In our hummus-saturated age, this pioneer of mod Middle Eastern dining has stood the test of time
Remember when pomegranate, za’atar and baba ghanoush were considered exotic? Yeah, neither do we. The recent explosion of Middle Eastern restaurants has ensured we’re well versed in everything from new-school Turkish cooking (Tulum, Yagiz) to Armenian cuisine (Sezar, Shukah). Joseph Abboud has always been ahead of this curve, having opened Rumi 12 years ago, offering contemporary takes on the flavours of Persia, Turkey and Lebanon.
Having since moved to the Brunswick end of Lygon Street, Rumi has set the bar for restaurants of its ilk. The crockery is straight from grandma’s house and the furniture is stripped back. There are draping fabrics and wooden panels etched with gold calligraphy – touches of glitz, minus the pretension. Settle into your Arabian night with a glass of Rumi’s own King Valley red or white, or a cocktail headlining flavours like Turkish delight and rose syrup. Don’t drink? The mocktails are just as good (go the sour cherry).
You can order à la carte, but we recommend a banquet: the Classic champions Rumi’s mainstay dishes ($50 for 12), while the Seasonal centres on seasonal produce ($60 for 14). In the former, proceedings start off with uninspired pickled veggies, followed by textbook labne and almond tarator. Bread – disappointingly – arrives cold. Things pick up with flaky cigars oozing with salty halloumi, feta and kasseri, and heavily spiced school prawns mollified with earthy tahini. Eat them whole and savour the crunch – and knock back a beer while you’re at it for the full summer-on-the-Med fantasy.
Melt-in-the-mouth lamb meatballs, with hints of dried lime and rose, in a saffron-laced tomato sauce, taste like a warm hug. Fried cauliflower florets dusted in allspice are accompanied by sautéed onion, currants and pine nuts, which add welcome sweetness and crunch to the soft and nutty vegetable. Is this peak cauliflower? Pita powerhouse Miznon may be vying for the top spot, but we think Rumi’s wins by a smidge.
The feast continues with fall-apart lamb shoulder crusted with advieh and onion-marinated chicken wings spiked with Aleppo pepper and perched atop toum, the Levant version of aioli. Escorting the proteins are two salads. There’s texture and depth in the bowl of freekeh accented by almonds, sheep’s feta and pomegranate molasses. Meanwhile, cos is the hero of a simple salad of radish, mint, dill and parsley, with the dressing of verjus and sirkanjabin (a syrup of vinegar, sugar and mint) packing almost too much of a punch. To finish, order the baklava sandwich: the airy pastry filled with housemade macadamia ice cream will take you on a magic carpet ride to Sugar Mountain.
Although Rumi still has plenty of heart, you can’t help notice how much of a well oiled machine it has become. Indeed, what started as a neighbourhood favourite has become the first in a restaurant dynasty – Abboud having also opened Moor’s Head and Bar Saracen. The calligraphy on the walls quotes from Lebanese poet (and wedding-vows favourite) Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet on the importance of working with love. If Rumi remembers this sentiment, we have no doubt its stature in Melbourne’s Middle Eastern dining scene will be preserved.
116 Lygon St
|Opening hours:||Daily 6-10pm|