Getting back into cooking since 2009.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


The first night I arrived in Melbourne, almost exactly 9 months ago, I decided to take a walk around Brunswick. I headed east from my friends' house, walked up Sydney Road for a bit, past the dual-purpose kebab stand/car washes, and then kept heading east to Lygon St, becoming increasingly hungry. By this time it was about 9pm on a Saturday and I'd been walking for about an hour. My plane had landed at six that morning and I was exhausted. 

I came across Hellenic Republic, a restaurant I was aware of thanks to the owner's ubiquity, and decided it would be a good place for a solo diner. I had assumed that being by myself would mean that it would be easy for the restaurant to accommodate me. Apparently I was wrong! I asked for a seat for one at the bar, and the host sort of rolled her eyes at me, looked over at the half-empty bar and seemed reluctant to let me in. I'm used to being treated a bit dismissively in restaurants; I'm from Perth. I just wasn't in the mood to put up with it that night. Instead, I walked straight out and kept walking down Lygon St towards the city.

Eventually I arrived at Rumi, a place I recognised as the object of Bourdain's near-ecstatic praise in an episode of No Reservations. The maĆ®tre d’ was the opposite of Hellenic Republic: warm, friendly, happy to welcome me. I sat at the bar and proceeded to have an incredible meal of slow-roasted lamb shoulder and deep-fried cauliflower, drank a couple of beers and read a book. I was immediately sold on the place, and I've been back many times since. 

The food is the attraction. The chef, Joseph Abboud, cooks the Lebanese dishes he grew up with, but updates it and gently modernises it around the edges, bringing his classical training to bear on food that's far from French. On one of my solo visits he saw me reading The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman and we got to talking about the French Laundry and Thomas Keller. The chef is a guy who is clearly in love with his craft, and it shows in his food. 

The lamb shoulder, a staple on an ever-evolving menu, is slowly roasted on the bone for some absurd length of time, its exterior deep black, the gelatinous flesh collapsing under the weight of a fork. It's served with sirkanjabin, a sweet mint sauce that is comfortingly familiar to those of us with a family background more Manchester than Marjeyoun

I had a near-religious experience with the cauliflower. It's just slightly crispy fried florets, big enough to retain their earthy interior, with sweetly caramelised onions, pinenuts and raisins. Maybe it doesn't sound like much, but holy HELL is it Much. It is very much Much. This dish kicked off a cauliflower odyssey, I started eating the formerly-boring vegetable whenever I saw it on a menu, but nowhere quite hits the heights of this dish. 

Bourdain raved about the quail, and he wasn't wrong. Two skewers of quail breast and thigh, grilled and smoky on the outside, a faint pink within. They seem to be served a different way each time I go back: sometimes they're smothered in grape molasses, or perhaps pomegranate, sticky-sweet luminescent pink against the bird's charred skin. The last time we had the pleasure of eating this dish it was served with a Lebanese version of salsa verde (the name escapes me). 

It's obscenely good value, too. Order the banquet and you'll get five ample courses for $45 per head. It'll probably include the cauliflower, lamb shoulder and a version of the quail, but you'll also get pickles with labne and flat bread, addictive little puff pastry cigars stuffed with salty cheese (sigara boregi), several delicious and inventive salads (freekeh, if you're lucky), a plate of lightly-spiced school prawns that you devour in their entirety, amongst other things. 

This is, for so many reasons, my favourite restaurant in Melbourne.

Rumi on Urbanspoon
132 Lygon St
Brunswick East

Note: Claire at Melbourne Gastronome has a bunch of photos on her blog, as she is not a lazy, scared little man.


  1. Sounds superb. Consider Rumi officially on my to-do list.

  2. It's nice to see a blog update and it's nice to know of a place that you can eat alone at and not be treated like a freak.

    The food sounds delicious, look forward to checking it out one day when I plan a visit to Melbourne.

  3. This place is the best. I dream of that freekeh almost daily.

  4. Added to my list for January. Excellent.

    Why is it only September?

  5. I want to go backkkk hereeee agaaaainnn it's been like three weeks already

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