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We're calling it, we’ve reached peak hummus
Since the first recipe for hummus was recorded in 13th-century Cairo, it has travelled far and wide throughout the Levant and Mediterranean. Everyone claims their version is the best – some prefer it smooth, others lumpy, some heavier on the chickpeas, others on tahini, some topped with vegetables or meat, and others accompanied by falafel, pickles or chips. Done well, it’s creamy, tangy and moreish.
Hummus is the main attraction at New Jaffa, a Middle Eastern diner in the backstreets of Collingwood. Owner and chef Moshe Ittah makes it fresh daily with traditional ingredients (chickpeas, garlic, lemon, oil and tahini sourced from Israel) using a secret technique. The result is a silky texture, a rich, nutty flavour, and the perfect balance of salt and acid. For lunch, get it capped with mushrooms, or minced lamb and beef fried in a heady spice blend, with pine nuts adding sweetness. Scrape the plate clean with pita, its cloud-soft insides soaking up the remnants of oil stained copper from paprika.
For a grab-and-go lunch, pitas come stuffed with falafel, lamb kebab, or egg and salad. The fricassee sandwich is a Tunisian version of the humble tuna sandwich and we’re here for it: canned tuna, hard-boiled egg, boiled potato, salty capers and olives, and slithers of tart preserved lemon are tucked between savoury donut bread smeared generously with heat-giving harissa.
The Middle Eastern mainstay of preserved lemon is championed in the dinner mezes, like the eggplant bruschetta: a mini eggplant acting as the bread for a topping of heirloom tomatoes, grated tomato salsa, dill and the lemon. Falafe hits the trifecta of crispy outer, tender inner and bright green colour from lots of herbs – more lemon adds bitey acid and works well with the baby beetroot, house-made labne, parsley and mint. Our one niggle is that it’s $9 for one.
The momentum of flawlessly balanced dishes that pack a punch continues with the mains. There’s a pumpkin and chickpea curry and grilled cauliflower given oomph with spiced vegan mayo, pickled chillies and yolks oozing out of soft-boiled eggs. Angus beef ribs rubbed with zaatar crown a neon-yellow turmeric and almond couscous, while in the kebab (Ittah’s mum’s recipe) three chilli-flecked lamb and beef balls, super juicy from added fat, rest on fresh mint, zippy green chillies, tomato and pine nuts. A green tahini singing with harissa rounds off a dish we can’t stop thinking about.
Middle Eastern desserts have a reputation for being sickly sweet but here they’re comforting and light. In the made-to-order knafeh, warm, gooey ricotta escapes out of a buttery case of shredded kadaif noodles (filo vermicelli), musky from rose water syrup. Or there’s velvety chocolate mouse on a bed of kadaif noodles, with bamba (an Israeli peanut butter corn snack) and house-made peanut butter halva adding nutty crunch. Move aside Supernormal’s peanut butter parfait – there’s new cult dessert in town.
There's an expansive list of fragrant, zesty mocktails made with house-made lemonades like rose water, blossom orange or pomegranate, and now that the liquor license has come in you can add in arak and linger at the long communal tables or out in the cosy courtyard and debate the origins of hummus while eating what may well be Melbourne's best.
32 Stanley St
|Opening hours:||Tue-Fri noon-4pm; 5-9.30pm; Sat noon-4pm, 5-10pm|