Cedars Bakery, Preston, Melbourne
To glance at it like this, there’s nothing special or exciting about this place. It looks like any other dodgy little bakery in any other suburb, in any other big city.
In Melbourne’s northern suburbs in particular, it’s really nothing special or exciting – there are Lebanese bakeries everywhere in these neighbourhoods, generally open 7 days, and always with mouth watering smells emanating from them. So what makes this one worth a second look?
For starters, not only is this an absolutely killer bakery (we’ll get to that), it’s a pretty decent little Middle Eastern supermarket too! With more varieties of grains, legumes, herbs and spices than you can poke a stick at, as well as everything else from picked vegetables to laundry detergent and pomegranate extract, you become fixated, in a sort of a trance as you wind your way to the counter to order your food via the shelves on the left hand wall. As you pour through the stocked wonders, you start coming up with all sorts of delicious dishes you could make at home, if you could manage to work out exactly what to do with it all! Oh, and as well as a great range, the prices are phenomenal! Pack of 20 falafels for $6.90? WHAT?! Guess who’s having falafels for lunch every day next week?!
But now to the actual eat-in food.
A few great things about the food they sell there:
1. They bake it all fresh, in front of you, right behind the counter. While this lovely lady in the photo above is taking your order, the guy in the photo above this one is extracting the little baked packages of goodness from the ovens and piling them up on the side of the counter.
2. They have a pretty small selection of items on the menu. That’s a good thing because you know those few items will be done well, and always fresh.
3. You can also select your items and take them home with you, if you don’t want to grab a seat and eat in.
4. The prices. $3.50 for a cheese pie? Bloody amazing! That is also a deceptively big cheese pie that will fill you up for lunch. Two of them, and you’re satisfied for the rest of the afternoon. And you’ve got change of a $10.00 note. For those of you who don’t live in Melbourne, to get a delicious lunch that will keep you full all afternoon for under $10.00 is a rare thing of beauty.
Husband and I decided to take a long walk to the bakery from our place (about 4.5km walk there and another 4.5km back!), to help diminish our guilt over the high amount of carbs and melted cheese we were about to consume. Yes, we would rather walk 9km than not eat carbs and melted cheese. We went with a cheese pie (each), a haloumi & spinach triangle (to share) and a za’atar pizza (also to share). Here’s why you should order the same when you visit.
The za’atar pizza – the herb and spice concoction, I don’t know what it was (I thought I sensed a hint of thyme), was absolutely unreal!! It was SOOOO flavoursome, and the toasted sesame seeds added the most subtle but perfect crunch. Oh, and it only cost $1.80. Yeah. Order this.
The haloumi and spinach triangle – you know how sometimes you can order these cheese-and-spinach things, and they taste kinda weird because of the spinach? Like, it can taste almost watery and flavourless? I don’t know how, but this is the best tasting spinach pastry I’ve ever had. This is phenomenal. The haloumi is just salty and chewy enough, and it’s just all around great.
And our personal favourite – the cheese pie. This is as simple as you get. Grated haloumi, wrapped in dough. And it’s indescribably good. Really. Nothing I say here can possibly do it justice. And if you’ve never tried one, you’ll probably shrug it off – “yeah, melted cheese in dough is good, nothing to write home about.” Yeah, this one is. Just try it, you’ll see.
But the thing all three of these have in common, the distinguishing factor that makes Cedars stand out from other Lebanese bakeries we’ve been to is simple. It’s the dough. Note that the crimped edges seem soft, yet you can see a brown crust at the bottom of the piece on the right? How it’s browned, but in no place is it burnt? How it looks almost light and fluffy? It is all of that and more. It’s the absolute, hands down, without a doubt best dough I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating, and the thing that’ll keep bringing us back time and time again. It’s got that slight crunch at the bottom of the pastries, but the dough is crazy soft and fluffy. It’s consistent, baked through, but not pock-marked with those burnt, charcoaled blisters that you sometimes get with uneven baking. It draws that fine line between being undercooked and doughy, and overcooked and burnt, and it’s utterly magnificent.
When you’re done with your savouries, there is also a fantastic array of sweet pastries to choose from – the baklava is top notch! They also have a pretty good variety of tea and coffee to choose from, to enjoy with your sweets!
One of the things that really struck us while we were devouring our lunch was the incredible diversity of the other diners – there was us, a young couple. A family of mum, dad and two small kids. Two young Asian men catching up over lunch. A Muslim woman picking up a box of food. A middle aged man sipping on tea. A few older women giggling over coffee. It was so welcoming and open, and completely non discriminatory. That basically sums up Melbourne’s northern suburbs and the biggest reason that we decided to move there – it’s a cultural melting pot where food is the universal language, and any restaurant or cafe can feel like home to any number of nationalities. It’s a special thing : )