Convivial ... Jambo Jambo African Restaurant. Photo: Marco Del Grande
Joseph Bekele is a lover, not a businessman. The Ethiopian-born charmer recently opened Jambo Jambo (Swahili for ''hello hello''), a teensy-tiny restaurant serving the cuisine of his homeland. Armed with a seemingly permanent smile, he welcomes customers as if they're dear old friends.
Jambo joined Crows Nest Plaza's humble multicultural smorgasbord just two months ago, and is still in a kind of trial-and-error phase. That the prices and hours aren't quite settled hasn't deterred eager Ethiopian expats and the culinary curious; Saturday nights are booked out until the end of the year. Conversely, irregular weekday lunches, on our visit anyway, are an idle affair. But despite mostly empty tables, there's still a sense of warmth and homeliness.
You're either a wot person or an alicha person.
The room, painted the colours of Ethiopia's flag (green, yellow, red), has a simple, happy feel, decorated with African art, beaded jewellery and Ethiopian tourism shots. Tables are set with black tablecloths, big white plates and wine glasses for BYO. Music with a lively tribal beat drums in the background.
Tasty ... Jambo Jambo platter with, Doro Wot (chicken), Key Wot (beef, hot), Alicha Wot (beef mild) and Gomen (collard greens) served with injera (bread). Photo: Marco Del Grande
Two words dominate the menu: ''wot'' and ''alicha''. Both are onion-based stews; wot has more punch, thanks to berbere, an Ethiopian spice mix that includes dried chilli, ginger, pepper and fenugreek. Jambo offers chicken, beef, lamb and veg versions of wot, adjusting chilli levels to taste.
Alicha is basically wot without the berbere: mild and sweet. It seems you're either a wot person or an alicha person. Bekele is a wot, and we're in agreement. Our key wot - that's with beef - has depth of flavour and comfort-food thick texture, while doro alicha, with chicken on the bone, is comparatively one-note.
Both stews are eaten with injera - traditional Ethiopian bread that's crepe-flat, spongy with air bubbles like a crumpet, and has a distinct tangy flavour thanks, Bekele says, to the particular type of flours he imports from Ethiopia.
On Friday and Saturday nights, and lunches if you're lucky, Bekele will perform an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Green beans are fried - the wok brought briefly to the table for aroma appreciation - then ground and added to boiling water in a huge clay jug.
The result is pleasant but won't cause coffee geeks to swoon; it's the process itself that appeals. Like most things about Jambo Jambo - the slow pace, the setting, the food and in-it-for-the-love Bekele - it's unpolished, pretension-free and so charmingly convivial.
Do … book for weekend dinners; this place is tiny and gets booked out quickly.
Don't … feed the meters; parking beneath Crows Nest Plaza is free for two hours.
Dish … beef key wot with injera, and Ethiopian coffee.
Vibe … no-frills and homely with a tribal beat.
- 02 9439 3277
- Cuisine - African
- Prices - Entrees $7; mains $20-$25.50; banquets $40-$55; desserts $8.50; lunch ''buffet'' $15.
- Owners - Joseph Bekele
- Opening Hours - Tues-Sun, 6pm-late; lunch hours vary, phone ahead to check
- Author - Angie Schiavone