27 October, 2008

'Home School' - Charles Webb

In 1963, there was The Graduate. More than forty years passed before readers were given the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with Benjamin and Elaine in Home School (in the fictional world, only eleven years have passed). What had happened to the author, Charles Webb, in the interim, is telling.

The film version of The Graduate turned the story into one of the most recognisable and quoted of the twentieth century. (The website AV Club has an interesting article discussing book vs film). Webb saw little of the revenue generated from the film, having signed a one-off deal for the rights not long after the book was released. The deal covered not just the story, but also the characters. He and his partner Fred (who changed her name from Eve) have spent the ensuing forty-odd years rejecting institutions (much as Benjamin did): divorcing without separating, educating their two sons at home, giving away most of their possessions and living in what many would describe as poverty.

At the conclusion of my review of The Graduate, I wrote:

'Ben is not a particularly likeable character; his redeeming features are few. However, his apathy and disaffection are presented against some particularly loathsome, self-interested adult characters. This doesn't necessarily absolve him of the effects of his behaviours, but it does emphasise the assumptions made by many about what makes one successful or even worthy. Ben wants to take a better path; for him the 'road less travelled'. We aren't taken far enough along that road to know if he succeeds but wherever he ends up at least he is taking self-awareness, rather than purely self-interest, along with him.'

I was so intrigued to see that as my conclusion! Home School offers us just that chance, to travel further along the road with Benjamin, to see whether his ideals and self-awareness won out in the end.

Firstly, though, has he become any more likeable? He's still frustrating and still misguidedly idealistic, but he is older and has at least had the chance to put his beliefs into action, rather than just parade them as a bourgeois rebellion. The novel's title is as literal, and self-referential to Webb's experience, as it seems. Benjamin and Elaine have two sons, whom they are home-schooling. Ben's hatred of curriculum and institutionalised learning has not dimmed. This negativity is not emphasised, however - at least, not in the case of the Braddocks. Their friends, Goya and Garth - also home-schoolers, who live in the mountains, talk of auras and energies, and breastfeed their offspring well into childhood - are presented as the wacky ones.

Mrs Robinson exists in this novel as Nan, called across the country to help blackmail the principal who has insisted that the boys come back to school. Benjamin and Elaine had revoked all contact with her, and she re-enters their lives as a conniving and destructive force. When Garth and Goya come to stay as well, the Robinsons' lives descend into the antithesis of the domestic bliss they had achieved.

It's a straightforward read: Webb's style has never been verbose, and as in The Graduate, he employs a lot of dialogue. It's wittier in this later book, with Benjamin and Elaine frequently engaging in marital sparring with canny wordplay. It's not a serious book though. Not that it's flimsy - it still has plenty to say and for all its flippancy is still carefully put together - but it is a book written for the author's need for personal closure, not for a publisher to close a deal.

Whether the French film company Canal elect to make a film version of the new instalment of 'their' characters remains to be seen. The Graduate had shock value in its time; the insurgency in this book is perhaps too intellectual to give a film the same punch.

I Carusi

46a Holmes St, Brunswick East; 03 9386 5522

It's a wonder that this blog has existed for over two years without a post about i Carusi, the closest dining establishment to our abode, and an establishment often exalted for developing a new model for pizzerias.

I Carusi's menu is as long on flavour sensations as their restaurant is short on space. Tables are squeezed onto every available bit of floor, even immediately in front of the kitchen, which is our coveted spot - it can make a daunting ordering decision easier when you can watch others' food being prepared and see what takes your fancy!

The menu is a handwritten page of pizza options, but before you think that limits choice, note that they do come in two sizes! The main offerings are bracketed by foccacia (with, for example, garlic, rosemary and sea salt) for nibbles, as well as a couple of simple salads (tomato, cucumber and red onion), and their renowned dessert pizzas (oozing with Belgian chocolate).

I challenge anyone to easily settle on their pizza of choice at i Carusi. If you're fond of classic pizza toppings like proscuitto, basil, mushrooms, artichokes, sopressa (salami) etc, you'll be presented with a list of all your favourites spread over 22 permutations. Over many visits I've worked my way through at least half, including -

Gamberi piccante: with gentle prawns, a touch a chilli, semidried toms, basil and fior di latte
St Alain: with a simple combination of provelone, artichokes and rocket
Pizza for a Friend: higher vegie content with roasted pumpkin, plus pinenuts, rocket and goats cheese
Capriciosa: a classic, done with virginia ham and black (unpitted) olives

Tonight there was another classic on the table: the funghi porcini. There are no extraneous toppings; it's just tomato, mozzarella, porcini mushrooms and prosciutto. And it's delicious.

My choice looks remarkably like SG's! In this case it's the Genovese: tomato, goats cheese, pesto, roasted peppers and proscuitto. A little more involved, certainly. I Carusi get the thin, bubbled, slightly nutty, slightly sweet bases spot on every time. The toppings, while more copious than on many other offerings, aren't overdone. Salty cheese matches sweet, almost-charred peppers and there's enough proscuitto to enjoy a little bit on its own with enough left to keep your pizza covered.

I Carusi had applied for a liquor licence; however, due to objections from neighbours they've had to stick with BYO and offering the San Pellegrino range of Italian soft drinks. So grab a cheeky red, call to make a booking, and settle in for your fave pizza, done Brunswick-East-style.

Stand by your pan(cake); Giorno

608 High St, Thornbury; 03 9484 2040; Weds to Sun 8am-4pm
We've known and loved Pizza Farro's spelt-based pizzas for some time now. The Thornbury restaurant has to be one of the best-decorated in Melbourne, with rolling pins hanging from the roof, stitched tea towels and quilts decorating the walls, and the space and natural light to make an always-welcoming venue. Happily, patrons can now enjoy that same hospitality during the day, Wednesday to Sunday, when the site opens as Giorno.

Giorno's breakfast menu is built around eggs and cereals (not the Kelloggs kind!). The egg options break cafe standards: try poached with turkey, rocket and hazelnut pesto and beetroot (served with spelt bread). If you're after breakfast in a bowl there's rolled oats porridge and a gluten-free muesli.

For the non-eggy, non-porridge loving amongst us, the menu starts to look a little limited. There is, however, a house-made spelt fruit toast filling the gap.It comes with ricotta and a rumour of pure maple syrup. The menu warns it's surprisingly filling, a comment at short odds in this year's Cafe Menu Understatement awards. I sampled but a bite and felt weighed down! It's delicious, and smells and looks incredibly appealing, but it was also astonishingly dense. To finish one slice was challenging; attempting the second was out of politeness and and aversion to waste.

Slightly lighter, but no less filling, were the buckwheat pancakes. A bit of research tells me that buckwheat is actually a pseudocereal - it's not a grass and hence unrelated to wheat. It is used in many cuisines: from the basis of Japan's soba noodles to its various pancake forms, such as the Russian blini and French galette. As a gluten-free product it's often regarded as a lighter alternative; however, just as the fruit toast was a digestive challenge, making headway through just one of the two pancakes proved as much as my stomach could comfortably handle.

But I digress, before giving you the full description of the dish. Who wouldn't order pancakes served with orange mascarpone, pears stuffed with prunes and poached in pomegranate and marsala syrup, and pure maple syrup?It's a divine combination, but it's made more filling and less fulfilling by the ratio of bulk to sweet. I would have far preferred one such huge pancake, or two much smaller ones, and more of the sweet cheese and maple syrup. It's understandable that they ration the maple syrup, given it's certainly not the glucose-laden, overly runny, cheap variety, but it left the dish a bit heavy and drying overall.

For those heading to Giorno a little later in the day, the cafe offers a range of piadinas - with fillings such as prosciutto, fontina, artichokes and rocket - made with gluten-free or spelt flours. A trip back to check those out has to be on the cards.

They've expanded their cute decorations to the daytime menu as well. This range of condiments sits on each table; the LSA that accompanied the fruit toast came loaded on a souvenir spoon; and the medicine bottle sugar reminds you that, whether you leave feeling sated or satiated, this restaurant is there to offer their customers happiness and health.

23 October, 2008


36 Johnston St, Fitzroy; 0411 404 374

Houndstooth, as a textile design, is the pattern most famously associated with David Jones and its exclusive brands of chic styling. Its namesake in Fitzroy, however, eschews chic for cheap, but doesn't discount on style.

Houndstooth is actually doing something a little different. It's a bit like being able to pick three curries and rice at a suburban takeaway, except here you're eating in, with bar on hand and some super-slick interior design (recessed chandeliers, cockroaches in silhouette on the wall), and you're selecting which dishes from a range of five 'courses' you want brought to your solid wood communal table.

The courses on offer are starter, entree, main, dessert and cheese. Each has several options: taking one from each might result in nibbling on olives while you await spiced prawns; filling up on pumpkin bake with tahini and tarragon; finding space for chocolate cake; then knocking off a slice of chevre. The pricing couldn't be simpler: it's $15 for two courses, $20 for three and $25 for four. If you want more than you ordered, just hand over an extra five dollars while ordering at the bar. While there you might also ask for one of a huge range of bottled beers and ciders, or a glass from an intriguing wine list, stretching from a conventional Seppelt shiraz to a toothy Spanish sav blanc.

It's liberating, whether you decide by price or appetite. And through the range we sampled, Houndstooth matches quality with value, serving up enough to keep you satisfied, and no more.

A mushroom, water chestnut and ginger wonton (yes, singular - on menu and plate) dressed with mirin soy and chili probably takes less time to eat than it did to write up, but that's partly because it's so good. A gorgonzola and thyme caramelised onion tart was a little oilier than it needed to be, but exhibited a fine, pliant pastry and was softly satisfying all the same. A plate of jamon delivers far more volume than expected. It's La Jabuguena - not the most expensive cut, but nor would one expect so. The thicker slicing, while not the ideal way to savour this fatty, cured meat, at least allowed the rare treat of eating jamon lavishly, rather than sparingly. A 'glass' of grissini served as bonus bread for the meal.

The greatest raptures were reserved for a starter of scallops with spicy chorizo. Two molluscs proudly supported their thinly sliced, meaty coverings, and were bathed in a broth that demanded to be slurped from the shells.

The only main we'd ordered was the fish curry, with tamarind, lemongrass, ginger, coriander and coconut. It was suitably zingy and refreshing, though the first bite was the least impressive, as it comprised mainly of tamarind seed - not an attractive flavour. Not being a regular fish curry eater, the softer meat texture took some getting used to. Despite the dish's small appearance, it proved more than ample.

Three desserts graced the table: a tiramisu that, while enjoyable, was more sponge than savoiardi, and could have used some cream or marscarpone. Both the pecan and lemon tarts came with a fine vanilla cream. The latter was almost cheesecake dense, and not too sharp.
It was satisfying to be in a venue that didn't conform to emerging inner-city dining trends. The Age's Dani Valent described the fare as that of 'a talented home cook hosting a dinner party two days shy of pay day'. It isn't top-shelf stuff, but there's enough of it; it's handled more aptly than most of us have skill for; and you know, undoubtedly, that you're getting the best that they could offer for the price. Make sure your plans are to head there after work, however: they're so anti-trend that opening hours are dinner, Monday to Friday, only.

14 October, 2008

'Landscape of Farewell' - Alex Miller

When researching Alex Miller, one often finds information about his life overshadowed by a longer list of his achievements, nominations and awards. He is not secretive about his past; rather, Miller is a writer who has long been recognised by his peers, but who has not reached the levels of commerical success enjoyed by other Australian novelists such as Tim Winton.

He has won the Miles Franklin Award twice and been shortlisted three times, including for Landscape of Farewell in 2008. The Ancestor Game, winner of the Miles Franklin in 1993, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the same year.

This latest work picks up on themes explored in his earlier novels, looking at aspects of indigenous Australian history. In this case, however, the story begins in Hamburg, where an elderly history professor, Max Otto, delivers his final paper, on the 'persistence of the phenomenon of massacre'. He feels it is a weak one, written without conviction; massacre has obsessed him as a topic throughout his life, but the history of his country inhibited him from embracing it as his specialty. The paper receives a vitriolic response from Vita, an Australian academic with an indigenous background. Vita is later moved by an apology from Max, a man struggling to cope with the recent death of his wife, and convinces him to travel to Australia and stay with her uncle, Dougald Gnapun.

Dougald lives on an isolated property in northern Queensland. He and Max build a strong friendship that makes up for a lack of verbosity with their mutual respect for the other's age and experience. Dougald entrusts Max with the story of his great-grandfather and hero, Gnapun, and, fearful of it being lost when he dies, asks Max to write the story down.

Storytelling is a key theme in the novel. Early on the reader is alerted that the story is being presented from the perspective of Max's written journal. Very occasional asides tell us that he is talking from some time hence; given his mindset at the start of the novel it is important to know that he lives for some time to come. Miller also draws a distinction between storyteller and writer. Dougald is the former, but he is prevented by his isolation from ensuring the story he has to tell will live. Hence he entrusts it to Max, who worries that the story cannot exist separately from its teller: "I was conscious that the spirit of his story had been contained as much in the shapely vessel of his telling as it had in the sequence of its narrative."

Dougald's story is that of a massacre orchestrated by his great-grandfather, the warrior Gnapun. Miller based Max's re-telling on the Cullin-la-Ringo massacre, when the Kairi people of central Queensland killed nineteen white settlers.

Is history a story? Are all stories history? As a historian, Max finds it extremely difficult to recount the story, encumbered by his respect for Dougald and his retention of his family's lore, and perhaps also by the formality of academia that has previously informed his writing. Significantly, he has struggled to write about similar events in Germany, and as an adult, was never able to approach his father and ask about his role in the war.

The novel was inevitably reminiscent of Rodney Hall's The Day We Had Hitler Home, as both connect German characters with Australia, and examine historical and cultural responsibility. It also shadows Bernard Schlink's The Reader, which similarly evokes storytelling as a mask for concealing, and eventually a method for revealing, the truth of the past.

13 October, 2008

A tale of two burgers; Birdie Num Nums and Northcote Social Club

Birdie Num Nums: 745 Nicholson St, Carlton North; 03 9380 1950 Northcote Social Club: 301 High St, Northcote; 03 9489 3917

Not a likely pairing, I admit, and, while I'm conceding points, I'll say up front that it's actually a tale of one burger and one steak sandwich (with an omelette thrown in).

Birdie Num Nums did not follow the Brunswick Model when it opened in 2006. Rather than opening in a former milkbar, the shop's earlier incarnation was as a butcher. Hefty, twisty, dark metal pillars still support meat hooks, under a ceiling easily high enough to give a full bovine carcass swinging space. The floor is timber, rather than concrete. There's a communal table, window and outdoor seating, and a gorgeous lounge-room nook hidden at the back, replete with recliners and fireplace.

The menu reflects Greek influences, and the gimmick here is to offer a range of pre-prepared lunch options from a display - picture meatballs, lasagne, layered savoury pastries - along with cooked-to-order breafkast dishes. There's some flair on the menu, such as the Egyptian baked eggs - poached eggs in ground coriander and cumin, served on potato, pumpkin and almonds -, but it was the olives in an omelette, along with chorizo and red capsicum that grabbed me.It just wasn't an exciting dish. The edges of the omelette, where it had stuck to the pan, had that crispy-cooked egg texture that I forgive at home but don't want plated up when I'm out. While it wasn't dry, it wasn't nearly moist enough - perhaps they hadn't sloshed in cream as plenty of places do, but then a lighter cooking touch would have retained some runny egg (and maybe avoided the crisp edges). Even the toast - a dense, mealy sourdough from nearby Natural Tucker - came unbuttered. I respect a cafe that doesn't mistake richness/oiliness for guaranteed flavour, but then at the very least offer the customer the chance to splurge or skimp on butter to their own liking!

On the other side of the table, we had a $14 steak sandwich, which defeated even SG's carnivorous longings. The photo's perspective isn't crash hot, but this thing was huge - you can see how tall it is against the pile of chips! A juicy slice of minute steak couldn't weigh down all the lettuce, tomato and cheese that came with it. Almost as incredible as SG leaving about a third on his plate, was the price comparison: $13.50 for my omelette, fifty cents more for the sandwich. With the price of free-range eggs, I have a good appreciation of what a lot of the omelette cost covered, but the sanger definitely presented better value.

The music carried a very eighties flavour - no, not the 1780s of the Dickens' novel played on in the post title - but quite defiantly 1980s. Bonnie Tyler followed by 'We Built this City' isn't everyone's cup of Giancarlo coffee, but it got my dancing feet warmed up for our afternoon engagement: a Guild League gig at the Northcote Social Club.

Meeting friends in the pub afterwards, we sampled a couple of Cricketers Arms Lagers, a fine, dry beer made all the more refreshing by some subtle fruit notes. The NSC does a crafty job of disguising itself as a seedy pub, but its menu dispels the myth. Having already seen burgers delivered, I insisted we order one between the two of us - a good call.
Again, not great photo perspective! The roo burger comes with peppered meat, lemon myrtle and wattleseed mayo, tomato, spanish onion and mixed leaves on toasted Turkish pide. The meat had been perfectly handled and oozed its own juices to mingle with the slightly-citrusy, slightly-tangy mayo. Rocket cut across all that with its sharpness and the super-fresh bread was spot-on toasted to be crisp and soft all at once. At $15, and feeding two, this was great value.

So, all three dishes within $1.50 of one another. Which would you choose?


Mi Corazon II

462 Lygon St, Brunswick East; 03 9384 6153

Mi Corazon is coming up for its second birthday, having opened at New Years 2006. Its been pleasing to see it maintain and grow its clientele during that time. A lot of thought and effort went into refitting the site (which used to be a cafe), as noted when we visited just after it opened. It's a big space, and outside of the Little Spain belt of Fitzroy it's not a model that features regularly in Melbourne's suburbs, whether inner or outer, so it's good to see what they have on offer being embraced.

And what do they offer? A lot of tequila; a succinct range of cocktails (mojito - $12); a range of South American beers from $7.50; a thoughtful winelist featuring local producers; a range of seating from window stools and U-shaped couches at the front, to restaurant tables and a beer garden at the back; and a short food menu that promises familiar South American dishes, done authentically.

One of those dishes is mole (pronounced mo-lay, as in the end of guacamole), a dish spoken of in reverential terms by those who have sampled the real deal, and by which people are usually referring to mole poblano, a savoury sauce famous for featuring chocolate as an ingredient. (Mole can refer to a range of sauces or dishes in Mexican cuisine.) Mi Corazon's version features ground nuts and radish, with dark chocolate melted in at the end.

It arrives as a dark mass, lathered over chicken and topped with drizzles of sour cream, sprinkles of cheese and rings of sliced onion. Its reputation is such that one might expect something dynamic and taste-bud redefining; however, its renown owes more to subtley than sensation. The nutty flavour is a natural match with the chicken, and the radish adds a gentler piquancy than onion would. The chocolate kicks in a hint of bitterness and smooths the texture. Perhaps all three elements were slightly too far on the subtle side, and the chicken, to me, seemed a little dry, but I often find that with Mexican food, so it may be due to the cooking style.

Tacos campechanos - with beef and chorizo - deliver more latino sizzle, particularly from a super-hot side dish of dressing. The lean meat was moist and, while suitably spiced, wasn't fiery. Three soft tacos nestled one another and held their own against the dripping juices - Old El Paso could learn something from their construction! Tacos are always a revelation when they don't arrive slathered with sour cream and dripping with oil.

It's not super-cheap food - the mole is $20 and the tacos a little less - but it's the worthwhile price of authenticity. Staff are welcoming and the whole venue has a local feel: there's always someone at the bar who has worn their own groove on the counter.

Mi Corazon have a fine sangria on offer as well, available by glass or jug. It's a deep, deep garnet red in colour and not too sweet.

10 October, 2008

Sette Bello

Cnr Hardware Lane and Lt Bourke St, Melbourne; 03 9670 7070 Now closed

I wasn't as quick off the mark with Sette Bello as with Baba: a couple of other bloggers have had their pastries in a twist since the city cafe opened in May this year. In the depth of winter, I recommended Bello on the strength of those reviews to a friend from 'oop north', who was in need of a restorative Melbourne breakfast after landing on the early (and I mean early) flight from Newcastle. Mid-morning I received an enthused text raving over a nourishing bowl of porridge and their signature breakfast pizza.

Many of their breakfast items are on display: cheese and egg tarts, focaccias and the aforementioned pizza - an ample circle of dough topped with greens and a poached egg (surely a winning hangover cure!). From the menu, sweeter breakfast options include toasted brioche with warmed ricotta and honey.

I was after something a bit heftier, a wish amply fulfilled by the funghi al bosco: field mushrooms with rosemary and taleggio on focaccia. The plate arrived with a chuckle from the barista: 'Your breakfast, ma'am, and perhaps you won't need to eat again til dinner!' Ha! I thought - it's just vegetables and bread...but then again mushrooms are always best at breakfast when they've soaked up their own weight in butter, and the talleggio did contribute more than a drop of oil to the plate. Happily the rocket provided some crunch and peppery bite to cut through the oil. The herbed focaccia was wonderfully pliant, but didn't end up soggy under the influence of all that oil from its toppings.

Alongside the mushroom-focaccia mountain was a fine cafe latte: a sweeter blend of coffee that only required a little bit of sugar for the spot-on bittersweet kickstart.

Sette Bello also offers a range of pastries that would daunt most so early in the morning! Enormous cannolis, chocolate eclairs, giant profiteroles, bombolinis. (Claire's post has some piccies.) They could easily get in the way of lunch options, such as pizza or soup of the day, on a later visit.

Open Monday to Saturday, Sette Bello provides a welcome alternative to some of its neighbours on Hardware Lane: where they spruik for custom, Sette Bello is so laidback and happy to let its produce do the talking, that it doesn't even have external signage.

04 October, 2008

Journal Canteen

Mezzanine, 253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; 03 9650 4399

Ah, Mr Christopoulos, what good things you have bestowed upon Melbourne and her citizens who wish to be nourished by noble traditions of food and coffee service. I hailed the Christopoulos empire recently after eating at Gill's Diner. Two of his other establishments are just part of the temple of nourishment, for mind and body, housed in the CAE building on Flinders Lane. Here one can access the City Library (if you don't belong to a library, join one - they are an incredible public institution), or undertake courses in writing, sewing, computers, languages and a cornucopia of other fields at CAE (got some time over summer? Check out their catalogue and enrol in something). The cafe Journal is a regular in Top 5 cafe lists, whether for its coffee, vibe or location.

Up a short flight of stairs, Journal's sister venue, Canteen, is a study in resourcefulness. The restaurant is essentially one big room, with stools overlooking the upper level of Centre Place, and an open kitchen displaying gloriously huge pots bubbling with the day's sauces and pastas. As a restaurant, it's open Monday to Friday, 12-3 pm. In the evening, CAE uses it for its cooking classes. The daily menu consists of an antipasto platter, a soup, three or four mains and a couple of desserts. (A degustation is also available.) It's not flamboyant; it's not showy; and at $15-$20 for the main dishes it's not the cheapest lunch option in the area, but these prices are absolutely the result of the best, seasonal produce in dishes made with a slow food ethos.

We chose a small antipasto plate:Fried ricotta; marinated eggplant, carrot and capsicum; slivers of delicious, delicately dressed cucumber; frittata; green olives; asparagus; and a lone piece of salami. Nourishment central.

From the mains menu, orecchiette with peas and ricotta seemed the best fit for lunch on a fine Wednesday. This dish could define the worth of making pasta fresh and eating it on the day: the texture is so superior and the pasta contributes much more to the dish than just being a base for sauce. All main meals come with a simple side-salad of dressed lettuce and sliced onion.

There's an inviting wine list as well: a couple of sparkling and three each of white and red. They're carefully selected Italian wines, sometimes of lesser-known varietals such as vermentino, but undoubtedly fine examples.

The food is of the kind that, even after eating perhaps slightly more than was strictly necessary to merely sate one's appetitie, doesn't leave a feeling of biliousness. Rather, one feels enriched for choosing something of quality that has been handled respectfully.

01 October, 2008


80 Lygon St, Brunswick; 03 9380 8534

Update: Baba is now a burger joint, B:East

We’re so on the pulse, us bloggers. Where’s the Beef gave Lygon St’s newest addition a glowing review a couple of weeks ago, and just two days after SG and I visited The Age was onto it. Open since June, Baba has clearly already developed a good following, or at least is attracting plenty of curious locals. Fair enough too, as they’re offering something a bit different for that stretch of Lygon St. (Although Habayib, offering Lebanese cuisine, opened a few months earlier, just down the road, but their only blip on my radar has been through RRR ads. I’d love to hear comments from anyone who’s been there.)

Baba's full name is the Levantine Trading Company. The Levant is not a precise geographical region, but it allows Baba to take on their choice of Turkish, Syrian and Lebanese cooking, amongst others. They've picked the best Middle Eastern dishes to compile a menu that makes coming to a decision difficult, but promises that just about anything you do choose is going to be rewarding.

The menu features hot and cold mezze, segues to some fine-sounding pides (goats cheese, beetroot, stinging nettle puree, and pickled turnip), gets serious with claypots (main dishes), then tempts diners even further with a fine range of desserts (including doughnuts with pistachios and thyme honey; and turkish delight gelato). Food safaris, varying in scope and price, give diners the option of letting the chef do the hard work of choosing as well as cooking.

I could easily have filled out a meal with the hot mezze. Instead we chose two from that section, plus one main. A warm, roasted pumpkin salad with chilli honey and croutons came as a rubik's cube of diced veg, dressed with greens and sunflower and pomegranate seeds. The soft, sweet pumpkin flesh is a natural match with honey, and the dish is balanced by the chilli heat, the sharp surprise from the occasional pomegranate seed, and crouton crunch.

Merguez (spiced) and sucuk (dry) sausages are presented simply, with a lemon-tzatziki type dip.
The main of wild rabbit kofte came skewered, served in a wire basket atop pilaf, drizzled with yoghurt and sunflower seeds. The meat was surprisingly robust and sufficiently moist to complement the dryish pilaf.

We were impressed with the food's style and execution. With the fitout, however, they may have fallen into the trap that the menu avoids, of trying to do more things than they can aptly handle at once. There’s a DJ, spinning vinyl (a rapidly growing trend), who I think would be better placed over near the bar, rather than next to one of the restuarant tables. (The night we were there, a table of four older diners asked him in unsubtle terms to Turn The Music Down.) They have a very big space and are utilising it for both restaurant and bar areas. With a lot of overlap, that could get confusing if the option of stopping in for drinks and pide or mezze takes off. The decor is mainly browns and creams and while the northern wall features an effective mural, it is also primarily chocolate brown and cream, so doesn’t quite enliven the room enough. There’s an impression of trying to look settled in, when they’re actually brand new, but, in the case of the light fittings, for example, it comes across as looking a bit careless from the start, rather than chic.

The service also has room for improvement. As all the restaurant tables were filled, we were sat at a small, low bar table, on stools, and weren’t offered the option the move as diners left. When our main dish arrived, the waitress commented the table was getting crowded, but made no offer to clear dishes or redistribute the remaining food.

These are teething problems however, certainly not critical concept failures. The food is accompanied by an excellent wine list - no generic Fosters choices here. PX Romate Cardenal is available, and schooners of Mountain Goat are on tap for $6. Once they take delivery of boxes to fit, Baba plans to start offering their pides take away.

There are several irons in the fire, but having already established a good basis of clientele, there are promising signs for a few niggles to be smoothed out, making Baba a great option for a quick drink and nibble, or a long-winded Levantine feast.