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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mecca Bah, Manuka, Canberra

Self-portrait at the National Portrait Gallery

It's true what they say. If you keep your head down, you miss out on all the fun stuff.

On our recent day trip to the Truffle Festival in Canberra, we stopped by the National Portrait Gallery after our lunch at Senso. Along one of the corridors is a long bench table with information touch screens. It's not unless you're paying particular attention that you realise the last three screens have their webcams on, incorporating passersby into the live screensaver.

It's a simple idea but effective and addictive. I had fun watching other visitors do a double-take as they walked past, u-turned suddenly and then paused in front of the camera, taking childish delight in watching themselves on the screen -- or in my case, take a photo!

We meandered around the gallery in the peaceful quiet of the new building, only opened to the public in December 2008. I even loved the entrance to the public bathrooms, a white wall lined with a mesmerising pattern of vertical wooden beading.

National Portrait Gallery bathroom entrance

Earlier we'd found time to browse the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets, a square of shops around a massive car park. There was plenty of organic produce on offer, alongside delis filled with cheeses, olives and smallgoods. I admit I was a little taken aback by the sight of olive oil almost solidifed inside bottles, the joy of the sub-zero temperatures that is Canberra!

Organic buerre bosc pears

Organic pink fir apple potatoes


Australian War Memorial by dusk

We headed to Mecca Bah in Manuka for dinner before the drive back to Sydney. It's a moody dimly space with flickering candles in traditional Moroccan tea glasses and brass lanterns with coloured glass overhead. Cushions, lounges and a huge copper fireplace add to the Moroccan feel.

Brass lantern

Five of us order a mix of dishes to share. Despite the crowd, our meals arrive incredibly fast - perhaps a little too fast in hindsight?

Tunisian carrot salad $9

Tunisian carrot salad isn't the pile of grated carrot I'd expected. The cooked carrot batons are deliciously sweet, sticky with glaze, spiced with cumin and stacked in a Jenga-style tower surrounded by plump currants.

Beetroot, rocket and yoghurt salad $10.50

Beetroot, rocket and yoghurt is such a classic combination I'm determined to remember it for my next picnic or dinner party. It's a simple contrast of flavours and textures, with the sweet and slight earthiness of beetroot playing off against the smooth coolness of yoghurt and the peppery hint of rocket.

Sweet potato falafels with tahini sauce $9.50

We'd been intrigued by the sweet potato falafels and break them open to see what's inside.

Delicate shreds of sweet potato and zucchini make this traditional chickpea and fava bean fritter moister and less nutty in flavour.

Harira soup: spicy lamb, chickpea and lentil soup $12

Harira soup has a pleasant undertone of heat although it's not particularly a large portion of hearty in content.

Bastilla Moroccan chicken pastries $12

Bastilla Moroccan chicken pastries have plenty of crunch from the surrounding filo, but they're disappointing mild in flavour, without the heady aromatics of cinnamon and spicy sweetness seen in the original which features pigeon.


There's a flourish when the tagines arrive at our table, although it's presumed our dishes weren't cooked in the ceramic tagines themselves.

Lamb tagine with preserved lemon, green olives and harissa $22

Chicken with tomatoes, almond, sesame seeds and honey $21

The tagines have a subtle blend of spices. There's not a lot of lamb or chicken but the meat is tender and the sauce is thick and slightly sweet. I'm not keen on serving the couscous beneath the sauce, which turns the fluffy grains into somewhat soggy ones.

Middle Eastern spiced swordfish kebab with spicy couscous salad $22.50

The Middle Eastern spiced swordfish kebab is probably my favourite main of the evening, a sizeable chunk of fish that has been marinated and seared on the grill. A crumble of pistachio nuts add a pleasant crunch and I'm particularly happy about the non-soggy couscous on the side.

Pastirma Turkish pizza $18.50
with roast garlic, fennel and goats cheese

We round off our meal with a couple of Turkish pizzas that seem to arrive within mere minutes of us ordering them. The boats of pizza dough are soft and delicate. Thin shavings of Pastirma, a spicy air-dried cured beef, work well against the piles of peppery rocket leaves and long strands of raw Spanish onion.

Roast zucchini Turkish pizza $18
with Middle Eastern cheeses, lemon and mint

I'm surprised that I actually prefer the roast zucchini pizza, the discs of zucchini cooked to a barely soft stage that only enhances their natural sweetness. The addition of cheese, rocket, mint leaves and a generous douse of freshly squeezed lemon makes component sing.

Ice cream scoop trio $9
Date & vanilla, Middle Eastern halva and Turkish coffee

Dessert is a sampling of ice creams. The Turkish coffee has a caffeinated intensity that is much appreciated, and the Middle Eastern halva is perfumed with almond. Most popular on the night is the date and vanilla, not as sugary as you'd expect but light and creamy, with the flavours of fresh, not dried, fig.

View Larger Map
Mecca Bah Canberra on Urbanspoon

Mecca Bah
25-29 Manuka Terrace
Flinders Way, Manuka, Canberra ACT
Tel: +61 (02) 6260 6700

Opening hours:
Open 7 days, 12pm-10pm (bookings recommended)

Also at
Mecca Bah Brisbane
19-21/1000 Ann Street
Fortitude Valley, Brisbane QLD
Tel: +61 (07) 3252 5299

Mecca Bah Melbourne
55a Newquay Promenade
Docklands, Melbourne VIC
Tel: +61 (03) 9642 1300

Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets
Corner of Dalby and Mildura St
Fyshwick, Canberra ACT
Tel: +61 (02) 6295 0606

Open Thursday to Sunday 8.00am - 5.30pm

National Portrait Gallery
King Edward Terrace,
Parkes, Canberra ACT
Tel: +61 (02) 6102 7000

Open 7 days 10am-5pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Canberra Truffle Festival Part 1: Truffles for breakfast, scones from morning tea
Canberra Truffle Festival Part 2: Truffle lunch at Senso Restaurant

Canberra - Le Rendezvous
Canberra - Pancake Parlour

Canberra Balloon Fiesta
2007 Canberra Balloon Fiesta Morning
2007 Canberra Balloon Fiesta Night
15 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/04/2009 12:42:00 am


  • At 8/04/2009 8:17 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    I haven't been to the old capital in ages! Thanks for sharing another great restauarant find with us Helen! I too am impressed by those swordfish kebabs!

  • At 8/04/2009 8:54 am, Anonymous shez said…

    Five of you? Ate all that?! I suppose a day in Canberra will do that to you... Also helps when the food looks as delicious as this meal does!

  • At 8/04/2009 9:03 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Haha that webcam thing at the National Gallery sounds so fun and clever! The restaurant looks like it has a great Moroccan feel to it. And almost solidied olive oil? It must have been soo cold when you were there, glad it's not like that here!

  • At 8/04/2009 10:35 am, Blogger Sarah said…

    Lovely photos! Looks like you had a great time in Canberra.

    Yeah those tagines are just decorative (we used to sell them when I worked at a cookware shop and customers always used to get annoyed that they couldn't cook in them)... but cooking in a proper tagine doesn't really affect the flavour of the dish unless it's cooked on an open fire, I'm told. (Never been adventurous enough to try that myself!)

    xox Sarah

  • At 8/04/2009 12:26 pm, Anonymous clekitty said…

    The food looks yummy. I think the dish I would most like to try would be the swordfish :)

  • At 8/04/2009 1:59 pm, Blogger Anh said…

    Never thought Canberra has so much to offer. Gotta come down there one day. Not in winter for me though…

  • At 8/04/2009 8:17 pm, Anonymous Reemski said…

    Ah My hometown! I have a softspot for the Fyshwick markets as I grew up going there. It's changed sooo much over the last 25 years.

    Mecca Bah is great, have been there once and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • At 8/04/2009 10:18 pm, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    it's funny and perhaps a little disappointing when moroccan restaurants don't cook their dishes in the actual tagine they get served in. it's all show. when i travelled through morocco i never came across fancy decorated tagines when dishes were served, they were always served in rustic blackened terracotta ones. is there anywhere in Sydney which cook them authentically?

  • At 8/05/2009 12:23 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Peter G - The swordfish were great, and I'm not surprised you haven't there in a while. A truffle festival was our incentive - a very compelling one!

    Hi Shez - Oh you don't know our appetites! The portions were actually quite small... well I like to think so, anyway! We'd been eating all day but hmmm... we seem to be quite good at it!

    Hi Stephcookie - The web cam thing was so much fun, but then I am easily amused! The olive oil freaked me out a little. I don't like the cold!

    Hi Sarah - Ha, I've seen those tagines in cookware shops too. I thought the lid helped keep the moisture in, but perhaps it doesn't happen on a stove? Tagines seem to be all the rage these days too, and ha, I don't think I'd attempt one over a fire either.

    Hi Clekitty - The swordfish was great. Should probably hunt around for some recipes.

    Hi Anh - I think there are treasures in every city, although perhaps some more than others! I'm not a big winter person either but it's amazing what I will endure in search of food...

    Hi Reemski - I'm sure Fyshwick has changed a lot! Mecca Bah seemed hugely popular with locals. It certainly has a great vibe about it.

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - I never saw any fancy tagines in Morocco either, but then I guess it's all part and parcel of presentation and marketing of an "exotic" cuisine. I doubt you'd find a restaurant in Sydney that cooks them authentically - you might have to befriend a few Moroccan ex-pats!

  • At 8/05/2009 2:39 am, Anonymous Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    I'm really a meat person, but I'm rather intrigued by these veg dishes. Looks very goood! Came to think of it, I don't think I have ever eaten authentic Moroccan cuisine - usually 'Moroccan style' ones.

    Oh and another bathroom shot LOL

  • At 8/06/2009 8:24 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Yas - There actually wasn't a lot of meat in our dishes, but I didn't realise you were more of a veg person, or should that be deep-fried and cream fan? :)

    Haha, I didn't even realise it was a bathroom shot. Well it was the outside, and hey, have you ever seen anything like it? lol

  • At 8/06/2009 9:03 pm, Blogger Iron Chef Shellie said…

    I <3 Mecca Bah!
    I've been to the one in Melbourne once, I find it annoying they don't take bookings though. The pides and tagines are amazing!

    I really must go back soon!

  • At 8/06/2009 11:56 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Iron Chef Shellie - It's odd that they have outlets in Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane and not Sydney?

    We actually managed to get a booking in Canberra although we had an early booking with instructions to leave by 8pm. Once we got there though, this seemed to have been forgotten by staff. We left pretty much on time anyway.

  • At 4/28/2010 11:02 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That's a lovely post and your photos are simply beautiful!

    I think the picture that you have labeled as 'bastilla' is actually the spicy lamb and pine nut boureks? The bastilla is actually in a round shape with fairer pastry skin (whereas boureks are deep fried).

  • At 5/25/2010 1:51 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - I remember we did order the basilla pastries as I adore bastilla, but I guess the ones here are more similar to bourek, perhaps more akin to a bastilla interpretation :) Have yet to find a bastilla that comes close to the one I enjoyed in Morocco :(


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