It's sometimes quite tangential things that can make or break a dining experience. Our visit to Tiba's wasn't without a couple of issues, but overall I enjoyed my visit to this Sydney Road Lebanese restaurant. However it wasn't the food, the dining or the service which really did it for me but the electric and entertaining mix of my fellow dinners.
I've read that Sydney Road is the longest shopping strip in Australia. Certainly it's the longest I've been to, stretching unbroken probably for around six kilometres all the way from Brunswick Road up to Bell Street. It provides a real mixture of potential places to eat, including Lebanese, Turkish, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian and Greek as well as the normal run of cafes.
Tiba's is the largest of the Lebanese restaurants and feels like a real family run place. As you walk in its drinks cabinet is on your left, cooking and payment counters on your right, and dining area ahead and to the left. Nothing special or flash, even if brighter lit and seemingly much cleaner than many such places.
It was a Sunday night when we visited and the place was vibrant and buzzing. With its red bricks and brown furniture complimented by various scenic Lebanese posters and photos, it seems moderately upmarket for downmarket Sydney Road. Booking ahead is definitely the way to go, otherwise I doubt we would have got a table without a substantial wait.
When reviewing the set menu options I only had one request, and that was that we had to try the quail. This meant the Hassan's Special, a veritable feast including Hommos and Babaganoush dips, Tabouli, chicken wing, a lamb cutlet, sausage, shish kebab, chicken and kafta, as well as the quail.
Peaking through the brick arches I was able to see our food being constructed on the counter. The plates were huge when they arrived (around 20 minutes later), with generous helpings of dips and meats. One thing which was kind of weird though, the pita bread served with the meals was still wrapped in its plastic back.
The meal itself ran the gauntlet of the very good (chicken wing and babaganoush), the good (hommos, quail and sausage) and the average (the other meat dishes and the tabouli). The babaganoush was creamy and smokey, the chicken wing plump and moist. The major problem with the kebabs was that they were all a little dry. I'm not sure if that was an issue with timing, in that it did seem to take a little while for the plates to be completed, or whether they were just a bit overcooked. The result though was that while they were hardly bad, I've had better from other darker and dingier diners nearby. Also, the tabouli tasted more sour than I am used to.
One thing which did nark me a little was the seemingly haphazard drinks ordering system. It did seem a little weird collecting our drinks from the front cabinet in a restaurant, but even when busy its not really acceptable to need to ask three staff for glasses over 20 minutes for them to arrive.
But what was it about my fellow dinners which put a glow on this place for me. Melbourne is often regarded as one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world and if you need proof it was all there that night. South and East Asian student types, North African taxi drivers, Caucasian and Lebanese families, all there to enjoy good food at a reasonable price and creating a warm and friendly (if a bit chaotic) atmosphere. A definite case of the mood elevating the experience, raising it from somewhere I'd be satisfied to eat at to somewhere I want to return to.
Food - 7
Service - 6.5
Ambience - 8
Price - 7
504 Sydney Road
Brunswick VIC 3056
Tel: (03) 9380 8425