Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bedouin Kitchen

The venue: Bedouin Kitchen (103 Grey St, St Kilda)
The co-tasters: Frankie, Sheree, Carissa, Eranga and Sammy.

There are a lot of paradoxes about this little place. A restaurant serving traditional Egyptian peasant-style dishes, catering mainly for St Kilda's trendy young crowd of yuppies and gays & lesbians with not an Arab customer in sight, run by Malaysian Chinese guy, and located on a street most notable for its working girls. But ignoring all the odd details, Bedouin Kitchen is definitely worthy of investigation. With deep red walls, dark-coloured furniture and dimly-lit lanterns, the owners have succeeded in capturing a slickly updated North African ambience. Nice place for a date.

The menu mostly consists of mezze (taste plates) with a few more substantial dishes served in claypots, and heavily slanted towards lamb. The mezze selection is a strong point; the tameyya are a superior version of felafel, heavily encrusted with sesame seeds, while a large mushroom cap topped with feta cheese and dill was also impressive. The roast pumpkin pieces drizzled with tahini and honey were the highlight of my previous trip here, but on this occasion they seemed a little underdone. A salad of artichoke and peas was impressive on the eye but failed to really excite.

Claypot dishes included ful medames (a stew of broad beans which is Egypt's national dish), kushery (a casserole of lentils, macaroni and rice with a tomato sauce) and the main talking point of the evening, a stew called melokhia. Quite accurately described as resembling "a pond", this ominous-looking creation is named after its main ingredient, a leafy green vegetable with the same sticky, mucilagenous qualities as okra. It resembled alien cuisine - very interesting. Unfortunately, its taste was less interesting, in fact it tasted of very little. The owner advised us to add some salt, as apparently they had toned the salt content down for modern Western tastes, in comparison to the more salty version found in Egyptian homes.

And therein lies the rub with several of the main dishes - despite the traditional, rustic style of the food, many seemed to be deliberately more bland than what Arabs would actually eat - all to cater for a perceived Western taste. I say "perceived" because it seems to be a fallacy - you wouldn't see Chinese, Thai or Malaysian restauranteurs under-salting their dishes, and Western customers lap it up. With the sprinkling of a little salt, the main dishes' flavour started to emerge, but one wonders why we had to add salt ourselves in the first place.

The desserts obviously did not suffer from lack of salt, and were all tasty, particularly the Egyptian pancake topped with pistachios and clotted cream, and the konafa, a tart of shredded pastry and rice-flour custard. Good accompaniments to the cardamom-spiked Arabic coffee and sahleb, a fragrant spiced hot milk drink.

The other little thing that rankled me here was asking for some chilli and being told that we would have to be charged for it. It was incongruous with the general quality of the service, which was friendly and welcoming. So overall, this is a restaurant with the potential to be really, really good, yet falls short of being truly satisfying; it is surprising how such a basic culinary element as salt can be neglected in such a way.

Rating: 3 salt shakers out of 5.

Kushery; artichoke and pea salad.

Ful medames.

Desserts: From top, left to right - Sahleb, Arabic coffee, Egyptian pancake, basbousa (semolina cake), konafa, Turkish delight.

1 comment:

  1. I was walking around st kilda on one of my Discover Melbourne days and walked past this place. It was closed but I was curious about this place and googled it. What are the odds that you wrote a review about it, even if it was 3 years ago