Maha Revisited

21 Bond St, Melbourne 3000
Date visited: 27th November 2012

MerlinFan had been dreaming of Maha's signature 12 hour lamb since we first had it during our birthday celebration in August.  We came back here today to celebrate MerlinFan getting into the course she wanted to next year - her treat, of course (hoho).  

I wasn't going to do another post of Maha initially.  We had a great meal the first time around, but amazingly, Maha outdid itself again today, so of course I had to blog about it.
Mysterious dark interior

Reservations are essential.  It was near empty when we came at 12.15pm (we made a booking) but filled up in the next 15 minutes, so I doubt you would be able to get a table if you just rock up.

We had planned to do the 3 course soufra as we had the 4 course the last time and it was a lot of food.  Our waitress asked if we would be interested in adding in a small hot dish for $5 more.  I asked what the small dish would be today and she wanted to find out first if we had any allergies or dietary requirements.  We told her we just didn't like seafood although fish was okay.  Instead of shellfish, we would get just a small piece of pork belly each.   We love pork belly, so we were sold on that one.  I should mention that the waitress was helpful and knowledgeable but in no way pushy.

We both got their mocktails.  I had the Jallab and MerlinFan had the Lebanese iced tea.
Lebanese iced tea & Jallab
Jallab (front): Grape and rose syrup served in a tall glass with lime, mint and soda.  
It was refreshing and tasted mainly of soda and grape with a hint of mint.  Couldn't taste the rose syrup though.

Lebanese iced tea (back): Tea made from a mixture of darjeeling, fresh mint, pomegranate molasses and pine nuts
No need for after-lunch mints, the iced tea tasted just like spearmint.  MerlinFan likes spearmint so she enjoyed her drink, plus she thought the pine nuts were interesting texture-wise (although she also said they looked like floating teeth).

Mezze (small cold dishes)
We had Turkish bread with a platter of olives with fel fel, pinenut tarator, Lebanese cabbage and chargrilled eggplant with pomegranate and molasses.
Absolutely loved the pinenut tarator with the warm Turkish bread.  The sauce was creamy, smoky and slightly tangy with nutty undertones.  And we don't usually like eggplant, but we both agreed this was delicious, with a wonderful chargrilled flavour.

Sahen Zghir (small plates)
We had a cube of pork belly each.  The pork came away with your fork and was melt-in-your mouth tender.  The crackling had perfect crunch and was delicious with the sliver of fat underneath.  MerlinFan wished she had more of it XP
Pork belly, sumac pasta, Cyprian black beans
Wait, the pork belly wasn't all.  We also got the corn fed chicken tagine.  Can anyone say value for money?
Corn fed chicken tagine with broken egg, corn bread, Iranian figs and sucuk soil
A mound of tender deboned chicken covered in rich sauce aromatic with a medley of complex spices.  The sauce was complemented by sweet figs and further enriched with the egg, obviously it was broken but I would have loved to find more of the yolk.  Pretty delicious, except for the coriander which I gingerly picked aside.

Sahen Kbeer (large plates)
The dish we'd come all the way back for.  The LAMB.  

When we were ordering, I asked the waitress if the signature lamb was on the soufra menu.  Yes, she replied with a knowing smile, as if it was a question she got asked all the time.  It's always nice when a restaurant knows what their patrons come back for =D
12 hour roasted lamb shoulder, pistachio and green olive tabouleh
 The lamb was divine.  As expected.  
Rice pilaf with almond and garlic
Beautifully seasoned rice.  Would have finished it if I wasn't already so full.
Lebanese bread salad
Hadn't been a huge fan of this salad the first time and my taste hasn't changed.  I found it a bit too salty and tangy.
Blue cod with spinach
Reminded me a lot of homemade fried fish in a nostalgic way.  Loved the crisp, salty skin.

Helwayet (sweets)
I adored the vibrant combination of colours for the dessert platter.

Smoked white chocolate ganache, honey meringue with aerated lavender and textures of chocolate
Absolutely stunning to look at - I almost didn't want to eat it.  The white chocolate and smoky flavour was quite a curious combination.  The textures of chocolate - with seemingly some sort of dark chocolate soil, crumbly milk chocolate that looked like meteorite rocks and a rather funny-looking log of grainy, almost unsweetened tasting chocolate was interesting but not unforgettable.  The meringue was nice and the delicate sprinkle of lavender dust was beautiful.
Turkish delight doughnuts
We were excited to see their signature Turkish delight doughnuts - MerlinFan was disappointed last time that they didn't have them.  We eagerly poked our forks into them, expecting a crunch but to our surprise, these doughnuts were unlike regular doughnuts - they were very soft, light and fluffy, not heavy and didn't have the crispy shell of a regular fried doughnut.  Inside was a cube of gooey, melty Turkish delight.  We love Turkish delight and I can say it was quite a delight... for me, a bigger cube of Turkish delight would have taken the dessert up a couple of notches - half of the doughnut was dough, but the dough was good so I didn't really mind.
Eat me
The last and my favourite of the three desserts. 
Cherry jelly, pistacho nougatine with cherry foam and pistachio biscotti
When I first heard the word 'cherry' I was like noooo... I dislike anything maraschino cherry-tasting and I thought to myself, I should have told the waitress I had a "cherry aversion" (rather than an allergy).  I tried it anyway and man, this dessert was actually pretty awesome.  The slightly tangy cherry and sweet nougatine were a match made in dessert heaven.  The biscotti was wafer-thin with chunks of pistachio.  Oh and there was no hint of maraschino anywhere.  We loved the desserts - they were nice the previous visit, but they were so much better this time.

I had an Arabic coffee after my sweets.  Loved the taste and scent of it ever since I tried it at St Kat's.  It was really rich, with a nice thick foam.  I made the mistake of sipping it not slowly enough and ended up with a mouthful of coffee grinds.  @_@
Love the matching cup and saucer
We had a spritz of Turkish lemon cologne and our bill nicely presented in a 'fake' book.

It is great that Maha changes it's menu from time to time, for it is somewhere I would definitely revisit in the future.  Choosing the soufras are like embarking on an exciting Middle Eastern food journey and the great thing about it is for lunch, you can choose from a very affordable $35 2 course to a more indulgent $75 6 course degustation, or heavier for dinner.  What can I say, our 4 course for $45 was great value for our money.  And waitstaff are knowledgeable and happy to advise.  Leaves little else to ask for, doesn't it?


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