Fitzroy North, VIC 3068
I always find it hard to pass up a banquet. If you ask me, the banquet/degustation option offered at restaurants is like the grown-up version of buffets – something I’ve outgrown but wish I hadn’t. I’ve been keen on Moroccan Soup Bar’s vegetarian banquet for a long time, and yes they do have a spoken a la carte menu, but why subject the waitresses to that when everyone else is having the $20 Banquet? And for an extra $5 per person, you can upgrade to their special banquet, which comes with a bigger variety of entrees.
We joined the line forming outside Moroccan Soup Bar at 5:50pm, and were ushered into one of the last seats available 15 minutes later. We were seated in the perfect place to watch people get turned away, something that happened approximately every 5-10 minutes during our meal. Most people who walked past tended to stop and stare through the window, not that I blame them – the interior was painted violent shades of orange and yellow, and packed to the rafters with customers and noise. As busy as it was though, the owner – a fierce, lovely woman with a mane of black hair – managed the floor with brisk confidence, and still had time to ask after each diner.
|First Course - Dips and Pickles served with Flat Bread|
Almost as soon as we had confirmed that we were having the $20 banquet, our entree of Dips and Pickles served with Flat Bread landed on our table, along with small glasses of mint tea to warm the belly. This plate was a riot of flavours – creamy hummus and sour yoghurt and smoky eggplant and salty olives and soft potatoes and god knows what else, all flavoured generously with parsley and mint for you to mix and match to your heart’s content.
|Second Course - Vegetable Stew with Couscous|
Then the mains started coming out, the first of which being a sort of Vegetable Stew with Couscous. As you can probably imagine, this was nothing amazing, but it was hearty with the big chunks of potato and eggplant in a rich tomato-based sauce, good for cold winter nights where you don’t want to gorge on a plate of lasagne.
|Second Course - Lentil Curry with Yoghurt|
The second of the mains was a plate of Lentil Curry with Yoghurt, served with two types of rice – saffron and tomato. This was another simple yet flavoursome dish, the lentils cooked to a beautiful al-dente, the yoghurt providing coolness to the feast of carbs. The leftovers made for a wonderful work lunch the next day.
|Second Course - Chickpea Bake|
|Second Course - Chickpea Bake|
Last of all, the signature dish of Moroccan Soup Bar – the Chickpea Bake. This is somewhat of an unusual dish, on first impressions looking like nothing more than a giant bowl of yoghurt. Digging in however, you realise that it’s actually a big bowl of chickpeas, layered with crispy tortilla chips and smothered in a mix of tangy yoghurt and sour cream. Despite being vegetarian, this dish is anything but healthy. What it is is absurdly delicious and unique with its varied textures and copious usage of butter. This is enough to convert even the most hardcore of meat-eaters.
|Third Course - Turkish Delight-Filled Donut, Fruit and Nut Ball, Mint Tea, Turkish Coffee|
We were full to the brim (and that’s after me putting some of the food away in a container to take home), but how could we say no to dessert? Like the rest of the meal, it was a simple affair – a Turkish Delight-Filled Donut, a Fruit and Nut Ball, and our choice of Mint Tea or Turkish Coffee.
The fruit and nut ball wasn’t anything amazing, but I actually enjoyed the sweet denseness of the donut, and hint of floral from the rosewater Turkish delight, which went amazingly with the coffee. The dark, oily brew was smoky, syrupy, and strong enough to wake a mule. Good thing I had a mint tea on the side to clear the palate at the end.
Moroccan Soup Bar is exactly what its name suggests – it serves soup kitchen food made with care and love. It’s great to see family and friends seated at tables, jostling for space and reaching across each other to grab food. It has a great community feel to it, but fair warning – if you’re not a party of 6 or more with a booking, or with the batch of people lining up 15 minutes before opening, you probably won’t get a seat within the next hour. But they do have take away, so that’s always an option; BYO Tupperware though!
Rating: 14/20 – vegetarian for carnivores.