Babajan review

Check out the salad cabinet at Babajan cafe.
Check out the salad cabinet at Babajan cafe. Photo: Simon Schluter

713 Nicholson St Carlton North, VIC 3054

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Opening hours Tue-Fri 8am-7pm; Sat-Sun 8am-5pm
Features Breakfast-brunch, Outdoor seating, Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, Accepts bookings
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9388 9814

You know when you move house and you scope out the immediate area, crossing your fingers for a perfect corner cafe to nip into for coffee and a warm pastry at the weekend?

Then you'd be punching the air if you signed a lease anywhere near the sun-slanted intersection of Nicholson and Pigdon streets in Carlton North, where a one-time kebab shop is now Babajan, an easy-going eatery serving up modern Turkish dishes and baking its own bread.

Shelves of house-made dukkah, pickles, olives and sourdough state Babajan's case as soon as you walk into the simple dining space, where an understated palette of wood, white and hanging greenery provides the backdrop to an energetic open kitchen and a cabinet heaving with pomegranate-bejewelled salads, savoury pastries and the day's array of cakes.

Avocado ezme with goat's curd, broad beans and preserved lemon.
Avocado ezme with goat's curd, broad beans and preserved lemon. Photo: Simon Schluter

In the kitchen, you'll find chefs Kirsty Chiaplias and Ismail Tosun (both ex-Gigibaba, Collingwood) deftly whipping up inspired and flavour-packed dishes.

Give your usual bacon and eggs the flick in favour of sucuk (spicy sausage) baked eggs with kassar cheese.

Flip your smashed avo for avocado ezme with goat's curd, broad beans and preserved lemon, or swap your smoked salmon for spiced, slow-cooked trout with green tahini.

Rice pudding with berries and rhubarb.
Rice pudding with berries and rhubarb. Photo: Simon Schluter

Lunch could be pan-roasted snapper, barbecued lamb kofte or a crab and haloumi omelette, but it's a tough call when one of the first things you notice at Babajan is the display of pyramids of luscious salads, which change daily.

You might strike a hearty pile of freekeh with cauliflower, hazelnuts, caramelised onion and mint, or a light but heady fenugreek bean pilaf served with yoghurt. Team a salad with a sucuk pide or a golden spanakopita and you're in for happy days.

Or, for something super simple, pair a glass of Turkish rosé with some fresh-baked, steamy-warm Turkish bread and a serve of yoghurt and cucumber cacik (dip), doused in mint and glistening with golden rivulets of olive oil – the perfect lazy day, late-afternoon snack.

House-made Turkish bread  with yoghurt and cucumber cacik (dip).
House-made Turkish bread with yoghurt and cucumber cacik (dip). 

Speaking of rosé, the wine list is small but unusual, hopscotching from Turkey to the US and beyond in less than a dozen drops, while the three signature cocktails riff on Middle Eastern aromas, pairing ginger liqueur with blood orange and fig and cardamom bitters, or gin with bitter grapefruit and rosé.

Signing off with a small, thick Turkish coffee is a given, but there's always the dilemma of the cake cabinet to contend with. Perhaps a dense wedge of dark chocolate tart? Or an airy raspberry tart topped with frangipane? If you've got your heart set on something particular, let the cheerful staff know and they'll keep one aside for you. They just understand.

Pro Tip: Can't eat in? Grab your salads and house-made bread to go.

Go-to Dish: Broccoli, cabbage, white bean and tuna salad.

https://www.babajan.com.au/