Tucked away down the less hectic end of Carlton – away from the spaghetti spruikers on Lygon Street – is Abla’s, a quiet, reliable achiever that’s been on the Melbourne restaurant scene since the 1970s.
Serving up traditional, homemade Lebanese fare, founder Abla Amad still toils away in the kitchen, filling the stomachs of Melbourne’s romantic twosomes, weary after-work crowd and rowdy families to the brim. She even ducks out to the cosy dining room to say hello from time to time.
Here, you might start with a dish of crisp filo cigars, stuffed with spiced lamb and pine nuts, or maybe a smoky, lemony baba ghannouj, served with bread made from a generations-old recipe. Old school diners might prefer pan-fried chicken livers, soft and smooth, in a light dressing of oil and citrus.
Next up, a simple bowl of garlicky broad beans might be to your liking, or try the fish of the day (perhaps flathead with tahini). A must-try is the Kibbee Nayeh, a bit like a Lebanese lamb tartare. If you prefer to sit back and let someone else do the ordering, gear up for the banquet, but be sure to loosen those belts.
When it’s finally time to head home – feeling full, content and perhaps a little over-indulged – banish that niggling guilty feeling with a saying favoured by Abla herself: "Anything you do with love, you can never do wrong."