Some midweek laziness had Michael and I working a little late and then meeting in the rain for dinner. Our venue was Abla's Lebanese Restaurant, an institution that has been around longer than the Age's Cheap Eats Guide. Although we worked 'late', we were early for dinner and there was room for two "as long as you're finished by 7:45". When we gave the waitress our sincere promise, we were generously offered a table fit for four - plenty of room to spread out. I liked our waitress' attitude, a little brusque but also friendly and efficient. I also liked the space - it had a dated but luxurious look and warm air. Unfortunately that glow made for a set of really bad photos - sorry about that, Michael and I really need to improve on our lowlight camera skills.
Abla's menu has a vegetarian section, with dishes that are small to medium-sized and share-friendly: our plan of an entree and then three plates between two was just right. The starter and main lists are 100% meaty - best not to read about the spiced lamb or lemon garlic chicken if you're at all tempted to lapse! Just concentrate on the felafel and you'll be fine, I promise. We began with a plate of three dips (labnee, hummous bi tahini and baba ghannooj) with bread ($15). Michael was quite taken with the tangy labnee while I remarked most on the baba ghannooj - it had a distinctively smoky undertone. Before we'd scooped our way through the plate our mains arrived: foulia medammas ($10), felafel ($14), and loubyeh ($14). I was keen to try more foulia medammas since our visit to the Half Moon Cafe and these broad beans had a lovely dressing, pungent with lemon juice and garlic; the felafel had super-crisp shells and weren't too greasy; the loubyeh (grean beans in a tomato-based sauce) were pleasant but left unfinished at the end of the meal. To wash it all down, we each had a glass of limonada ($3), a Lebanese lemonade full of real, slightly pulpy lemon juice and a floral kick of rosewater - none of that sugary feel against the teeth.
I really would have liked to try Abla's home-made baclawa ($3), but my stomach was out of room and we were just about out of time. It was a pleasurable meal, of higher quality and higher price than the kebab-shop Lebanese we're more accustomed to. But to be honest the price hike is a bit greater than the pleasure hike for me, and the cheap and cheerful establishments of Coburg may see me a bit more often than the spirited staff of Abla's.
Address: 109 Elgin St, Carlton
Ph: 9347 0006
Price: veg plates $6-$15 (aim for 1.5-2 plates per person)