Published on 20 February 2020
You asked for more Maha and Shane Delia listened. After opening wine bar Maha East last year, the chef is again embracing a more casual style of dining, this time on the other side of town. Maha Bar opens on 24 February in Collingwood on the former Biggie Smalls site, bringing Delia’s flavour-forward Middle Eastern cooking to the realm of sophisticated bar snacks and share plates. Described as a Melbourne expression of a meze bar, expect lots of vegetable-forward dishes, arak cocktails and a standout wine list from the Maha sommeliers.
“Hang out at the bar with a few snacks and cocktails and see where the night takes you,” says Delia. “Or go hard, starting from the top of the menu and working your way down. Either way, you will find a lot of treasure on this menu, so start digging.”
How about a drink?
For some reason, we’ve always let our beverage game fly under the radar but we have some very talented folk in the Maha family who know how to put together a drink or two. At Maha Bar we’ve really focused on cocktails, especially arak-infused drinks. My pick of the litter is the burnt pineapple and saffron number with coconut arak. I have to admit I’m a sucker for a frozen cocktail so this is right up my alley.
I’m here for a good time not a long time.
For a quick fix you can’t go past my spin on a classic Maltese staple, hobz bil zejt, which literally translates to bread with oil. We pimp it up with some dehydrated olives, pickled onions, anchovies, good Victorian olive oil and sundried tomato paste I smuggled back from Malta. To really bring it to life, we serve fresh crusty Baker Bleu bread on the side and finely grate some of our peppered Maltese cheese over the top.
To wash it down there’s only one choice for me: an ice-cold tinny of Brick Lane lager. It’s clean, crisp and goes perfectly with all the salty and sweet flavours from the hobz.
Got anything light and fresh?
There are loads of fresh things on the menu, but the standout is a simple dish of sugar snap peas with ras el hanout and crisp spilt peas. Dead simple but when the snap peas are good, the dish is epic.
I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals.
Don’t you know that my city slammer Maha restaurant has been leading the way in vegan fine-dining for over a decade? We take our vegan game very seriously and that same dedication has been brought over to Maha Bar.
The biggest change for this venue is that we have decided to incorporate our vegan dishes into the main menu. When writing this menu, I thought the vegan dishes were so good that they could hold their own and deserved to be front and centre. Two-thirds of the menu at Maha Bar is vegan, so who knows: more meat-eaters like myself might find themselves eating vegan at Maha Bar without even knowing it.
Name the dish or drink that is quintessentially Maha Bar.
There are so many dishes that I think could become customer favourites but one thing I’m really enjoying is one of our snacks, potato kibbeh with burnt cauliflower, walnuts, onions and parsley. (And it happens to be vegan.) It’s a crisp fried potato ball with a liquid cauliflower centre, the whole lot coated in a sticky onion and cumin jam with spiced walnuts and parsley. It feels Middle Eastern but like everything we do, there is nothing traditional about this dish.
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
Strap in and take notes, and wear your stretchy pants because this kick-ass menu has lots for serious diners. This is what I’d recommend.
Round 1 – with Champagne or a cocktail
Raw scarlet prawn with vanilla, lemon, caviar and kataifi
Moroccan semolina crumpet, saffron curried egg, salted onions and chives
Port Arlington poached mussels with baldo rice, dill, clove and lemon
Round 2 – with a beer (maybe share one with a mate)
Braised beef boure with harissa and coconut curry
Round 3 – with an arak
Oyster mushroom shish, pine nuts, toum and parsley
Roast carrots with maple, harissa, dill and hummus
Round 4 – with Chablis
Tempura asparagus with eel taramasalata
Summer leaf fattoushe with lemon myrtle and chickpea wafers
Round 5 – with pinot noir
Duck breast with muhammarah, green onion and pomegranate
Snap peas with ras el hanout and split peas
Aged rice with apricots, coriander seeds and tahdig
Round 6 - with an arak cocktail
Watermelon and jallab ice with yoghurt curd, ginger and mint
Round 7 - with a Negroni
Turkish Delight doughnut, walnut ice-cream and rosemary honey
And to close?
To finish up, you can’t go past a Negroni – and we have five to choose from. Messing with a traditional Negroni usually isn’t my thing, but the team behind the bar has made me think again. They’ve created a drink from my memories of drinking Negronis spiked with the Maltese soft drink Kinnie, while watching the sun set over the Mediterranean. We make a syrup with the Kinnie, stir it over ice with Campari, Four Pillars gin and vermouth and add a little Maltese prickly pear liqueur called bajtra. Not a bad way to finish up your time at Maha Bar.
Maha Bar, 86 Smith St, Collingwood, mahabar.com.au
You can catch Shane cooking at our Middle Eastern extravaganza, The Mixed Grill, on 21 March. Get your tickets here.
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