Abla’s has been around for, well, longer than probably the great lady herself Abla Amad would care to remember. On a busy arterial road in the inner suburb of Carlton, Abla’s has been serving no-fuss Lebanese cooking that has consistently scored top points in the various Melbourne epicurean guides.

The restaurant has been operating out of the same spot since 1979. It’s a largely unadorned space, with a middle-eastern inspired moulded arch in the main room and a few evocative pictures on the walls. The tables are packed in. Even on a cold winter’s night, walk-ins need to be early. The last unbooked table was gone by 7.30pm.

While there are a number of dishes tailored to vegetarians, the menu is dominated by that great middle-eastern favourite – lamb. Having said that, waiting on each table are dishes of pita bread crisps, the yummiest black olives Greedy Girl has tasted in some time and some battens of turnip, pickled with beetroot juice. She left the latter to gluttonous husband who pronounced it refreshing if not a huge taste sensation.

Despite years of living reasonably close by and promising ourselves we would head there, this was our first visit to Abla’s. Delighting in one of the few places one can still bring their own wine, we opened a 2004 Two Hands Yesterday’s Hero grenache from the Barossa Valley and decided on some very traditional dishes. The lightness of the wine worked extremely well with our food.

Abla's Carlton

Enjoying our BYO wine

The portion sizes at Abla’s are very generous. First up we chose ladies’ fingers and ‘makaneek’. The ladies’ fingers looked tantalising. Golden, crispy filo pastry was filled with minced lamb, pine nuts and spices. The filling was soft and the flavours superb – they needed to cool down a fraction though before eating to get the full effect. They were also exceptionally filling. With five pieces on the plate, Greedy Girl was happy to avoid a fight and let gluttonous husband have the lion’s share.

Abla's Carlton

Ladies’ fingers

The makaneek – grilled, home-made spiced lamb sausages – was also a generous serving. It was drizzled with a delicious lemon oil and each bite of the sausage was the better for repeated dips. Greedy Girl would have loved some ‘labnee’ (or ‘labneh’? All Greedy Girl can find out is that labneh is yoghurt mixed with mint and cucumber, while labnee seems to be a particular Lebanese fromage blanc and that’s what we had with the kibbee/kibbeh) to provide a bit more moisture.

Abla's Carlton


So, on to one of the restaurant’s signatures, the ‘chicken with rice’ (pictured at the top of this post). This is a beautiful-looking dish. It’s described on the menu as an ‘exquisitely-flavoured rice pilaff’. Underneath that crown of chicken strips, flaked almonds and pine nuts, there’s minced lamb folded through the rice. The rice is well cooked and all the elements of the dish were absolutely fine but it was decidedly on the dry side. We took to incorporating forkfuls of the labnee that came with the kibbee to, again, give it moisture.

Kibbee is described as a casing of minced lamb and cracked wheat, stuffed with spiced lamb and pine nuts, served with labneh. This was an enormous serving. The individual balls were very large. The casing was a little tough and it made the finished item a tad stodgy. By this point, having had four dishes featuring spiced, minced lamb, we were also craving a different flavour – a note for next time. Three kibbee remained uneaten so we asked our friendly server if we could have a doggy bag. No problem at all.

Abla's Carlton

Kibbee with labneh

Abla’s serves up homestyle, traditional cooking. If we’d been famished on arrival, we may have even gone for their very reasonably-priced banquet at A$60 per head, which featured all the above dishes and some more besides (presumably in slightly smaller portions). It would be an attractive proposition for a group dinner but a little too much for just the two of us. It’s definitely a prospect to explore further.


109 Elgin Street, Carlton


Abla's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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