Blood is thicker than water. And it was with that saying in mind that Beaker bought me dinner to recompense a week of self sacrificing that I was going to undertake for her. And that's how we found ourselves at The Horn Cafe in grungy-funky Fitzroy.
While I do like Fitzroy, I'm painfully aware that everytime I go there, that I stick out like a sore thumb. I'm a proud citizen of middle-class suburbia - open-minded enough to realise that I'm quite close-minded on many things. My bourgeouis sensibilities can get ruffled when I'm outside my comfort zone (Big Fil was surprised/incredulous to learn when I said that our luncheon next week will mark the first visit I will have in Footscray - I mean, I live in the eastern 'burbs, why on earth would I visit the west?!).
Inside, The Horn Cafe it's all very African. Lots of African object d'art, complete with multicultural staff, with a warm feel to the place. We get led to our table, which is actually two chairs a coffee table. While it was novel at first, this proved to be a pain in the back, literally, by the end of the night.
We placed our orders with some friendly assistance from the waiters. First up, the entrees. This is zil zil - chicken breast strips marinated in berbere, crumbed and dipped in white sesame seeds, served with Ethiopian salsa. A tad chewy - probably because it was chicken breast meat. A slight smoky flavour. What I liked most was the salsa (which comes with most dishes). It gave the chicken a really flavoursome, savoury tanginess. Given the consistency, I'd describe the salsa as more of a chutney.
We also got minced beef samboosas - very much like any savoury pastry from any cuisine. Crispy filo pastry wrapped around minced beef w finely chopped red onion, celery, chilli and spring onion. Despite the presence of the chilli, it only gave the dish a mild heat.
Some of the pretty African decorations...
For mains, we got two dishes to share. As we were both newbies to African cuisine, we got the meat and veg combo. This comprised of kye (beef) wot, missar (red lentil) wot, doro (chicken) wot and vegie alecha (potatoes, carrot and spinach) wot, served w salad and injera. Our initial impression was, was this it? But as we ate, we realised that there was a lot more food there than meets the eye.
All of the wots (or, stews) were cooked with garlic, ginger, red onion, tomatoes and berbere. Although I've heard of berbere before, I haven't tried it up until this point. Berbere is a spice mix, which includes, chilli, garlic, ginger, dried basil, pepper and fenugreek, and is often found in Ethiopia and Eritrea cuisine.
To be honest, I can't really remember specifically how each of the wot's tasted like. Although they all had the same ingredients, I do remember that they all tasted different to each other. I also remember that there were all delicious and had a very buttery flavour (perhaps from the use of ghee?) to it and were quite morish - especially the vegetarian and beef wots.
I've also heard of injera before but hadn't tried it until now. I liked the sourish flavour and the spongy texture. Injera is made with teff flour which is made from a type of grass and is apparently is quite high in protein. The injera was nice to begin with, but as we got full, it wasn't as nice when it got cold - it took on a clammy, rubbery texture to it.
We also ordered asa ba ata - white fish cooked w yellow split peas, white wine, garlic, and the same ingredients as with the wots. This tasted like a typical, European fish cooked with white wine and garlic. Unlike the flavours of the wots, this dish didn't taste particularly African.... but what do I know?
Although we were both quite full at this point (we couldn't even finish the main dishes), we wanted to try some Ethiopian desserts - namely, the doughnuts. I quite liked these. The doughnuts were served warm. It had a rather chewier texture when compared to your typical (western) doughnut. The batter included cinnamon, pine nuts and sultanas and lemon juice...sort of reminiscent of Italian pannetone. It was served with ice cream and maple syrup.
It's a pity that it was late (for us), and we decided not to try the Ethiopian coffee... oh well, something to try for next time. As we were eating our desserts, the Black Jesus Experience band were setting up. We stuck around to hear them play a few songs - very funky and very cool.
A very interesting and tasty meal. We plan to go there again. I really liked the wots - the flavour is a bit difficult to describe... it's very savoury, deep (yet mellow) flavour. I also liked that there was only a moderate use of chilli powder, which mean I wasn't gasping for water during our meal.
The service was friendly, but they were a bit disorganised - and I suspect that this is the norm at the THC. When settling our bill, they confused us with another table, and had also forgot to add a dish onto our bill. The counter was a mess of table orders, bills and staff scribbling orders onto pieces of paper.
Food - 8
Ambience - 8
Service - 7.5
Price - 7
The Horn Cafe
20 Johnston St
Telephone: 03 9417 4670