On this occasion, we will be travelling to the heart of Lebanon, and yet staying right at home in Brunswick.
I recently dined at Mankoushe on Lygon Street with Pablo – co-founder at Brunswick Daily. We enjoyed sampling authentic Middle Eastern dishes and received an exclusive tour behind-the-scenes of the magic Mankoushe kitchen with Jad, one of the lovely business owners.
The restaurant interior is humble and warm, with various old-style decorations on the wall and a simple counter with a pastry cabinet. There are also vinyl records on display, including the famous Lebanese album “Mosiac of the Orient” by Elias Rahbani(the cover image of this article shows the album displayed at the bar – very much worth listening to).
Mankoushe interior is warm and humble. Photo: author
Pablo and I sat down at a small table next to the front counter, and were served the “Autumn” menu. Mankoushe rotate through seasonal menus, to make the most of their local in season produce.
To start, we ordered the chawirma pide, described on the menu as “slow cooked lamb, tahini, onion, tomato, parsley and sumac”. I was pleasantly surprised when we received our dish to see it resembled a Middle Eastern pizza. But this was probably better than a pizza. Imagine the softest lamb, on the softest bread, with a creamy spiced tahini dressing. Pablo had ordered a glass of Lebanese red wine, and I had the cinnamon and cardamon tea, which tasted like a toasty cinnamon bun in a hot tea.
Cinnamon and cardamon tea, which tasted like a toasty cinnamon bun in a hot tea! Photo: author
For mains, we had to order off the Autumn menu. We chose the chicken thigh with spiced carrot, and our waiter recommended a matching salad, which contained apple, shanklish and pomegranate seeds. “Shanklish” is a type of cheese, prepared in-house at Mankoushe. I’m not usually a fan of fruit in savoury dishes, but this salad was delicious! The sweet pomegranate and apple, paired with a more tart cheese, balanced everything out and was a refreshing salad to have with our chicken thigh.
Chicken thigh with spiced carrot with a delicious apple, shanklish and pomegranate seeds salad. Photo: author
For dessert, it was hard to look past the pastries in the counter cabinet, especially the traditional and very popular Middle Eastern dish baklava. We shared the custard baklava, and a rosewater semolina cake. And as you’ll see in the photo….I might have just dug straight into dessert before taking any pictures.
Custard baklava, and (half) rosewater semolina cake
After dinner, Pablo and I were lucky enough to be taken on a tour of the kitchen to hear the restaurant’s history and values. The kitchen out the back may have looked simple compared to the large-scale industrial kitchens one might see on Masterchef or a Gordon Ramsey show, but we were to learn there’s more than meets the eye. In this traditional kitchen was a giant charcoal oven where all pide bread is prepared – and did you know that Lebanese kitchens use dry dough to prepare bread bases?
Charcoal oven where all pide bread is prepared plus me and Pablo. Photo: author
Jad explained that all ingredients in the Mankoushe kitchen are sourced locally, many from his farm located in Boort (a country town 250km from Melbourne. There’s not a lot going on in Boort, so I’m glad to hear that Boort is making an impact on Brunswick).
Upstairs we were shown the wheat grinding machine. While this clay machine was made in Germany, we learned that originally in the Middle East, the dry wheat grains would be scattered on the ground, and a cow or ox would drag a heavy grinding tool across the ground to do the grinding. This creates the best flavours, we were told. It was a privilege to learn this history, and to see it continued in the kitchen of Mankoushe.
If you are interested in traditional food, fresh produce and perfectly spiced, delicious food, look no further than Mankoushke.