Ah, Mama. As you enter, you’ll walk past her in the kitchen, instructing her team to mix the tabouli like this, and roll the dough for sambousik like that. If the food doesn’t taste right, she’ll start again. An empty plate coming back to the kitchen is a sign things are as they should be.
Mama – Elizabeth Kairouz – opened her first restaurant in Fitzroy in 2014, after much coaxing from her children. Then in 2017 she and her generations-old recipes shifted to this more spacious site with a contemporary feel thanks to neon pink signage and wall murals.
The menu is extensive, from small mezza to smoky skewers cooked on the charcoal grill. It’s best to leave it to Mama with a banquet, where for $50 per person you’ll get a warning not to fill up too early on house-made dips, and a broad taste of Mama’s talents: falafel, traditional meat kibkabet and chicken shish tawook served smoking from the grill. Save room for dessert – syrupy sweet baklava or fried awamet (like doughnuts).
There are plenty of Lebanese wines available, alongside bottles from the Adelaide Hills and New Zealand. There are also cocktails, mocktails, and for the brave, the anise-flavoured spirit known as arak.
Mama’s Garden is the more casual, outdoor offshoot of the venue, where a chicken and lamb shawarma, haloumi wraps and dips are made to order.