I love surprises. It’s become my thing. Instead of buying presents for friends I take them out but don’t tell them where. It’s such a surprise that even I forget that I gave them a surprise. Exhibit A, I took Rochelle and her little sister out for lunch to Mrs S in Maylands and was so excited about the surprise that I accidentally scraped my car on their brick letter box (sadly not the first time). Another example is taking my friend Svet to Nobu because I remembered on her USA and Canada trip how much she loves sashimi and wanted to try Nobu in New York but had no time. So I’m driving along to Crown Perth and we are not even halfway when Svet’s Baba (grandma) realised we were going to the casino and got so excited. I think Svet realised quite quickly what surprise I was hatching. Here are my basic rules in successfully pulling off a surprise: keep numbers to a minimum and tell no one (not even your mum). This is Surprise 101. However, as you soon will find out there are downfalls to being the only person who knows where you are going. I will explain. Today’s treat is about Neha’s birthday surprise. You would have met Neha before as she introduced me to Mama Tran (see Quick Treat: I love you mama). I really wanted to take Neha to Bistro Guillaume, the new French restaurant in Crown Perth but the French aren’t vegetarian friendly and I didn’t want her to get disappointed by the lack of choice on her birthday. Instead I went with my favourite Lebanese restaurant in Perth, The Prophet. You should have seen her face when she saw a whole column in the menu devoted to vegetarian options. Before we get to the destination let’s talk about the journey. Neha lives in Leeming, south of the river and so her northie friends like me make jokes all the time about the long road trip there. It takes about 20ish minutes down the Kwinana Freeway but we do usually bring a CD with us to make the time go faster. I was on schedule when I picked up Neha for the 7.30 booking but the problem was I didn’t know the quickest way to Victoria Park from this direction (remember I’m a north of the river girl after all). The fatal flaw in my plan is that all my passengers did not know where I was going so I had to go by memory. I was about to take the Canning Highway exit, which would have been the fast route but I hesitated and kept driving. I kid you not as soon as I missed that exit, fireworks started across the Swan River. Yes I did take credit for it and pretend it was part of my surprise. It was like a Sliding Doors moment, by missing the exit and taking the long way we had free fireworks. Another part of the surprise was car-aoke (thanks Rochelle for that one), singing along to the radio was a distraction tool to stop them asking where I was going. After detouring into the city I was finally heading in the Victoria Park direction. Crown Perth was conveniently located on the way and was the guess by most people in the car. Another guess was Ciao Italia in South Perth, which I have never been to but is on my wish list. By the time we hit Victoria Park, Rochelle was the winner and picked out we were going to The Prophet. I was assigned the tough job of choosing what to order since I had the Lebanese card. Without further ado…finally we get to the food:
• Vegetarian mixed platter – hummus, baba ganoush, vine leave, cabbage roll, tabouli and lentil rice.
• Vine leaves
• Cabbage rolls
• Loubyeh bi Zeit (green beans sautéed in olive oil, tomato and onions)
The biggest hit was surprisingly the loubyeh bi zeit, which if I do say so myself is one of the better dishes I cook (Babuna and Nen if you are reading this I know you will be laughing your heads off at this sentence). This dish is so simple but has so much flavour. Don’t make the rookie mistake of eating with your fork. That is not how Lebanese food should be eaten. What do you think the bread is there for? Step away from the fork, grab the Lebanese bread and fold it over the beans then put it in your mouth. How easy was that! I know you might have separation issues from the fork but trust me you will enjoy the mezze experience more if you eat with your hands. Mezze is a style of eating where you have a number of dishes to choose from to pile on your plate. I am biased here but I find mezze more filling than tapas. I think it’s because Lebanese food is very fibrous with beans and rice filling the stomach. No surprise here we were all full. As usual I over ordered. Another favourite was the vine leaves, which my friend Kristen kept thinking was a banana leaf. I also loved the tabouli, which is probably the best I’ve had outside my house. My friends were starting to stare when I started to drink the dressing but I couldn’t help it. Lemon, olive oil and salt is so simple but so delicious. What I love about The Prophet is that it makes authentic Lebanese food accessible with the Chef also understanding that some people need their more westernised lamb skewers and chips. The menu is arabese, a mixture of traditional and westernised options. It explains why the clientele is so mixed. The Chef was very excited to have and I quote ‘pretty ladies’ at his restaurant and so we were spoiled. Thanks for the complimentary strawberries and lemon labne. A couple of the girls didn’t like the tartness of the labne but once it was spread over the sweet strawberries dusted in cinnamon it was a marriage made in heaven. I was telling the girls about how my Aunty Gugu can read fortunes from a coffe cup. So we ordered a small coffee to share. Lebanese coffee is made on the stove spiced with cardamon with a touch of sugar sweetness. After you drink from your tiny cup you turn it over so the liquid drains out and then the fortune teller, in this instance me will look for pictures. These pictures represent something about your future. I know it sounds airy fairy and you take it like a grain of salt but it is a lot of fun and if I do say so myself I think I did a cracking job. Don’t you think Kristen? I will finish this treat off by quoting an arabese song (a mixture of Arabic and mainly English lyrics), yes I know can you believe these songs exist. Faydee’s Shelter your Heart sums up a meal at The Prophet, ‘Ya habibi (sweetheart) mat khafi (don’t be scared) I’ll make sure your heart (except change it to stomach) is safe with me’. Putting down the fork and eating with your hands can be scary at first but don’t worry because that is what mezze is all about. This is not the end of Neha’s birthday surprise; see the next treat for phase two.
THE FOOD JOURNEY