A Jewish friend told me balagan is what happens when she invites friends and family over for dinner; it’s chaos, but good chaos. The Yiddish came easily to restaurateur Luca Lorusso (also of Toorak mainstay Cafe Latte, and formerly of Arkibar Cucina and Pizza e Vino) after a two-week jaunt to Israel inspired him to open the Middle Eastern eatery.
Lorusso’s youngest son, Sacha Lorusso-Zyskind, a self-taught graphic designer, worked with architect John Bornas from Workroom on the design and fit-out of the High Street space.
“My dad and I are fiery, we clash a lot, we’re both pretty passionate people,” Lorusso-Zyskind says. “It’s pretty rare that my dad would tell me an idea and I’d think, ‘Yes, 100 per cent’, but it happened with Balagan.”
Lorusso-Zyskind grew up around hospitality and a blending of cultures. His Italian father met his Jewish mother, Carol, while she was in Italy on holiday. Lorusso-Zyskind’s mother passed away when he was nine, but his father continued to support his late wife’s traditions.
“He’s always eaten that style of food,” says Lorusso-Zyskind. “Middle Eastern isn’t all that different to Mediterranean, which is the kind of food eaten in Italy. There are common themes: family, hospitality, traditions.”
Start with crisp cigars of filo pastry filled with haloumi; hummus with mushrooms and pillowy house-made pita; and fragrant falafel, bright green on the inside. A vegetable section includes sprouts with harissa; roast pumpkin with za’atar; and baked cauliflower with labneh and pomegranate.
Beef brisket comes with pickled peppers and green tomatoes, and there’s lamb shawarma with Moroccan-spiced carrots, yoghurt, pickles and cabbage.
A $17 lunch tray of roasted vegetables, dips, tabouleh, pita and pickles is great value, and there are meatier options for an extra couple of bucks.
The halva semifreddo, draped with Persian fairy floss and scattered with pistachios and date syrup, is a lovely way to finish a meal.
The wine list is tight, predominantly Australian drops but with French, Spanish and Israeli wines in the mix too. There are four beers, but give the Alexander Beer, a craft brew from Israel, a whirl.
Cocktails include the Tel Aviv Sour, made with vodka, apple and lemon, and the spiced-up Mecca Mule; vodka, anise liquor, ginger beer and tabasco. Lorusso-Zyskind invented the Melon Frosé after a long day working in the restaurant.
“I came home one night and my stepmum had left watermelon in the fridge. She often puts rosewater with watermelon.” he says. “I ate a piece and said, this needs to become a cocktail, it would be awesome.”
Whitewashed brick walls hold a row of framed typographic prints on one side of the eatery, and a scrawling pink neon “Balagan” on the other. “We never really wanted it to look too Middle Eastern,” says Lorusso-Zyskind. “We had a Palestinian couple come in the other day and I felt proud because, as a Jewish person, I felt like I was bringing the cultures together over food. No war; let’s all get along. I didn’t say that to them, but I was saying it on the inside.”
184 High Street, Windsor
(03) 9521 3946
Tue to Sun 12pm–4pm, 5.30pm–10.30pm