Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dinner with Poppet at...

La Paella

Address: 217 Sydney Rd, Brunswick

Phone: (03) 33806955


Open: Tuesdays - Sundays, 6pm-10pm

After a trip to Morocco last year, I had no hesitation in visiting La Paella upon suggestion. I was not fooled by the Spanish name, and nor should you be. Originally opening over twenty years ago with cuisine for Señor and Señoritas, La Paella’s Arabian spin has been cooked up by owner-chef Abdul Fadil. Regardless, if you want to stick to the semantics of the name, the paella has been cemented on the menu and is responsible for drawing a crowd.

Upon stepping off concrete grey Sydney Road in the chill of winter, I was instantly transported back to the intricate tiled designs of Marrakesh. With sand coloured tagines highlighted by blood red and aqua green decorative plates, all that was missing were the snake charmers. Even the tabletops were mosaic.

Perhaps it was because I visited as a city girl, expecting North African value. Or maybe it was the fact that our waiter, although ever-helpful, smelled exactly like the native guide who took us around the country, walking for miles in sweltering heat and only showering when…well, I’m not entirely sure. Possibly it was a combination of the two. Either way the food – although tasty – was certainly not worth its weight in gold.

I shared the Chef’s Platter No. 1, which cost $20 per person for a minimum of two people. Twenty Australian bucks could feed an army of kings in Morocco so it was difficult to come to terms with in my westernised country.

We started with a decently sized ceramic bowl of three mixed dips: zaalouk (eggplant and tomato with Moroccan spices), bessara (dries green peas and spices) and laadissa (herb and lentil). They came served with two 15cm pieces of supermarket baguette, toasted lightly to hide their staleness. In contrast, the dips were chunky, traditional, and absolutely delicious.

Next we were served the platter. It came with a chicken shaslik each, fried cheese that managed to make its rubbery texture appealing, Spanish omelette, garlic mushrooms (which were swimming in oil) and Moroccan meatballs (served in a thick tomato-based sauce, with a melt-in-the-mouth texture – they topped the bunch for me), all served on a bed of salad.

Dessert was not included, but a single, shot sized glass of Moroccan mint tea, made the real way with mint leaves and lots of sugar, was complementary. Although exceedingly small, it was sweet and scrumptious and left me wanting a refill… But to spend more than $20 on Moroccan food went against all personal principles.

The place does have the appeal (for some) of being 100 per cent halal. Unappealing to others, this means there is absolutely no alcohol allowed to be brought or served on the premises.

Although this meal didn’t quite do it for me, I get the inkling that the better choice would have been one of the traditional Morccan tagines or one of the Paellas. We made the mistake of visiting on a time schedule as we had to be in the city for the Melbourne Film Festival. If you decide to visit, make sure you don’t have plans after dinner – the paella can only be for two or more people, costs $22-@24 and has a 45 minute wait. From what I’ve heard, it’s worth it.

Overall La Paella only gets 1 and a half pecks from me. But I will be revisiting on a warm summer’s night to sit in the colourful desert-style tent outside, and sample the chicken and seafood paella served with saffron rice, chicken, prawns, mussels, clams and calamari, and maybe a good hearty beef tagine with cinnamon, sweet prunes, toasted almonds and a herb sauce as well. My mouth is watering already.

La Paella Moroccan and Spanish on Urbanspoon

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