Afghan Gallery’s street frontage is unassuming, and you could be forgiven for not knowing that this Brunswick Street institution – one of Australia’s first Afghani restaurants – has been operating since 1983.
It was originally opened as a gallery by Aziz Salehi in 1981, before his sister – Dr Nouria Salehi – converted it into a restaurant two years later. Afghan Gallery was Dr Salehi’s way of providing employment and community to newly arrived Afghanis in Melbourne, many of whom were refugees fleeing the Soviet-Afghan war.
Afghan Gallery served as a foothold for these fresh arrivals, allowing them to get a start on their new lives. And recently migrated Afghanis still make up the bulk of the staff here today. It’s a tight-knit crew that’s passionate about good service and creating a warm, convivial atmosphere.
The menu is veg-heavy, with an emphasis on hearty curries and fragrant rice dishes. Popular small dishes include bourani badenjan (panfried eggplant with garlic yoghurt) and mantoo (pastry pouches stuffed with mincemeat).
For mains, try the kabuli palau (an aromatic rice bowl filled with carrot, sultanas and almonds). The spiced dal and various kebabs (the skewered-meat kind) are also excellent. All profits are sent back home to Afghanistan to help communities in need.
Homaira Mershedi, Dr Salehi’s niece, runs Afghan Gallery day-to-day now. Some relics still remain from its past life as a gallery, such as the delicate coloured-glass lights on the ground floor, and the ornate vases displayed on the open shelves. An elegant portrait of Dr Salehi smiles down at diners from the wall.
Upstairs is a traditional tent room – which seats up to 100 guests – for functions. It’s dimly lit by hanging lanterns, with swathes of fabric in rich hues billowing from the ceiling. Tapestries drape the walls, and the floor is scattered with floor cushions. It’s cosy, intimate and a fantastic option for large groups – particularly with a generous “feed me” menu available for around $45 per person.
Despite the traditional menu, Afghan Gallery does not observe Afghanistan’s alcohol-free policy. It’s licensed and BYO – so you can order off the very reasonably priced drinks list, or choose your own bottle.