THEME: NEW IN TOWN
59 HARDWARE STREET, MELBOURNE, 9670 2861
LICENSED MC V EFTPOS
MONDAY-FRIDAY NOON-11PM; SATURDAY-SUNDAY 11.30AM-11PM
PITA: $12-$22; OUT OF PITA: $9-$17; SWEET: $2-$5
You can call Miznon an Israeli street food restaurant just as you could call Mozart a man who wrote music. You’d be right but the description is utterly insufficient. Miznon is an open-armed party, a swirl of positivity expressed in tambourine tapping and baby hugging, smiling eyes and blurting trumpets and spontaneous dancing to loud music. It’s loose and fun and compelling; the fact that there’s a menu and chefs and drinks and food is almost a cover. But then – the food is also completely delicious.
This is the sixth Miznon, following the Tel Aviv original which opened in 2007, and branches in Paris and Vienna (a New York outlet is coming too). Its spiritual head is chef Eyal Shani, a charismatic pita preacher who spent time in Melbourne around the restaurant’s launch in late August, laying down the law in mood not food. “We don’t write recipes, we teach the story of the recipe to the cook,” he told me of his songlines approach to being a restaurateur. Miznon Melbourne is built like an amphitheatre with bleacher seating and a balcony looking down onto the kitchen and bar where someone flips falafel burgers, another pours shots for the whole room and someone else from the sparky international crew calls out food with a cornet blast. There are no bookings but things move fast and even if you’re just here to grab takeaway you’re likely to be reeled into the festivities.
If this makes the food sound like an afterthought, that’s wrong too. Even though Miznon feels incredibly chaotic, there’s rigour to the food and an intense questing behind it. Take the pita, cooked at Alasya in Brunswick in a Jewish-Muslim project infused with missionary zeal. Chef Afik Gal (who moved here from Israel) talks with the bakers daily about the thickness of the bread, the ratio of the top and bottom, the strength of the seam, the absorbency of the dough. Perfection, you sense, will always sit just over the horizon. Miznon stuffs these pita with odd things: ratatouille, minute steak, cauliflower, lamb rib. Plates are scarce: food comes in paper bags, mess is hard to avoid, even something to enjoy, another way to get inside the experience.
That lamb rib pita arrives with bones poking out of the bread. You pull on them and they ease away from the flesh with no resistance so you know the meat is tender before you take a bite and that those tasty bones have been imparting flavour right to the very last second. You bring the pita to your mouth and almost fall into it. You’re in, you’re part of it and then your mouth is full of rich, sticky sweetness, silky tahini, bright Israeli pickles, a tickle of chilli. Miznon’s most famous dish is a whole cauliflower: boiled then roasted, humble and heroic, to be eaten with the ceremony of a Sunday roast. There’s similar vegetable majesty in a bag of green beans, seven types of them, strings-in, again so you have to get involved, escorted to a high plateau of tastiness with lemon, garlic and salt. The run-over potato – smashed roasted spud squished between sheets of baking paper with sour cream, salt and dill – is revealed by the diner too, a peeling back of layers, ruined before you begin, inexplicably, paper-lickingly good.
There’s much about Miznon that’s abnormal but perhaps nothing is more radical than the fact that they don’t use spices. There’s salt (coarse, grey, French Le Paludier), black pepper and that’s it. Butter, garlic, chilli and green herbs feature but there’s no other spice on site. It’s a courageous statement about the produce used and the simple skills used to coax it to magnificence.
I don’t like noisy restaurants. You’ll find me rigid with distaste for any type of audience participation. I don’t do shots. However, at Miznon I find myself so zipless and up for anything that I’ll knock back shots of arak, share meat with people next to me at the bar and hoist myself onto the edge of a new friend’s table for a chat. I don’t know who this person is that Miznon calls forth but I’ve heard the clarion call and I’ll be back for much more Miznon magic.