In further birthday related adventures, I decided to mix it up a little this year in terms of the venue for my family’s dinner treat. Ordinarily we can all be relied upon to choose either Cantonese or Thai restaurants for our family birthday feasts, but I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to explore a cuisine I wasn’t as familiar with at a fancy purveyor of said cuisine. My knowledge of Lebanese food has basically sat at “felafel and hummus” for far too long, so it seemed like the perfect excuse to pay a visit to Rumi.
The restaurant itself is really quite beautiful, with a corner spot that is all windows, soft orange, intimate lighting and tasteful themed touches, like intricately curled metal lamps, and Middle Eastern cookbooks propping up at the bar.
Given that we are a family of greedy gutses, it seemed that going with one of the banquet options was the best route. Once knowing I was a vegetarian, the staff offered to augment the regular banquet dishes with some special vegie ones for me, which resulted in a mountain of food!
First of all was the flatbread, fluffy rounds all coiled up in silver cups and served with crudites (pieces of fresh vegetables and also some pickles), housemade labne and white bean hummus. It takes a lot for dips to be exciting, but that’s exactly what these were – the labne was tart, creamy, yet surprisingly light, while the white bean hummus was all lemony, tahini goodness, kind of reminiscent of my favourite white bean dip that I make at home all the time, but tahini-er (totes a word). And the flatbread! Pillowy and soft, yet with just the right amount of chew, ever so more-ish.
But let’s not just fill up on bread! Served alongside the flatbread were the sigara boregi, cigar shaped pastries filled with haloumi, feta and kasseri. I could have done with about ten more of these little babies instead of the one I had to be satisfied with so that everyone could try one. So tasty! Light, crunchy pastry encasing a salty, cheesy filling with the teeniest touch of spice.
My first individual vegie dish was the burnt eggplant with Persian buttermilk dressing, mint and crispy onions. The eggplant was beautifully soft and quite mildly flavoured. It was pleasant but not whizz-bang memorable.
I was most looking forward to the fried cauliflower with caramelised onions, currants and pie nuts, and boy howdy, it did not disappoint. This was the best kind of fried vegetable goodness, all sweet honeyed onions slapping up against charred cauliflower florets in a combo known as deliciousness.
A small bowl of broad beans with soft onion, almonds and bastourma was my next pointedly vegie dish. While most of the flavours involved were quite pleasing, the broad beans had tipped into slightly bitter territory, and since I tend to like broad beans when they’re early season and more sweet, this dish didn’t particularly grab me.
What did grab me was the BBQ asparagus with egg and lemon sauce and a sprinkling of nigella seeds. So simply done, but SO delicious, all caramelised, slightly burnt ‘gus undercut by tart lemon, soooo good.
The most wildly received dish by the whole table was the freekah salad with almonds, ewe’s milk feta and pomegranate dressing. It was the first time a few of us had had freekah before, and my mum in particular was very taken with it’s nutty flavour, and the tasty, clean-palated nature of the dish as a whole.
My next vegie plate was a fennel dish, with the fennel lightly braised in a creamy and slightly tomatoey sauce, tossed through with crispy pita curls. The aniseed flavour of the fennel did get a bit too much about halfway through the dish (and I’m someone who really likes aniseed! Go figure), but I loved loading up the pita curls with soft fennel and sauce.
There was also this amazing cos lettuce and herb salad with sweet and sour dressing – literally it was just greens and radish rounds, but it was so deceptively tasty!
This was so, so much food that I very nearly didn’t take up on the waitress’s offer of dessert. But it seemed a shame not to have a least a tiny sweet treat to round the meal off with, so we had a little nibble of some turkish delight and halva. The turkish delight was quite nice, though a little bit tough at the edges, like it had been left out in the fridge for a bit too long. Megan went mad for the halva, and I thought it was pretty great too, all pistachio’d deliciousness. A pot of fragrant mint tea was a leavening and refreshing end to it all (although Mum and Megan, who finished with the Turkish coffee, reported back that it was kind of horrible).
Rumi provided a really varied, interesting exploration of a cuisine that I have long wanted to be more intimately knowledgeable of. There was a high proportion of truly memorable dishes experienced, and even the less memorable ones weren’t bad, just more of an acquired taste. I’m certainly keen to try Rumi’s sister restaurant now, the ‘Lebanese pizza’ purveying The Moor’s Head. I wonder if there’s a hummus pizza? Someone should get on that.
116 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
Ph: 9388 8255