Al Sharouk Woodfired Oven

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Al Sharouk Woodfired Oven, 544-546 Mahoneys Rd, Campbellfield. Phone: 9359 5773

On a previous, mid-week visit to Al Sharouk with Bennie and Nat, we’d been greeted by a well-stuffed Middle East-style grocery but little by way of eat-in food – or, at least, none that tempted us sufficiently to linger.

Second time around, and flying solo, my desires are a little different.

Lunch, a meal, for sure – but I’m also seeking some specialised Middle East ingredients.

This is so I can roll up my sleeves and get cooking some of the marvellous recipes in Delights From The Garden Of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah, an epic Iraqi cookbook I received in the mail a few days earlier.

This tome – packed with recipes for mostly home-style Iraqi food, countless anecdotes and much food history going back several thousand years – has been secured on the no-doubt righteous recommendation by Annia Ciezadlo in her cool book Day Of Honey.

I feel sure Delights From The Garden Of Eden will be the cause of many, many future years of pleasurable reading and cooking.

But I feel nonplussed as I step through the door of Al Sharouk and discover … that it is now all restaurant and no grocery.

Oh well – I take an upbeat, half-full approach and thoroughly enjoy my lunch and talking with Al Sharouk proprietor Martin.

He’s an Iraqi Christian who moved to Australia more than three decades ago, although his Campbellfield eat shop has been open for just nine months.

It’s no surprise, then, he knows all about the ingredients I seek – baharat, a spice mix that is a sort-of Iraqi equivalent of garam masala; and noomi basrah, which are dried limes.

Martin reckons I should have little trouble securing them from the likes of Al-alamy in Coburg or International Foods in Altona.

As he’s expressed an interest in having a quick look at my new book, I scarper back to my car as he’s knocking my lunch together.

There’s a range of salads and dips on display. Pies and pizzas from the mighty wood-fired oven are available, too.

But I quickly zero in on the two stews available – one a pale number with lamb shanks, the other more of a tomato-based effort with lamb on the bone and chickpeas.

I go for the latter, which turns out to be a variation on Iraqi stews called tashreeb. These are traditionally served on a base of flat bread.

But I’m plenty happy to have mine with Martin’s rice, which he calls an Iraqi biryani.

It’s beaut and studded with peanuts, peas, currants and – most appropriately – the dried limes called noomi basrah, which impart of sublime tartness. Think of something along the lines of a mild Indian lime pickle.

This is very homely food much to my liking – the rice riches work well with the tashreeb chickpeas, and I even get a silky, tender whole onion.

But that’s not all – my single piece of lamb is superbly, predictably tender and toothsome.

Martin has two kinds of chooks getting the heat treatment from his spit pit – the first lot are whole stuffed birds referred to in Delights From The Garden Of Eden as Pregnant Chicken; the second are butterflied birds in lemon and garlic.

I buy a half animal of the latter to take home, but wish I’d gone with a whole of the former – they look so plump and sexy, and are likely a fine bargain at $12.

Other than that, I forget to check prices – suffice to say Al Sharouk is a genuine cheap eats haven, as my lamb rice lunch, a can of soft drink and half a chook to go come to $22.

It’s been cool meet Martin and enjoy some of the kind of food I soon hope to be cooking my own self.

Al Sharouk Woodfired Oven on Urbanspoon



Chicken on skewer at Katik.

Katik, 349 Barry Rd, Campbellfield. Phone: 9357 9997

Katik is Plan B.

Plan A had been another establishment of Middle Eastern flavour a few kilometres away.

Our companion for our dinner adventure, Nat, had checked on the hours so we thought we were fine.

As it turned out, yes the place was open … but with only a limited menu to offer us.

That particular joint – that particular lunchtime joint – will have to await another day.

A hasty three-way conference sees us whizzing up to Barry Rd and to the strip recently visited by Consider The Sauce for a visit to Layla’s Restaurant.

Nat is a regular visitor to Consider The Sauce, a serial contributor to Urbanspoon and a devoted food hound – and we are delighted to make his acquaintance and enjoy his company.

Katik is a popular place in this neck of the woods, but we find the booth-style tables free as we enter and quickly set about choosing our meal.

Katik serves straight-up Turkish kebab shop fare, with perhaps a more restricted menu than we are accustomed to – three dips, some pies and a range of meats, either skewered or from the rotating machines.

Iskender kebab at Katik.

We order three plates – chicken skewer, adana kebab and iskender kebab – which proves to be just right for the three of us.

Perhaps it could be argued that serves are a mite on the modest size, but they are all just a notch under $10 and we certainly don’t leave hungry.

The chicken – oh yes! – has heaps of that charcoal grill flavour, but the meat is a little on the dry side.

The iskender kebab – sliced lamb doner kebab meat placed on a bed of Turkish bread and topped with tomato and yogurt – starts real fine but seems to become less appetising as our meal progresses.

Adana kebab at Katik.

The adana kebab – a single length of spiced, minced lamb extracted from a flat skewer – is lovely, with just the right kind of chewiness.

The flattish bread we enjoy, especially those pieces into which meat juices have seeped.

The carrot dip is just OK, the humus a good deal better in terms of flavour and the salad additions lacking appeal.

We have a good dinner, but I have a suspicion that Katik is a victim of it own success, with hectic turnover leading to a lack of finesse.

Which makes us all the more grateful to have Footscray Best Kebab House and Flemington Kebab House in our own backyard, especially when it comes to salad components and dips with real zing and presentation generally.

Katik Turkish Take Away on Urbanspoon

Layla’s Restaurant


327 Barry Rd, Campbellfield. Phone: 9357 6666

Ever been to Campbellfield?

Nor I have I – until tonight.

It seemed so easy when I set out.

A quick look at the Melway told me Pascoe Vale Rd, keep on going and eventually I’ll reach Barry Rd and my dinner destiny.

It turns out to be a fair haul, and when I arrive the Melbourne CBD skyline is not where I expect it to be.

But it’s pure pleasure, as I have this very afternoon I have picked up a new car.

The difference between my old, reliable 2004 Getz manual and the new 2008 Corolla automatic is amazing.

I feel like I’m driving a Rolls Royce – much better suspension and seating, much, much quieter.

Oh my!

I’m on the hunt for a kebab joint about which I’ve heard good things.

But when I find the correct shopping strip, I discover that particular establishment is in the midst of frantic dinner rush hour business.

No problem!

For what I also find is some sort of Melbourne magic.

In a space of about 200 metres there are at least half a dozen places serving Middle Eastern food of various kinds.

Several of them are kebab places.

But there’s also a chicken shop that nevertheless has photos of falafels and kebabs in its windows.

And even the fish and chip shop and the noddle joint announce they use halal meat.

I settle on Layla’s Restaurant.

There are a handful of customers making use of the outside tables, but I am the only customer in the interior, which is welcoming and cool, and in which I feel immediately comfortable.

I sure am hungry so order the biggest, most expensive item on the menu – the mixed plate for $13.

As my food is prepared, I get talking to Layla, who is Assyrian.

Patiently working around the language barrier – and that even though we are both speaking English – I am reminded that there is a big difference between the Assyrian people and Syria, and that the Middle East is far more complex than as presented in glib newspaper headlines and TV grabs.

My meal is real nice.

Two lamb skewers and one of chicken taste fine, but are a little on the dry side – so I love dipping the meat in the little dish of Layla’s homemade sauce. The sauce is a little salty, watery and sort of like a Middle Eastern curry concoction. Tasty!

The falafels are a pale tan inside, very mildly seasoned but fresh and very good.

I love the three kinds of pickle – chilli, turnip and cucumber.

The “hommos” is good but also a little on the dry side.

A fine meal I have, but I suspect at Layla’s I may be better off with more homely fare such as foul or some of the fine-looking Lebanese-style pies and pizzas.

On Sundays, the place serves baqela bel-dhin, which is described as “Iraqi beans, eggs and onions”.

I take the Western Ring Road home, listening to Billy Jack Wills, Tiny Moore and the boys rocking the house the whole way.

(The menus presented below does not represent current prices.)