23 June 2008

Abla's Lebanese Restaurant

109 Elgin Street, Carlton
Ph: 9347 0006
Open: Thurs-Fri, noon-3pm; Mon-Sat, 6-11pm

I HAD a moment at Alba’s.

It was about two thirds through the meal, I’d already eaten more than enough Lebanese delights and yet was still managing to salivate about what was to come.

Then the bowl tabbouleh arrived. Now, I’ve eaten some authentic tabbouleh in my time but this stuff was up there. This tabbouleh was made with the freshest parsley the juiciest tomatoes and plenty of sour lemon juice. It made everything on our table taste better and it made me want to keep eating, even though I was full.

I had it with the garlic and lemon chicken wings, I had it with the kibbee (a traditional dish of minced lamb and cracked wheat stuffed with spiced meat and pine nuts), I had it with the tender lahem mishwee (lamb kebabs) and I had it with Abla’s signature dish, the chicken and rice (below).

Each dish on its own was amazing. With the tabbouleh, it was divine. Ok, I know I’m going on a bit about the tabbouleh and my dining buddies from that evening are probably wondering what planet I’m on. But seriously, tabbouleh that good deserves kudos. And while I’m at it, Abla’s labnee (yoghurt dip) was also up there with the best I’ve had as was the oh-so-smoky babaghanooj and the creamy hummous.

I know it sounds like I was eating enough for a football team but Abla’s offers a $50 per person banquet menu where you get to try most dishes, just in smaller portions to what you’d get if you ordered each dish individually.

It’s a great way to sample what’s on offer from this Melbourne institution, which still operates under the watchful eye of Abla Amad, a now elderly Lebanese immigrant who came to Australia in the 1950s and has become a culinary legend.

But back to the food…we also ate makaneek (lamb and spiced sausages), silverbeet rolls, ladies' fingers (filo pastry cigars filled with minced lamb, pine nuts and spices), loubyee (a super-tasty green bean dish), falafel, and finished on Lebanese coffee with syrupy baklava and melt-in-your-mouth Turkish delight.

It was a marathon feast but a brilliant and affordable one. The service was top notch and our waitress made sure we never went without a full basket of Lebanese bread and that our water glasses were full.

Finally, if you feel like a tipple, Abla’s is BYO. So grab your mates, grab a bottle of wine, grab a $50 note and head down there. And please…try the tabbouleh. You’ll never buy it from the supermarket again.



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