223 High St Northcote, VIC 3070
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun 11am-9pm|
|Features||Cheap Eats, Family friendly, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9972 1479|
Shakshuka is a staple on a lot of Melbourne breakfast menus. The dish originated in Tunisia, according to Claudia Roden. She spells it "chakchouka", from a Berber word that means vegetable ragout, and shakshuka is essentially eggs poached in a slow braise of tomatoes, onion, peppers, chilli and other spices.
People eat shakshuka throughout the Middle East, and it's the mainstay at Tahina, a new Ruckers Hill felafel bar that's like a Tel Aviv street eatery.
Chef and owner Roy Sassonkin learned how to make shakshuka from his father in Tel Aviv, where he grew up – he says people eat it several times a week in Israel, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Here he starts with tomatoes cooked for a few hours with onions, garlic, thyme and cumin. When you order the dish, he sets a little paella-type pan of the sauce bubbling on the stove behind the counter of this one-time fish-and-chipper and cracks a couple of free range eggs into it. You watch it bubble along for a few minutes until the yolk of the second egg is not quite set. It comes to you in the pan, on a board, with a big side of Israeli salad (avocado, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, parsley and coriander, seasoned with chilli, mint, and a lemon and tahini dressing) and some cabbage, lightly pickled in vinegar, salt and lemon juice that keeps it fresh and crunchy.
A side order of pita bread and hummus and a couple of felafel make this into a cracking (and well priced) brunch or lunch.
The felafel comes in two versions: the traditional broad bean-based green felafel seasoned with coriander and parsley; and red felafel with a hit of sweet red pepper and hot chilli, both deep fried to a delicate crunch outside, a light fluff inside.
Sassonkin, who has cooked at Chin Chin and Hellenic Republic, offers a couple of non-tomato riffs on shakshuka, with his own green and a white versions of the dish. ("Red is traditional – maybe best to try the first time," he advises the indecisive.) The green is based on a slow braise of broccoli, zucchini and spinach with kalamata olives and avocado thrown in. It's a savoury vegetable mess of eggs and greens, with a thread of cumin spice running through it.
There's even a vegan version, with eggplant substituted for eggs.
Also on the tight vegetarian menu is half an eggplant, roasted to sweet softness and topped with tahini sauce and crisp kale, and a salad of roasted whole baby cauliflower seasoned with rosemary, thyme and lemon that sells out early – so get in quick.
Pita pockets come stuffed with sliced eggplant, boiled egg, potatoes and hummus; or cauliflower fried with pine nuts and garlic.
A salted caramel smoothie (almond milk, medjool dates, banana and Himalayan salt) – one of the contributions of his partner, Natalie Powell – is almost a meal, an icy mix of banana-tasty goodness, with the dates constituting a Mid-East food group of their own.
For other liquid refreshment, a licence is pending – expect Israel's Maccabee beer, and a summer-friendly mixer of arak, lemonade and mint.
Do … come hungry: serves are generous.
Don't … miss the tahini ice-cream affogato.
Vibe ... Buzzy street eatery.