Dining Out: Maha Bar & Grill, Melbourne

by April@MyFoodTrail on January 15, 2010

in Dining Out, Melbourne, Middle Eastern

Maha Bar & Grill
21 Bond Street, Melbourne VIC
(03) 9629 5900

Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Prices: Dinner – 4 course soufra $70, 5 course soufra $80, A la carte dishes $8-$65
Parking: Surrounding streets

Maha is located off Flinders Street, in between Elizabeth and Queen Streets. Maha is run by Chef Shane Delia and the cuisine embraces his Maltese heritage melded with his wife Maha’s Lebanese background.

Outside Maha

Upon entering the restaurant, you are taken down some stairs into the basement and to your allocated table. The place is beautifully decorated, giving the feel of a secret underground Middle Eastern den. The lighting is extremely dark, which creates a nice cozy atmosphere, but was a killer on my food photos!

Ever since hearing Chef Shane Delia speak at the Chef’s table at the Taste of Melbourne 2009 Festival and tasting his out of this world lamb ribs, Ms LH and I wanted to visit Maha. We finally got around to a date in November (yes, I am behind in my posts!) that Miss LH, Mr MH, hubby and I could all attend. Maha were booked out a few weeks in advance so I would advise making a booking at least a month before your desired date.

I had seen reviews of Maha on Kat and Belle’s blog and was sold on the sheer variety of food that you got when you ordered the soufra (tasting menu). The soufra is quite similar to the Japanese omakase where the chef prepares whatever he likes so you might get something different from other tables and you might get something different the next time you go. Most of the dishes seem to stay the same though. The 4 course soufra was $70 and there was a 5 course one for $80, but the only difference seemed to be a soup course.

It is not often that I take notes at restaurants when dining (always on the sly!), but I am glad I did at Maha or there would be no way I could remember everything! I don’t have the proper names for the food – just what the waitress said when the dish was put in front of us.

We started off with a complimentary Egyptian hibiscus tea. It had the colour of Ribena but had a floral taste.

Egyptian hibiscus tea – complimentary

First up came the berid mezze, which are small cold dishes, served on a wooden board. We got some warm Lebanese bread to have with the small dishes and there was a plate of spices in the middle of the table.

Spices for your bread

Berid mezze – small cold dishes

In the shot glass, there was cured kingfish with spicy tomato and radicchio and an Ouzo foam. I have never had Ouzo before and probably will not have it again! It smelt and tasted like licorice, which I don’t like. The Ouzo foam made up almost half the shot glass and overpowered the other ingredients.

Cured kingfish with spicy tomato & radicchio & an Ouzo foam

There were also marinated mushrooms and marinated olives, though both marinated differently. The mushrooms also had some hazelnuts mixed through, which contrasted nicely with the softness of the mushrooms.

Marinated mushrooms

Marinated olives

There were two dips which went well with the Lebanese bread. One was a Lebanese carrot and yogurt dip, and the other was a spicy capsicum and walnut dip. I’ve never seen carrot as an ingredient in a dip before, though it makes sense since carrots are quite often used to dip. The carrot dip was my favourite.

Lebanese carrot & yogurt dip

Spicy capsicum & walnut

The last item on the cold dish platter was the butter beans with tomato and cucumber.

Butter bean salad with tomato & cucumber

When we placed our order at the start, I specifically asked the waitress if it would be possible to get the lamb ribs. Hubby, Miss LH and I had tried them before, but we wanted Mr MH to be able to experience them too! The lamb ribs came part of the sokhoun mezze, which was the small hot dishes. To my disappointment, they weren’t as good as I remembered and definitely tasted better at the Taste of Melbourne festival. Mr MH didn’t know what the fuss was about since hubby and I had been going on about them!

Lamb ribs

The other dish as part of the sokhoun mezze was the strawberry clams. The whole dish had an interesting flavour but the clams themselves were on the chewy side. Mr MH and hubby enjoyed it.

Strawberry clams with butter sauce, chickpeas, fennel & air dried beef

The third course was the sahen kbeer, which was large dishes. The highlight of the night was definitely the slow cooked lamb as part of this course. The well marinated lamb was so melt in your mouth tender – I think everyone wanted a plate for themselves! This lamb was actually better than the lamb ribs.

Slow cooked lamb with olive & pistachio tabouli

The other large dish was the marlin (fish) wrapped in vine leaf, though I wouldn’t exactly class it as a large dish! I don’t like the vine leaves, so I just removed the filling and ate it on its own. The fish was wonderfully soft and I liked the flavour.

Marlin with harissa wrapped with vine leaf, grape & sultana vinaigrette

The two large dishes were served with a Lebanese bread salad and a rice mixed with noodles and peanuts. The rice was an interesting combination but a bit on the dry side. The Lebanese bread salad on the other hand was delicious. I couldn’t get enough of the crunchy bits of seasoned Lebanese bread.

Lebanese bread salad

Rice & noodles with peanuts & almonds

The last course was the helwayet, which is the sweets/dessert.

Helwayet – desserts platter

My eyes were automatically drawn to the famous Maha Turkish delight donuts. I missed out on trying these at the Taste of Melbourne festival but I got my share at Maha. Inside each donut is a piece of Turkish delight and while I love donuts, I don’t like Turkish delight (gee, I’m starting to sound fussy with all the things I don’t like, aren’t I?!). I gave it a go, but ended up scraping the rest of the Turkish delight out. The donuts were crisp on the outside, but soft and slighty doughy on the inside.

Maha rosewater Turkish delight donuts

Given that I don’t like Turkish delight, it comes as no surprise I didn’t like the hazelnut Turkish delights. I thought maybe the hazelnut part might sway me, but no! The rest of the table weren’t big Turkish delight fans either.

Hazelnut Turkish delight

Out of the remaining desserts, my favourites were the honeycomb pannacotta and the raspberry sorbet.

Watermelon & lychee with cinnamon yogurt

Rice pudding with hazelnuts

Honeycomb panacotta

Passionfruit & raspberry sorbet

Overall: We rarely have Middle Eastern food, so the soufra was great for the sheer variety of different things we got to try. While there was a lot of variety in the food, it wasn’t actually a lot of food because the serves were quite small. It just looks like a lot of food! None of us were full after the savoury courses, though the dessert platter helped us get there. It is on the expensive side at $70 a head not including drinks, but it was excellent quality food. The atmosphere was cozy and the staff really know their stuff.

Would I return? Probably not as the food doesn’t really suit my tastes. I’m glad I got to experience it though.

Over & out, Rilsta xx

Maha Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Esz January 15, 2010 at 9:44 pm

I had a friend go to Maha for her work Xmas party and she too said it wasn't quite worth how much you pay for it.

It does look very interesting so I would like to try it sometime. And I do like turkish delight! 😀


Agnes January 15, 2010 at 10:00 pm

I've been for lunch, and it's much cheaper – quite a good deal, actually, $35-$45.


Conor @ HoldtheBeef January 16, 2010 at 11:43 am

Ugh, ouzo, I'd have eaten the entire bowl of olives to myself to get rid of the taste.


OohLookBel January 18, 2010 at 10:09 am

Thanks for bringing back memories – I had a wonderful meal at Maha. By the end of it, I had to ask the waitress "There aren't any more dishes, are there?". We were totally stuffed, but in a good way!


Anita January 18, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I wouldn't have been able to remember half of them 🙂 Everything looks so good – esp the ribs


Rilsta January 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Hi Esz: It is still worth a try to experience the great variety of food. The desserts would be good if you are a turkish delight lover!

Hi Agnes: Ooh, that's reasonable for lunch. It might be worth checking out at lunch.

Hi Conor: But what happens if you don't like olives like me?! 🙂 I ate a lot of the Lebanese bread with the carrot dip!

Hi Belle: I think I might have a bigger stomach than you! 😉 By the time we had desserts, we were full but definitely not stuffed.

Hi Anita: That's where the notepad comes in handy! I wouldn't have remembered after more than a month either if I didn't write it down!


Towz January 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm

We thought Maha was pretty good (but we love middle eastern flavours), but not as good as The Press Club. Same sort of deal, but with George Colombaris's stylish Greek influenced food.


Rilsta January 22, 2010 at 11:44 am

Hi Towz: I'll have to try out The Press Club! Thanks!


Mrs Multitasker January 24, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Rilsta that's a great review!
Will be doing a road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide in the not too distant future. Any recommendations for absolutely must-go-to restaurants or other must-see places?
– clare


Rilsta January 25, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Hi Mrs Multitasker: That should be a good trip! I will email you!


Anonymous July 30, 2010 at 11:34 pm

What a disappointment and we cant blame the food. After making a booking for a 6.30 table and arriving a little early the one real bright spot was the greeting from behind the bar. It started all to go downhill from the time we arrived at our table. We were constantly reminded on more than one occasion that we had to be off the table by 8.30. After ordering one of the set menus it was as if it became a race to get all the courses served as soon as they cleared one course away. It became very stressful and the food just blended into one another.The staff seem to have no idea how to manage the floor and we had to ask for our wine glasses back which were cleared before we even finished our drinks. We requested another drink and was told that they had secured the table for another 10 minutes. What a joke you looked around the room with many tables free. We were then moved to the outdoor table area and after 25 minutes I went to the toilet only to se nobody on the table. Nobody minds YUM CHA but not at those prices .Diners be warned of the staff I have never had such a poor experience. Four times we were asked while eating our meal were we finished. George maybe its time for a few of these staff leave not the masterchef kitchen but get some training or who is running these floor staff .


April @ My Food Trail August 2, 2010 at 10:07 am

Hi Anonymous: I know the feeling of being rushed because the restaurant wants your table back, but then looking around to see empty tables. Maybe they were preparing for the second sitting and needed the place to be empty, but still, nobody likes to pay good money for food and feel rushed.


Gary Plumber October 20, 2010 at 12:47 am

The food look delicious as well as the presentation, very welcoming. I hope one day I will be able to visit this place as for the price it doesn’t sound bad.


April @ My Food Trail November 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

Hi Gary: The food was very welcoming! It's worth visiting if you don't get to have that type of cuisine often.


Dinner in melbourne July 29, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Nice blog about melbourne dining and it's food but i want to know about restaurant deals can you please provide me for the same


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