Sunday, October 9, 2011

Al-alamy, Coburg by Big Fil

It's been pointed out a few times that I am more a fan of the quirky than the polished. I'd rather be intrigued by something new but good, even if it comes with a few flaws, than something perfect but very familiar.

I think that's part of the reason why Al Alamy appeals to me. It's like a cut rate version of A1 or Oasis Bakery, if it's possible to have a cut rate version of those places. A cramped produce section bulging with middle and near eastern treats, a tiny café with freshly baked pies and pizzas, a handful of wonky legged tables, in some ways I could have designed it myself.


More a bakery with coffee than a café, the prices for baked goods here are cheap. Really Cheap. Cheaper than I have seen at other bakeries on Sydney Road cheap. As cheap as Bimbo Deluxe cheap and that's damn cheap. Items such as the dips are a bit more expensive but I can't remember anything priced at above $8.50.


Trying to get a good range of the offerings we started with the zaatar pizza (rear of photo below) and the cheese pie/calazone (at the front of the photo below). Zaatar is a spice blend which I can never remember the ingredients for (thyme, sesame, salt...) which is rubbed onto the pizza base and usually lightly drizzled with olive oil. It's a good test of a bakery in that it's a simple dish which I like best when its kept simple and uncomplicated, go easy on the oil and let the spices come through. In this respect I liked the version here a lot - minimal on the oil but without being at all dry, it didn't have the citrusy tang of the crème of zaatars but nevertheless pretty good.

The cheese pie is something that always factors heavily into whether I like a Lebanese style bakery or not. The pastry has to be flavoursome, the (haloumi) filling generous, and burning the base is not allowed. Bonus points are awarded for the cheese having a nice squeaky type feeling as you bite through the pie. The pies here are a little smaller than at some other bakeries and the cheese slightly less generous, but to compensate they are cheaper as well. On the plus side though, I did like the pastry which was nicely cooked and the slightly squeaky cheese.


At the more expensive end of the menu we went with the labneh and the awarma. Labneh is a strained/thickened type of yoghurt, retaining the flavour of yoghurt but with a stiffer consistency more like a cream cheese. Served with a small amount of olive oil over the top it's not something which I have had that often but it did make a pleasant and filling dip with the accompanying pita bread. Similarly the awarma - scrambled eggs with lamb mince - was nicely cooked and pleasant but not anything startlingly good. Having said that though, it was half gone before we got a photo. Looking back at it I think it's the sort of thing which to me would have gone better bubbling away in a claypot with a tomato heavy sauce.



Overall
I liked it here. Service is casual but efficient and I suspect that the café is family run, the interaction between staff members has that sort of vibe. Food is good, plentiful and cheap, and my hot chocolate was excellent. And if still hungry afterwards (which is hard to imagine given the bargain prices) you can always stock up from the market section of the store.

Verdict
Food - 7.5
Service - 7
Ambience - 6.5
Price - 8.5

Address
51 Waterfield Street
Coburg VIC 3058
Tel: (03) 9355 8866

Al Alamy on Urbanspoon

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