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Mecca Bah

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Mecca Bah
55A NewQuay Promenade
Docklands VIC 3008
Tel: (03) 9642 1300
twitter @RiversMelbourne
Mecca Bah on Urbanspoon

Mecca Bah is precisely the type of restaurant that I do not like. You can rightly assume a great deal about this restaurant from its name and location. Firstly, what the hell does ‘Mecca Bah’ even mean? The orientalist averse in me does not appreciate the Meccafication of place names to make them cool. Mecca is Islam’s holiest city, naming your restaurant Mecca will not make it any better. What it will do is make it sound more exotic, oriental and alluring to the resident bourgeoisie. Hooray! And where does the resident bourgeoisie in Melbourne like to play? Well, apart from Crown Casino, we’re talking the Docklands! Which brings me to another point, I hate the Docklands. The place has absolutely no redeeming features that I’ve so far discovered (apart from maybe Bhoj but it isn’t that great). It’s just a collection of ugly residential skyscrapers, shiny metallic and minimalist surfaces, cliched ethnic restaurants like Mecca Bah (and some horrible looking Italian red-check-tablecloth places) and factory outlets. This explains why the place is always empty.

As I was saying, Mecca Bah confirms all your stereotypes and preconceptions. The precise location of the restaurant means that it juts out over the water like some kind of floating dome, it’s decorated in a mixed minimalist style with some of the most cliched faux Middle Eastern adornments imaginable (Turkish tiles, *yawn*) and its menu can be euphemistically described as ‘fusion’, but that’s a term we give innovative and interesting menus, not a hodge podge of bastardised, Westernised menu items seemingly aimed at insular Australians wanting ‘the Middle Eastern’ experience but without all the Islam, potential terrorism and poverty of Melbourne’s Western (and Northern) suburbs.

Speaking of ‘Middle Eastern’, I’ve always been suspicious of restaurants billed exclusively as ‘Middle Eastern cuisine’. What the hell is Middle Eastern cuisine? We’re talking about a disparate geographical region with undefined borders that spans three continents and includes racial varities such as Berbers, Arabs, Kurds, Turks and Arabs, as well as a number of languages and religions. Some of you may know that I blog about Middle Eastern politics elsewhere and lived in the region for a year so I’m kind of fussy. To me, calling cuisine ‘Middle Eastern’ makes about as much as sense as calling it ‘Asian’ or ‘European’.

So what about the food? Well we had three dishes all of which, I suppose, you could classify as mains. They didn’t leave me with a great hankering for more. Disclaimer, this is obviously a negative review but the food wasn’t all that bad, I mean I’ve definitely had worse, but it definitely does not live up to its greatly undeserved reputation.

First up there was the beef tagine (billed as Moroccan) with ‘Ras el Hanout’ spices, dates and raisins ($23.50). Now from the, admittedly, little I know of Moroccan cooking, this isn’t a very good description as it essentially means the best spices a shop has to offer. (The words themselves, in Arabic, mean ‘head of the shop’). It was a soupy concoction with cous cous and, although not altogether unpleasant, it’s not something I would order again. (I can barely remember how it tasted).

We also sampled two of their popular Turkish pizzas (there was a wait to get a table and some people had elected to get these pizzas takeaway and eat them by the water, I have no idea why). I was expecting something like the Lahmajoun available in the Middle East, what’s traditionally known as a Turkish or Levantine pizza, but what I got was something completely different.

Pictured above is the spiced chicken pizza with eggplant, rocket & tahini sauce ($19.80). As you can see, it’s in a very crusty version of Turkish pide with the ingredients stuffed inside. I wasn’t happy with the way the bread was cooked. Turkish pide (or Arabic khubz) is normally baked in a sort of tandoor and while I imagine they may not have had a tandoor on site in the Docklands, they still could’ve done better than this. The ingredients were pleasant, the tahine was essentially yoghurt and the chicken was so lightly spiced that the spices were almost imperceptible but it wasn’t bad.

We also tried the Harissa spiced tomato pizza with haloumi, parsley and roasted eggplant ($17.50). I chose this dish specifically because I love both haloumi and harissa but what I mostly got was… well, tomato. The tomato was supposed to be ‘harissa spiced’ but, again, I could barely taste the harissa. For those uninitiated, harissa is a famously fiery North African chilli paste (I’ve seen arguments between Moroccans and Tunisians about its origins and who does it best so I won’t attribute it to a particular country). These tomatoes were not fiery, they could best be described as tangy. The haloumi was also rubbery and far from fresh. But, again, I guess it didn’t taste too bad. Pictured below.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Mecca Bah. Judging from the restaurants popularity, urbanspoon reviews and queues, it’s clearly doing a brisk trade. I guess I’m just a Middle Eastern food snob sensitive to cliched design, inauthentic food and culinary orientalism. Whatever, it’s my review dammit.

Alex’s Ratings:

Taste: 6/10. Given that the dishes were all around $20 and clearly pitched at an uber-Western palate, the food wasn’t altogether unpleasant.

Authenticity: 3/10. Authentic to what? This wasn’t fusion or innovation, it was bastardisation of the lowest order. A few Arabic words in your menu, some tiles and the word ‘Mecca’ in your restaurant name are not enough to be authentic.

Value: 4/10. Why would you pay $20 for a dish when you can eat actually authentic Arab, Turkish or Moroccan food in places like Sydney Road for much less? I suppose the sea view counts for something. Does it?

Ambience: 4/10. And those four points are almost all for the water. And again, outdoor seating (which is where you’d want to sit) is comprised of backless benches. BACKLESS.

Service: 7/10. I’ve seen bad reviews for the service floating around on urbanspoon but it was decent as far as I’m concerned. The place was busy as Hell, the waitresses seemed run off their feet and it took a few requests to get water but they were friendly, attentive and polite. No major complaints there.

Overall: 4/10. While, as I’ve mentioned, the food wasn’t too bad, the biggest reason for this low score comes in the form of a question: why? Why eat here? I can’t see any good reason, apart from perhaps the water, especially given that you have to visit the Docklands.

Written by alexlobov

March 11, 2010 at 4:45 pm