There have been times when I wished I had an older sibling. An older brother perhaps, with friends who I could have crushes on from afar. An older sister, who could teach me how to apply makeup properly so I wouldn’t look like a clown the way I did through my early teens. Yet, I wouldn’t trade the responsibility of being a (much) older sister for anything. The ten years between my brother and I has often meant that my role in his life blurred the line between being a sister or a mother.
In the early years, I was very much a mother – changing diapers, attending parent-teacher interviews, doing after-school pick-ups. As the years pass though and he becomes an adult himself, I’m enjoying our new relationship where I’m more of an older sister with authority – someone who can tell him off for being lazy and not looking for a part-time job, and someone who can broaden his knowledge of the world by introducing him to new life and culinary experiences.
On my recent visit to Melbourne, I took him to B’Stilla – a Moroccan restaurant in South Yarra that’s been receiving rave reviews. It was just us on this early dinner date, as my father was still overseas. We arrived for a very early dinner reservation at 5.30pm, and were one of only three parties dining at that time. It didn’t take long for the restaurant to fill up though, with all tables full by the time we left an hour and a half later.
Having never been to B’Stilla before, our waitress explained the menu to us, and suggested dishes of a few different sizes to create the perfect dinner for two. But first, we started with a mocktail each – my apple and cucumber was deliciously refreshing with a minty twist, and his pineapple and bitters was quite thick and fruity.
Our first ‘small plate’ ordered was the Lamb Ribs – frenched, marinated, spiced and grilled before being seasoned with dukkah. With a squeeze of lime juice over them, they were simply delectable – super flavourful, a little bit spicy and tangy and tender. I only wish there was more than two ribs each!
The B’Stilla Duck and Chicken Pie was something entirely new to me as well as my brother – neither of us had ever tried this before! It’s essentially a filo pie, but with a twist – while the contents of the pie are savoury, the exterior of it is sweet, with a generous topping of icing sugar and some caramelisation to the filo in the baking process. It’s a strange concept, but it works. It helps that I find duck quite a sweet meat to begin with, especially when cooked with almonds and cinnamon as it is here.
I ordered the Merguez after seeing it make an appearance on the table next to ours. Each element on its own is unremarkable, but once you put it all together, it’s quite stupendous. The slightly tangy burst of fresh flavour from the pomegranate seeds helps to cut through the earthiness of both the sausage and the lentils. Quite unusual, but it works well.
I loved the Root Vegetable Tagine with its thick creamy tomato based sauce which was set off to perfection by the spiced yoghurt.The dish ran the risk of potentially becoming too texturally bland, but the softness of the vegetables and creaminess of the sauce was offset with the fresh crunchy pepitas scattered on top. Rich, comfort food, perfect for winter in Melbourne.
For a quick dose of vegetables, we also ordered the Moroccan slaw – crunchy and well-dressed with the occasional sweet hits with each sliver of dried apricot. Truth be told, it was really the apricot that made the slaw a great dish – without it, it would have been like any other side salad, healthy but not very exciting.
We finished our meal with dessert to share, the Hot amlou pudding as suggested by our waitress. It’s essentially a honey and almond pudding with preserved orange peel and sweet syrup drizzled on top. Simply remarkable, especially with the boozy cream that it rested on. Doing a bit of research, it seems as though ‘amlou’ is a honey and almond paste that’s usually readily available for purchase in Moroccan supermarkets…I look forward to finding and buying some to eat at home because it was just that delicious!
Overall, my brother and I really enjoyed our visit to B’Stilla, and we talked about potentially returning with my father for a visit when I’m next in Melbourne. It’s the type of place that he could really enjoy, and though Moroccan-style food would be new to him, I think he would really enjoy it. I’ll certainly be back!