Manakish Levantine Bakery Cafe
480a Glen Huntly Rd
Elsternwick, VIC 3185
03 9078 1974
Now that Christmas has passed, I can finally talk about less Christmassy things, but still be on the cosy pathway of things. For instance, like how my colleague, Nat, has a newborn son…
Remember my last ooh-please-don’t-burst-your-water-in-front-of-me brunch at Wall Two 80 with Nat? Well, this visit to Manakish was even further down the gestational track, hence twice as frightening. I think she was 3 weeks away then. I loved the venue selection texts leading up to this visit. Pregnant Nat was adamant about challenging me to somewhere new that’s local to her. She initially suggested places I’d already covered (Miss Jackson, Galleon Café). I told her to take me to her favourite place and that it did not have to be brunchy food. She replied “that’s pressure…” but eventually settled on Manakish.
All I can say is, good choice!!
Nat is Jewish, so she’s culturally more familiar with the cuisines of the near east. On my part, this is an area of food that I’m truly unfamiliar with. How is this cuisine categorised? Do you call it Middle-Eastern food? Is it Moorish / Lebanese / Moroccan / Levantine food? How can I tell the difference? My past few forays into this style of food (see posts on Kamel and Moroccan Soup Bar) were by and large not enjoyable to me. So I was really keen to taste somewhere that Nat thinks is good!
The bakery had a simple, functional set-up with just a small scatter of customers that Wednesday afternoon. We (she) once again chose to sit outside in the sun. Looking at the menu, I was glad that I had a food guide here. The dishes had names like Moo’mout Tamer, Kenafeh, Bayd El Tawaye. Rose of Damascus, and … Foul? Errr, how do I know what to choose? With a sage, motherly smile, and with both hands caressing her (gym-ball sized) belly, Nat calmly told me what she thinks is good and took full steerage with the ordering.
But some things were easy to choose, even if by myself. You know how much of a sucker I am for homemade things? Well, it turned out the Homemade Laymounada by the glass $4 was essentially lemonade. And a refreshingly good one too!
By the way, look at Nat’s celestially big belly in the background. Mind you, Nat’s just visited work recently with her baby (in a massive pram), and her belly’s all incredibly supermodel-slim again now. Some mothers just carry babies so well.
This is the dish that Nat always comes back here for, the Labneh $8.8 (matured home made yogurt dressed w olive oil, black and green olives and choice of freshly baked flat bread). She loves loves loves it. It’s a simple dish that really depends on using good primary ingredients to be an excellent feed. And you know what? I loved it as much as she did. Beautiful zesty yoghurt, amazing olive oil, and wonderful breads. So simple… so gooood!
The quality of baking here is just flawless. Nat’s triangular Fatayer Sbenegh $5.6 (spinach, tomatoes and Spanish onions folded in our famous pastry) was once again simple, fresh and lovely. The outsides were baked to a sun-blessed crisp, with warming yet refreshing fillings inside, perfect for that cool but sunny afternoon.
I realise I must sound like I’m being overly gushy here, but I tend to be like that when I’m really enjoying my food. I went hearty with the Bayd Bel Awarma $14.5 (eggs, tomatoes and lamb mince cooked in tagine pan served w choice of freshly baked flat bread). It came as a big serve, tasted nice and revitalising, with a delightful accompanying puffed-up piece of freshly baked flat bread. I also liked how the dish was low on salt, it really allowed me to taste the actual ingredients inside.
I don’t like overly sweet desserts, but the endless selection of Baklavas $2.5ea were impossible to resist. Of course, both of the baklavas that I chose tasted very very sweet to my palate, but I wanted to try them, they weren’t conventional baklavas.
The square one in the background had rose hints and a grainy semolina-like mouth feel, quite pleasant. The round one in the foreground had flaky leaves of pastry outside, hiding a deliciously toasty, almost peanut-like crumble inside. Yes, very sweet as expected, but still lovely!
A much enjoyed introduction to Levantine food and food from the near east. I am glad that Nat took me here. Now that she’s had her baby, I wonder whether she’d be keen to catch up for more brunches, with pram and kid in tow!