Babajan is one of Melbourne’s most acclaimed cafes. In 2020, following a pre-emptive switch to takeaway-only trade in early March, owner Kirsty Chiaplias decided to make the change permanent. Months of coronavirus lockdowns had forced her hand.
Going all-in on takeaway meant that a handful of menu mainstays had to be sacrificed, such as the cheesy aleppo (spicy pickled eggplant) toastie and the crab omelette – they just didn’t travel well enough.
Now there’s a stellar line-up of Turkish-style sandwiches: crisp fried chicken (marinated in saffron, paprika and yogurt) with apple slaw; pulled lamb shoulder with minty pistachio tabouli; and a riff on balik ekmek, a traditional Turkish fish sandwich, that subs in za’atar-spiced calamari.
There’s also more borek, the flaky Turkish pastry generally stuffed with minced meat, or spinach and soft cheese. Options include lamb and potato; pumpkin, ricotta and baharat (a Middle Eastern spice mix); silverbeet and feta; tuna, carrot and the saganaki-like keflagraviera; and more. Remaining menu items include the Ottolenghi-style salads, haloumi pies, and sucuk (dry, spicy sausage) pides.
The renovated interiors include floor-to-ceiling bakery shelving, an extended countertop, and a little retail shop. It’s stocked with Babajan’s jarred harissa and pickled veggies.