Dave and I had organised to go to Westgarth cinemas on Friday night, so what better place for dinner than Café Najla; a little Middle Eastern eatery on the southern end of High Street, across the road from the cinema.
Well, I was expecting it to be little but when you walk in, the high red ceilings and depth of the restaurant creates a very open space. We were seated on a table along the wall, where I got a nice view of a fabric wall hanging.
The atmosphere of the place is a little strange. It was almost as if I was afraid to talk too loudly. It is a very quiet space for quiet eating and quiet conversation. This impression could have come from the few patrons that were dining here, or it could have come from the quiet waitresses and the big space. Either way, that’s what it felt like. No loud boisterous fun here.
Anyway, we ordered food to share – kibbeh dumplings, slow cooked lamb with burghul and chicken skewers with almond rice.
The kibbeh dumplings were pretty dark when they were presented, which made me think they were going to be dry, but they weren’t. Kibbeh is made of burghul, which is sort of like rice or pearl barley. It’s a Middle Eastern staple that is also used in tabouleh.
With the dumplings, what they did is create the burghul dumpling and then stuffed it with spiced beef mince. It was actually lovely and moist inside and having the sour cream to accompany it provided smoothness. The pomegranate seeds gave the dish a splash of colour and even though the salad was minimal, it was still drizzled in a tangy dressing. Not bad.
The chicken skewers were pretty ordinary. I think my favourite thing about this dish was the almond rice. It had heaps of spices in it like cinnamon and possibly cumin, with flakes of almond. The chicken itself was fine to eat and went well with the dishlette of spiced yoghurt sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
The lamb was delicious. It came out on a super-hot plate with spiced burghul and another dishlette of spiced yoghurt (again with pomegranate seeds), and a side of salad. The meat was tender and melted away in your mouth. The burghul was also excellent and had heaps of flavour. The salad was fresh and had a delicious, tangy dressing, with spices like cumin and cayenne pepper mixed through to give it some spice. This dish was dreamy.
I was in the mood for dessert and I really wanted to try the one that was pictured on the Urbanspoon website – a sundae cup with a mound of wispy fairy floss on the top. It was the 3rd item on the dessert menu – smooth milk custard with orange sauce topped with Persian fairy floss.
It was beautiful. My favourite part was the fairy floss. You can pull pieces off and pretend to have a wicked Pai Mei moustache and eyebrows. It was also pretty lip-smacking. The delicate floss collapsed and dissolved in my mouth and left a creamy taste. Really morish.
The milk custard was firm and very smooth but desperately relied on the orange sauce for flavour. After all the floss was gone and we were down to the last spoonful, there was no sauce left and only the custard, which proved to be boring in flavour on it’s own.
Overall, while we did enjoy the flavours and presentation of the food, we were a little disappointed with the price of some of the dishes. The lamb, for example, was nearly $30 and it was a very small amount. Despite that, there is something authentic about this place; it’s origins are from the heart. We learnt that the café is named after the female chef, and we noticed that all of the staff were ladies. They provided attentive service and were very friendly, but also seemed a little vague and gingerly. In terms of options, I would say that Cafe Najla is very vegetarian friendly.
I’d be willing to come back for an after-movie coffee and dessert, or for a quiet catch up with a mate, but that’s about it.