Moroccan Soup Bar

183 St Georges Rd
Fitzroy North, VIC 3068
03 9482 4240

Since migrating here, the name of this place often pops up in conversation amongst friends and colleagues. It’s obvious the Moroccan Soup Bar is a bit of an institution in Melbourne. Fakegf tried to dine here with Kelly around 7pm on a Thursday evening and they were turned away. It’s that packed every night.

And why is it a Melbourne institution, you might ask? I think it’s partly due to that wholesome, giving, world-loving, tree-hugging concept that, I believe, runs as a common thread around that part of town. You walk in, release your attachments to meat, and enter a gentler philosophy towards health and food.

I hear from the grapevine that the head matron ma’am there has been known to take someone off the street and feed them a meal for free. The place is run by women, and the owner prefers to employ first generation migrant women. These anecdotes warms my heart, although at the same time I can’t help feeling it’s a little hippy. Lol.

To avoid disappointment, fakegf, Kelly and I came here 15 mins before opening so that we would definitely secure a table. A queue storm swiftly gathered as the minutes drew close towards 6pm. When the doors opened, we were first in, and the place was full within 10 minutes. The interior looked like a colourful mix-bag forest of tables, chairs and painted walls.

To be honest, the name ‘Moroccan Soup Bar’ sounded like a bit of an erection killer to me. I just can’t get excited over what’s assumably going to be thickish vegetarian soups. Not exactly my cup of tea for an evening feed. But prior to my visit, I learnt that it isn’t really a soup place (so why in the world did they name it so?). Also, I hear the menu is possibly more Levantine or Lebanese than Moroccan… but this is not my area of expertise, does anybody know?

We took the menu out of our hands and went with the convenient and very popular banquet menu, priced at $20 pax. The friendly waitress started us off nicely with glasses of clear mint tea, served hot, with a delightful hint of sweetness.

The first thing we sank our teeth into was a platter of dips served with flatbreads. The dish overall tasted pickly and zesty, with yoghurt, eggplants, cauliflower, broccoli, pickled beetroot, hommus and possibly tahini. It wasn’t too bad.

The heartier mains started to come, first as a plate of couscous topped with vegetables. I quite liked the veggies on top, but my companions weren’t as keen on this dish. Something was lacking… the couscous was a little mushy wet. And I have to say the couscous had a strange taste that (unfortunately) reminded me of cupboards.

The rice and lentil dish was more satisfying. We really liked the flavour of the red tomato rice in particular, while the yellow rice was more bland. Kelly, being the most ‘vegetarian’ among the three of us (she’s pescetarian) says this dish was just okay. (Actually, she gave us that ‘so-so’ wavering hand-balancing sign, lol). Personally, I didn’t know what to do with the yoghurt here. Flavour-wise it did not exactly go with the rice or lentils.

Our last main was the much celebrated chick pea bake. On first presentation, it looked almost pie or lasagne-like, I was hoping to see tendrils of hot sticky cheese pulling from our spoons. But no, the dish was more like pieces of crisp-baked crunchy flat breads, tossed with chick peas, and then folded into a warm yoghurt, sour cream (and maybe tahini) mixture with a decisive scattering of toasted nut slivers. Quite delicious, actually… I think partly because there was a goodly presence of melted butter inside that bowl. Mmm mmmm… The bowl was so big we couldn’t finish.

Little cups of (Turkish?) coffee to help reset our palates. They were rich, sweet coffees, with a very wood-fired taste. There were also floral hints that made my cup taste tea-like. I suspect what they did was put a drop of rose water into the coffee… I liked it!

We had a little plate of baklavas for dessert. Fakegf and I did not mind it. But Kelly is more familiar with these little delights, and thought they were, again, just so-so. (cue: hand-wavering sign) Also, the three of us noticed that other diners were served baklavas as well as another dessert. So there was a bit of dessert envy.

It isn’t that big a deal, but I think that the establishment should’ve been consistent with what they give diners who’re having the same set menu. Even tables with just two diners had two desserts, so why did we only have one?

I like the world-view and ‘heart’ that goes on behind in the kitchens here. In retrospect, I have a feeling that this place might’ve historically functioned as a soup bar, with perhaps an earnest intent to nourish the poor. But the menu and cooking style may have changed over time.

I’m aware that the Moroccan Soup Bar has a regular and faithful band of loyalists, it’s probably also a tourist destination. But in terms of food quality and value for money, I’ll have to confess that I felt a little let down. While I’m not an expert at vegetarian food, I feel I’ve had better vegetarian meals elsewhere.

On a similar vein:
– Wonderful Middle Eastern brunch at Manakish Levantine Bakery (Elsternwick)
– A (rather meh) Middle Eastern dinner at Kamel (Albert Park)
– Vegetarian dinner at Shakahari(Carlton)

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