Yemeni Restaurant revisited


124 Union Rd, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9372 0854

Yemini Restaurant had been one our earliest outings here on Consider The Sauce, but as the “under new management” sign has been up for some months, we deem it time for a return visit.

The main change seems to be a much tighter and more focused menu – this is no cause for alarm; indeed it may be good news.

The handful of dishes now available all clock in at $12.

A few weeks previous, on my ownsome, I’d had burmah – “Bedouin-style tender lamb on the bone slow-cooked with khubz (traditional Yemeni bread) on rice”. It was pretty good, too, the meal coming to my table in a very hot pot, the cooking liquid then poured into a bowl for soup purposes. It was much like the lamb broth at Safari Restaurant up the road, only much more spicy and piquant.

The meat was eaten separately, with flat bread that looked suspiciously like blandola store-bought roti. Wrong! This was the royalty of  flat bread – flaky and rich and impossible to stop eating.

For our Saturday lunch we tell the staff we are two hungry lads – but not THAT hungry. Would it be possible to enlarge, for a suitable fee, one of the main plates for sharing purposes?

Certainly – and a $5 premium is agreed upon.

As we wait, there arises a certain amount of tension and unease concerning our – OK, my – photographic activities that require quite some minutes of dialogue across and language and cultural barriers.

I succeed, eventually, in assuring them our intentions are only of the highest order, and that, no, we will not be sending them an invoice for a write-up on our website and that, yes, we fully intend to pay for our lunch.


I doubt there’s much difference between the standard plate and our deluxe version, but it matters not, for it just right for the pair of us.

Our lamb mandi – “slow-cooked lamb with baharat (mixture of Yemeni spices) served with rice, salad, shitni (green chili sauce) and Khiar bil laban (cucumber dip)” – is similar to meals we’d under the joint’s previous incarnation, with some key differences.

No sign of the green chilli mash – this time the spice hit comes with a much greater kick from red/brown dip that consequently requires much more judicious imbibing.

The rice is minus the sultanas and strands of deep brown fried onion of earlier visits – but it’s even better. In fact, it’s much MUCH better. Rice to inhale, rice to dream about. The mixed jumble of yellow and white grains, obviously cooked in some form of stock, have through them some translucent onion slices and some seasoning that appears to include at the least black peppercorns. It’s very plain but astounding in its effect.

The two pieces of lamb – Bennie is lucky enough to score a four-point rack – are sublimely crusty on the outer and tender on the inner. A piece apiece is more than enough.

After we’d restored goodwill with the staff, we are told that menu changes are afoot, with more and different choices in the offing. We’ll be watching with interest.

Because Yemeni Restaurant, whatever changes have been or are about to be wrought, remains a singular gem  of our western suburbs food scene.

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Yemeni Restaurant


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 …

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