Diners seeking halal meals will rarely be without a local option in Melbourne, particularly in the northern suburbs, which is home to one of Australia’s largest Islamic communities. Get an education in Middle Eastern dining at any one of Melbourne’s authentic dining establishments, where traditional cuisine often meets modern décor and innovative techniques in the kitchen. B’Stilla sets the scene with traditional Morroccan dishes, while Alba – a local institution – is still serving up the goods, 35 years after first opening its doors and a Greek restaurant, Gazi, is definitely worth a mention for its halal certified chicken and lamb dishes.
Maha chef Shane Delia gives ancient Middle Eastern cuisine a classy modern spin that has kept the restaurant in the One Chefs Hat category of the Age Good Food Guide since 2009. Tucked into a plush subterranean basement, the restaurant dishes up some of Australia’s most flavourful Middle Eastern cooking amidst modern, moody surroundings, complete with dark woods, luxurious carpets and engaging, informed floor staff who relieve any sense of stuffiness. The food is highly worked yet perfectly approachable. Leave your preconceptions at the door!
The lines of Khalil Gibran’s romantic poetry, cut into wood panels on the walls, is a foil to the open simplicity of one of Melbourne’s Middle Eastern gems. Past the bar at the front, there are rustic wooden chairs and tables that bring the focus firmly onto the food – and for good reason. Locals have long been addicted to the chunky Persian meatballs in tomato and saffron sauce with labne for years. Ditto with the oh-so-cheesy pastry rolls filled with feta, haloumi and kasseri. After all that, you’ll probably want to cut through it all with a freekeh salad with ewe’s milk feta and pomegranate dressing.
You needn’t worry if you’re not quite up to speed with slightly obscure Moroccan food terms – the menu at the funky, casual B’Stilla restaurant includes a glossary. Which is handy, if only because it makes you want the rfissa even more (it’s a special dish of fenugreek, lentils, chicken and fried semolina dough). The beef, goat and chicken are all halal and there’s a focus on great local produce. If you just can’t choose between the Tangier-style charcoal grilled squid, the goat kefta or the seafood tagine, just choose the three- or four-course banquet and the chefs will be happy to decide for you!
Any restaurant that has survived 35 years hardly needs recommending, especially an institution such as Abla’s that has been consistently lauded over those three and half decades, and is still in the original location. Lebanese chef and owner, Abla Ahmed, turns out stunningly authentic dips (the mixed dips is a must), spicy, house-made Lebanese sausages, as well a host of classics from fattoush and falafel to kafta mishwee and the raw lamb and burghal kibbee nayeh. The house-made baklava is unmissable.