One night a couple of our friends called us up to see if we were free to catch up for dinner. We in fact did happen to be free and so our friends left it with us to choose a place. Now this happens quite often these days as we’ve been the ‘go to’ for restaurant recommendations for quite some time and we were fine with that. However on this particular night, with dinner only an hour away we went into this frantic panic mode of ‘where can we take our lovely friends where we also haven’t been’?! This is a predicament we’ve been finding ourselves more often these days. It’s easy to recommend our favourite restaurants that we frequent all the time. But it’s getting harder to find a good restaurant which no one has yet been to.
Anyway we told our friends we would handle it, and after some frantic searches and calls we decided to settle on Nyala African. So Davin and our friends have never been to a proper African restaurant before. Davin has tried African cuisine at a food festival but this would be his first proper dining experience. Our friends have never tried it. However I was lucky to have dined with a friend a number of years ago at an Ethiopian restaurant so had a bit of an idea of the type of food they would serve.
Located in the heart of Fitzroy, the entrance of the restaurant produced a narrow set of stairs which we climbed up to the next floor and opened up into a spacious restaurant. The decor had lots of dark wood and African images scattered throughout. With no air conditioning on a hot day, we sure felt like we were in Africa! The staff were super friendly. And when I say staff, I mean just one person who was managing the whole floor! However he seemed to be really on top of everything and was super friendly and accomodating. He talked us through some of the African beers they had on their specials board so we ordered a couple of them and a bottle of Taylors Cabernet Sauvignon.
The menu was extensive and had so many interesting dishes which I wanted to try. To make things easier for everyone we decided to go with one of the banquets so we could try a bit of everything. There were a few banquets to choose from and we ended up picking the one for $38 per person.
The banquet started with some dips and very thin flat bread which one of our friends described it as similar to flat sheets, which I thought, very true! The dips were Tahini – made from sesame paste, yoghurt, lemon juice and olive oil, Deberja – cooked eggplant with tumeric, coriander cumin, capsicum, garlic and yoghurt, and Lentils – Berbere chili, onion, fresh garlic and spices.
All the dips were yummy but out of the 3 we absolutely loved the lentils dip as it was really flavoured and had a spicy kick to it. We asked if we could have a bit more of the lentils dip because it was so good and he promptly brought out a very generous serving of it.
Then came the Baboutie and Cauliflower dishes. The Baboutie consisted of flavoured minced beef with sultanas and nuts mixed through it. This was a really flavoured and appetising dish! The cauliflower was fried and had a thick, soft layer of batter around it. We found this to be quite plain as there wasn’t really any seasoning and the batter around it had a texture we’ve never had before.
For the mains we had 4 meat dishes served with rice, couscous, salad, vegetables and Injera, traditional Ethiopian bread which has this soft, spongy texture, traditionally made from teff flour.
The meat dishes included the Doro Tibs which consisted of boneless pieces of chicken marinated in herbs and spices, sauteed in mild chili, with Nyala Awazi sauce. This chicken was oh so soft and tender and literally just breaks away from your fork. It actually reminded us of the soft chicken you get from Malaysian restaurants.
We also got the Beg Tibs which had marinated and spiced lamb cubes sauteed with fresh tomato, rosemary and white wine on a sizzling plate. The lamb was super flavoured and we loved it. Then came the two beef dishes, the Domeda, a hearty dish from Gambia, which included beef, peanut butter, potatoes, herbs and spices, and finally the Nyala Special which is a traditional Ethiopian stew with lean boneless beef, fresh ginger, garlic and homemade chili with other spices. Both beef dishes were nice and very spicy! The servings were also very generous and between the 4 of us we couldn’t even finish all the food so we were able to take plenty away for the next day.
For dessert we tried all 3 on the menu which was Sweet Couscous – a Moroccan dessert with slivered almonds, sultanas, icing sugar, unsalted butter and icecream, Tafach Mooz – an East African dessert with layers of bananas, brown sugar, cream cheese and cinnamon, and finally the last dessert was chocolate and vanilla icecream. The desserts overall were probably our least favourite as they didn’t stand out as being very special. We were also so full from the meal we couldn’t really finish them! We also had some Ethiopian coffee with our dessert which as expected was quite different to our usual lattes, but hey – when in Rome, I mean Africa!
Overall it was a great experience. Particularly if you haven’t tried African cuisine before, I would recommend it if you are ever interested in getting a taste!
Approx $40 AUD per person
Address: 356 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC 3065
Phone: +61 3 9419 9128