I barely pay attention to Broadsheet these days, drowning under the weight of newly opened bars and cafes that we'll eventually visit some time in 2018. Somehow though, my eye caught on the words 'Lebanese Diner' and 'Code Black Coffee' in a write-up of Tahini, a new place just around the corner for my office. We've had pretty good experiences at both Code Blacks and I've been craving a good lunchtime felafel for a while, so this shot straight to the top of my list for days when our packed-lunch game was weak.
I wound up visiting back-to-back quite soon after they opened, giving me a chance to have a proper shot at their menu. On my first visit I got a bit confused by the system - it turns out you only go up to the counter if you're getting takeaway, not if you want to eat in. I panicked a haloumi wrap ($10) without really taking in my full range of options.
They really are designed as a speedy takeaway lunch - a better option would have been to upgrade to the tablieh option, which comes with a dip, salad and some chips to accompany the wrap, but kicks the price up to $16.
The haloumi wrap was heavy on the herbs - lots of mint and basil, along with cucumber, tomato, a deliciously oily green dressing and a few judiciously placed chunks of fried haloumi. On first inspection I was a bit disappointed by the low cheese:salad ratio, but the proportions tasted brilliant - lots of freshness with just enough cheesy, salty, oiliness to keep me happy. It's a small lunch though and at $10 it's probably not as good as getting three boreks from the Vic Markets (that's probably an unfair benchmark though I guess).
On my second visit I'd figured out how things worked - I sat down with the full menu and sussed out my options. The labelling of gluten-free, vego and vegan dishes is clear and thorough and there's plenty of options for everyone - for example, vegans can build a lunch from the felafel, five different salads, a massive range of dips and breads, vine leaves and chips. I left the decisions in Tahini's hands, opting for a standard soufra: two items from the grill, served with hummus, vine leaves, tabouleh and bread for $18. Only one of the grill items is vego (the haloumi), but they were happy for me to sub in some felafel as my second option.
This is a massive lunch, with a great variety of dishes to work your way through. Everything was excellent with the haloumi and hummus the highlights. This is a great way to sample a good range of Tahini's menu, but it does mean to committing to a $16 lunch, which is at the upper end of what I'm willing to pay. At least you're getting value for your money.
The staff at Tahini are super friendly and, although there were a couple of small teething issues on my first visit, things were running pretty smoothly on the second day. It's a big space and the menu is impressive - I'll definitely be back to sample some more of it.
199 William Street, Melbourne (via Guests Lane)
food menu, drinks menu
Accessibility: There's a flat entry and a fairly spacious interior. There are a mix of high stools and regular chairs. You order at the table and pay at a low counter. I didn't visit the toilets.