For a while now my friend T has been saying that we should come north-side and check out the lebanese pizzas at Lygon Street’s Middle Eastern bakery, Mankoushe. Unfortunately we’ve been taking turns cancelling on each other every weekend for over a month now. Fortunately by the time we actually managed to be in the same place at the same time our Mankoushe options had doubled with the opening of a new cafe next door to the bakery. Unfortunately I forgot to check what it’s actually called.
Mankoushe (the bakery) serves a selection of lebanese pizzas. Mankoushe (the cafe) serves a small selection of lebanese breakfast and lunch dishes. They also give you the option of ordering pizzas from Mankoushe (the bakery). Perfect.
The fit out is pretty simple but the atmosphere was relaxed and I found the service to be really genuinely friendly. Add in some good food and you’ve got a lunch that’s worth rain-checking 4 times to get to.
Before I start, I’d just like to say that I was lured to Mankoushe’s Café Next Door under false pretences. Marg and her equally lawyery friend, T-Pain, tricked me onto Lygon Street with the promise of a new burger joint, and then at the last minute they switched the venue on me. Bang. Just like that, my burger dreams were gone.
The first thing you notice walking up to The Café Next Door is that it’s unsigned, which as you’ll know in Melbourne makes it instantly cool. T-Pain explained to us that the Café Next Door is the café offshoot of Mankoushe, the Lebanese pizza place next door, which is quite popular with the Brunswick locals. What really excited me though was the fact that you can enjoy the homely interior of the café, but get some of the menu items from its older brother. The Café Next Door looks like crazy Aunty Mavis’ living room, complete with pickle jars and a turntable. But instead of serving Lemonade scones and monarchism you’re treated to an eclectic mix of Lebanese dishes.
This is not the kind of place that you go to and then complain that you can’t get brunch staple X; you need to jump in and get out of your comfort zone. I really enjoyed cumin chickpeas, which isn’t something that you’d really ever see on a brunch menu, or something that I’d normally order. The Café Next Door is trying something new, and I thought it worked. The service was haphazard but friendly, but you can’t go past the interesting food and living room vibe. There was even a couple sitting on the couch not talking to each other.
We shared a number of dishes between the 3 of us. To be honest we ate too much, we shared 3 of the breakfast/lunch items and 2 pizzas. And baklava. For the 3 of us I think that 2 meals and 2 pizzas would have been more appropriate. Lucky it was all pretty delicious.
First up we had the Fate – crumbed bread with cumin chickpeas, garlic yoghurt and pinenuts, served with a side of vegetables ($14.50). Other than the cheesy pizza (not it’s real name, see below) this was my favourite dish, the cumin and garlic yoghurt and pinenuts were a great combination. The crispy crumbed bread was really moreish.
Next we had the tasting plate with labneh, akiwe (admission time, I don’t even know what that is – a type of cheese?), dried fruit, halva, vegetables and pickled eggplant ($16). The tasting plate was good, and well suited to sharing. I would definitely recommend it as a share dish rather than a meal for yourself though.
We also tried the butter beans with carrots, parsley and a tomato sauce ($15). The beans were good, but again this is probably a dish best shared with a few other dishes.
We also wanted to try a bakery item but couldn’t decide between them all so ended up choosing 2. The first was the Kafta with mince beef, parsley, onion, spices, tomato and mayonnaise ($7.20). Gerard only managed to get a photo of half of this because I ate the rest of it faster than he could grab his camera. It was good, but not as good as the cheese (below).
The second bakery good we tried was the Saroukh – a calzone-esque pizza with 3 cheeses and olives ($7). This was the hands down favourite of the day. If I go back to Mankoushe I’ll probably just order a bunch of these. Seriously, a bunch.
We finished the meal by sharing a completely unnecessary baklava filled with apple custard ($5?). The baklava was good, but to be honest nothing could beat the saroukh.
We enjoyed Mankoushe; the eccentric food, the lounge room vibe and the hipster staff. You can’t get more Brunswick than this.