Dear reader, I like to imagine you reading this blog just as I write it, with a plate of something at your side. Is it a delicate cup of tea with a shortbread balanced across the rim, or perhaps a bowl of spaghetti, dressed with a zesty tomato sugo? If this is the case, please navigate away now, perhaps to one of the other wonderful food blogs to the right, and return when you are suitably food-less, otherwise you may be food-less in another way less pleasant. Vegetarians, you may want to sit this one out.
Is your snack over? Plate in the sink? Let's begin.
Babylon Restaurant is a little piece of Iraq in the heart of Footscray. It is family-run with very friendly service and an enchanting, if somewhat bemusing, undersea theme. Last time, I was entranced by the Iraqi delights on the menu, nestled between broader Middle Eastern dishes such as felafel and kebabs, as well as pizzas and lasagne. In a previous incarnation, your host, Ms Baklover, majored in Arabic at university. Since descending into the purgatory of small children, the furthest this has gotten me is an extra piece of baqlawa at Victoria Sweets. So I relished this chance to use some of my hard-gotten gains to sort the pita from the pizza, as it were.
We were drawn to Tashreb and Barche which appeared on the menu with no further explanation. As we chatted in Arabic, the very friendly server sketched out the dishes and confirmed happily that these were the Iraqi real deal. Now I didn't go in blind, I knew Barche involved offal, but my kokoreç-loving father was by my side and ready to step up.
We started with a type of dolma or stuffed vine leaf to share. It was fatter than usual, filled with a tangy mixture of rice, meat and tomato. Very good.
Then came our Barche. Now when the server said "feet, head and stomach", I imagined a relatively innocuous Iraqi version of Pho Dac Biet. This is what we got:
Now some people can't eat a whole fish because the whole staring-eye thing creeps them out. You try that with a sheep's head!
There was also a trotter and some flaps, identified later as stomach. The smell was a hundred Sunday roasts in unison. I mean, I can't believe I whinged about that little pot of goat-on-the-bone at Indi Hots the other day. The table of lanyarded lunching ladies stared at us woefully. Then we got this:
Yes, it is a proto-sausage, innards filled with a fatty rice and mince mixture. I did warn you!!
Dad tucked in, slurping and groaning with pleasure. Just another day at the office for a man who goes to yum cha just for the chicken feet and special order of duck tongues with extra jellyfish. My daughter loved the "sausages". Children are amazing - before a certain age they have none of the cultural hang-ups of adults and will eat purely guided by flavour. At two years old, my elder daughter once ate all the offal off the top of a congee I mis-ordered, while I shuddered in horror.
Me - I was reduced to a pre-teen shadow of myself. Remember when, faced with some horrifying meal prospect like broccoli soup, your parents insisted you "try it"? You would then dip the tip of spoon in one millimetre, touch it to the tip of your tongue before insisting, "see, I did, and I don't like it!" Well, that was me. I couldn't even touch the proto-sausage, I had to extract a little of the filling with just the tip of my fork. Footscray Food Blog - not faddish, but far from fearless!
Our Tashreb arrived, and if you want to geek out on Arabic grammar with me, the root of this word is shariba, to drink, and tashreb translates as "soaked". The dish is a luscious, meltingly soft lamb shank which has been lovingly cooked for hours with bay leaves and other spices, atop pillowy, torn Iraqi bread that has soaked up all its salty, fatty juices.
This came with plenty of delicious Iraqi bread, which has the fluffiness of Turkish bread with a chewier crust. The salad was undressed and a bit tired, a little disappointing.
The Tashreb was delicious but unfortunately, I was done. Now before you cross Babylon Restaurant off your list and go back to eating at Souvlaki Hut, stop! This is a fantastic restaurant. They are unflinchingly authentic and I respect them for not trying to tone it down or steer us away from their delicacies. We waited for a while for our delicacies and during that time, the food I saw coming out of the homely, family-run kitchen looked fabulous. Fat, crispy felafels, chicken Maryland in a golden herb rub, rice studded with jewel-like vegetables and dusted with toasty-brown spices.
Babylon, I will return! Maybe for a vegie platter next time though.
Babylon Restaurant, 152 Nicholson St, Footscray Map
Phone: 9689 3323
Hours: 9am until late, 7 days
No alcohol, no BYO