Yemeni is Lemony ...or at least the four-hour lamb soup is. But more on that later.
After visiting Yemeni I’ve learnt first hand about the tradition of spice as it is evident in the delicious food. Upon entering the restaurant I am greeted by a beautiful aroma of what I think is cardamon. The owner of the restaurant, Elias, greets me warmly and summons me to join my friends already awaiting in the back. I take off my shoes, as I assume the tradition is, and enter a room adorned with red carpet and cushions, in the background a TV tuned in to a Middle Eastern version of MTV.
Our host (I think my hearing is going cos I thought his name was Eliot, but that doesn't sound very Yemeni) is warm in his welcome to everybody and heaps us with hospitality all evening. He is charming and very proud of his restaurant. He claims that it is the only Yemeni restaurant in Australia and given that there aren't that many Yemeni Australians I don't doubt him.
We start with the Yemeni Tea. It's a sweet tea, and I now realise that the beautiful aroma I first detected is infused in the tea: some sort of cardamom or clove spice. I probe Elias about what's in the tea, but he smiles coyly and says that it is a secret. Again, his pride is evident, knowing that he is offering cuisine unique to Australia.
We contemplated the menu trying to work out what to have, when Elias came up with the perfect suggestion: a sort of Yemeni banquet for six starting with the lamb soup concocted over four hours.
It's a light soup with lamb, and full of (unknown) spices, a touch of tomato, and a squeeze of lemon. Frankly it's delicious. When Elias comes back to check on us he mentions that his food is very healthy for he does not use any oil in the cooking process. Bonus.
Next is the Mugelge, which is a roti-like bread served with yoghurt, fresh chilli and a tender lamb sauce/curry. Again delicious, and we have no problem devouring the dish.
For our main fair we have a mixed platter of:
• rice which is looks a bit like saffron rice scattered with currents, except it is more orange-coloured than yellow.
• marinated chicken (called Kebsa)
• curried lamb which has distinct sour flavours which reminds me of some African dishes.
• and a salad.
There is more food on the platter than we can manage, but the food is delicious so we continually pick away. A little later, defeated and suffering from full belly, we take a time-out and stretch out amongst the pillows. More tea beckons before we tackle dessert.
For dessert we had the:
• Mersah (fresh cream mixed with yemeni bread, bananas and honey)
• Mohalabya (fresh mixed berries, custard, and home made cookies)
The desserts look a bit like breakfast. They are light and mildly sweet. There were fans of both amongst the group, but this was probably my least favourite part of dinner.
I should also note that they have shisha (otherwise known as hookah) pipes for smoking flavoured tobacco. We gave it a try for novelty's sake. It's much smoother than cigarettes, and I found the experience quite social. In fact Ali, the friendly Somali gentleman next to me, was kind enough to teach us how to smoke Shisha properly. Apparently we were doing it wrong.
When Big Fil suggested we go to Yemeni Restaurant, my first thought was “Where on Earth is Yemen?” What would the food be like? I had no idea, but this blog attempts to embody a spirit of adventure. So we agreed to give it a go.
Admittedly, I know very little about the Republic of Yemen, but after a bit of Googling I’ve discovered that Yemen:
• is a republic located in the middle east, south of Saudi Arabia
• was the home of the Queen of Sheba
• has been at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia for thousands of years thanks to its position on the ancient spice routes.
My Yemeni experience was wholly positive and thoroughly enjoyable. I highly recommend the soup, the Mugelge, and the rice. I will no doubt be back soon. The welcoming homely ambience was also key to a great dining experience. Elias also mentioned Matt Preston gave his restaurant a 9/10. I rated it a little lower, but I'm a tough critic, whilst Matt is kind and cuddly.
Ambience - 7
Service - 8
Food - 7.5
Price - 8.5
124 Union Rd
Ascot Vale 3032
Ph: (03) 9372 0854