116 Lygon Street Brunswick East, VIC 3057
|Opening hours||Daily 6pm-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Degustation, Events, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Groups, Licensed, Private dining, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9388 8255|
Love at first sight is scary. You're swept up and away, but a cruel little voice way down below warns about the let-down, the heartbreak, the bursting of that beautiful bubble. Often the voice is right: you're going to crash and burn. Sometimes, though, there's a restaurant like Rumi: instant passion is followed by a delicious romance that extends all the way to the post-dessert glow.
I loved Rumi as soon as I walked in. The waiters were friendly and helpful even though it was rush hour - always a good sign of a restaurant on top of its game. The snug corner shop is furnished with retro wooden school chairs and bare timber tables (with linen napkins) -- there's none of the cushiony clutter that's more or less regulation Melbourne-Middle-Eastern decor.
The spunky, modern look is balanced with delicate cultural flourishes: brass coffee pots, tactile green carafes (a bog-standard water jug in Lebanese households), and Whirling Dervish figurines in the dessert cabinet (the restaurant is named after the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, whose followers founded the Whirling Dervish order after his death). Arabic script wraps around two walls, an extract from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, from a passage about eating, drinking and an acknowledgement that we're all part of a larger plan.
Settled in at a smallish table, enjoying the buzz, my little voice started sniping. "Bit loud, isn't it, all that concrete and glass, you could never bring your parents here."
Well, not for a deep and meaningful, that's probably true, but they'd love the food. The one-page menu of mostly shareable dishes lists things such as hot yoghurt soup, haloumi-filled pastries, fried cauliflower, quail kebabs. Mmm, I just might fall for you, Rumi, I thought. "But there's no tabouli!" said my little killjoy. "No babaghanoush or hummus." Get over it. There's a lot more to Middle Eastern cooking than those staples, fine as they are.
Owner-chef Joseph Abboud uses ingredients and flavour combinations he knows from his Lebanese-Australian family, but he presents them with the rigour learned through training with Donovan Cooke at Est Est Est, working with him at Ondine and with Michael Lambie at Circa.
So, you get authentic tastes, but elegant, sometimes deconstructed, dishes. Take the roasted eggplant. Abboud's mother would gently stew eggplant and capsicum until the flavours melded. Yummy, sure. Sloppy, yep. Here, the eggplant is gently fried, then baked, so it's tender, but doesn't quite fall apart. Punchy red pepper sauce, yoghurt, pine nuts and coriander go on top.
The food is incredibly colourful. Bright tomato splashed with snow-white yoghurt. Deep-green gherkins tossed with pickled beetroot-dyed turnip. Pale shredded cabbage tossed with jade-green olive oil and emerald mint.
My mean-spirited little voice complained about the lack of desserts. "Turkish delight? Halva? That's a shove-off, not a sweet finish." OK, get this, you horrible cynic: Lebanese don't usually finish a meal with a big sugar attack.
Even so, Abboud will step up the desserts soon by twisting his father's banana and halva sandwich into a deep-fried pastry roll stuffed with cream, banana and halva. Now, silly little voice, shut up and let me get on with my love affair.