Maha - Loving on the Middle East
Maha Restaurant from the Made Establishment stable and Shane Delia, is one of the most popular restaurants in Melbourne - with Middle Eastern cuisine that dances on the taste buds, impeccable service and chic ambience.
The night began with sourdough bread and this crimson Hibiscus tea. Sweet and refreshing the palate. The dishes to follow were not to be shared (that's the Soufra) but we each received the respective dishes separately. The Sommelier was on song with his recommendations of wine of the Italian variety and we opted for a McLaren Vale Sangiovese/Cabernet blend.
Maha impressed from the get go with this exquisite Chicken kibbeh, jamon butter, corn and coconut, flowers and cresses. To our amazement this was actually a soup. The dish was amazing with infusion of hamon and buttery tones of corn and coconut, along with fresh ingredients to the fore and the tasty meatball. With a sense of theatre the waiter poured the corn and coconut broth over the plate... What a dish! The best soup I've ever had methinks. And I contained my urge to lick the plate...
Interestingly my wife and I both remarked we'd be happy to leave now and pay $300 after the soup, bread and wine...
Maha then delivered again with White miso, scallops, smashed potatoes and Lebanese cress. The scallop was perfectly cooked but it was the foam that stole the show. This saffron and seafood foam was stellar. The potato was a brilliant accompaniment and it all worked.
Maha had been featuring a dude food week and we were treated to these Armenian Ma'hani lamb sausage stuffed chicken wings with sour sherry bbq sauce above and Shane's version of Beirut lamb pizza below (with chips in the middle). We really enjoyed these offerings for their inventiveness as well as taste. Have to say I loved the sherry sauce with those stuffed chicken wings. And the Beirut pizza was like a top notch souvlaki.
Maha then produced the dish of the night, the Boat smugglers stew with prawn filled snapper, pork belly, tamarind, saffron and tomato - and Nigella flat bread. A showstopper. The story goes that Shane met a boat smuggler in Iran and was able to dine at the smugglers house. In a small kitchen this smuggler produced an extraordinary meal that Shane translated to his restaurant.
Pork and snapper? You bet! The unusual combination worked superbly well with stew that had some kick. I could eat masses of this.
Maha then served us Seven spiced rangers valley wagyu rump cap marble score 9+, tahini mayo, black beans, beetroot and barberries. Quality wagyu with excellent accompaniments such as tangy mayo and earthy flavours of black beans and beetroot.
The signature dish of Maha is the 12 hour roast lamb shoulder, pistachio and green olive tabouleh. It stays on the menu and is so popular (have a feeling the Boat smugglers stew is also vying for permanent status). Succulent lamb (with some of the fat I'm glad to say) and tasty yoghurt is so soulful and satisfying. The tabouleh is sexy and the dish can only be enhanced by a squeeze of lemon.
We were also served the Milk fed veal cutlet, smoked freekah, eggplant, awarma, and kefalograviera. This veal was so rich in flavour. For tonight this dish also featured Yarra Valley cheese.
The pilaf rice was also exceptional, with aleppo pepper, coriander and noodles..
And the Fattouche salad was delectable. Sauteed greens, tahini, sweet soy, mushroom and roasted shallots.
Loved this salad with sumac, tomato, cucumber, mint, leaves and roast garlic. So refreshing.
Maha had been spectacular until this point. And the desserts dind't diminish the quality. Check out the Turkish delight doughnuts below with rosewater honey and walnuts. So moorish with quality turkish delight.
The pomegranate ice cream served with sumac and pomegranate foam was spectacular. Gels and foams.
This restaurant targets all the 5 senses - the food has varying exciting textures, the flavours are strong and wholesome and expertly balanced, the visual appeal is strong here in terms of food presentation and restaurant ambience, there is a cool sound of music and conviviality, and the fragrance of the food but also the permeating Middle Eastern incense.
Check out the discreetly displayed merchandise, including book by chef Shane Delia.
Maha is a consistently hatted restaurant (The Age Good Food Guide) and I'm keen to return to soon. The team here provides exceptional service and this includes the little touches such as repeated cleaning of our table, explanation of dishes, recommendations, turkish fragrance for the hands and a small sample of tea on departure. Having eaten many times in the Middle East I can vouch for that explosion of freshness, subtle marinade and perfectly slow cooked meat, and imaginative dishes. Highly recommended.