Tuesday, September 23, 2008

September 18, 2008: Baba

Edit 20/05/2012: Baba has been replaced by burger joint The B.East - it has a veg option but we didn't love it.

While the Brunswick end of Lygon St has been a breakfast paradise for some time, this strip may soon also become known as a stylish dinner destination. Rumi's been there a while, George Calombaris has got something on the boil, and recently Baba has opened. With tickets to an 8:30 movie booked, we arrived well before 7pm to try it out. Though the restaurant was completely free of patrons (and waitstaff) as we entered, it filled in ten short minutes!

By the terrace-house dimensions that I measure the inner north in, this is a large and open restaurant with generous spacing between tables. The fit-out is primarily sleek and sophisticated, though the huge murals and shiny retro turntables hint that the lights go down and the music goes up up up when the clock strikes 10.

But let me tell you about the menu. The theme is Levantine, and though Baba is most certainly an omnivorous restaurant, there is a lot for a vegetarian to choose from - one claypot, three pizzas and too, too many mezze. What to do? Check our wallets, give the nod, and embark on an East Brunswick mezze and pizza food safari at $25 apiece. They're more than happy to vegify it.

The process of obtaining menus and drinks took a lot longer than it should have, but once the chefs were on board they set a fine pace. First up was some soft, warm pide with three dips. The carrot one was subtle, sweet and pleasant but completely upstaged by the other two: a chickpea smash vibrant with citrus and parsley, and the smokiest, garlicky-est eggplant ezmesi. (And check out my drink - a Shirley Temple!)

Though we were setting a hungry eating pace of our own, we weren't through the dips when the grilled zucchini arrived, dressed in warm sheep's yoghurt and olive oil, sprinkled with sweet currants and and tangy pomegranate seeds.

Next up, another cute little claypot with a base of warm yoghurt. On top, carrot and saganaki fritters fresh from the fryer and delivered directly by the chef. Perfect crisp crumbing and though the filling looked to be all carrot, there certainly was that strong salty cheese flavour.

The felafel came with more yoghurt and a tomato-based chutney. While they were as well-prepared as all that preceded them, the balls' slightly bitter herbs were an abrupt change from all the rich saltiness.

This photo doesn't give a true sense of scale - buy this stage we were filling up and these pizzas were looooong. Yet they were so tasty we managed to finish them off! (The thin bases must've helped.) On the far side is a pizza topped with kasarli cheese, fresh tomato, olives, radicchio, cucumber and oregano - a delightfully piquant mix. In front are toppings of spiced pumpkin smash, fetta, walnuts, dates and purple radish shoots. This final dish was stunning, all sweet and warmly spiced - it almost counted as a dessert.

And it had to count as dessert, as we didn't have room in our schedules or our stomachs for anything more. But how I want to try Baba's dessert menu! It promises rhubarb and rose petal pannacotta with rhubarb and pomegranate jelly, cinnamon sugared doughnuts with pistachio and thyme honey, Turkish delight gelato, a dessert of the moment and a cheese boar...... whoah, I think I blissed out there for a moment. Thank the food gods (or just Baba's head chef) for the Tatli mezze, a taste plate of the sweets.

This restaurant still has a little work to do on its speed of service, but I'm sure that'll smooth out soon enough. The staff can certainly be commended for good humour and grace in the face of high demand. And with food this good, I can't see demand for more waning any time soon.

Address: 80 Lygon St, East Brunswick
Ph: 9380 8534
Fully licensed
Price: vegetarian mezze and pizza $25 per person
Website: www.babarestaurant.com.au


  1. Oooh, Baba sounds completely fabulous! I've really been getting into Middle Eastern/Levantine food recently, and this place looks very reasonably priced.

    Thanks for the tip Cin, it has been duly bookmarked! :)


  2. Claire, I think Baba is probably just your style. :-) It's not cheap but still value for money, I reckon!

  3. this looks like a place I need to try - but no wonder there was no room for dessert!!!

  4. ohh, yum yum. I know that feeling, how devastating when you can't fit dessert!! Do you think you could order/pay for 3 people's worth of food and share it between 4 people? I did that once at Golden Terrace, 2 between 3, and we still couldn't eat all the food! Reckon they would let you do it at Baba?

  5. Johanna, I will have to limit my consumption of savouries next time in the pursuit of dessert! It's going to be tough, though, with all those tempting mezze. :-)

    Cathy, it would be worth asking - the staff were very friendly and accommodated our vegetarian request without batting an eyelid. You could always build up your own banquet anyway, as almost all of these items (and a few other good-looking ones besides) are available on the menu as little sharing plates.