33 Holmes Rd
Moonee Ponds, VIC 3039
If we’re talking overlooked and underrated cuisines, Ethiopian food would be at the top of my list. Speaking as someone who was born in the East, and grew up in the West, the unfamiliar and exotic spices of African cuisine offers up endless intrigue. And although hardly advertised, there is a veritable plethora of African eateries in Melbourne, especially towards the west end of town.
Shebelle Ethiopian Restaurant has recently relocated from Footscray over to right by Moonee Ponds station. This family-run establishment was sparse but warm, where most diners are regulars greeted by name, and patrons offered free tea or coffee as they waited for their take-away.
After we had ordered, we were served the ubiquitous bottomless basket of Injera. For the uninitiated, the sharp, fermented taste of these spongy flatbreads made of teff flour may be quite challenging, but trust me – they are possibly the most delicious thing you could pair with a rich gravy, you’ll see.
Speaking of rich gravy, the Harissa Chicken ($15) came literally overflowing in its own sauces. Chris had the right idea – tearing off a large piece of the injera, he laid it on his plate and spooned the chicken stew on top. The tender pieces of chicken were cooked in a complex array of ginger, garlic, turmeric, and a myriad of other spices that I couldn’t pick out. It was fragrant and wonderful and there was just so much of it. My only complaint is that the sauce, although delicious, was extremely oily, and I had to carefully spear each piece of chicken on my fork so as to not get too much of the oil.
Seriously, look at it. It’s not just me being a health nut.
After the delectable but oily chicken, it was a relief to see that the Fish Tibs ($15) looked like a much lighter affair. The fillets of white fish were marinated in a mouth-watering combination of lemon, garlic, and sweet basil, and then pan-fried until crispy. The bright, tangy flavours in the fish were accompanied flawlessly by the smoky harissa paste.
This is the first time I’ve been to an Ethiopian restaurant and not ordered the platter (mainly because they don’t have one here), but frankly it was just as satisfying to dig into the generously sized plates of home-cooked food. This may be a purely family-run establishment, but you get the best of both worlds – restaurant-quality food with some amazing flavours, coupled with warm hospitality and staff that always have a moment to stop and chat.