“I wouldn’t say I’m a great cook,” says Ben Kotkis, one-time support worker turned founder of Middle Eastern food pop-up Yalla Bala. “But I’ve grafted at these two staples and practised and practised. The food’s not too bad at the moment.”
“Not too bad”, however, might be selling Kotkis’s handiwork a little short. Since 2020, Kotkis has taken Yalla Bala all around Perth – sellouts at Arcade Palace, Micrology Coffee Roasters and Astral Weeks spring to mind – where diners have made quick work of our man’s juicy spiced chicken shawarma, grilled mushrooms, and golden and verdant falafels. Last month, he established a permanent home for Yalla Bala inside The Leederville Precinct, taking over a kiosk formerly occupied by Servo Kebab. Since Yalla Bala’s opening, lunchtimes have seen a steady stream of customers swarming Electric Lane and enjoying Kotkis’s cooking in the sunshine, often with a beverage from the well-stocked bar at Servo.
While Yalla Bala’s menu might be anchored in Levantine classics, the restaurant’s origin story feels very now. Beyond starting Yalla Balla as a pop-up and then parlaying its popularity into a bricks-and-mortar business – see also Big Don’s Smoked Meats, Hoodburger and Bad Love Burger Co – Kotkis also draws from a wide range of influences for his cooking. In addition to his family’s European Jewish heritage (his mother is Russian Jewish, while his father is Lithuanian Jewish), dining throughout Perth and the Levant has shaped his ideas about eating –“Let’s break pita together and enjoy each other’s company.” Even the name of the business speaks to the food’s shared history: “yalla” is an Arabic word for “hurry”, while “bala” is short for balagan, the Hebrew word for “chaotic”. Kotkis’s mother Shelley helps out with the shop’s day-to-day, while Yalla Bala’s logo features the likeness of the family’s patriarch, Gavin.
Save 20% when you buy two or more Broadsheet books. Order now to make sure they arrive in time for Christmas.SHOP NOW
R&D for Yalla Bala involved two years of testing hundreds of different falafel and hummus recipes and gleaning information from other young, emerging chefs. Within Kotkis’s circle of influence are: Matt and Tom Shaw of the aforementioned Hoodburger; baker Rupert McDonald of Young Levain, who cooked Kotkis’s first pita in his blisteringly hot Ooni oven; and rockabilly chef Matt McDonald of Mummucc. Joining Kotkis in the kitchen is Paul Bahbah, a Palestinian chef with plenty of experience in the city’s charcoal chicken game. It takes a village to cook tasty Levantine food.
Little details help denote the cooking at Yalla Bala as a cut above. The falafels are a little more verdant than other specimens you might find around town: that’d be the additional herbs and zucchini (aha!) that Kotkis incorporates into his chickpea mix. There’s an attractive sourness to the amba sauce, the vinegary mango pickle commonly associated with the famous Jewish Iraqi sandwich, the sabich. Meanwhile, a gentle prick of garlic and lemon in the fluffy tahini gives it an almost toum-like quality. For a proper surge of heat, the zhug – a Yemeni condiment buzzing with green chilli and coriander – is the way to go.
Now that the operation has scaled up, the pita isn’t house-made anymore but baked for Kotkis. The flatbreads are as plush, pliable and fluffy as you’d hope and make excellent vehicles for both the chicken and the falafels. Otherwise, you can get either on a plate, where they’re served alongside veg and sauces. While Yalla Bala is, for now, just a lunchtime proposition, Kotkis is looking to introduce limited dinner services soon.
9 Electric Lane, Leederville
Wed to Sat 11am–3pm