Rumi @ 116 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
22 January 2011
Rumi’s head chef and co-owner Joseph Abboud draws on his Lebanese heritage to present diners with an abundance of Middle Eastern cuisine that exudes passion and humility. Meanwhile, Rumi’s affable staff patrol the bustling dining room masterfully to create a warm and convivial atmosphere. The generosity in spirit is evident from Rumi’s menu, with a five course banquet, consisting of 16 small dishes and a choice of sweet Lebanese coffee or peppermint tea to finish, on offer for only $45 per head. Such seemingly outstanding value is difficult to resist.
Our first course contained an inordinate amount of vegetarian matter. Items included a strangely pickled salad of green olives, cauliflower and beetroot-dyed turnip; raw cucumber crudités with a taratoor dip; and labne accompanied by room temperature Lebanese flat bread, not dissimilar to supermarket packaged varieties. Amid these mundane dishes, the mouthwatering sigara boregi – cheese filled pastry cigars - lifted our spirits considerably. Biting through thin, crunchy exterior pastry, our taste buds were greeted with a flavoursome concoction of melted haloumi, feta and kasseri. These cigars were, by far, the highlight of not only our starter course but also our entire meal.
The second set of dishes contained Persian meat balls with tomato puree, saffron and a dollop of labne, spiced school prawns and well seasoned braised greens. The meat balls appeased but failed to excite the senses and the spiced school prawns, while enjoyable, lacked the flavour hit and explicit crunch of the corresponding dish occasionally found on the Kerasma lunch menu at The Press Club.
In Anthony Bourdain’s television series, No Reservations, the quail at Rumi was lauded by Bourdain as “hands down” the best dish he had sampled in Melbourne. In contrast, we found that while the grilled quail joojeh kebabs were daring in flavour, principally on account of the tangy sweet sauce, the meat itself was unfortunately bland and completely devoid of quail’s characteristic gaminess. Moreover, we were terribly disillusioned by the dry and overcooked nature of the quail pieces; the execution was a far cry from the “ethereal perfection” Bourdain had experienced, and as a result, a far cry from what we had highly anticipated.
To compensate, the quail was accompanied by a delectable dish of perfectly fried cauliflower florets, the flavour of which was wonderfully enhanced by pockets of sweet currants. This was a delicious dish which was overshadowed only by the cheese filled cigars. A complementing side of fresh crisp cabbage salad helped to neutralise the inherent oiliness of the cauliflower pieces.
Our meal continued with the highly acclaimed spiced lamb shoulder, which, unfortunately, was another regrettable case of shattered expectations. In terms of texture, the lamb shoulder was excellent – it was superbly slow roasted with tender pieces of lamb falling delicately off the bone at the touch of a fork. However, a memorable dish is generally one that combines flawless texture with equally superlative flavours. In this case, the imprudent use of excess salt singlehandedly destroyed the dish; the flavours from the subtle spice mix and the mild sekanjabin syrup were completely masked, consequently resulting in a handicapped dish of very salty, albeit very tender, meat. The lamb’s accompanying freekeh salad was anticlimactic. Unlike the diverse array of bold tastes and textures that characterise the enlivening freekeh salads at Cumulus and Hellenic Republic, Rumi’s adaptation was insipid and one dimensional and lacked the citrus freshness of the preceding superior versions. In a similar vein to the cabbage salad we enjoyed earlier in our meal, the second side dish of cos and herb salad was simple and fresh and comfortably outshone the excessively seasoned lamb.
Much to my disappointment, substantive dessert dishes were absent from the banquet, with the only sweet items being Turkish delights and Arak poached apricots. My disappointment aside, both items were pleasantly enjoyable, with the intense sweetness of the items appropriately counterbalanced by the bitter Lebanese coffee.
The cuisine at Rumi is not particularly well executed and does not electrify the senses. There appear to be few redeeming qualities to Rumi’s food and if you looking for a memorable experience, I suggest that you look elsewhere. However, in saying that, Joseph Abboud’s dishes are nevertheless passable and decent value and in light of the restaurant’s convivial atmosphere and cordial service, Rumi may well provide you with an overall satisfactory dining experience.