I've often (and annoyingly I'm sure) posed the question to Big Fil "How does a restaurant become popular?" because Sahara isn't in that league and I don't understand why.
Is it because it's tucked away upstairs through this modest and unassuming doorway? Could be.
It's definitely not the decor ... all natural wood, hand woven wall hangings and earthy colours. And it's not the lighting or seating alternatives that range from brightly lit window tables to plump sofas and bench seating in darker corners at the rear.
It wasn't the food either with its North African slant ... the food's interesting and well cooked (and a special price for us on the day because we got $25 off the meal using a voucher on the back of a Coles docket).
Big Fil's choice was the mezze ... a lovely choice for entree. The prawns were beautifully BBQed and flavoured with harissa, the fresh artichoke heart had the tangiest lemon vinaigrette (my absolutely favourite dressing), and the lentils retained their shape and not the slightest indication of that 'lentil' taste that generally comes with lentils that aren't salted properly. (And Big Fil neatly polished off the local olives despite not being an olive fan.)
My choice for mains was the lamb tagine with cous cous, a complex mix of flavours served with fresh coriander, pine nuts and pomegranate. The lamb was cooked to perfection without falling apart, and the cous cous arrived steaming hot ... between the two of us we licked the platter clean.
We ordered drinks while we were waiting for dessert and while mine was a T2 mint tea, Big Fil ordered a lemon, cinnamon and fresh ginger tea guaranteed to scare away the winter chills. Big Fil assures me it was flavourful without being too sweet and it looked too pretty not to photograph.
The desserts were a stand out for me, and I'm still annoyed at Big Fil over the Cointreau and Pistachio Chocolate Mousse ... all I got was a mouthful of the mousse and he got half of my filo parcels! From my very limited experience the mousse was creamy and smooth, and generously covered with pistachios nuts. I definitely would have like more.
My filo parcels were beautifully crisp and the cardamon syrup sweet and subtle without being thick and cloying. The parcels had three very different fillings: the fig was subtle and didn't stand out well against the syrup. Favourite status was given to the nut filled parcel followed closely by the raspberry parcel. The voting was unanimous here.
Sahara is well worth a visit for lunch, dinner or even an after work drink. I'm thinking of suggesting it for my next work lunch. The decor is elegant and warm, the food well cooked, presented and tasty. The price is a little outside cheap eats territory, but represents good value for money (and even better value if you're armed with a discount docket).
Ambience - 8
Service - 8
Food - 8
Price - 7
Level 1, 301 Swanston St
Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9663 8477