The Carlton end of Lygon Street is probably the better known end by tourists and occasional eaters but the Brunswick Street end contains a large number of arguably better restaurants. One of the best of these is Rumi, a Lebanese/Middle Eastern restaurant offering both mezze and banquet options.
Interior decoration is tastefully minimalist, mainly a few wooden dividers and panels on the wall with Arabic inscriptions. While towards the end of the meal the restaurant had started to fill up and become a little noisy, seating is far enough apart that you never felt part of the next table's conversation.
Banquets come as four or five course options, the first three courses mezze in style, the fourth the lamb shoulder and salads and the fifth dessert. None of us had been here before and the four course banquet seemed to contain most of the dishes we wanted to try which made ordering easy, figuring we could always order dessert separately later.
Each course contained at least one option that each of us really liked, even if it wasn't always the same option, and nothing which we all disliked. While the first course came with olives and pickled vegetables, crudités (sliced vegetables) with almond taratoor (a sesame based dip), and labne (a yoghurt sauce) with flat bread, the best dish was the Sigara Boregi. These were like slim spring rolls with a very delicate skin and filled with slightly sour cheese. In fact, the skin on these was so thin and delicate I almost stuck my thumb straight through one when I first tried to pick it up.
Second course was the Persian Meatballs, Spiced School Prawns and Braised Greens. We were most evenly divided on which were the best of these with votes for each. All were good, the meatballs lightly spiced and moist in a tomato sauce, the greens well flavoured and still quite firm and not mushy. My personal favourite though was the school prawns. Small prawns that are crisp after being deep fried, these are eaten whole including the shell with a softly flavoured yoghurt sauce.
Third course was the Quail kebabs, cabbage salad and fried cauliflower. While deep fried cauliflower sounds strange, and it looked a bit off putting, the smell, taste and texture were great. While quite dark in colour the cauliflower was nicely cooked, slightly crisp on the outside and firm but not hard through the middle. Being deep fried also seemed to bring out its flavour as well. The cabbage salad was light and contrasted with the heavier flavours of the cauliflower and quail. As for the quail, this is a dish I don't always like. Nothing about the meat, it's just that the ratio of bone to meat can be annoyingly high. Rumi gets around this by including just the leg and breast on the kebab. Juicy and with its usual strong flavour for a bird, I thought these were pretty good if small. Ms Counting her Calories however did not like these much, for reasons I'm not sure about.
At this stage I think we were all a bit concerned that we could walk away from our banquet still a little hungry. The food had been good but the serves were a bit on the small side. Then out came the lamb. Good sized chunks of meat still sitting on the bone, the meat was so tender that when I put my fork into it so I could cut it with the provided knife the bone just fell away, leaving a bite sized morsel of meat on my fork. With a light crust of spiced meat on the outside and beautifully flavoured lamb in the middle, this was my pick for the night (admittedly I'm a huge lamb fan but it was very good). The Freekah salad is made using wheat, giving it a different flavour and texture to the other salads. Final dish was the Cos and herb salad, which came with a light dressing which went well with the heavier lamb.
Having finished our banquet we soldiered on and into dessert, ordering the Turkish delight, the labne stuffed dates and the Persian fairy floss to share. Snooze thought her Turkish delight were very good, tender but firm with small pieces of pistachio, and the dates with labne provided a mix of textures and sweetness as you bit though it. My favourite though was the fairy floss, lightly sesame flavoured and fun to eat.
Excellent food, professional and friendly staff in a relaxing setting, balanced by being moderately expensive (but not unreasonable for the whole package), we all really enjoyed our visit to Rumi. One thing which particularly stood out to me was how much better the vegetarian dishes were here compared to some specialist vegetarian restaurants. The cost means it's not somewhere I'd visit on a weekly basis but it's now on the list for showing visitors what is available in Melbourne or suggestions for a birthday treat.
Food - 8.5
Service - 8
Ambience - 8
Price - 6.5
116 Lygon St
Brunswick East VIC 3057
Tel: (03) 9388 8255