A1 Bakery, 18 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9375 7734
Bowling up to the brand, spanking new branch of the A1 Bakery chain, I am fully expecting a duplicate of its slightly older Werribee sibling.
I could hardly be more wrong – the Essendon joint is very, very different, and brilliantly so.
Here there’s a vibe that is 50/50 Middle Eastern and hipster cafe, and seems staffed somewhat along the same lines.
There’s exposed brick and old wood. The place is bustling with happy customers just a few days after opening.
Oh my, happy days for Kenny!
There’s the expected full complement of pies and pizzas, including zaatar ($2), lamb ($3) and spinach/fetta ($4.50).
But there’s way more of just the kinds of things I like to see in such a place – stuffed vine leaves (three for $2.50) and kibbeh ($2), for instance.
There’s gorgeous-looking mountains of salad, including fattoush, tabouli and “zest salad”.
And for those looking for more than pies ‘n’pizzas or a tight line-up of eggy breakfast dishes, there’s platters – yippee!
These include chicken (shish tawook), a rice and chicken dish called jaj a riz – and even one, samke hara, that features “three flathead tails baked in a spicy tahini sauce”.
As I am only of moderate appetite, I opt for the lighter touch of the falafel platter ($11, top photograph).
It’s simply wonderful.
The plentiful tabouli is as good and fresh and super as any I’ve had – anywhere, anytime.
The hommus is creamy smooth but packed with lemon-infused flavour.
The felafels themselves may have been sourced from the display cabinet and reheated, but are still fine – featherlight, crisp on the outer, fluffy in the inner.
After my lunch, I talk with one of the proprietors, Robert.
He confirms what I suspected – that the proliferating A1 chain is basically a matter of franchising.
So while the Essendon joint may share fully in the A1 ethos and badging, the food is individual – and in this case, strongly guided by an angel I will call The Hand Of Mum.
And that, of course, is a very excellent thing!
I expect to return here in a matter of days and am excited about the prospect of doing so.
I just love a place that offers more substantial Lebanese fare in a cafe setting.