Fans of Ottolenghi would do well to take note – in his cookbook Jerusalem, the renowned chef hailed the mastermind behind global Israeli pita empire Miznon, Eyal Shani, as “the voice of modern Israeli cuisine”. And that voice is now getting global reach – Melbourne’s Hardware Lane outpost has become Shani’s sixth Miznon, soon to be joined by a seventh in New York.
Nothing about Miznon is orthodox. It’s a double-storied restaurant, but the action unspools downstairs where diners order at the counter and wait for their names to be called. Nearly ten young, energetic waitstaff – so many for a relatively small eatery – zip in and out of the exposed kitchen, shouting in Hebrew to one another and animatedly dispensing advice on what to order. The backing soundtrack is that of tambourines spontaneously played by waitstaff and the loud pounding of minute steaks being flattened with a meat tenderiser. One staff member urges us to perch ourselves on high stools overlooking the kitchen, where he then proceeds to offer us shots, and then the whole restaurant – waitstaff and diners alike – erupt in a toast to ‘cauliflower night’.
Cauliflower gets a night of its own because it is the star of Shani’s menu. Baby brassicas adorn the walls of the restaurant before they’re brined and whisked into ovens, roasted whole with olive oil and salt until they’re crisp and deep brown. It’s served atop a thin sheet of paper for two or more diners to share.
That paper delivery system is another clue that they’re doing things their own way here – a miniature silver bucket is placed on each table top for the disposal of the paper bags that pitas come in and baking paper that side dishes are served on.
Traditional Israeli pita fillings such as pickled cabbage and hummus are non-existent at Miznon. Here the classic falafel comes as Shani’s ‘falafel burger’ with tomato, sour cream and pickles. The French Provençal stewed vegetable dish ratatouille is given a new lease of life in Shani’s pita, with caramelised eggplant and onion finding an unfamiliar, yet perfectly sound pairing in creamy dollops of tahini and half-boiled egg. It certainly pays to be pro-plant: vegetarian pitas hover slightly above the $10 mark, while meat pitas such as the minute steak one can reach the comparatively hefty price of $22.
A potato side dish labelled ‘run over’ turns out to be a steamed potato, skin on and infused with dill, sour cream and garlic, flattened into a round disc and sandwiched by two sheets of baking paper, presumably for the theatrical effect. It looks like something that’s been run over, but tastes infinitely better. In the same vein, the intriguing-sounding ‘if you want to feel a warm egg inside your hand’ is literally a fried, slightly runny egg topped with diced tomatoes, sprinklings of pepper and served to you atop more paper so you can feel the heat in your palm.
Bucking the trend in a precinct of tourist traps, Miznon’s zany energy and inventive menu produces one of the most exciting dining experiences of 2017. Shani’s other Miznons are famous for their queues that spill out onto the pavement, and we expect this one to be no different.