Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen. Wow.
I’d heard good things, but I wasn’t prepared to get my hopes up before (a) getting a booking and (b) seeing for myself what all the fuss was about.
We managed to get a booking only a week in advance, which I hear is rare, so we were off to a good start. When we got there it was busy, especially for a Tuesday night. We were seated upstairs and given menus and water straight away; there were olives, bright pink pickled things and bread on the table already. So far so good.
First up on our order was the mixed dips and a generous serving of bread. Each of the dips was accompanied by a pool of olive oil and all three were excellent. The labnee was thick, creamy and delicious, the hummous didn’t stand a chance and the baba gannouj, oh the baba gannouj…
My opinion of baba gannouj is, if I wanted to smoke, I would have taken it up at 16 when being rebellious was more important than avoiding lung cancer. But since I passed up that opportunity 9 years ago, nowadays I don’t fancy ringing up the quit helpline as the result of too much baba gannouj. It’s every bit as awful as I imagine smoking an eggplant flavoured cigarette to be. However… Abla’s baba gannouj was something different. It certainly hasn’t changed my opinion of the dip forever, but it was much more eggplant, lemon and garlic than it was high risk emphysema.
After finishing the dips at a leisurely pace, next came the ladies’ fingers. The best way I can describe these is a sort of lamb-y Lebanese-y spring roll. It felt like they needed some sauce to dip them in, which they didn’t have, but they were tasty nonetheless. Far better than the tiny banana with which they share their name.
Following these entrees was our bravest order of the night,after all, this alphabet experience is all about trying new things.
Kibbee Nayeh, described on the menu as raw lamb blended with burghul and accompanied with olive oil and mint. When we ordered it, the waitress was kind enough to double check we knew it was raw and when it arrived, it was certainly that. She also took the time to go through how to eat kibbee nayeh:
Take a piece of pita bread, put some of the raw lamb mixture in it, a piece of raw onion, some mint and drizzle some olive oil on top. Roll up and eat.
Truly delicious!!! Kibbee Nayeh is definitely a dish that should come with a “don’t try this at home” warning as this wasn’t just any minced lamb straight from the Coles meat section, but I highly recommend giving this a shot in the safe surroundings of Abla’s. Just don’t get cocky with the amount of lamb you put in… start slowly, the texture is quite a mouthful. Abla herself, whether impressed with our order or just genuinely friendly, even came over to see if we liked it and was glowing with pride when we told her how great it was.
Following our wonderful entrees and raw lamb experience, out came the kafta mishwee – lamb skewers served with tabouleh – a classic and irresistible choice at a Lebanese restaurant and then came the chicken and rice.
Chicken and rice is a dish that fools you in many ways. Firstly, it has the most boring name of all the dishes on the menu. It sounds like a diet that celebrities might go on, eating only poached chicken and steamed rice for months on end. It is anything but boring.
Secondly, the name chicken and rice should actually read ‘Chicken, lamb, delicious stuff and rice’.
Chicken and rice is one of the most popular dishes on Abla’s menu and I finally know why. The chicken is the most flavoursome, moist chicken you’ve ever tasted (and I thought I’d mastered moist chicken), the rice has minced lamb mixed throughout it, giving it a wonderful, slightly salty flavour and when the menu describes the dish as ‘exquisitely flavoured’ it is not an overstatement. Perfectly finished off with the crunch of slivered almonds and pinenuts; if this dish could sell tickets to Lebanon, I would have bought one.
During the meal we had a couple of Almaza Pilsners and a bottle of Lebanese red, all of which were impressive and I would happily have again. To finish, we had a Lebanese coffee (sweet/strong warning) and a mandatory arak which was quite nice compared to some of the spirits we’ve come across on our journey.
Overall, the food was fantastic and I could not have faulted a single aspect of the service (attentive and professional with out being snooty and annoying). Two ladies’ thumbs up.