159 Union Rd, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9372 7175
Yes, another gem in Union Rd – this one just as tasty, affordable and, in its own mesmerising way, just as exotic as Yemini Restaurant up the road a piece.
Like that joint, Safari Restaurant’s stock in trade is a roll call of meat, veg and carbs.
As such it seems an ideal place for those who find the very idea of tibs, doro wat, injera and other items bought to Melbourne’s inner west by the African diaspora a step too far or just too weird to even contemplate eating.
Describing Safari’s food as “meat and three veg”, though, does it a grave disservice – for this Somalian fare is much, much more delicious than that humble label implies.
Bennie and I have been regular visitors this year, but for my most recent lunch I was joined by my fellow DeadHead Kurt.
There was a little confusion while ordering, so we ended up both getting the $17 meal of lamb (hilib, on the bone, three pieces), rice (barris) and accompaniments.
This was overload for lunch, so it’s helpful to know that there’s a $15 version available, with the rice and meat coming on the same plate, and the same side dishes and vegetables provided.
But even at $17, our lunches fully qualified for a hearty western suburbs cheap eats thumbs up.
You see, at Safari meals come with what, in New Orleans and South Louisiana, is referred to as “lagniappe” – that is, “a little something special”.
In this case, that involves, first up, a long, cool drink – either freshly squeezed orange juice clinking with ice cubes, or a much sweeter and richer milk-based concoction that I personally find too cloying.
Second comes a bowl of soup.
Bowl of soup? That sounds miserable and woefully inaccurate to describe what is clearly the most delicious thing I’ve eaten this year thus far.
It’s a bowl of simple broth, yes – modestly seasoned with a little chili, coriander, lemon pepper and garlic. You may even find a few strands of meat, or the odd slice of carrot.
But at it’s heart this is simply, magnificently Essence Of Lamb As A Work Of Art.
Gosh, it’s good!
On to our main courses – and more magic.
The rice was plain, but brilliant - seasoned, again with restraint, with garlic and coriander, and cooked in vegetable stock. Worthy of gleeful inhalation.
My three pieces of lamb, one of which was a cutlet, were tender, tasty and wonderfully free of fat and/or gristle – not always the case with food such as this.
Completing the picture were some good salad greens and a goodly amount of a sensational pan-fried jumble of onion, carrot and capsicum, which was heaven with the rice and generous smears of the tangy chili sauce provided.
As a point of difference, Kurt split his carb order 50/50 between rice and spaghetti. The pasta was OK – but it was just pasta, and certainly not a patch on the divine rice.
After our wonderful lunch, we spent some time chatting to owner Mohamed Shide about his food, the restaurant, its multinational clientele and the story that brought him to Australia and, finally, his own eating shop in Ascot Vale.
It’s a long story that involves war, many years, separation from family and other trials and tribulations – the sort of moving odyssey that is so intrinsic to Australia.
So happy were we with our repast and our conversation with Mohamed that I gaily strolled away without paying. Happily, I also left my wallet on the counter, necessitating my return anyhow.
As I reclaimed my wallet and attempted to pay, Mohamed attempted to wave my money away – unsuccessfully.
Mohamed, my friend, that’s simply not what I’m about.
If by writing this I can can send a few more people through your door, that’ll be all the payment I could wish.