124 Union Rd, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9372 0854
It seems unlikely there is another Melbourne noshery in which the food is derived from a country as unknown as this one.
If you hear about Yemen on the telly it’ll be on one of those highbrow current affairs programs; and when you read about Yemen in the newspapers (broadsheets only, of course), the news will never be good.
None of which even hints at the country’s history and culture, of course.
No matter – such geopolitical concerns lie outside the realms of our focus here – how simply wonderful and wonderfully Melbourne that we have a slice of Yemeni food culture right here.
It’s a Yemeni restaurant called … Yemeni Restaurant.
It’s been open for 14 months, we discovered it soon after and we’ve been semi-regular visitors since.
As befits a country that sits at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and adjacent the northern African nations of Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia, the food here will be oddly familiar to anyone who has trawled through any of the African joints gaily spreading through Melbourne’s west or who has partaken of the various longer-established Middle Eastern tucker options.
As well, as the cyber age follows the jet age, even regional food such as this boasts a touch of the cosmopolitan.
Thus the menu features fish and chips and pasta, while for breakfast there’s eggs various ways and the familiar foul.
Mind you, the opening hours are officially never earlier than 11am, so breakfast will be late if that’s the way you want to go.
Our usual order has been what I suspect is the standard Yemeni meal – mundi (meat and rice).
The lamb is on the bone, and has always been flavoursome and tender, although minus sauce or gravy. I love what places such as this do with the, ahem, more affordable meat cuts!
However, on my most recent visit (28/8/10), I was talked into trying the kebsa (chicken and rice, $12).
It was yummy!
A smallish but adequate leg and thigh were coated by and resting in a dark brown sauce/gravy. The multicoloured rice was studded with strands of fried onions and sultanas, while a jumble of salad bits completed the plate. Sitting to the side in little white bowls were creamy yogurt and a piquant salsa-like mash of green chilies.
The food is quite mild and not overly rich, but the chili concoction and yogurt do a fine job of providing zing.
We’ve also had a dish called mugelge – a sort of rich stew served with a flat bread called mullawah.
Others – such as the cous cous, falafel and Yemeni soup – await future visits.
The cutlery is metal and the crockery is real.
The owners tell me business is going well, and that they’re crowded and busy on some nights. For us – dropping in for a weekend lunch or an early mid-week dinner – we’ve mostly had the joint to ourselves.
The service is very friendly and the decor bog standard ethnic noshery – which is pretty much the place in the world where I feel most comfortable, outside my own living room, these days.
There’s a carpeted and cushioned area out back for a more stylish and traditional mode of dining.
Before stumbling upon this place, Union Rd was a thoroughfare we occasionally traversed in the course of going somewhere else.
These days it’s become much more of a destination itself.
There’s a somewhat similar and very good African place and an organic bakery that specialises in sweeties just up the road, along with a greengrocer, deli and butcher. A natty old-school Chinese place awaits exploration. More to come …