465 Sydney Road Coburg, Victoria 3058
|Opening hours||Daily 9am-5pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||03 9350 4343|
GEEZ, I wish I spoke Arabic - especially here, at this hardcore falafel house run by Ali Kabbout. Then I could've ordered the ''hummus belahma'' with the proper guttural roll in my throat and understood the joke that had the counter staff cracking up.
Abbout's is a genuine taste of the Levant, a spic-and-span, big-windowed, black-tiled shopfront that runs flat-chat. Families make up the bulk of the trade on a Saturday morning, many with the satisfied air of having completed the market shop, or with children hungry after sports events. It's also where Joseph Abboud (The Moor's Head, Rumi) takes his boys after swimming lessons.
The food here is traditional and home-style, most of it made by Kabbout who shapes the fresh falafel daily - a mix of chickpea, garlic, onion, coriander ''and some other secret spices'' - and does the preserving, such as pickling Lebanese cucumber and pink-dyed turnips.
From the backlit picture menu above the counter, choose from 10 or so Lebanese staples - tese'yah, maliziyah, baba ghanoush, labna, lahm belajeen. At $10, the felafel meal is a steal, six crisp-shelled falafels spotted with sesame seeds, their tasty middles soft and steaming; a generous splodge of yogurt dip and another of smooth, nutty hummus with a little volcano-like crater of olive oil; thick slices of fresh tomato, a springy sprig of mint, long green pickled chillies, olives, turnips, cucumber.
In the maliziyah, burrow through the lamb mince, browned pinenuts and parsley, through the next layer of yoghurt, then hummus, right down to the crispy flatbread at the bottom.
Or try the ful (you will be afterwards, too), soft, slow-cooked fava beans and chickpeas in a garlicky, lemony pool of olive oil, topped with chopped flat parsley.
A big plate of pickles seems to come with most things. Puffy rounds of warmed, made-here flatbread arrive in a prestigious wooden box rimmed with little sticks, delivered swiftly. And in the drinks fridge there's Vimto, Pampa and Aryan yoghurt.
The craving for Lebanese flavours is a singular thing and Abbout's will see you right. Arabic or no Arabic, the language of felafel is universal.
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■Half Moon Cafe
Hole-in-the-wall falafel house serving excellent Egyptian-style falafel made with fava beans. There are about seven rolls from which to choose.
13 Victoria Street (in Coburg mall), Coburg, 9350 2949.
■Middle Eastern Restaurant
Authentic, cheap and good - try the falafel and the fattoush with crisp bits of flatbread.
141 Sydney Road, Coburg, 9384 1531.