Such is the hype of Moroccan Soup Bar – a word of mouth, cash only establishment – that an endless queue stretches languidly down the street each night long before before doors are even opened (I feel sorry for the naive hopefuls who turn up at 6:10pm).
With bookings of six or more accepted and sittings confined to a generous 1.5 hours (considering the fact the food comes out lightening fast), children have the excellent deal of eating for free. I curse the fact I’m not short.
Rustic North African decor lies as far as the eye can see – burnt orange walls studded with mosaic tiling and hanging mirrors; fat jars of pickles, dried chilli and garlic bulbs hanging nonchalantly from wooden shelves – I suppress the desire to pluck each element off the stand and taste it.
A delicate mint tea with brown sugar is served as a prelude to the $28 banquet with starters, which I am informed is spicy. Awesome! Let’s get it ONNN.
A versatile entree of sour beetroot dip, olives, spicy potato, eggplant, hommous, pickled carrots, falafel takes centre stage, each element playing its part uniquely and with soul.
The standout is the deep fried pita bread which tastes a lot like healthy chips and is paired with three different condiments – the last a gorgeously garlic babaganoush which begs to be binge eaten.
A pickled broccoli with pesto hits the tongue with a zing of sourness , while an addictively spicy lentils and chickpeas dish reminiscent of Indian chole bature causes me to eat straight from the main bowl.
Good thing I’m not on a hot date.
Sufficient to feed our party of six, I’m pretty darn happy post-entree and my appetite is whet for the next course.
I take a dip into an innocuous-looking bowl of chickpea bake and almost fall off my chair.
The combination of earthy chickpeas and sourness from the yoghurt base patters the tongue like raindrops, with sweetness of pine nuts and crunchy fried pita bringing up the rear.
This mish-mash of flavours is something I live for. I start strategising on how I can possibly steal the whole plate.
The veggie couscous is a dish that looks teasingly like meat.
With these prior visual expectations established, the dish becomes difficult to measure up compared to the last dish – although it’s nutty and comforting, it lacks multi-dimensionality.
I resist the urge to doll it up with some chilli and try to accept the dish as it is.
The eggplant turnover is a simple dish consisting of aubergine, rice and sauce. Again, it seems to shrink back in the shadows of the chickpea bake.
A feeling of dread takes over. I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten the best dish first, and now nothing is going to compare.
As I tuck into the lentil pilaf, I realise what I’ve been looking for all along – sourness.
That sourness is what grabbed my attention initially, and as the rest of the dishes have so far held typically hearty Moroccan flavours, it’s no wonder they’re not doing it for me.
The vegetable stew is swimming with cauliflower and holds a melodious sweetness which juxtaposes artfully with the sticky turmeric rice.
I’m relieved this dish has a little bit of differentiation to the others.
Dessert is placed in front of me and I lunge for the plate, tearing into mini pancakes drizzled with caramel and brimming with soft, mushy ricotta cheese.
With a natural, delicate sweetness, it’s worth visiting the restaurant just to order plate after plate of this dish. Once more, my mind starts to feverishly strategise on how to swipe the whole thing. Hey look, a camel!
The crispy fried donuts hang back shyly, waiting to be invited to dance. Well, okay then.
Paired with a walnut and date truffle which lend a tinge of spice to the sweetness, this dessert is also a winner (but shhhh, I prefer the pancakes).
The question I ask myself to gauge the deliciousness of every vegetarian meal afterwards is: Did I miss meat?
I suppose I did; especially when a dish holds the appearance of lamb, the brain sends signals to the taste buds in preparation, leaving them somewhat confused and deflated by the lack of flesh.
Having said that, things might have been different if I’d left the chickpea bake til last – it all depends on the order in which you taste dishes.
Vintage photographs of Morocco and the warm, bustling atmosphere make Moroccan Soup Bar a restaurant which is unpretentious and down to business, with welcoming, home-style service – just be prepared to not get a seat if you’re foolish enough not to line up at 5:45pm.
There are big things happening for Moroccan Soup Bar – owner Hana recently penned a book detailing her restaurant journey and is expecting to open a deli-style cafe on Lygon St shortly.
Service 9, Food 7.5
Moroccan Soup Bar is located at 183 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North.