I often wonder how the Subway in Footscray makes any money, surrounded as it is by Vietnamese bakeries. How could anybody choose those pallid slices of "ham" or "turkey", wizened lettuce and claggy bread over the crusty, light, fresh, flavour explosion of a Vietnamese pork roll? Similarly, why put up with soggy-bottomed, oily, mystery meat pizza when the world of Lebanese pizza or man'oush is out there for the exploring. From your local makhbaz or Arabic bakery, man'oush might come spread with tangy za'atar (local Mid-Eastern oregano/thyme) or lahmi (lamb/tomato paste, sprinkled with lemon & chilli), or folded into a calzone shape and filled with salty, stretchy haloumi - mozzarella on steroids!
Well that is all well and good, you say, but where is my local mabkhiz, or whatever it was you said anyway? Never fear, fellow Footscray-philes, we now have one! This is good, as the speeding ticket I got racing to the makhbaz in Altona North (at the Circle shopping strip) to get my fix was one too many. Babylon Restaurant in Nicholson St is your new local purveyor of all things Lebanese - or so I thought! Read on.
(OK, I know my pictures suck. I will get better!)
Babylon is in the sleaziest part of Nicholson St, down near the Centrelink, the horrible Court House Hotel and the Club X (which is next to a halal butcher - only in Footscray!) The interior decor is total kitsch, think sunken pirate galleon meets NGV water wall. Without wasting any time I ordered the holy trinity of man'oush - za'atar, lahmi (lamb/tomato) and jibni (cheese). While waiting, I perused the menu, and realised I had been overly hasty. Babylon is not just another kebab shop/bakery, it is an Iraqi restaurant! Tantalising dishes I had never heard of jumped out at me - tashreb, barche, mindi. The range belied Iraq's position on the eastern fringe of the Middle East, from classic Levantine felafel and dips, to Persian/Indian loans such as beriani (biriani).
Our pizzas arrived, and they were really, really good - the bread was a lot thinner and crispier than the classic Lebanese style, and they were made with a lot of care. But I couldn't help feeling I had missed out on the real treasures of Babylon. A return visit planned - stay tuned!
Babylon Restaurant, Nicholson St (between Paisley & Irving), Footscray
See more recent review here