• The falafel is just one reason why Abla's is one of Australia's most beloved restaurants. (Abla's)Source: Abla's
With legendary Lebanese dishes and hospitality, Abla’s has been a Melbourne favourite since 1979.
By
Audrey Bourget

21 Jan 2019 - 11:03 AM  UPDATED 17 Jan 2019 - 4:16 PM

Being 83 years old doesn’t stop Abla Amad from being at her restaurant several days a week. She’s either overseeing the kitchen or greeting customers in the dining room. “People ask me when I’ll be done, but I love it – I love people,” she tells SBS Food.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Abla’s is one of Melbourne's longest-running and most beloved restaurants.

Abla’s story

Abla Amad developed her cooking skills after moving to Australia from Lebanon at 19, thanks to her uncle Joe, her mother and her mother-in-law.

“Everyone used to come to my house every Sunday for lunch, there were so many people,” she says. Convinced by family and friends, she opened Abla’s in Carlton in 1979.

“Back then people didn’t know much about Lebanese food, there were not many Lebanese restaurants around,” she says. But it didn't take long for the food and hospitality at Abla’s to attract customers, Lebanese and beyond.

While Abla Amad is still very much present at the restaurant, she now gets help from daughter-in-law Rae and daughter Margaret-Anne.

Tradition and simplicity

One of the most popular dishes at Abla’s is the riz ala’ dajaj, simply named “chicken and rice”. It’s usually served on special occasions – but here, you can get it any time, a la carte or as part of the banquet. The recipe is traditional, a mix of spiced minced lamb and long-grain rice topped with cinnamon-dusted shredded chicken, pine nuts and almonds. The twist is the way it’s presented: it looks like a cake.

“It’s quite a festive dish. When there’s a big function, it comes out on a huge tray and it’s decorated beautifully. Because of the way it looks, it’s quite impressive, people love it,” says Margaret-Anne Amad. “Quite often, when we take it out at the end of the banquet, people think that it’s dessert.”

Abla Amad’s favourites are the dips (labneh, hummus and baba ghanouj) and the cabbage rolls (stuffed with rice and mince lamb, and then cooked with tomato, mint and lemon juice).

Both Margaret-Anne and Rae Amad love the simplicity of the mjadra, a lentil and rice dish topped with caramelised onion.

“I went to Lebanon last year and a lot of the dishes we’re making, you don’t even get them there anymore. The early immigrants have brought them here and they kept the tradition going,” says Margaret-Anne.

A lot of love

Few restaurants in Melbourne can boast four decades of success, so why has Abla’s stood the test of time?

“I think people love it because the food is traditional, beautiful and fresh. The ladies in the kitchen cook like they cook at home. It might not be trendy, but it’s a guaranteed good meal,” says Margaret-Anne.

“A lot of Lebanese come in and say it’s like sitting at their mum’s or grandma’s table. A lot of them only eat things like the raw lamb [kibbeh nayeh] at home or at Abla’s.”

“I went to Lebanon last year and a lot of the dishes we’re making, you don’t even get them there anymore. The early immigrants have brought them here and they kept the tradition going.”

But people don’t only come to Abla’s for the food. There’s something about Abla Amad herself. “She’s such a warm spirit, a generous and giving person, it radiates through her and to people,” says Rae Amad.

She makes everybody feels like they’re family and it’s obvious that she enjoys what she does.

“My mother loves it so much, it’s such a big part of her life. The older she gets, the more important the restaurant becomes to her,” says Margaret-Anne Amad.

“We have to tell her when it’s time to go, we can’t get her out of there, she loves it!”

 

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Abla’s

109 Elgin Street Carlton, Vic, (03) 9347 0006

Mon – Wed 6 pm – 10 pm

Thu – Fri midday – 3 pm, 6 pm – 10 pm

Sat 6 pm – 10 pm

 


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