Ok, so this is not your typical blog post. It is not remotely northern Italian, though I am desperately trying to make the link so I can rave about the Melbourne restaurant Maha. And it is not just because they have an impressive selection of Arak, one of my favorite drinks, on their menu. The food is damn near perfect. So after some thinking, I have come up with the link – my husband is Maltese. Maha is owned by chef Shane Delia, who also happens to be from Malta. I will be going to Malta in September, right after I go to Sicily and before I fly to Trieste. So the link is clear. I am just south of Italy and it is Malta that is on my mind right now, together with the rather extraordinary restaurant Maha.
I have been on a Middle Eastern roll since I started watching Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast a few months back and drooling with anticipation of all the food experiences that there will be in my upcoming trip to Europe, which includes Turkey and Malta. Just as I was mourning the departure of Yotam from the TV screen, Shane Delia and his show Spice Journey came along, where he travels to and features the food of many countries including Malta, Lebanon and Iran. Mark is currently exploring his Maltese roots so I took him to Maha to celebrate his birthday. The restaurant is in the more corporate end of the Melbourne central business district, where there were few restaurants and even fewer people on a cold Sunday night. Maha is effectively under ground and has a funky middle Eastern inspired fit out with gorgeous colorful glassware from Malta on cleverly lit shelves along the walls. I started off the dinner with some four times distilled Kefraya Arak from Lebanon. It looks milky and innocent when mixed with water but packs quite a punch at 53% alcohol.
We opted for a four course Soufra, shared dishes inspired by “Spice Journey”. I will let the photos do most of the talking – luckily I was at a well-lit table so the photos worked surprising well in the underground space – there was not one dish I did not love. Savoury dishes included grilled haloumi salad with pomegranate, pumpkins seeds and sumac; roasted pork belly with pomegranate, walnuts and purslane; fried filo pastry cigars filled with smoked trout; and some melt in your mouth rockling on a celeriac purée. Dishes not photographed included Jerusalem artichoke soup in a tiny glass topped with microherbs, roasted lamb shoulder, that fell apart as you ate it, labne with nuts and dried fruit and flat bread. It was a plentiful savoury feast with delightful sweet, sour and salty flavors and contrasting textures.
By the time dessert came around, I paid a bit less attention to what the waitress said we were eating (all that Arak……) but it all tasted rather amazing. The first dessert – a not too sweet pistachio slice with what was probably an apricot it in, topped with herby basil ice-cream, silky pashmak (Persian fairy floss) and fried pomegranate seeds; the second – fried donuts (not unlike frittole) filled with Turkish delight topped with rose water honey and walnuts. They were light and delightful, I could have eaten several more.
Maha is a well oiled machine and was very busy the night we were there. We were each given a tiny test tube of a spice mixture, which is a nice touch. I would definitely return. I would love to hear from any readers who can suggest any restaurants or markets in either Turkey or Malta.
21 Bond St