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Zaatar, 365 Sydney Rd, Coburg. Phone: 9939 9494

On my regular forays to the Middle-Eastern riches of Coburg in recent years, I have sometimes gazed at the boxy building on the corner of Sydney Rd and Albert St and wondered about its foodiness heritage.

The architectural style suggests a Chinese eatery and/or a chicken franchise, at the least, have been part of its history.

The Google maps pic has it named as Zorba’s Family Restaurant, but somewhere, sometime on my adventures, I recall seeing faded signage that declared it had once been home for some type of European cuisine.

Croatian? Hungarian? Czech?

It’s gone from my mind, and then just a few months back I noticed renovations going on.

So, of course, I stuck my nose to find out what the story was.

Middle Eastern on the way, I was told, by a crew with family connections to the venerated A1 Bakery much further south on Sydney Rd that is looking to serve cheap and great food of the kind already available in the neighbourhood but with a degree of cafe swishness.

By the time I visit, Zaatar has been open a while and appears to be going gangbusters, winning some Urbanspoon raves and even a review in the Age.

Nice going!

It’s big, roomy and cheerful, with some plain tables and many others of the tiled variety, with a big communal one in the middle of the room.

Any fears about cafe trendiness upping the dollar ask on food available at rock-bottom prices just a few blocks away are dispelled by a quick scan of the menu on the place’s website.

Plain zaatar for $1, cheese and spinach pies for $3.50, salads $4.50 and $6.50, regular cafe latte for $3.

Sounds just fine, but will all count for not too much if the quality isn’t there.

On the basis solely of my “three mezza with dip and salad” for $8.50, that would seem to be a case of yes-no-maybe.

Maybe the pies and pizzas I see being gleefully consumed around me are the go here, and it’s apparent adding some cafe-style decor and vibe is proving a winner.

But my lunch is merely OK-to-good instead of scaling the heights.

In the event, I actually get four “mezza” …

A cheese and herb “sambousik” – light and fresh.

A fat kibbe ball with a juicy lamb filling.

Two good falafel balls.

Two kafta cigars that are on the dry side.

The fattoush is better than them all – a finely-diced jamboree of tomato, red onion, cucumber, parsley and radish topped with crunchy pita flakes. It’s a big serve, but – and it amazes me to say this, as I’m something of a lemon freak – the dressing is actually too acidic in a mouth-puckering way.

The hummus is a tad tasteless, there’s only a little pot of it, and I am bemused that I have been not been provided pita bread. It goes good, mind you, slathered on the various “mezza”, some of which can do with its moisturising effect.

Love the vibe and the idea, but the execution of it in the form of my lunch means Zaatar, so far, is no threat to my affection for nearby alternatives.

I’d be happy to pay more for more zing and bells and whistles such as pickles of various kinds.

Zaatar on Urbanspoon

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