109 Elgin Street, Carlton
In my quest to try all things new and old in and around Melbourne, this week’s date night took us to the old, Abla’s Lebanese Restaurant just off the ever colourful Lygon Street in Carlton. Having read great reviews I had tried unsuccessfully to make a reservation earlier in the year and was excited that we could finally be ‘squeezed’ in at 8.15pm on this cold and wintery Friday night.
Abla Amad has been running Ablas’s for over 30 years and when we first walked in I could imagine that I was seeing exactly what her first guests had when she opened the doors in 1979. The place is tiny, two steps in and you are standing in amongst full tables loaded generously with delicious looking food and you are instantly engulfed by the buzz of conversation. Looking around at first, I thought goodness maybe they hadn’t been able to fit us in after all, however before I knew it a friendly waitress waved us towards the kitchen and guided us awkwardly up a tiny, creaky staircase to the second level.
Once comfortably seated in what could have doubled as a living room straight out of the 1970’s, the waitress took our wine, yes BYO, which is always a big tick in my book although something of a rare gem to find these days, while we took a minute to soak in the atmosphere. Pondering the menu my eyes went straight to the banquet, it was 8.15 and I was ready to eat! The waitress was very helpful pouring our wine and warning us that the banquet was very large, was this a challenge that she was setting us? Deciding to make our own choices we ordered the mixed dips; Baba Ghannooj, Hummous bi Tahini and Labnee, the Ladies' Fingers and the Chicken Wings with the intention to order two mains to follow.
Our dips arrived and the flavour of each could not be faulted. I find there is something very comforting about a well made, traditional hummus. The remaining dishes arrived promptly and luckily changed my focus as I had failed to hold back on the dips despite my desire to not fill up on them. The Ladies Fingers were filo pastry cigars filled with minced lamb, pine nuts and spices. Biting in I was expecting a more powerful flavour to hit me, instead it was a rich, well cooked taste of mince that only your grandmother can accomplish through hours of browning and adding the right amount of spices at the right times. The Chicken Wings, baked with garlic and lemon juice, just fell off the bone and had an amazing rich and tangy flavour, a flavour hard to describe but impossible not to recommend!
After the richness of our starters we decided on just one main, Chicken and Rice, flavoured rice pilaff with minced lamb, chicken and almonds. Again the flavours were rich and homely. As I ate I could imagine Abla sitting at her kitchen table as a child eating the same dish made from her mother or grandmother. The dish summed up exactly what I felt the restaurant embodied, that being a sense of home, warmth, a love of food, family and most importantly, tradition.
We left the restaurant with the taste of strong Lebanese coffee and the sweet after tones of the best homemade Baklawa I have had. Mimicking George Calombaris from his recent Master Chief episode “Buk – La- Va” we chanted down the street to our car!! I felt full and comforted after another great Melbourne dining experience.
Rated: 14 O's out of 20
Until next Friday,
Until next Friday,