213 High St Northcote, VIC 3070
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun 5.30pm-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 9489 6952|
Melbourne's inner-west suburbs are rich in African food, and there is an especially wonderful array of Ethiopian restaurants in and around Footscray. But in recent years, that vibrant culinary culture has made its way into other parts of the city.
Mesob, for instance, is owned by Naz Mahari and Dawit Kebede, who live in Seddon. But when they were looking to open their own business, they wanted an area popular with young families where an Ethiopian restaurant might stand out. So they chose Northcote.
On a Friday night, Mesob shares all the bustling energy of High Street's weekend scene.
This is one of the most diverse rooms in town, with all kinds of people happily scooping various stews from large round platters covered in traditional Ethiopian injera. The flatbread is tangy and slightly spongy, perfect for soaking up lamb stewed with garlic, ginger and kibbe, or slow-simmered collard greens. (The name "Mesob" refers to the traditional coloured baskets used for storing and serving injera.)
Many Ethiopian restaurants mix traditional teff flour with wheat flour to make their injera, but Mesob uses only teff. It makes for a heartier, more full-flavoured bread that also happens to be gluten-free.
As with any traditional Ethiopian meal, you will not be given utensils – the injera is used as a scoop and you eat with your hands. It's an intensely communal way to eat, and the easiest way to experience a wide variety of the kitchen's offerings is to order a combination platter.
One of Ethiopian cuisine's greatest strength is its wide variety of vegetarian dishes, and there is an herbivore combination platter ($23 a head) that includes four or five different stews and a side salad.
For meat eaters, the omnivore combination platter ($26 a head) adds meat to the mix: chicken doro wat stewed in spices and topped with hard-boiled egg, or bozena shiro – chickpea stew with cubed beef and chopped tomato. Unless otherwise stated, most of the dishes here are mildly spiced – full of flavour but without much burn.
Before you dig into your platter, you'll want to start with the trio of dips. The dips change daily and might include a tangy beetroot number, or a deep onion-rich paste flecked with tomato. Crisp pita chips come alongside, but they'll give you a gluten-free option there, too, if you ask for it.
The specials menu is written on a board propped up on the bar, and unless you're looking for it you might miss it. (Servers are immensely friendly, but usually very busy and unlikely to point out the board.)
Those specials are the only dishes that tempt me away from the omnivore's platter. On a recent evening you could choose from a spicy goat stir-fry, balanced with the sweetness of caramelised onion, or an organic pumpkin and beef stew.
The board also showcases the cocktails of the evening, though the best pairing for much of this food is one of the Ethiopian beers from the drinks list – that and a large swig of gratitude that great Ethiopian food is becoming easier to find all over the city.
Go-to Dish: Omnivore's platter $26, trio of dips $13.