81 Brighton Rd Elwood, VIC 3184
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun 5:00 – 10:00 PM|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Private dining, Licensed, Family friendly, Romance-first date, Wheelchair access, Groups, Events|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9531 7733|
|Free wine for Citibank cardholders here|
Adore lamb? You'll love Lezzet. Every week chef Kemal Barut brings in seven whole carcases; they are butchered here and used throughout the menu.
The neck, shoulder and rib are slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven. You might eat the shoulder in a glorious casserole with dried figs and dates, and the ribs falling from the bone and sticky with honey.
Fillets are cubed and skewered for kebabs, cutlets are marinated and grilled. Kidneys are sauteed with onion and cumin (they're usually off menu – request them if you're a fan).
The bones are roasted with capsicum paste then used in stock and jus. Trimmings are turned into burgul-coated croquettes. Shanks are slow-cooked then, perhaps, stripped from the bone and served with paprika butter and smoked yoghurt.
The whole-beast honouring is a direct link back to Beypazari, the Turkish town where the Barut family comes from. One hundred kilometres west of Ankara and a traditional staging post where horses would be refreshed, Kemal Barut lived here between the ages of four and eight, and returns frequently. He remembers his mother Fatma cooking lamb in a communal oven behind their home, taking turns with half a dozen neighbours who also shared communal milk and salt.
Not such a lamb lover? You can still enjoy Lezzet. Good local calamari is corn-flour-fried and served with saffron mayonnaise and rough-cut herb salad. Prawn mousse is wrapped with kataifi in a winning combination of crunchy pastry tendrils and sweet seafood.
A roasted eggplant bechamel (begendi) is ladled over vegetarian hotpot or served with (here it is again) lamb. This is honest, rustic food but there's finesse along the way.
This is a neighbourhood place but it also works for rollicking special occasions. To really take Lezzet on its own terms you'll come as a group and do a sofra banquet, which includes tasting platters so generous they need two waiters to ferry them.
There's a cacophony caveat: you'll only enjoy the experience if you're OK with eschewing chat for chewing or you don't mind shouting to be heard. Heated pavement tables are better if you like a bit of shush with your shish kebab.
Beypazari is famous for its 80-layer baklava. I'm not sure that Lezzet's version is as intricate but it's part of a noteworthy family tradition. At the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, as part of the festival of Eid, Mrs Barut always made two trays of baklava. One was for general consumption, the other was just for Kemal and his brother, and they'd eat it with gusto and lashings of cream. The Lezzet baklava has cream as a base, adding silky lusciousness to the sweet crunch. I'm a little worried for myself that I know it's there.
Kemal Barut has just renovated Lezzet for the fourth time since he took over in 2003. During that time it's turned from a 16-seat bolthole into a three-shopfront empire with an attractive domed dining room and a wood-fired oven as the crackling, glowing hero. A separate kitchen will handle a thriving takeaway service and yet another outlet will do pizza.
It's not quite the Ottoman empire but the expansionist approach is as impressive as the platters parading through the restaurant.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)