|Hot and sultry harissa, at b'stilla.|
"It goes with everything", the waiter narrates as he sets the fiery red harissa down at our table, and my eyes lit up in anticipation of happily sprinkling this famous condiment all over the ensuing savoury dishes to come.
We're having lunch at B'Stilla (30b Bray St, South Yarra) on a Friday, and it is surprisingly quiet. The crowds, no doubt, will push through as the night falls. But for now, we have almost the whole place to ourselves.
We started with the eponymous dish, b'stilla. One of the nice things here is that the menu offers a glossary for those who are unfamiliar with Moroccan food, and I am one of those who could certainly use a helping hand. Here's what they say:
B’stilla pronounced as “bas - stee - ya”
- traditional Moroccan pigeon pie often served as a starter for special occasions and celebrations. Our B’stilla combines pigeon and duck with sweet and salty flavours and a combination of thin, crisp layers of brik pastry.
It sounded intriguing. It looked intriguing, too.
Yes, those are generous lashings of powdered sugar and cinnamon piled upon a pie with savoury fillings.
|B’stilla - a traditional Moroccan pigeon pie, $14.|
I was a tiny bit skeptical.
The pastry was, indeed, beautifully thin and crisp, shattering ever so pleasingly underneath my cutlery. Then, a spoonful to taste, and lo and behold, it somehow worked, the sweetness, the cinnamon, and the bits of pigeon and duck and egg and almonds. Unfamiliar, to be sure, but in a good way. For some, it may be an acquired taste. We acquired it within seconds.
|B’stilla pie with pigeon, duck, almonds, cinnamon, saffron, and egg.|
More adventures abound. This here is a lamb medfouna, which, according to the menu, is a Berber style pizza. Meat or lentils, encased in a pastry and usually cooked in the ground. Ours is made with a potato pastry and cooked in an oven.
|Lamb medfouna with labne, $6.|
We discovered this to be reminiscent of a comforting potato cake, made even more amazing with the lamb and cashew filling, and the minty-green labne served alongside. Simon loved this, ever so much. And so did I.
|Gorgeous bits of lamb and cashew, wrapped up in equally gorgeous potato pastry.|
We were sad when we finished the medfouna (which Simon later pronounced to be the dish of the day), but there was no time to mourn. On to the next plate: smokey eggplant with crispy garlic, sesame, and coriander. This was categorised under "salads" but it's almost more like a sensual, textural dip that you can enjoy on its own. It was pretty awesome, and probably the kind of salad with which you can win friends.
|A lush, smoky eggplant dish, $9.|
The cauliflower with pine nut paste, ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) and herbs continue our good run with salads. As with the above, there are some lovely elements working in harmony here, and my only gripe, if I must, is that I would welcome even more of that spice on the cauliflower florets. Give it to me, baby.
|Roasted cauliflower florets and friends, $8.|
We also ordered this chargrilled duck merguez (basically, a sausage) with lemon, because, quite frankly, it was one of the cheapest things on the menu and we figured we could fit in a little more. Meaty, spicy, and quite perfectly cooked, this one definitely earned its keep.
|Chargrlled duck merguez with lemon, $4.5.|
Did anyone say dessert?
|Rosewater flan, dates, walnut nougatine, $11.|
This rosewater flan was just stunning. A smooth custard winks with ephemeral hints of rosewater as it perches prettily on a dense date puree. Dark, syrupy caramelisation. Shards of sweet, crunchy walnut toffee. Beautiful.
|Rosewater flan on date puree, scattered with walnut nougatine.|
Admittedly, I don't eat out as often or as lavishly as many other food bloggers, but for what it's worth, this is my favourite dining experience so far this year. It has been a long while since I have been so roundly impressed by a meal, and if B'Stilla can keep this up, I sincerely hope that they hang around for many, many years to come.