Could Ethiopian food become the new Thai or Vietnamese in Melbourne? I have some doubts because it lacks the lightness and freshness of these cuisines. However walking near Footscray train station it seemed that every second restaurant or café is from this part of Africa, although it could have been that they just stood out because they're less familiar and comparatively uncommon around town generally.
One of the things immediately noticeable about Café Lalibela is that it has a much neater, more upmarket appearance than its neighbours. The walls are decorated in ochre and yellow, with wooden tables and chairs, new pictures of Ethiopian scenes on the walls and bright and fresh table cloths. The whole setup including the service has the welcoming feel of an upmarket café.
There were only the two of us so we ordered the Lamb Tibs and Chicken Wat. These come on a huge plate covered in injera, a fluffy, slightly sour pancake like bread. The idea is to tear off pieces of the injera and use it to scoop up a mouthful of food from the shared plate. It’s a very social way off eating, reminding me a little of yum cha with the emphasis on sharing and conversation.
Of the two dishes I preferred the Lamb Tibs (sautéed lamb). The serve was generous, the lamb tender and spicy but not hot (despite the promising presence of a few green chillies). The Chicken Wat (Chicken stew) was also tasty and very tender but I would preferred a bit more meat and not as much sauce. One thing which I did notice when we were ordering was the number of vegetarian options on the menu, an important consideration when organising a return visit (a few of us foodies are non-meat eaters).
By the time we finished we were feeling full and happy. One thing which would have been good though is the addition of a few Ethiopian desserts to try, particularly for evening meals.
The food was tasty, the setting comfortable and the host friendly, but the thing which I most remember is just enjoying myself. While I would like to try some of the other cafes in the area, as others have noted Lalibela is where a lot of people are first introduced to Ethiopian food and I suspect I'll be dragging a few new people there.
Food - 7.5
Ambience - 8
Service - 7
Prices - 8
91 Irving Street
Footscray VIC 3011
Tel: (03) 9687 0300