An authentic Macedonian restaurant in Northcote with an open fire, fairy light-lit courtyard and live music.
Opening a Macedonian restaurant in Melbourne was a dream come true for brothers Miki and Igor Dodevski. Having tested the Northcote waters at their Ruckers Hill cafe for eight years, by the time the right venue came up and Lé Léé opened, Igor had escaped to the warmer climes of Byron Bay and Miki was going it alone. Well, almost. Miki's mother, Vera — an experienced chef who cooked for years in Macedonia, including for the former President of Yugoslavia, Josip Tito — helms the kitchen, deciding the menu and training both the head and sous chef.
When you enter Lé Léé's door on High Street, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd entered someone's dining room, in a home across the other side of the world. Wooden tables and whitewashed walls with exposed bricks make the space feel cosy and familial. Garlands of garlic and dried chillies hang above the door and traditional Macedonian woven rugs are draped on the walls.
On one side of the restaurant, there's a long bar with a pressed tin frontage and, behind it, the restaurant's logo is painted in grey under an exposed indented brick arch. The logo comes from the design on a hand-sewn lunch bag Vera gifted her husband on their wedding day.
Once you've been seated, either in the main dining area, the back room with its open fire or in the fairy light-filled courtyard, you'll receive a small dish with a cube of bread dipped in oil. This is a Macedonian tradition ensuring guests don't go hungry. Though, there's no fear of that here.
Lé Léé is all about showcasing home-style Macedonian food. While Balkan cuisine is often known for its meaty stews, the warm Macedonian climate also allows for an abundance of vegetables, herbs, fruit and quality dairy products, as well as many wines and local rakia (fruit brandy).
Start with crispy tikvicki (fried zucchini, $9), which pairs well with the pindjur (eggplant relish, $9), banica (hand-rolled leek and cheese pastry, $16) and shopska salata (tomato, cucumber, onion salad topped with grated feta, $9). It is recommended to drink rakia with the entrees and the grape rakia ($10), although tending towards fire-water status, is sweetly warming.
For the main course, vardarsko grne (a hearty stew slow-cooked with mixed vegetables, pork and chicken, $16) arrives at the table in a handmade clay pot. The stew is also baked in the pot — Miko imported 300 kilos of them from Macedonia — the lid sealed with bread dough, so you have something to soak up the gravy with at the end.
Finish with a Macedonia version of baklava made with sour cherries and walnuts and served with pomegranate ice cream ($12). Sour cherry rakia is the perfect accompaniment, but if wine is more your thing, there's a good mix of Australian, New Zealand and Macedonian drops available. All of this is paired with live guitar and Macedonian flute on Friday nights.
Thanks to the honest food, the homely vibe and the lively entertainment, the Macedonian saying of "so dusha da go pravish" — which means "to do it with your soul" — has never been truer than at Lé Léé.
Images: Parker Blain.