Sunday, 10 October 2010


109 Elgin St, Carlton - ph: 9347 0006

Come here for: pretty authentic traditional Lebanese food
Don't come here: without a booking; we had to book almost 3 months in advance to get a table

Perception is such an interesting thing. What some cultures consider as part of their everyday lives others see as exotic, exquisite and rare.

Here in Melbourne in particular, some restaurants have explored the perception of exotic with perfection. Think of MoVida or Mamasita. Are they both great restaurants? Yes. But ask a Melbournian if they offer respectively the best Spanish tapas and Mexican food they ever tasted and the answer would likely also be 'yes'. Now ask a Spanish (or any other Mediterranean European) and a Mexican (or even a Californian) if those restaurants offer the very best of their cuisine and they would most likely say 'no'.

All depends on how familiar you are with certain foods. As ordinary as Vegemite and peanut butter is for Australians, I'm sure it would look like the most exotic food combination in Lebanon.

That's why I think there is such a hype (and looooong waiting list) about Abla's.

After waiting about 3 months for a table, we came here the other night to try their banquet.

Traditional babaganoush and hummus were the first things to come out, accompanied by some labne and flat bread. Babaganoush wasn't as smoky I would like, but hummus and labne were great - perfect texture and subtle taste.

Labne - home-made naturally thickened yogurt

Hummus - chickpeas blended with tahini, garlic and lemon juice

Next came the 'lady fingers' - filo pastry cigars filled with minced lamb, pine nuts and spices - and silverbeet rolls stuffed with rice, chickpeas and tomato.

Both entrees tasted a bit bland and lacked the combination of spices I enjoy so much in Lebanese food: the tanginess of ripe tomatoes, the aroma of cumin and cinnamon, the earthiness of cardamon.

Next came the vegetarian dishes: falafel and broad beans.

Broad beans with tahini, garlic and lemon juice

Broad beans served with tahini, garlic and lemon juice tasted ok, but the fact that it was served lukewarm put me off a bit.

Falafel - chick pea, broad bean, parsley, coriander and spices served with tahini

The falafel was really crunchy and tasty. The yogurt and tahini dressing was a bit overpowering. It would have been better served on the side, as it made the falafel a bit soggy after a while.

The banquet continued with kibee and tabbouleh. Now here I get excited; it is so hard to find kibee in Melbourne, let alone good kibee. Kibee is a really simple dish of minced lamb and wheat that looks deceivingly easy to make. But to get a kibee that is crunchy yet doesn't fall to pieces when you eat it, crispy yet not overly oily, well cooked and moist - is bloody hard.

Kibee - minced lamb and cracked wheat stuffed with spiced meat and pine nuts

I have to say that Abla's make great kibee. Could have eaten several by myself and would come back here just for that!

Tabouleh - salad of parsley, tomato, mint, spring onion and cracked wheat

Tabouleh was also tasty and tangy.

Finally came the traditional chicken and rice pilaf and lamb skewers. The chicken and rice is generally my favorite Lebanese dish. It's what I order 9 out of 10 times I visit a Lebanese restaurant, so I was excited about trying this dish.

Flavoured rice pilaff with minced lamb, chicken and almonds

The chicken was nice and moist, but I was disappointed with the rice pilaf. It was overcooked and so bland! The taste just felt like a repetition of whatever else we had earlier that night. I was not enticed to go for more than two bites.

Lamb skewers

Lamb skewers got mixed reviews. Some of the people on our table said they were really well cooked, other said it was overcooked. I didn't try it.

Done with the savouries, we moved on to the sweets. Turkish delight and baklava were served with Lebanese coffee.

Baklava and Turkish delight

I didn't try the Turkish delight; baklava a bit dry.

Lebanese coffee

Overall, the food was not bad - but not great either. It's certainly not worth all the hype and long waiting list. Apart from the kibee, I don't really see a reason for coming back.

Abla's on Urbanspoon


  1. I pretty much had the same experience, fairly average food.

  2. I think I'll stick to Rumi as the Lebanese restaurant I want to visit when I'm in Melbourne next. Would like to try their Kibee though, I have never had it before!

  3. the food looks great, its always a good sign if you have to make a booking in a place, usually that means the place is good. I will check this place out soon.

  4. Food Lover, I have to correct your description of one dish. What you call "broad beans" (fifth photo from the top) aren't broad beans. The proper name of this dish is loubyeh, and it's probably made using French beans - the ordinary long, thin, kind of green bean that most people think of when they hear the word "beans".

    Broad beans, as their name suggests, are fat, squarish beans. Type "broad beans" into Google images and you'll see what I mean.

    Incidentally, I love Abla's loubyeh, and I think lukewarm is the perfect temperature for it. But then I love all Abla's food. I don't eat there all that often, as the prices are beyond my budget, but I go there for special occasions.

  5. I should follow up my previous post by saying: Abla certainly does have a broad bean dish on the menu (foulia medammas), but it's not part of the banquet. The bean dish served as part of the banquet is loubyeh, as I said, and the sauce is a tangy tomato sauce, not a tahini and garlic one. The dish shown in your photo is definitely loubyeh.

  6. Well, the photos showing great food... I haven't been yet to Abla restaurant, but I have been to MinZaman Lebanese restaurant in Lygon St, and I loved their Lebanese food... Very similar as these photos. By the ways, fifth photo is not broad bean at all! It's called Loubee :o)