21 Bond Street, Melbourne (map)
Best-friend-K and I had decided to have another Decadent Weeknight last Thursday, her last night in town before her four week trip overseas. She'd kiboshed my initial suggestion of Attica ("too far away!" whined the inner northern suburbs snob), but was just as excited as I was with my other suggestion: Maha Bar and Grill, the Middle Eastern sister to Der Presse-Club and first flagship restaurant of Shane Delia.
I'd met b-f-K at the other end of the city for a pre-dinner drink with a group of her friends at Meyers Place, which is where she dropped the bombshell: she'd resigned from her job that afternoon. And seeing as she'd already obtained four weeks of leave, that meant that she'd just had her last day! I'm thrilled for her - the new job she's got sounds awesome. Just as well, I thought to myself, that we were going somewhere a bit fancy to celebrate...
We trammed down Collins to Maha. We loved the sleek, sexy interior, ambient lighting and thick Persian carpet. We sat and told our smooth waiter we'd like to try the four course Soufra (banquet) menu ($65 per head). He immediately brought us a pair of shot glasses filled with a delicious iced tea - I think it was hibiscus?
Smooth Waiter returned and murmured "How would you like to start the evening? A glass of champagne, perhaps?". Buoyed by the two drinks we'd had at Meyers Place as well as the desire to celebrate b-f-K's big news, we looked at each other and both chimed "Yes please". SW glided back moments later with an open bottle of Veuve and poured us each a glass.
I took a sip and (as I always do) instantly regretted every glass of cheap nasty bubbly that has ever passed my lips, and made a vow (always quickly broken) to drink only top shelf sparkling, even if it means ordering them far less often.
I put the glass down and, in recounting some trivial anecdote, promptly gesticulated dramatically with my hands and sent my barely touched glass flying across the room and onto the carpet. SW materialised and swiftly replaced my glass and filled it up with more Veuve. And we were only charged for two glasses. Classy. (them, not me) :)
First course was berid mezze (small cold dishes), served on a you-know-what (seriously, whole rainforests are being felled so that Melbourne's restaurants have wooden sharing platters). Clockwise from bottom left: mixed olives, a creamy dip, little couscous salad,
Next course was sokhoun mezze (small hot dishes). The calamari was just incredible - the honey and almond batter was like nothing I've ever even thought of having before with calamari, but it really worked. The quail was also excellent, served on a sald which included crispy pancetta-like strips.
Third course was shahen kbeer (large dishes). Clockwise again from bottom left: a fattouche, butterfish with pine nuts and pomegranate, roasted red pepper dip and potatoes with coriander and lemon.
The butterfish was another real highlight. I'm crazy about pomegranates. The other main was a sweet, sticky roast lamb... but to be honest, we were getting very full by this stage, so were forced to leave most of it.
Finally, helwayet (desserts). Somehow, we perked up again and found room for dessert. I'm not normally a fan of turkish delight, but the turkish delight-filled donuts were hot and delicious, expecially when combined with the two ice creams (one of which tasted sort of like those Pez lollies... but in a really good way.
Also included was a diamond of baklava and two glasses of orange blossom homemade lemonade with pine nuts and mint, and a watermelon sorbet with finely chopped fresh strawberries, pine nuts (can't get enough of them!) and either mint or basil, can't remember which (probably mint). Which was the prefect, refreshing way to finish off the meal.
Another lovely little touch: the bill came served inside a hollowed out old book. It also came with a silver vessel containing lemon oil, to rub on your hands to make them smell gooooood...
We loved it. I'm most keen to go back soon to try some of the à la carte menu items. Want one more reason to love Maha? On Saturday nights they serve a midnight fest menu, called Sa'hra, from 11pm to 3am. In like Flynn, I tells ya!