113 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9419 9128
You know, sometimes you meet people in your life and they will forever be tied to a certain place in your mind, and certain meals that you share. For a group of my friends, who all went to Viet Nam as Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYADs) that place was Viet Nam, and well, that food is Vietnamese. Even though we’ve been back for over a year, every time we catch up, it seems to be at a Vietnamese restaurant. Until recently, when Ms J came over from Adelaide, and made the pointed remark that she was ‘over Vina’. So Mr D and I set about looking for an interesting alternative. We settled on African.
The request from Ms J was that it be close to East Melbourne, where she was staying, so we opted for Nyala African restaurant, on Brunswick St. In the lead up, another of our group had said her colleague was Ethiopian, and didn’t find the food very authentic, but we reasoned that it was an ‘African’ restaurant, not an Ethiopian restaurant, so that’s OK.
Though I’ve been to a few African restaurants now, yet I still haven’t moved past the “I don’t know much about this cuisine, let’s just get the banquet” stage. So we got the banquet.
First up, we got a trio of dips, with a stack of thin ‘mountain bread’. There was a spicy sweet potato, a smoky eggplant, and I can’t remember what the beige one was, so let’s just call it hummus? They were good way to sate the hunger, anyhow, because by the time they arrived, most of us were starving.
Next up were the entrees. A chunk of fried cauliflower (think pakora
) and a tasty beef mince mixture, with raisins and flaked almonds.
The two worked together quite nicely, as the cauliflower was a little on the bland side, and the mince was full of punchy flavours. I’m not sure I would recommend either item on its own.
Then the real feast began. First out came the basis of the meal – couscous, some salad, and the all important injera. Unlike Cafe Lalibela or The Abyssinian, the injera here is kind of small, and doesn’t come as the base of the meal on which the rest of the dishes are plonked. There’s still an element of communal eating, in that you’re sharing the food, but it’s not as intimate, because you’re not all ripping at the injera in the middle with your hands. Instead, you portion food onto your place Western style, which is probably more hygienic, but definitely not as much fun!
First up was a beef stew/curry. This was not bad, but not that exciting. Somehow, despite it being a ‘curry’, it was a bit bland.
This was the other beef dish, with a pepper sauce, which was significantly tastier. I think this might have actually been pepper as in capsicum, but it was good either way, despite the Americanism.
Chickenn curry. Tasty, but again, not that memorable. This was one of the dishes which we didn’t end up finishing. There was a lot of food, but this wasn’t such a big dish, so it really should have been polished off. If you’re ordering a la carte, I’d give it a miss.
Then came a sizzling lamb dish. This was by far my favourite. Thinking back, maybe it was goat. That might explain why I liked it so much. In any case, the spice rub had just the right amount of chilli-heat, and I kept going back for more, even after I had proclaimed that I was full. And done. And finished. Oh OK, one more bit of lamb/goat, then.
The second chicken dish had a similar spice rub to the lamb, only there was a tomato-ey sauce to it. It was also a great dish, and if I went back, I’d have the chicken and the lamb/goat.
There was also another vegetable dish, but it was served a little late in the game, so I didn’t have any, and I forgot to take a picture. Food coma was setting in.
All in all, Nyala is a reasonably good place to eat, though I would characterise it as a slightly adulterated African food experience, which is good if you’re looking for an easy introduction to the cuisine.