Maha Bar & Grill

My girlfriend, amazing C, was in town from Bris Vegas for work – so I always take the opportunity to introduce her to some amazing Melbourne food!  Our only limitation is that she generally stays at Southbank – so the south side of the CBD is where we head.  Tonight we opted for that little place called Maha – you may know it?

Ensconsed in Bond Street, this is not a very glamorous part of town – but that’s just part of the charming incongruity of our dining scene that is so Melbourne.  Maha is Shane Delia’s baby – well, maybe more of an older sibling now that he’s also opened St Katherine’s in Kew.  Named after his wife, Maha is part of the Made Establishment – otherwise known as the George Calombaris empire.  The link?  Shane was George’s apprentice – a rising star passionate about bringing Lebanese and Middle Eastern food into a finer dining arena. George took a punt – and never looked back…

Maha is one of Melbourne’s most popular restaurants, and has been for four years now.  It is one of those subterranean restaurants, which creates a sultry, gorgeous atmosphere wherein brilliant food and middle eastern ambience come together to envelop our senses.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one option when dining at Maha – and that’s the soufra! Although I’ve heard the Sultan’s Feast is amazing, I’ve never had the opportunity to try it because the soufra is such good value!  One of the main reasons I opt for the soufra is that you get the most amazing array of beautiful food – and if you go for the dessert course as well (compulsory at dinner time), you get the lovely, signature dish – Turkish delight doughnuts… those wonderful golden orbs of light, airy dough, studded with a meltingly gooey centre of Turkish delight…..

Or so I thought…. But I’m getting ahead of myself… let’s start from the beginning.

Naturally, cocktails seemed to be the order of the day.  So, we ordered… for the amazing C, the Turkish Delight – cariel vanilla vodka, massenez rose vodka, lillet blanc, amaro montenegro and rose water;  and for me – I tossed up between the Cleopatra (because I’ve always dreamed of being carried around on a litter by amazingly chiselled men), and the il Grenade – but Tim, our fantastic waiter steered me towards the il Grenade (of which I cannot remember the contents). The cocktails were lovely – although I favoured the amazing C’s over my own.  They were very different in that they were subtly flavoured, and definitely not sweet. We felt very sophisticated.

Our soufra started with a traditional kekede – hibiscus tea.  Almost like a cleansing aperitif, it was a perfumed tea that prepared us for the feast ahead.

First course soufra – mezze – small cold dishes

The first course of our soufra arrived… it was an array of small cold dishes.  From the top clockwise: marinated olives, soused kidney beans, the amazing carrot and cumin dip, beetroot salad, and a gorgeous little glass filled with confit salmon, lemon and dill yoghurt, and some herbed jelly.  The absolute winner of this course is always the carrot and cumin dip – served with some fresh Turkish bread – I do believe I could eat a whole bowl of this by itself.  I actually wasn’t that impressed by the confit salmon dish – even though it looked amazing, it didn’t quite deliver on the “wow” factor.

 Soufra second course – sahen zghir – small plates.

Duck & pistachio sausage with smoked mayo and enoki mushrooms, and
Corn fed chicken tagine, broken egg, corn bread, saffron, Iranian figs, sucuck soil.

We tucked into the chicken tagine first and it was amazing – meltingly tender chicken, beautifully nestled in a golden braise, fabulously complemented by the Iranian figs. The duck and pistachio sausage was earthy and dark, and reminded me a bit of boudin noir – but not quite as intense.

Third course Soufra – large plates – sahen kbeer

Twelve hour roasted Mt Leura lamb shoulder, pistachio and green olive tabouleh
Snapper fillets with squid ink tagliatelle, tempura onions, macadamias

Ahhh…. The signature lamb shoulder – roasted for 12 hours so it just falls apart when you touch it. What’s not to love about unctuous, melting shreds of sweet, tender lamb meat beautifully complemented by a fresh tabouleh of parsley, olives and pistachios.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  And the snapper dish was absolutely divine – a revelation of fresh, firm seafood partnered by a tangle of dark, silky tagliatelle and the surprising crunch of onion rings.  It was absolutely delicious.

Accompanying the main dishes was the gorgeous fattoush salad – crisp shards of sumac dusted pita bread, fresh tomato, lettuce, mint and cucumber – it provided a very satisfying and refreshing crunch.  We also enjoyed the Turkish potato salad with black chili and sumac.

And finally… the moment I had been waiting for!! Turkish Delight doughnuts… oh my goodness… they’re so good!  It’s the whole reason I come to Maha…

What..? They’re no longer being served as part of the dessert menu?  Why?  Because he’s been serving them for 4 years?  I cannot believe this… Teage Ezard has been serving his signature pork hock for 12 years – why?  Because there would be a minor uprising should he ever remove it!!  I feel that there should be a minor uprising right now… What do you mean you’ve removed the critical, anticipated, mouth wateringly gorgeous, can’t get them anywhere else, Turkish Delight Doughnuts!!!! Nooooooooooo!!!!

Our lovely waiter, Tim, was looking very anxious as I roiled and raved and looked as though I was going to faint!  (Not that I’m melodramatic at all….)   He empathised with me as he gently explained how Shane felt four years was a long time… but that a miniature version is still available as a petit four… that I can order them if I still have room after dessert (as if that’s ever stopped me!).

Grrrr….  Not happy Jan…  but dessert is there to be eaten – so…  we’ll just see…

Fourth course Soufra – Sweets – Helwayet

So,  the new dessert platter looked a little lonely without a lovely bowl of honey glazed and pistachio sprinkled doughnuts… but I digress.   First up there was a chocolate box with reservoir of rose water gel at the bottom, topped with marshmallow and halva ice-cream.  I find chocolate boxes a little retro – and gel never floats my boat – so after a little taste, I donated mine to amazing C, who didn’t mind polishing it off.  The next dish was gorgeous – Salted oats with spiced pear, topped with a honey and yoghurt ice-cream – it was the dish of the platter for me.  It’s the salted components that always get me – I love them!  And finally, there was a hazelnut sponge, drenched in Frangelico syrup, with a walnut and praline ice cream and topped with the Maha cookie.  This one was a little dry – and could have done with half the sponge. But it was quite nice.

I was feeling depleted and somehow incomplete – a bit like Jerry Maguire just as he realises how much he needs Dorothy (the only difference being – I always knew I needed the Maha doughnuts, I never wavered) – we naturally had to order the petit four.  You complete me!!

Hmmm…. They’re kinda small aren’t they?  Poor Tim…  he kind of shuffled his feet, and looked at me with his apologetic face:  “well… they’re petit four…”  Hmmph!  You see the spoon in the photo… it’s a teaspoon.  Ooh… did you feel that… I just think we might have spun off our axis….   Or perhaps I’ve moved into a different space time continuum.

By the way… you actually get five mini doughnuts in the serve. Once again, I’ve failed you, dear reader – and lunged in forgetting to take a photo.  But you get the drift.

Shane, Shane, Shane… bring back the Turkish Delight Doughnuts! Not those mini tease ones – the real ones that rock my world.

Overall, Maha is still a fantastic restaurant.  What I love about it – you just never know what you’re going to get – but you’re bound to love something, if not everything.  For me that carrot and cumin dip is amazing, and the snapper was gorgeous.  Dessert…  well, you know how I feel about that. Regardless of the loss of the Turkish Delight Doughnuts as part of the soufra menu – you will have a gorgeous time, every time.


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