Bianca: There is just something incredibly charismatic about Shane Delia, his food is in part, an extension of that charm. ‘Maha’ has become a must visit whenever mum and I make the trek to Melbourne, this time we had Alex in tow.
We were visiting on the day of their re-opening, so the place was abuzz with Shane’s family and the man himself. Madre couldn’t help herself and expressed our love for the main man to one of the staff members who promptly mentioned it to Shane as he was making the rounds – he then stopped past, had a quick chat and obliged us with a photo.
What can be said about the recent $1 Million dollar refurb? It was a fairly dim and cavernous affair before, with dark wooden hues. It’s now more of an open plan with a prominent white and muted light green colour theme, we happened to hear Shane explain to other guests that his desired chairs were stuck in customs so they were forced to hire some in the interim. We quite liked the leather spirally ones. It’s a much sleeker and contemporary dining room but Alex felt it was a little ‘cafeteria’ like.
During dinner service there is the option of four dining choices – a 2 course $55, 4 course $85, 5 course $95 and a 6 course $120. We decided to go with the 4 course at $85 p.p. With a clear focus on ‘shared’ plates it really is the quintessential Middle Eastern experience of bountiful amounts of food, eaten in good company. Alex was impressed that we would be receiving all 13 items from the four course menu – quite a generous amount of food, we left not wanting for anything. That of course, did not mean we didn’t eat the leftover scrolls when we got back to the hotel. What happens in Melbourne stays in Melbourne!
Part of the charm of our first visit to Maha, was the theatrical nature in which the waitress explained each course, this was really the only thing we felt was lacking on the night. It was their opening day after a 5 week trading hiatus and I believe they held a large lunch function that day, so whether this affected service on the night I do not know, we just felt our server was a little cold.
Each course was brought out in a general ‘round’ of food, usually 3-4 dishes per course, with a quick explanation of each dish. One thing to be noted, Maha pays great attention to diner’s allergies, food likes and dislikes and where possible will tailor a particular dish. Alex is more opposed to fish than I am and requested a substitution in its place, which they easily accommodated.
The first course consisted of ‘local olives, fel fel’ (a Persian spice with pepper and capsicum pepper notes). A mixture of dark and green olives that had a bit of a spicy kick, particularly easy to keep going back to. ‘Smoked Hummus, lamb, cashews and parsley’, Alex expressed that this was his favourite thing he ate during our entire Melbourne getaway. Whilst it was good, I ate far too many unicorn burgers to agree with that sentiment. The minced lamb added that salty hit which accompanied the creamy blitzed hummus. The cashews elevated it to a more texturally interesting dish. Alongside the hummus was a pita-like bread, the perfect accompaniment, the only downfall here was the amount of bread we were served, it wasn’t hardly enough for the hummus served. Only gripe there. ‘Chemen cured Swordfish, kewpie mayo, preserved lemon and shallot’ . ‘Young carrots, cumin, yoghurt and watercress’, a very fresh and light dish with a bit of spice – they don’t call it the spice journey for nothing! What was nice about each dish, was that they all complemented each other, the crispy carrot interplayed with the soft melt in your mouth swordfish.
The second course began with the ‘Honey and saffron braised pork belly, fennel and arak, puffed grain crackling’, whilst I was being coy earlier with my burger comment, this was in fact my favourite bite of food over the week-long food extravaganza. I may even put it up there in my top 5 favourite things ever eaten. It was a particularly rich and umptious morsel of food, caramelised gloriously. Eaten alongside the puffed grains it was truly one of those magical moments where you look at each person’s face at the dining table whilst nodding, everybody in agreement.
Up next was the ‘Preserved orange and coriander seed crumbed asparagus, hen’s egg, spring onions and crab. Another exciting dish, we delighted in cutting the yolk and watching it ooze all over the asparagus, the pumpkin or sweet potato puree below the asparagus was particularly enjoyable. Alex was brought his own portion without the crab but to be honest, unless I saw it on the menu I would have no idea there was crab in the dish, it was missing in action.
We were beginning to reach tipping point at this stage but like the seasoned pros we are, we soldiered on. Onto course three, we were now at the famous lamb stage, one of mum and I’s favourite dish from our last visit. The ’12 hour roasted lamb shoulder, garlic, cumin, coriander, smashed radish, smoked pepper, almonds and mint’. Mum first took a bit and was instantly disappointed, complaining that it was dry, which we instantly ruled out as an anomaly, a bad burnt end perhaps. The lamb was intensely rich and succulent, an easily shared dish between 3- 4 people. The toasted hazelnuts were a nice addition but most surprising of all was how well radish cut through the rich fatty lamb, making it easier to eat and eat and eat.
‘Roasted market fish, olive oil, yoghurt, walnut and za’atar crumb’ the fish on the day was cobia, something we had encountered at the Park Hyatt – it is a meaty, white fish and was accented beautiful by the crumb, I enjoyed it immensely. Alex was brought out a thin piece of ‘Grass fed scotch fillet’ which was a perfect medium rare.
Some ‘sides’ to complement the protein portion of course 3, consisted of a ‘Fattoush salad’ – tomato, mint, roast garlic and baked bread’, considering the size of the lamb and the fish a larger portion would have been more substantial, as we quickly ran out of the salad. There was the usual sharp citrus twang from a good fattoush as well as the perfect amount of crispy Lebanese bread. ‘Cracked wheat pilaf, carrot, apricot and dill’, the carbohydrate portion of our meal! I’m a sucker for cous-cous, quinoa, any type of grain really and loved the sweet and salty elements of the dried fruit and herbs.
We were now onto Alex and mum’s favourite bit of any meal, course four – dessert! Last time madre and I dined at Maha we had to this day, the best dessert I have ever eaten. A Peanut butter baklava – peanut butter parfait, chocolate sorbet, baklava crumbs and salted caramel. We were both thoroughly disappointed to see it hadn’t made a return to the menu. We instead had his other signature dessert the ‘Turkish delight filled doughnuts, rosewater honey’, whilst these have become a Maha favourite they paled in significance next to that parfait. I love my doughnuts but found them very underwhelming, considering the meal we had eaten up to this point.
‘Spiced lemon curd, dark chocolate and pomegranate molasses ice cream, rosemary meringue’. This was my favourite dessert of the evening, a really interesting melody of textures and flavours. The ice-cream was a stand-out, I’m usually not one for meringue and I couldn’t get enough.
Allow me to also point out that I ate dessert under complete duress, just before desserts were brought out, Chris and Rebecca Judd (Famous AFL player and his model wife) made their entrance and sat RIGHT next to me. Now if anyone is familiar with Rebecca Judd, she is an eenie teenie tiny woman who has also had two children – I had to shove mouthful after mouthful into my gob under her watchful judgey stare.
Maha has the ability to weave a tapestry with each dish, with each course outdoing the last. Unfortunately desserts fell a little flat especially as the meal was such a spectacular interplay and general feast for both the palate and the senses. Shane a massive congratulations on Maha 2.0, a visit to Melbourne generally means a visit to Maha, so now doubt you’ll see us again.
Thanks to Webjet, we have two $75 Webjet vouchers to give-away. So you can have your very own Melbourne adventure, or wherever else takes your fancy. How to enter?
- Follow @4foodssake on instagram
- Tag a friend in the below instagram photo and name the one restaurant in Australia you’d like to eat at. The winner will be announced on Wednesday 13th May.