My Dad’s family moved to Australia from Malta in the 70’s, so I’ve grown up eating many of my Nanna’s traditional homemade dishes. Malta’s food culture is quite unique. The cuisine is a bit of a melting pot, borrowing ideas from nearby Italy and the Middle East, as well as a focus on fresh seafood as it is an island in the Mediterranean after all. When I first heard about the restaurant Maha, I was intrigued by a modern interpretation of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Chef Shane Delia grew up in a Maltese family like mine where food was a huge part of their lives. I just knew I had to try it the next time I visited Melbourne.
We picked a surprisingly busy Thursday lunch, with the restaurant obviously a popular choice for business lunches. There are several ways of dining at Maha. The first is the soufra, 2, 3 of 4 courses specially created for each table, catering to allergies or dislikes. There is also the Sultan’s Feast, a $75 degustation, an exploration of Shane’s influences and signature dishes. Or there is the a la carte lunch option, which we picked, with 2 courses for $55 or 3 courses for $65.
I started with a lovely cocktail called Roses Are Red ($18) which was a unique blend of Plymouth sloe gin, rosé, rose syrup, lemon jallab grape & rose syrup. While it looked very pretty in pink, it actually packed a fair bit of punch. The flavours worked so well together, and it was a great start to the meal.
We started with a dish that ended up being the highlight of our meal, if not the whole trip! The roast Glenloth quail with cocoa nibs, candied walnuts and ancient grains, chicken parfait bastilla, coffee and cardamom air was a beautiful and thoughtfully prepared dish that I could have eaten all by myself if allowed! The quail was perfectly cooked, succulent flesh with delicious crispy skin. The “ancient grains” were an interesting textural contrast with the bitterness of the cacao nibs subtle but welcomed. I also really loved the parfait. The foam seemed perhaps a little over the top, I thought it neither added not detracted from the dish itself. A really fantastic dish, beautifully balanced and presented.
Steve chose the slow roasted otway pork belly with crispy skin, pomegranate and grape dressing for his main. It looked stunning on the plate and was served with an apple and celeriac salad with tahini mayo on the side. I thought that the pomegranate and grapes were an interesting accompaniment, their tartness helping to balance the richness of the pork. It isn’t a dish for the faint hearted or cholesterol conscious, that much is certain. The cracking was earth-shattering and perfectly cooked but the meat was unpleasantly fatty in some places.
My dish was the 12 hour roasted lamb shoulder with pistachio and green olive tabouleh. It was beautifully cooked, treated with care and it showed. I hardly needed my knife at all, the meat was so wonderfully tender. It was served with a tangy labne that contrasted nicely with the meat. My only criticism was that there was too much meat and not much of anything else. It would have benefited greatly from double or triple the amount of tabouleh! I don’t usually love green olives, but they went really nicely with this dish and I loved the textural contrast of the pistachios.
The dish I was most excited about was the Turkish Delight Doughnuts. After seeing the feature on Maha in Gourmet Traveller earlier this year, I wanted to try them, and I thought we were really in for something special. While they were very tasty, I think they were a little doughy on the inside and seemed to be a little lacking in filling. But I loved the candied almonds and the sticky syrup that accompanied them, and they were lovely with a Turkish Apple tea.
I thought it was a really lovely lunch. The staff were fabulous and very helpful, the décor was stunning and the food was very interesting and unique. I thought the quail dish was pure genius and the stand out of the meal, and I can’t wait to try making the Turkish Delight doughnuts at home!
Maha Bar & Grill – 21 Bond St, Melbourne