I am not quite sure why the Abyssinian is so popular. Yes, it is located in a more salubrious part of town than most Ethiopian restaurants. And yes, it does offer a more restaurant type experience rather than the more typical café style approach. However, to me most of the fun of Ethiopian food is digging in and sharing. This means its more suited to an informal café arrangement, and while the variety of dishes offered at the Abyssinian is wider than at most Ethiopian places I don't find the food particularly outstanding.
The restaurant itself is densely decorated in Ethiopian style motif. When combined with the fairly close tables this made it feel a little 'busy'. We were also unfortunately seated in what was probably the darkest table in the restaurant, next to the bar with the partially blocked lighting coming from behind us.
Chewy was feeling a bit under the weather so he ordered the combination for one. This was thoughtful of Chewy, given than everything is placed on a shared platter and eaten using Injera (a kind of "pancake") and your hands.
Snooze, Ruby Grapefruit and myself each chose one dish from the menu to share, Shiro (ground chickpeas cooked with olive oil and chopped garlic), the Kulwha (lamb sauteed with ghee, onion and spices) and the Shrimp and Nile Perch Kulwha. I've had the combination before and it offers a good variety of vegetarian and meat dishes (fish, chicken, goat and lamb). Particularly for a first visit when not sure what to order it’s a good way to sample a variety of dishes.
Of the three mains we shared the Shrimp and Perch Kulwha was the best, with the fish firm and tender.
Given that the restaurant is billed as 'Slow Food from the Horn of Africa' the lamb was not as tender as I would have liked, if anything being a little chewy. It’s a few days since we went and to be honest I don't remember much about the Shiro, which probably means that it was fine but nothing special.
The injera itself could have been warmer when served, and went soggy fairly quickly making it difficult to use it to scoop up the mains. Chewy, Ruby Grapefruit and Snooze, who were not very familiar with this style of food, found it interesting but not a potential new favourite.
For a restaurant so highly recommended by many I find The Abyssinian a little disappointing. Not that there is anything I particularly dislike about it, but there isn't anything much to draw me back either. Service is good, set up of the restaurant is interesting if a little crowded, and the variety of dishes offered comparatively wide.
Food - 7
Ambience - 6.5
Service - 7
Price - 6.5
277 Racecourse Rd
Kensington VIC 3031
Tel: (03) 9376 8754