Sunday, February 12, 2012

Harambe Ethiopian Restaurant / Review

"Harambe" - in Swahili means "coming together as one". My lovely wife found this place for an early Valentines celebration - we had a great weekend starting with lunch at Harambe this Saturday.

The Harambe exterior promises a great experience.

We certainly did come together as one yesterday as we visited this intriguing restaurant in Footscray, Melbourne. We walked through the front door, pretty excited about what this experience could bring, entering a small room- enlivened by vibrant Ethiopian colours & enriched by the smells of distant simmering stews and curries.

A promising start! We entered a room that resembled a traditional Ethiopian "Tukul"  -a thatched grass hut. It was pretty cool. We were transported from Barkley St Footscray to Addis-Ababa in a micro-second. The room was adorned with all types of Ethiopian artifacts all working together to transport you to another place.

The main dining room set up as a traditional Tukul.

We'd decided to have lunch at Harambe & as such there were only 5 other tables filled with like-minded eager Ethiopian eaters. The round room (& the lack of any music) encouraged us to fill the void and chat with those near us. It became obvious we were all after one thing - a true Ethiopian experience. There were Ethiopian nationals (always a good sign), travelling Europeans, local students and even a butcher from Queensland on the search for great flavors for his next batch of sausages! A diverse lot indeed - must look Mr Butcher up - the snags would be pretty good ;)

We spied the menu and poured over its contents - hoping to get a handle on what this countries' food offers. In fact we had some idea having cooked some North African food ourselves - the aromas were rich and spicy - our expectation was heavy with notions of great curries and stews. We were not disappointed.

Wonderful stews and curries on offer.

Being the gluttons (food lovers) that we are, we ordered two "platters" - one an array of mixed vegetarian dishes and the other meat based wonders. The smells coming from the kitchen were wonderful! To our amazement we noticed the whole restaurant was being run by one girl. By this, I mean she really did it all, greeted the customers, ran front of house, served the brilliant Ethiopian beers and cooked & served the food - all with an ever-present smile & willingness to share.

We couldn't help but have a chat with Nanique. It turns out she is the daughter of the Ethiopian family who owns and runs this restaurant. Our dream as travelers is always to be invited into peoples' homes, learn about their lives & share their food - maybe even be taught how to cook a few traditional dishes on the way. It turns out Nanique and her family have the same idea. We are not customers in their restaurant - but friends invited into their family for a few hours to share some great food. And how good was the food!

Nanique doing her thing...

Small portions served on top of Injera Bread.

Each dish is served on top of fluffy & light Ethiopian bread (looking a lot like pancakes) called 'Injera". The  beauty of this is the holes in the bread soak up the sauces from each dish. The meal is eaten by hand - one hand only of course - bouncing from one incredible flavour to another. You break of some bread, pinch some food and eat hand to mouth - why do we use knives, forks & spoons anyway - this is so much more fun. of course we also tried a few of the local Ethiopian beers to wash to goodness down.

The flavours were intense - but not overly hot/spicy. Nanique explained they generally served mild versions of each dish for our western market - assuring us at the same time the Ethiopians love drier and much spicier versions of the dishes we enjoyed. Feeling a bit bummed by this we determined we would go back soon and ask for the "real deal" - full spice and suffer the consequences! If you want to feel the power, all you need to do is ask. When in Rome...

We implore you to visit Harambe - the food is great and the Ethiopian experience rich. The surrounding area in Footscray in uncharted for us - we're really looking forward to investigating the hundreds of traditional food shops an markets run by the African, Middle Eastern and Vietnamese traders - it's Melbourne's best kept secret.

One tip - go there for dinner rather than lunch and ask to be seated in the upstairs room - they offer a  very cool Ethiopian traditional room that sets the scene brilliantly.

Harambe Cafe Bar & Restaurant

205-207 Nicholson Street  Footscray Victoria 3011

(03)9687 7177
The best in the west :)

Masterchef's Matt Preston loves the food of course...


Vicki Bensinger said...

Sounds like a fun experience and way to celebrate an early Valentine's Day! Thanks for sharing!

Kristy and Adam said...

It was!! We had lots of fun and at the same time a great education :) Thank you Vicki!

Kristy and Adam said...

It was!! We had lots of fun and at the same time a great education :) Thank you Vicki!

Eva@ said...

I've never tried Ethiopian food, but I think I would like it as I do adore Indian, Thai and all thing curry. I am generally quite apprehensive about a restaurant that is not busy...but now with the great review platforms such as Open Table, Yelp, Trip Adviser, it is quick and easy to see what people are saying about it without the crowds.