Safari Restaurant

Fadareshin from Safari Restaurant.
Fadareshin from Safari Restaurant. Photo: Simon Schluter

159 Union Road Ascot Vale, VIC 3032

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Opening hours Daily 10am-midnight
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos
Phone 03 9372 7175

THERE aren't many restaurants that make you feel comfortable as your child brings to life the stuff of dining nightmares, but Safari is about as relaxed as they come. The all-African diners cheerfully kept on talking and swilling carafes of Vimto Cordial, and the smiling waiter placed a pile of fresh serviettes at arm's reach. (Note: illness totally unrelated to meal.)

So that was visit one. Visit two was for lunch and I reckon the night-time slot wins on atmospherics. It's a cute, low-key Somali restaurant, a beloved community hangout, run by Mohamed Shide and family.

Glass tops cover African-print tablecloths, a water jug fountain trickles by the fake pot plant and photographic landscapes cover the walls.

It's tradition to eat with your right hand and there's a communal sink with soap, or cutlery on the table if you prefer. All meals kick off with a complimentary bowl of hot, chilli-laced lamb broth, a few wholesome carrot rounds submerged down the bottom, delicious with a squeeze of lemon and some of the crushed red-chilli sauce that accompanies it.

The Federation for two is a mammoth serve that could easily feed four. On one side of the large metal tray there is long-grain rice (cooked up in chicken stock with onion, garlic, coriander and cumin, and with peas, corn and sultanas for decoration). The other side is loaded up with spicy spaghetti.

Italian Somaliland was a colony of the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century and pasta, spaghetti especially, is a common dish.

On top of the rice and spaghetti was chunky, tender on-the-bone lamb, slow-cooked with onion, coriander and garlic. And on top of that was a little bowl of salad. It was a bit oily but, at $32, is outrageously good value.

Suqaar means ''small ones'', a Somali-style stir-fry of little cubes of garlicky lamb with chunky onion, carrot, capsicum, tomato and spinach, the whole lot laced with lemon pepper.

The Kay Kay was an oily fry-up of ''jabati'', a flatbread similar to roti, chopped into small pieces and fried up with the suqaar.

All of this washes down well with milky Somali tea, kind of like chai, and some sticky, syrupy honey baklava or made-here halwa.

It's filling, homestyle stuff - all of it halal - and a chilled-out way to experience traditional Somali food.

Where 159 Union Road, Ascot Vale, 9372 7175
Prices
Mains, $10.90-$17.90; meals for two, $32; meals for three, $48; sweets, $1.50-$3.50
Cards
MC V Eftpos
Unlicensed
Open
Daily, 10am-midnight
Cuisine
Somali


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nrousseau@theage.com.au