The few times I’ve passed Teta Mona during the last few weeks, curious East Brunswickians have stopped to take a look – peering through the shopfront enticingly stamped with the words ‘Lebanese Soulfood’. Teta Mona opened its doors for business on Thursday and is already drawing quite the crowd.
The grandkids of the Cedar Bakery institution on High Street, Preston, have left the nest and branched out on their own to create a venue serving their own take on the wholesome Lebanese food they grew up on. The venue sweetly pays homage to their Teta (grandma) Mona, and its genesis in tradition is evident from the walls lined with family photos, the menu laden with quintessential Lebanese flavours, and energetic middle-eastern music twirling around the place.
However, Teta Mona recounts the story of classic Lebanese fare through younger eyes – the decor is sharp, with an imposing open kitchen surrounded by bar, lined in vibrantly coloured tiles. These guys know that the public relishes the homeliness of the kitch crockery you’ve eaten lunch from at grandma’s house, and the large chest of shelves like a kitchen pantry displaying quaint but practical goods for sale such as rosewater, Lebanese coffee and tahini.
The menu is fresh, with bright flavours using wholefoods, and a weighty contingent of vegetarian and vegan options. They’re toying with the classics, but in a a down-to earth way that isn’t trying too hard to be new-age.
The savoury realm of the menu is divided into ‘zghiir’ (small plates, $8), ‘wasat’ (medium plates, $12.5), ‘kbiir’ (mains, $16.5). From the zgiir department, the surprise touch of radish and sweet acidity of pomegranite was a welcome addition to the always refreshing fattoush salad with lemony sumac, and crunchy pita chips soaked in the tangy dressing.
The ‘kebet arayes’ was a simple but satisfying parcel of minced beef and cracked wheat, filled with spinach and feta, and illuminated with a side of tangy labne and slices of cucumber and tomato. The flaky grilled snapper fillet screamed summer – caked in a herby salsa with punches of mint, coriander, parsley and chilli, nuggets of walnut, and a zingy drizzling sauce bearing the slight bitterness of tahini. These were good lunch-sized meals, but if you’re grazing through the menu, make sure you don’t fill up on the plentiful sides of chewy pita bread.
The spiced lamb, with crunchy pita, chickpeas, almonds and yoghurt was a minefield of flavours and textures. The minced lamb was buzzing with spices, set-off by lashings of tangy yoghurt, crumbly chickpeas, rough pita chips doused in olive oil, and toasted almond slivers on top.
The courtyard begs to be filled with summer beverages, with a large overhanging tree laced with red fairy lights, and the funky street-art-style mural of a rifle-wielding Mona sprawled across the corrugated iron fence. It’s just too bad they don’t have a liquor licence yet. In the meantime, we gushed over the ‘rosewater ice crush’, romantically flavoured with rosewater syrup and mint, and ‘lemon and mint ice crush’, tart like sherbet (both $4) (which, notwithstanding, would be great with a slug of vodka and gin respectively).
Although we couldn’t negotiate our stomachs into dessert, I will return for the baclava which poses seductively on the front counter, made with almonds, pepita and chia seeds, and sweetened with agave syrup (almost guiltless sounding). Some hearty breakfast options are also on offer, as well as an array of fresh Lebanese pastries heralding to their Cedar bakery ancestry, with labne and salata for a handsome price of $10.
The service was smooth and friendly, the staff welcomed feedback, and happily chatted to us over the open kitchen. Stop in for a wholesome take on traditional Lebanese home cooking which is evidently a project of passion many years in the making.
100A Lygon St, Brunswick East