Ras Dashen review

Bask in the warm glow of Ras Dashen.
Bask in the warm glow of Ras Dashen. Photo: Chris Hopkins

247 Barkly St Footscray, VIC 3011

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Opening hours Wed-Sun lunch and dinner
Features Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9687 2748

If anyone is looking for me over winter I will be that person sitting in a restaurant with my face over a bowl of soup. That's me, communing with the fragrant steam, anticipating the first spoonful, not just for its flavour and texture, but also for its fortifying effect. If there is anything as satisfying as feeling soup warm your winter-brittle bones, I'm not exactly sure what it might be.

At Ras Dashen, the soup that I'm bending towards is the fitfit, a rich yet elegant beef broth. Chef Alemitu Aberra gently simmers beef ribs every morning, slow-cooking the meaty bones with celery, carrots and cabbage until the soup is deep brown and lip smackingly sticky. It's flavoured with garlic, ginger and green chilli and seasoned with housemade ghee. The result is soulful and supremely comforting.

If you like a bit of kapow with your cosy, you'll be spooning in careful dollops of awaze. Aberra's fermented hot chilli paste adds spark to many of the dishes in this 11-year-old restaurant.

Soulful and supremely comforting: the fitfit (beef soup) served with awaze (chilli paste) and injera.
Soulful and supremely comforting: the fitfit (beef soup) served with awaze (chilli paste) and injera. Photo: Chris Hopkins

The other key partner for fitfit is injera, Ethiopian flatbread. Ras Dashen outsources production to a local bakery but these platter-sized spongy foldable pancakes are made to the exacting specifications of Aberra and her husband Wondi Alemeo.

There's a white version made with rice, white sorghum and wheat flour, and a tan-coloured injera made with brown sorghum and teff, a dark grass-seed native to the Horn of Africa. The flour ratios are everything, giving the Ras Dashen injera its distinctive flavour and colour. The teff one is a little nuttier in flavour; both have the lovely lifted sourness of a fermented batter.

You'll be tearing injera and using it to scoop up most dishes here. Derek tibs is lamb, chopped small and dry-fried with onion and garlic. It's crisp and toothsome, seasoned with a little ghee which layers in with the lamby succulence.

The derek tibs (crisped lamb, left)
 and shiro (chickpea stew, right).
The derek tibs (crisped lamb, left) and shiro (chickpea stew, right). Photo: Chris Hopkins

Shiro is a vegetarian stew made with roasted chickpea flour, thickened in water like porridge and tickled with ginger, garlic and cardamom. Again, ghee adds a rich roundness to this simple and satisfying combination.

My winter protocols led me to the spicy ginger tea but you can also have Ethiopian coffee. Every morning, Alemeo and Aberra roast green Ethiopian coffee beans. When you order your beverage, they'll grind the beans and slowly boil them on the stovetop to a strong, sturdy brew.

Alemitu Alemeo and Wondi Aberra met in a refugee camp in Sudan in 1991. They moved to New Zealand before settling in Australia in 2000. Ras Dashen, named after Ethiopia's highest mountain, opened in nearby Nicholson Street in 2011 and moved to this site in 2017.

The name is a talisman: Wondi Alemeo tells me they chose the name Ras Dashen because they are always aiming for their restaurant to stand out in quality and service just like the mountain stands out in their homeland.

It's a beautiful sentiment that adds to the considerable glow I've already found in my bowl of fitfit.