504 Sydney Rd Brunswick, VIC 3056
|Opening hours||Wed-Mon noon-midnight|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Events, Family friendly, Cheap Eats|
|Phone||03 9380 8425|
How do you know it's Dry July? Mention a social activity. I guarantee a participant in the sobriety-based fundraiser will breathlessly lament (invited or not) they're not drinking for a month. *Pause for admiration*. Know some of these heroes? Perhaps you'd like to remind them that Tiba's Lebanese Restaurant on Sydney Road, dry every day of its existence, has managed to be a non-irritating and very fun time for 36 years.
Melbourne was definitely ready to pick up what Mohamed Tiba was putting down when he hit Melbourne in the early '80s. Originally, that was a hot mix of fast foods (falafel, dimmies and chips), an inventory he took from a stall in Moonee Ponds and expanded upon with shawarma when he opened Tiba's as a bricks-and-mortar takeaway on Sydney Road in 1983.
Nearby Alasya had already provided Melbourne with its first taste of flatbread-wrapped meats with its Turkish kebabs, but in two years, Tiba's expanded into two adjoining buildings and ditched the chips for the full Lebanese dine-in menu that's virtually unchanged today.
Rolling in for a takeaway shawarma while in your cups is still done, but it's worth remembering this has always been a community welcoming, while practicing Muslim, establishment. There is a curtained prayer room to the rear and no alcohol, including BYO, is allowed. What you want instead is one of the tamarind soft drinks or a tart and salty ayran yoghurt drink, once available by the tankard, now in bottles from the help-yourself fridge.
Because the joy of Tiba's is big-group, sit-down dining in the red brick room, ordering what you believe to be modestly and then watching the dented wooden tables vanish under jostling platters and baskets stacked with whole packets of flatbreads.
The mixed grill ($24), allegedly for one, is a mountain of spicy Lebanese sausage, all lamb grease and fragrant spice, both the spit-roasted lamb and chicken shawarma replete with golden crust, cutlets, three salads and a sea of hummus and cucumber dips, all over rice.
Vegetarians don't get off easier. First come cheese and spinach breads and zaatar "pizza" (from their bakery at the Roxburgh Park store, where they also do breakfasts), chickpea salads, roasted cauliflower drenched in tahini, all those dips and a tower of vine leaves and falafel.
It's family dining. Fast and fancy-free where you get your own drinks, and grilled things with dips and bits (the skewers and splayed, scorched quails are also big) dominate over some of the more coiffed dishes of Abla's or Rumi. But they'll still turn out kibbeh nayeh, Lebanon's tartare of spiced lamb mince and cracked bulgur wheat (eat with onions and pink pickled turnips in your flatbreads) at weekends.
And while Mohamed's sons, Hassan and Salem, now run the three stores (there's one in Lygon Street, too) and gentrification has come for their 'hood, they're solid on the model – shawarma things will never change.
Signature dishes: Mixed grill ($24), vegetarian platter ($20), full banquets ($20-$30).
Famous diners: Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Anthony "the man" Mundine, Chris Judd.