Mikkayla reviews: The Left Handed Chef — ‘the greatest hummus ever’
The Left Handed Chef
219 Park Street, South Melbourne
I don’t remember the exact age I was when I first tried hummus, but I do know that each time I’ve had it as an adult, I’ve been left feeling underwhelmed. Hummus is boring. As far as dips go, there are so many more exciting, tastier options. On my unofficial dips ranking system hummus sits right down the bottom, only slightly ahead of smoked salmon.
I’ve learnt to keep these opinions to myself after being on the receiving end of enough flabbergasted gapes to know I was in the unpopular minority when it came to hummus-hatred (hatred is probably a strong word but I’m a sucker for alliteration). However; I’m nothing if not willing to be proven wrong… so when some friends casually suggested I check out a little Jerusalem-style restaurant in South Melbourne, promising “the greatest hummus ever”, I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes and promised to take a look.
The Left Handed Chef is owned and run by Ehud Malka and yes, he is left-handed. He welcomes us with a big smile and invites us to sit where we like. The small venue is not glamorous – it rather looks like your grandma’s outdated kitchen-dining area – but that’s probably why it also feels homey and welcoming. A neon sign welcomes you to the ‘hummus bar’, and is surrounded by photos of family, Israeli scenes and artsy prints. We’re told the place is BYO so while one of the group rushes out the door to the nearby bottle shop, my pregnant friend sips on her Limonana – a refreshing Israeli-style old school lemonade blitzed with ice and mint (I’m told it goes great with gin) and I proceed to order half of the menu.
First up are the lamb cigars – 4 cylindrical, filo-wrapped parcels of perfectly seasoned minced lamb, deep fried till crunchy and served with tahini, harissa and schug – a fiery, green, herb and garlicky sauce. The charred eggplant is warm, soft and smoky, served atop of a bed of thick, chilled yoghurt, dressed with lashings of the same schug sauce, but lightened with cranberries, fresh mint leaves and olive oil ($12.50).
The chicken shisklik – or skewers – of spit-roasted, fat, juicy chicken pieces with crispy edges are served with green tahini and a side of grilled zaatar pitta, and are incredible in their simplicity ($15). A mixed salad bowl with falafels is a rainbow explosion of bright, fresh vegies, and the falafels are delightfully moist ($17.50).
The most glorious sight is the challah schnitzel sandwich. A fried chicken schnitzel is partnered with fried eggplant and pickles, and finished with a generous amount of matbucha – a Tunisian sauce cooked with tomatoes and roasted capsicum, seasoned with garlic and chili ($17.50). It’s a mouthful – several actually – and not in the least bit attractive to eat, but boy, is every sauce-stained serviette worth it. Get it with a side of their chips for a quick and easy lunch and, if you’re extra hungry, grab their other star sanga, the sabich. Freshly baked pita stuffed with fried potato, eggplant and sliced boiled egg dressed in tahini and amba – a type of savoury mango chutney ($14.50/$16.50).
Dish of the night goes to the chraime. Thick, tender barramundi fillets cooked in a vibrant Moroccan red sauce made up of sweet, crushed tomatoes, paprika and smoky cumin, then finished with dollops of tahini and a smattering of pickled red onion and parsley. Accompanied by a golden toasted challah roll on the side, baked fresh daily by 5 & Dime Bagel, the serving size is amazingly generous, the flavours are intense and rich, and the dish is sublimely warming without heat ($20). This very well may be my new favourite way to enjoy barramundi.
And finally, the famed hummus. There are actually 7 different options to choose from here ($16.50 – $20) Toppings include shwarma, lamb, eggplant, and mushrooms – but we opt for the fried cauliflower – florets done schnitzel-style and bursting with flavours of Middle Eastern spices and zaatar. It’s served with more of the perfect pitta bread… and I finally get it. This is what hummus is meant to be. Thick, creamy and rich in umami flavours; garlicky, but not overwhelmingly so. It melts in your mouth. It’s delightful and flavoursome and nothing like the bland paste I expected. I’m converted.
Desserts are just as momentous – and for someone who doesn’t usually eat sweets, this is a big statement. Their Malabi is a middle eastern-style panna cotta, made with coconut milk, topped with halva spread – sweet, tahini-based, sesame spread – and chopped pistachios, served with a little jug of bright pink rosewater syrup ($5). It’s smooth and thick, and the intense sweetness from the syrup is perfectly balanced by the creamy pudding. The tahini mini magnum is a surprising star – a nutty, sesame ice-cream dipped in dark chocolate ($3.50) and the balaclava is a syrupy treat: the final, perfect mouthful to end a perfect meal.
The Left Handed Chef ticks all the boxes – warm, friendly service; generous portion sizes; accessible; and most importantly, delicious dishes. We leave deliriously happy with a couple of containers of leftovers… and an extra tub of hummus. I am officially a hummus-snob. Leave your foil-topped, plastic tubs at the supermarket, for I want none. Here I am, hat in hand, a belly full of hummus-dipped crow, declaring once and for all that hummus is a gold-star dip, all thanks to a genius chef who chops with his left hand.
The Left Handed Chef is open Wednesday – Sunday from 2pm to 8pm.