Saturday, April 25, 2009

April 23, 2009: Cafe Najla

Update 31/12/2014: Cafe Najla is closed. 

Cindy and I had a date with nostalgia at the Northcote Social Club on Thursday evening, and we were both in the mood to eat somewhere new beforehand. Luckily, Cindy's voracious blog-reading means she's got a massive list of interesting places tucked away, and she quickly turned up this recommendation from FoodieFi. We turned up at about 8:30 concerned that we'd miss out on a table, but there was plenty of space for us and we settled in to check out our options.

The waitress recommended the vegetarian Mezza selection, including delights like Bazrjan (tangy pomegranate bulgher salad with fresh tomato, Aleppo peoppers and walnuts) and Salatit Shwander (beetroot and onion in pomegranate dressing), and we were both sorely tempted. But once I'd spotted the vegetarian set menu ($22.50) there was no turning back. I was unadventurous with my drinks choice but Cindy splashed out on a sour cherry cordial with mineral water ($4.50), which tasted as good as it sounds.

First up in the set menu was a dip selection, including a wonderfully smoky baba ganoush, a garlicy hummus and a sweet beetroot based dip. The dips came with some health vegie dippers but also with a big pile of bread, and Cindy was already concerned that we'd over-ordered by the time we'd worked our way through these.

Next up were our two entree sized dishes. The Fatet be Zed (Damascan style chickpea ragout, served with rich yoghurt, tahini dressing, pistachio nuts and crisp pita) was another in the long line of yoghurty chickpea things that we've had around town (and at home) - it was a delicious version of it, only let down slightly by the sogginess of the 'crisp' pita.

It was closely followed by the Ful M'dammes (a warm broad bean and tomato salad, served with lemon, garlic and tahini dressing). The dressing was super-tangy and well-suited to the tender beans - even the tomato worked in this dish. The major problem we had was our lack of something to soak up all the deliciousness - we probably should have saved some of our dipping bread.

Our salad, Salatit Fattoush (Syrian salad with Cos lettuce, grapes and strawberries, servied with sumac and pomegranate dressing and crispy pita) was the meal's highlight - the sweetness of the fruit and the lemony bite of the sumac were an outstanding combination, and this time the crispy pita was nice and crispy. It's not something I'd ever have ordered off the menu, but it really shone.

We were both really struggling to find room by this point, so there was no disappointment that the set dessert option was a small plate of sticky Turkish delight, served with mint tea.

I've been turned off Turkish delight by Cadbury, but whenever I've had a serve of the proper stuff, I've really enjoyed it. It helped to have the minty tea to take the edge of the sweetness a bit.

Nalja turn on a pretty good vegetarian feast, and have a wide selection of smaller offerings on their regular menu. With friendly staff, a cosy space and a High St location, I was surprised that there weren't more people filling themselves with Middle-Eastern delights. Their loss I suppose.

Address: 102 High St, Northcote
Ph: 9482 1168
Price: Set menu - $22.50, Mezze - $4.20 each, Entrees - $10.80-$13.80, Mains - $18.50-$28.50

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