Lebanon Comes to Perth - theHumm November 2018

Lebanon Comes to Perth - theHumm November 2018

By Sebastian Weetabix

Downtown Perth as experienced by Weetabix is usually Gore Street with occasional rambles around Stewart Park or the Farmers’ Market. Otherwise Weetabix is not much given to urban tourism, although there is much fine architecture to be enjoyed in town. A walk along Drummond Street offers not only visual entertainment but also an opportunity to reflect on the philosophical distance between the Court House and the Hospital — both of which deal with deviations from what we hope is our normal condition. An accident of occupancy (parking places east of Foster were not available) and a small neon sign proclaiming “open” created the circumstances for discovery and lo, Gore Street extends past Foster as far as Beirut!

The time is well after lunch, but it is always falafel time, and J.J’s, for those who did not pick up the Beirut reference, specializes in Lebanese cuisine. Readers not familiar with the genre should know that Lebanon is a very distinct part of what we generally see as the Middle East. Through the intersection of multiple cultures and its position as an active centre of commerce, Lebanon developed a rich and complex culinary tradition integrating several major streams of culinary practice and ingredients with a culture of hospitality centered around leisurely meals in domestic settings. Not so much here — but traditional Lebanese dishes are also a form of fast food that surpasses the North American standard in several ways, including culinary variety and nutritional properties. Falafel, in particular, is the spearhead of a transformation in the fast food world — from cheap “empty” calories to a highly nutritious, delicious and plant-based meal that can simultaneously satisfy both physical and aesthetic hunger. Available as a platter or a sandwich (in pita of course), it provides a perfect base for a sit-down meal or a grab-and-go. Based on personal experience, Weetabix suspects that it may be addictive; it certainly is habit-forming and now it is available in Perth… which brings me back to J.J’s.

Outdoor signage and a small seating area (only five tables) suggest that the main focus of J.J’s is take-out, and a short menu on a card confirms the orientation. An open shawarma grill and a display of condiments have been laid out with both efficiency and visual appeal; there is also a larger kitchen and prep area in another room. The owner, Alain Makieh, is both chef-de-cuisine and front. Food is his passion and pride. He is happy to explain that everything in his establishment is fresh and made from scratch. Weetabix does not look for a can of scratch but can verify that Makieh has an uncompromising approach to his product. A quick decision is made to try a few items starting with a small falafel sandwich plus a stuffed vine leaf, some salad, and a piece of homemade baklava; enough for a mid-afternoon snack he thinks, correctly as it turns out. The food is ready with minimal wait and offered as requested, “ready to go” but consumed on the premises. It is very good. Lacking inhibitions about talking while eating, Weetabix engages in a short conversation with Makieh.

Perth is a long way from Beirut — and even longer since Makieh came via Australia in a multi-year odyssey which might be the subject of a separate article. He is an experienced chef with substantial experience, and after several years working in Ottawa, he decided that a smaller town offered better opportunities both in business and lifestyle. Community involvement and social action are key factors that drive him, and he is intimately and passionately committed to living a principled life. Leftover food from J.J’s goes to charity, not to a waste bin; and speaking of leftovers, my portions were generous but there weren’t any. There are, however, daily leftovers of some items since freshness is a key factor in all of Makieh’s preparations. Fresh and high-quality ingredients carefully sourced result in higher than average food costs but the results are worth it. A return trip will be made to sample the shawarma.

Falafel comes in many forms and has made its way into the North American mainstream in many variants. The basic element is a fritter/patty made from ground chick peas with a variety of spices and sometimes other legumes. This makes for a balance of protein and carbohydrates set off with a bit of fat picked up in the fryer — choice of oil is critical to the health-conscious (note: all vegetable oils are cholesterol-free) and is also an important factor in the flavour of the end product. Making a basic falafel is not difficult, but like all cooking, skilled preparation yields superior results. Together with a good selection of complementary ingredients, a falafel sandwich is truly a source of gastronomic delight — and better yet it can be enjoyed on the run with minimal risk since everything is held in place by a pita pocket. Caution is advised, however, as sauce and juices can run out the bottom. Tahini and hot sauce streaks on shirts and ties are not yet in fashion! Baklava must be sampled, not explained.

Weetabix suggests the possibility of dining in as well as take-out, and make sure you ask Makieh to explain dishes that are unfamiliar to you. There is little risk and the flavour palate is both subtle and exotically familiar. Some North American favourites are on offer for the hard-core conservatives (aka stick-in-the-muds), so don’t worry — you do not need to get in at the deep end. For those already familiar with Lebanese food, know that it is now available in Perth and certainly worth a detour from the well beaten path. J.J’s is new in town but offers interesting and quality food at very friendly prices —overall a combination that should make it a local fixture. Go find 1 Gore Street West in downtown Perth or call 201–8700. Orders are taken by phone.


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Art… and Soul

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- theHumm November 2018

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Lebanon Comes to Perth - theHumm November 2018

By Sebastian Weetabix

Downtown Perth as experienced by Weetabix is usually Gore Street with occasional rambles around Stewart Park or the Farmers’ Market. Otherwise Weetabix is not much given to urban tourism, althoug......