PROFILE BY BEST RESTAURANTS
Good things come in laneways in the CBD. Maha is tucked into a tiny nook that connects Flinders Street to Flinders Lane and entering it is to enter a whole new world. It's warm and inviting with a red patterned carpet and dark floor tiles, a long timber-topped bar complete with bar stools, and an area with plush lounges and dark tables with black leather placemats. The aromas that float out of the kitchen are irresistible. Slow-cooked meats, cinnamon, cardamom and other spices and the scent of eggplant and simmering vegetables, lemons, garlic and rose water waft out in a hunger-inducing haze. This is Middle Eastern food prepared by a skilled and enthusiastic team led by Shane Delia, a man who knows how to cook, how to eat and how to welcome guests.
Delia's family hails from Malta – his wife's from Lebanon – yet he was trained in some pretty smart Melbourne kitchens. This has resulted in a menu that is Middle Eastern in its roots but with hints of the southern Mediterranean and a savvy understanding of contemporary techniques. The dishes are packed with exciting flavours. Think grilled quail with figs, bastourma (cured beef) and shanklish (a salty white cheese). Pomegranate-cured tuna topped with an apple and cardamom foam is an intriguing winner, as is the slow-roasted lamb shoulder with onions that are simmered into sweetness. The wine list is almost as exciting as the menu, and the waiters are informed and helpful. During the day, there's the option of a fixed price lunch and there's also a separate bar menu. For your money, this is one of Melbourne's Middle Eastern best.