The Mesob – the woven table-like basket and lid around which diners sit in Ethiopia to share a meal – is notably absent from the tables of its Northcote namesake, though a number are spread throughout the restaurant in decoration. Its sentiment, however, remains.
A symbol of unity and prosperity in Ethiopian and Eritrean culture, and a metonym for the notion of breaking bread and sharing meals in peace, the Mesob is represented in MESOB’s serving practice with its share-platter menu. Here, no one eats alone. Or, at least, you could – but you probably wouldn’t want to.
In a style no doubt familiar to anyone who has eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant before, dishes are served on top of injera – the fermented pancake made from teff flour that is a staple of the traditional Ethiopian diet. The best options are the ‘Combination Platters’, which require a minimum of between two and four people to order, and which come laden with a multitude of the Chef’s selection of dishes.
If it’s not 100% clear by now, Ethiopian is a cuisine best shared, which is why K and I had waited to try MESOB until some friends could join us. The night we got everyone together was a surprisingly wild and windy evening, with Melbourne’s ominous May sky threatening a storm. Having all arrived from work in less-than-ideal clothing, the warmth and delightful scents that struck us as we wandered through the restaurant door heralded the delight to come.
A boon for vegetarians (like K and I) and vegans (like our companions for the evening), MESOB’s menu is one of the most clearly labelled of any I have seen – even their drinks list distinguishes between vegetarian, vegan, and other wine!
Since we knew we were sharing, and knew it would be the Herbivore Platter ($23pp) we went with, it didn’t take us long to place our order. The joy of the vegan Herbivore Platter is that it comes with all the vegetarian main dishes – including the traditionally-vegetarian Shiro, which MESOB offers a vegan option for [the vegan option is just the Shiro with the butter removed, so it’s also a much healthier option and, if, like me, you’re not a fan of that rich buttery taste, it’s a really, really good one].
Wanting to try a bit more of the menu, we also got a serve of Sambosa (2 for $10.50) for entrée which can be made vegan – though the menu does not specify this.
The Sambosa came out quite quickly, and were accompanied by plates and cutlery for us to share. They were quite large – 2 between 4 was more than enough. The pastry is very thick and quite doughy – I wasn’t a huge fan, but the others all enjoyed it. The filling – whole brown lentils mixed with a few herbs and spices – was, however, quite good, if a little plain. The dish was served with a very nicely spiced chunky tomato chutney, and it really needed it. These were good, but I don’t know if I would order them again.
The mains, however, were a different story. Served on a giant injera and divided by an extra 4 rolled-up pancakes, we were each presented with our own selection of every vegetarian main on the menu.
The platter was beautiful – rich in colours and smells, and offset by the wonderful bright green of the centre salad and the spicy coriander dipping sauce.
We had, by this time, been relieved of our plates, knives, and forks, and provided instead with a set of good, thick serviettes. This is a place where you eat with your hands. And it is the actual best.
Using – as the menu reminds us – only your right hand, you can use a torn piece of injera, a lettuce leaf, a vegetable wedge, or even just your fingers as your eating utensil. If you do ask for a spoon – as K did – the staff will immediately and happily oblige, so you don’t have to feel obligated to eat in this way, but – trust me – food tastes so much better when it is eaten with your fingers.
The curries were mainly lentil- or vegetable-based, but the spice mixes and cooking styles were all quite different, making for a lovely variety. All the produce was of good quality, and even an hour or so after eating the meal, I didn’t notice any adverse effects from too much salt, or the presence of an oily taste on my tongue (though I was still tasting garlic through to lunchtime the next day – which I quite like, but that might not be your thing).
This was good, hearty, filling, healthy food that was, above all, incredibly tasty and super fun to eat. There’s a note on the menu that Ethiopian cuisine is not usually accompanied by a dessert, and we were certainly full and satisfied enough that dessert wasn’t even on the radar.
The staff were also really lovely, and happy to talk to us about the menu and what made certain things vegan or vegetarian. They also let us split the bill.
The restaurant itself is also a really nice place to sit, and the beers and wines that we selected from the menu complemented the food very well.
Overall, 5/5 – this was a really enjoyable evening and I’ll be back as soon as I can find another person or three to share the platter with. Any takers? I promise it will be decadently delightful.
MESOB Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar
213 High Street, Northcote