191 Lygon St, Carlton, Melbourne
It’s hard to believe it was just two years ago we were in Egypt; it almost feels like a dream, now. I’d been wanting to visit Egypt my whole life, but was a little hesitant about the food. I wasn’t too familiar with Egyptian food, and wasn’t sure I’d really like it. What if it was too spicy? Too strange? Ingredients I didn’t understand or like? But we don’t travel to be comfortable, so instead of taking the easy way out and ordering burgers and chips everywhere, I threw myself headfirst into it and ordered falafel and grilled meat of every variety, dips and flat breads, and whatever else people wanted to recommend. And I loved it, all of it! Even the stuff I didn’t recognise, like most of the stuff in the photo below that we ate in the Nubian village we visited – I know there was molasses and some sort of sugar paste something-or-other… I didn’t care, it was all so good!
But strangely enough, back in Melbourne (one of the world’s greatest cultural mixing pots), there really aren’t many/any options for good Egyptian restaurants, so it’s been a little difficult for me to sate my appetite and relive the good memories from that trip. Until now: enter Leyalina. This Egyptian eatery opened on Lygon Street only 7 weeks ago, and is already earning itself quite a reputation. Visiting on Saturday night, we couldn’t help notice that the two story restaurant was packed out for pretty much the entire duration of our visit, a solid two hours. A pretty impressive feat for a 7 week old restaurant.
The lovely Marco greeted us and continued to check on us throughout the night, making sure our food was coming out to us in a timely fashion (which it did, despite how busy they were) and that we were happy with everything, which we very much were. I’ll come back to that later, though. First, the food.
We got started with the house made hummus ($9.50) and lemonade with mint ($6.00). The lemonade was a little overpriced, but the hummus was fantastic! Super smooth and perfectly balanced, with the sprinkle of paprika and parsley, and drizzle of olive oil – no overpowering garlic or tahini or anything like that. Great way to start a meal.
Next up was the mixed grill plate ($27.00) – three skewers, one each of chicken, lamb shish kebab and lamb kofta on a spiced rice with raisins. The rice was delicious, again balanced just right, nothing too overpowering or too subtle. The skewers were amazing – the chicken and lamb were both really tender meat, and the kofta was perfectly seasoned. There was also a small side salad on the plate, which made it a pretty good main meal for one.
The falafel. Very, very good. Deep fried little balls of goodness, smothered in sesame seeds and partnered with some spicy picked vegetables and a little cup of baba ghanoush, if I’m not mistaken. They were a little different to the ones I remember eating in Egypt; a lot smoother and less chunky, and we both really enjoyed them.
The next dish we had was the foul mendammas, something I really wanted to try in Egypt but never had the opportunity to. It’s a traditional dish of cooked and mashed fava beans with vegetable oil and cumin, and occasionally garlic, lemon juice, onion, parsley – different areas will have different variations, like pastas in Italy and bun cha in Vietnam. I loved this one, so did husband; it’s amazing how much flavour you can get into a dish this simple when you know what you’re doing with it! It was thick, rich, so full of flavour, real comfort food. Huge tick for this one!
And, because no great meal is complete without dessert, Marco kindly recommended the Om Ali tagine – nuts, sultanas and pastry layers baked tagine-style with milk. It came out looking less than appetising. It was destroyed in a matter of minutes. Don’t be deceived by looks, this is the darling of the dessert menu for good reason! The crunchy little hazelnuts and juicy raisins were strangely perfect with the milk-softened pastry. I’m glad I got this instead of my usual baklava order; it’s something I’d have never ordered unprompted or expected to like. This is why you need to trust the guys working behind the scenes in restaurants! Thanks Marco!