Very cheap eats: June 2009

There’s a lot to be said for ethnic restaurants. They usually offer big, cheap hearty meals often cooked from the heart.

They also often offer the chance to reacquaint oneself with monosodium glutamate, fluorescent strip lighting, surly service and dodgy lino.

Then there’s The Abyssinian (277 Racecourse Road Kensington, Victoria 3031, 03 9376 8754), run by two Eritreans, which has taken the genre to another level and avoided all the crap which is why it was packed out the night we were there.

First there’s the look. The bar could be from an exotic resort anywhere on the African continent. The wooden tables and chairs are simple and solid and look great. Meanwhile, the walls are backed with African paraphernalia. It really works.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. I was eating with my favourite viking, photographer and Photoshop guru from the land of ice who together with her fiance – an up-and-coming architect – who have an eye for such things.

The service is run by Vittorio Silvestro, who is an Italian Eritrean and brings great service to the restaurant floor and really cares whether or not we are enjoying ourselves.Then there is the kitchen run by Rahel Ogbaghiorghi, a former freedom fighter who has made her home in Melbourne. What a story (I need to interview her).The food centres around large dustbin lid-sized shared plates of either vegetable, meat or fish served either with flat or rolled Injera, a sort of giant savoury scotch pancake. It’s made by mixing a special flour with water and letting it ferment.The idea is to rip of some bread and pinch up some food to eat. Not only does it save washin-up but I’m guessing some small corner of the environment.Our starter for $6 was a huge portion of Melanzany, garlicky grilled cubes of marinated eggplant that come with chilli and rolled injera.We followed with Hoswa, mixed vegetables with Injera ($17), slowly cooked cubes of lamb called Zighini ($18) and Goat on Kemmam Sauce ($20), slowly cooked with cloves and cinnamon with the outstanding spice cardamom. The wine list fits with the vibe and the price of $117 for four bellyfuls and more than we could eat. Let me say that again, $117 for food and wine for four. A litre carafe or red costs $20 or $6 a glass and goes well with the dishes that we requested to be authentically spicy.

This is the kind of place that is really for this credit crunchy moment. It’s delicious and hearty, comes in huge portions and won’t break the bank – you could easily eat for about $20 a head which means I’m nominating The Abyssinian for Very Cheap Eats.

And I want to go back. You can see the original post here on my personal blog.