After opening a south-side spin-off of his decade-old CBD dining institution Maha in June last year, Shane Delia is finally bringing his finessed Middle Eastern fare – and generous hospitality – to the north.
In February, the Maltese-Australian chef and television personality will open Maha Bar on Smith Street, Collingwood. The same space once housed his fancy kebab shop Biggie Smalls.
If Delia’s Maha East in Windsor is the relaxed, suburban sibling to his worldly, big-city firstborn, then the latest addition is the next-gen youngster who knows their way round a bar.
“Maha Bar is gonna be, out of all the venues, the most fun,” says Delia. “The biggest difference is there's a huge focus on cocktails.”
The cosy 50-seat space will mix traditional table seating, with comfy bar spots, booths and an outdoor dining area. Delia promises all the signatures of his previous venues: shareable small and large plates (meze), handpicked wines, warm service and eclectic playlists (which he makes himself). Plus, there’ll be house-infused araks and rakis (anise-based spirits) served on ice, and new, inventive Middle Eastern-inspired cocktails.
One arak-based cocktail (arak is unsweetened) has burnt pineapple and saffron – “almost like a shaved ice sprayed with raki and coconut rum,” says Delia. “I can see that one going off.”
The sweetened rakis come infused with pomegranate, or cola, or lemon, clove and honey.
Alongside a long list of meze, many of which are vegan, there’ll be 10 to 15 entree-style one-bite snacks, designed to accompany drinks.
Maha and Maha East have always offered vegan alternatives to their mainstay soufra menus, which are designed to be shared. Like Maha East, Maha Bar will offer a $65-per-person soufra menu, but there’ll also be plenty of vegan snacks on the main bar menu.
“We are not a vegan venue, but we have a shitload of vegan options," says Delia.
The menu is yet to be finalised, but expect dishes in line with those at Maha East, which serves carrot, lentil and zucchini borek; hummus with roast onions, macadamia and sage; and za’atar-dusted French fries.
The list of snacks will change weekly and if you swing by between 3pm and 5pm on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, they’ll be free.
“It's big in Malta, it's big in Spain, it's big around the Mediterranean: if you're in a good bar, and you're sitting there having a few drinks, the bartender or the chef will bring you some tasty little morsels to keep you going,” says Delia.
“I’m expecting Friday afternoon drinks to be pretty massive at Maha Bar. We’ll have half of bloody Collingwood in there taking an extended lunch break and not going back to work.”
Delia aims to make timeless venues with mass appeal – think dim lighting and a homely feel. The fit-out at Maha Bar will include wood panelling, a classic green colour scheme, and rather memorable, unconventional cork tables and bar tops.
“[When] I was a kid my dad’s pride and joy at home was his little bar … and the whole bar was wrapped in cork,” Delia says. “I always said to myself, ‘One day when I open a bar, I’m going to wrap it in cork just like dad did’.”
Delia also inherited his dad’s old-school speakers, which he’s mounted to the wall, ready to pump one of his signature playlists. “Maha East it’s all about those big ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, tracks that people just want to sing along to," says Delia.
“I can’t wait to have my friends in there, and I can’t wait to be the last man standing at the bar.”
Maha Bar will open at 86 Smith Street, Collingwood on February 24.