Fans of Ottolenghi would do well to take note – in his cookbook Jerusalem, the renowned chef hailed the mastermind behind global Israeli pita empire Miznon, Eyal Shani, as “the voice of modern Israeli cuisine”. And that voice is now getting global reach – Melbourne’s Hardware Lane outpost has become Shani’s sixth Miznon, soon to be joined by a seventh in New York.
Nothing about Miznon is orthodox. It is a two-storey restaurant, but the action sprawls on the lower floor, where guests order at the counter and wait for their names to be called. Nearly ten young, energetic waiters – so many to a relatively small restaurant – line themselves in and out of the exposed kitchen, scream in Hebrew and tell the donors what to order. The background soundtrack is that of tambourines, which are played by waiters spontaneously, and the high beat of tiny steaks is flat with a butcher. An employee calls us, at great distances with a view of the kitchen, where he continues to offer us shots, and then the whole restaurant – waitress and guests in a bowl of cauliflower.
Cauliflower gets a night of its own because it is the star of Shani’s menu. Baby brassicas adorn the walls of the restaurant before they’re brined and whisked into ovens, roasted whole with olive oil and salt until they’re crisp and deep brown. It’s served atop a thin sheet of paper for two or more diners to share.
The paper delivery system is another suggestion that they go their own way – a miniature silver bucket is placed on each working surface for the disposal of paper bags, which comes from Pitas and baking papers on which supplements are served.
Traditional Israeli pita fillings such as pickled cabbage and hummus are non-existent at Miznon. Here the classic falafel comes as Shani’s ‘falafel burger’ with tomato, sour cream and pickles. The French Provençal stewed vegetable dish ratatouille is given a new lease of life in Shani’s pita, with caramelised eggplant and onion finding an unfamiliar, yet perfectly sound pairing in creamy dollops of tahini and half-boiled egg. It certainly pays to be pro-plant: vegetarian pitas hover slightly above the $10 mark, while meat pitas such as the minute steak one can reach the comparatively hefty price of $22.
A potato side dish labelled ‘run over’ turns out to be a steamed potato, skin on and infused with dill, sour cream and garlic, flattened into a round disc and sandwiched by two sheets of baking paper, presumably for the theatrical effect. It looks like something that’s been run over, but tastes infinitely better. In the same vein, the intriguing-sounding ‘if you want to feel a warm egg inside your hand’ is literally a fried, slightly runny egg topped with diced tomatoes, sprinklings of pepper and served to you atop more paper so you can feel the heat in your palm.
Bucking the trend in a precinct of tourist traps, Miznon’s zany energy and inventive menu produces one of the most exciting dining experiences of 2017. Shani’s other Miznons are famous for their queues that spill out onto the pavement, and we expect this one to be no different.
One thing’s for certain – to try it is to love it.
Open daily Midday – 11pm
59 Hardware Lane, Melbourne