Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sahara Restaurant

On a quiet Wednesday, I caught up with a few good friends for night of good food and good company. Having previously gone to Sahara Restaurant with workmates and being thoroughly impressed, I wanted to share my find with others. The restaurant itself isn't hard to locate - just up a flight stairs on Swanston street opposite the State Library, and serves up a delicious variety of dishes.

A must for this place though is the unassuming array of dukkah and olive oil and dips, eaten with warm turkish break, that comes with the reasonably priced mezze platters (cold, hot, or vegetarian).

Turkish Bread, Dips, Olive Oil & Dukkah
The bread is fresh, and the accompaniments are very, very tasty. There's one that has just the faintest hint of chilli that I found very moreish, and it was hard to fault the trio of dips.

We had ordered two platters to share between the four of us, deciding on the hot platter with lamb kefta balls, spiced chickpeas, harissa prawns, chicken vipande, and the vegetarian platter with charred eggplant, olives, spiced chickpeas, falafel balls.

Hot Platter

Vegetarian Platter
The chickpeas common to both dishes were decent, but the standout for me was definitely the harissa prawns. Perhaps I'm biased by my weakness for both seafood and chilli, but surely you can't fault me on that? The lamb kefta and falafel balls were both flavoursome and tender and between the two platters, there was enough food to bring us from ravenous to ready-for-the-mains, which is after-all, the purpose of entrée platters (other than just having many yummy things to eat). It should be noted that all the dishes on the platters can be ordered separately as entrees, so if you have a particular craving and don't especially feel like ordering an entire platter, then go ahead and selectively eat to your heart's content.

While the original plan was to order from the specials menu, the appeal of the mains menu eventually won us over. The variety of dishes, ranging from salads, to seafood, to tagines, to roasts, to curries and grilled meat.

I eventually decided (as did one of my friends) on the Dukkah Crusted Barramundi with oven baked parsnip chips and mint yoghurt.

Dukkah Crusted Barramundi with Oven Baked Parsnip Chips and Mint Yogurt

While the fish itself wasn't especially brilliant, the parsnip chips certainly were. I've had your usual potato chips, and the somewhat healthier sweet potato chips, but the parsnip chips were both unexpected and unexpectedly delicious. Maybe next time I'll just order a big bowl of parsnip chips on my own?

The Moroccan Calamari Salad consisting of crispy calamari with pistachio, za’atar and blood orange with a citrus vinaigrette took the fancy of another friend.

Moroccan Calamari Salad
I didn't end up trying it as I'm not actually the biggest fan of octopus (I don't like the stringiness), but he seemed fairly pleased with the dish. Likewise, my other friend was pleased with her choice of the Algerian Chicken Tagine with preserved lemon, chicken and olives with thyme.

Algerian Chicken Tangine

Unfortunately, she couldn't finish the accompanying couscous, but that meant that we could all try a bit and unanimously declared it to be very good.


Seeing as we'd already had two courses, there was really no reason to deny ourselves a third course. Being slightly indecisive though meant that going with the Taste plate (with baklava, Turkish delight, pistachio chocolate mousse and Persian fairy floss) was the safest bet.

Dessert Taste Plate

I had altogether too much fun with the fairy floss, and there are pictures to prove it somewhere, but that's another story. The baklava and Turkish delight lived up to expectations, the pistachio chocolate mousse was definitely the winning dessert, not that it was really a competition in the first place mind you. It was light and airy, with a good balance of both chocolate and pistachio flavour, and wasn't sickly sweet. I'd probably pass on the other desserts next time, but the mousse definitely will see a callback.

All-in-all, this is a nice little restaurant that serves good food at a reasonable price. Service is friendly and relatively efficient. The kitchen seemed to take a little longer than we would have liked, but that's why entrees are ordered. They're also accommodating for large bookings too, so there's no reason not to give them a try.

Sahara Restaurant
Level 1, 301 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Tue-Thu 12pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 12pm-1am, Sun 12pm-11pm

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