a bit more gourmet than the usual offerings. Folded over like a quesadilla, the soft bread sandwiched a juicy mix of minced lamb, onions, and spices. What really made it pop though was the fruity tang of the pomegranate molasses, and the way the oven caramelised it into brittle toffee at the edges.
After seeing the dessert cabinet, I had to save room for the Meghli ($3.5) – a Lebanese rice pudding spiced with caraway and cardamom. For those of you expecting rice pudding, you are not getting what you think you’ll be getting. Instead of being porridge-like, the Meghli was thick and sticky; the closest comparison I can think of would be a slightly gelatinous custard.
Despite the unexpected texture, I thoroughly enjoyed this dessert. The sweetness combined with the cinnamon and caraway made it feel like eating chai.
And of course, a piece of Baklava ($2.5) to finish things off. Although this wasn’t made in-store, it’s still a lot better than many baklava I’ve had. The layers of filo were textbook brittle and flaky, sandwiching a buttery centre of crushed nuts. My only complaint is that I normally prefer my baklava oozing syrup, and this one was a little dry. But then again, I’m not all that keen on diabeetus either.
I’m going to be honest here and say that I will probably always prefer Al Alamy over any other Middle-Eastern bakery, but that’s no fault of Zaatar’s. In fact, Zaatar has a lot going for it that other places don’t, such as good ambience and friendly service, and you still get some great food for great prices. Plus, now I can have Al Alamy in the morning and Zaatar in the evening, so there’s really no problem at all.
Rating: 13/20 – labne pizza is life.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.