152 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 3323. Open six days.
You can go the whole hog if you visit Babylon – or rather the whole sheep.
Roast whole lamb – pre-ordered and with all the trimmings of “rice, meat ball, boiled egg, nodule (sic), green beans, pistachios, carrots, fried onion” – will set you back $220.
You can also order a regular Aussie-style pizza or a Lebanese pizza – even though this nominally an Iraqi restaurant – and pasta or spring rolls.
There’s even a kind of chicken or lamb curry usually available from the servery out front.
There are heaps and heaps of the more expected kebabs, seafood, salads, dips and soups – and knowing just how good the soups around here, perhaps the Babylon variations should be a priority.
Whatever its ethnic heritage, Babylon fits in right swell with the swirling colours, tastes and general all-round good vibes of this part of Nicholson St, rubbing shoulders as it does with eateries and cafes of Turkish, African, Indian and Vietnamese persuasions.
But my favourite for some time has been the lamb shanks, which are also dispensed from the servery, the contents and quality of which seem to depend on the time of day. I suspect the later the hour, the more advisable it becomes to go a la carte, as sometimes the servery options look a tad jaded and dry.
On my previous visit I enjoyed an outstanding $10 meal of adana kebab with all the bits and pieces.
But for my latest lunch I’m in luck, with the platter of shanks sitting and glistening and waiting for someone to eat them. Can glistening be a verb?
One meaty shank with salad, dips and rice costs a really fine $12.
I’m happy to go with flow at Babylon so am unsurprised that this meal is different from the same order previously made.
The three dips – eggplant, carrot, yogurt/cucumber – are not quite as great and tasty as on previous visits, nor the salad.
And instead of the distinctive flat bread that manages to be both chewy and flaky, I receive a bowl of bread more in the Turkish vein. Though as its hot and fresh out of the oven, I’m happy.
The rice, as with that of so many businesses around here, is to die for – laced with sultanas, almonds, green peas and ma’akarona (vermicelli fried in butter). My thanks to Ms Baklover at Footscray Food Blog for the details of that last listed ingredient!
But it’s the shank that’s the standout – meat so very tender and easy to pry from the bone, smothered in a thick, gooey tomato-based gravy given added richness this time round by the addition of some soft white beans.
Despite the usual – and actually welcome – variations from visit to visit, Babylon sets a high standard and I intend to spend the next several years mining their menu to its depths.
It’s a big, roomy restaurant that can seem a bit gloomy when you’ve just wandered in from outside, but it’s fine for dining.
At night, there are often cheerful tables of Iraqi families. By day, a veritable rainbow of locals can be seen chowing down.
The coffee is very good, too, as are the sweets such as baklava.
There’s a five-item kids menu – all at $4.95 – that includes spag bol, chicken/lamb souvlaki and chicken fillets.
As I am paying for my lunch, I am bemused to notice a row of slim bottles of Crystal Hot Sauce – the very same brand that tarted up so many of my meals in New Orleans, but in this case the labels also printed with Arabic!
For coffee this time, though, I wander across to Cafe D’Afrique for a very excellent $2.50 latte.
I love this neighbourhood!