Thursday, September 24, 2009

Maha (Melbourne) 09

21 Bond Street sounds like an impressive address. It's the home of George Colombaris' modern middle eastern restaurant with partner chef Shane Delia. It is a dark and unattractive short street unrelieved by any lit signage and Maha from the outside looks very unappealing so why does it work so well. It's often hard to get a reservation. it's not cheap and yet the 130 odd seats are turned over almost every night. The place itself is pleasant enough but certainly not in any way spectacular. Dimly lit and simply decorated, a shelf of varied nicely displayed Venetian vases the only feature near my table. Unclothed wooden tables, just big enough, quite close together, white cloth napkins and reasonable quality cutlery and crockery, but nothing special. It could be anywhere. Service is cheerful, unhurried unobtrusive but quite attentive. Again it's good but it could be anywhere. So what's the secret? It's all the above plus THE FOOD. That is something special. They have a four ($75 or $120 with matched wines) or five course ($80 or $120 with wines) degustation (the difference is a soup) or a la carte which is largely the same as the dishes offered on the degustation menu. Naturally we had the degustation but chose our own wines.
Food is brought to the table in plates on wooden platteres and there is a herb mixture and sea salt on a small platter
The four courses are a selection of small cold dishes, a selection of small warm dishes, a selection of mains and a selection of deserts.The meal begins with a shot glass of palate cleansing Hyacinth syrup.
The cold dishes, served with pita bread, were fairly simple, inoffensive, unfussy, distinct, lightly spiced, distinguished as much by texture as taste. The two that stood out was the duck pate, smooth as butter with indescribably excellent taste and the hummus. The beans, bean salad, olive selection and the other salads were pleasant additions.The soup was flavour of the month it seems - pumpkin and we could have done without it.
The warm dishes, Quail wrapped in a vine leaf, lamb ribs with just a touch of chilli and sesame seeds. a dish of grilled cheese gnocchi was exceptional. There fine soft consistency and light cheese taste were a great combination.
The main an ever so slightly over grilled Blue Eye was tender and tasty, a garden salad OK but a spatchcock with a superb pine nut stuffing demonstrated a light hand and a refined palate was a top dish.Here'd a selection on my plate. There are a lot of spices in these dishes but they blend beautifully and none dominate. A mixture of deserts included a salt/sweet ice cream, watermelon with mint and, I think, rosewater, Turkish doughnuts with a centre of Turkish delight, a semi fredo ice cream, baklava and a glass of custard with pieces of jelly and honeycomb would satisfy the sweetest tooth.
The striking thing about the clientèle was their age. Almost no one looked to be over 40.
Wines are expensive but there are a few around $50
that are acceptable,
The bill comes in a box designed to look like an illuminated middle eastern book.
Score: 15.5/20

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