Eating at Saba's Ethiopian Restaurant is a family affair. If you've ever eaten Ethiopian food before, you'll know it lends itself to the format. From the traditional three-hour coffee ceremony to the whole eating with your hands thing, this is a cuisine made for no holds barred sharing. And Fitzroy's newest restaurant dedicated to the East African cuisine is the perfect place to embrace it.
Running the show is Saba Alemayoh herself, whose Ethiopian heritage and connection to the culture drove her to turn her successful teff flour importing business into a restaurant. Along with managing and developing the restaurant, Saba takes care of front of house. You'll see her flitting around Brunswick Street space, revealing the spoils inside the traditional woven baskets and explaining the menu to curious patrons.
Out the back is her mum, Tekebash Gebre, cooking up all the good stuff. For those uninitiated with eating Ethiopian, different sebhis (stews) are served on injera, which is a 72-hour fermented flatbread made from teff flour, a naturally gluten free grain. You then rip off a bit of the injera, pick up some of the vegetable or meat stew and shove it in your mouth.
What exactly will you be shoving in your mouth, you ask? Great question. The birsen ($15) — a split red lentil stew with dilik, an Ethiopian chilli paste of anywhere between 15-50 spices — is a perfect introduction to Ethiopian food, as is the rich, red slow-cooked lamb stew, keyih sebhi ($23.50). Slightly different is the stewed fava beans with feta, jalapeños and sliced boiled egg ($17), but the most surprising dish (and the most tasty) is the dorho sebhi: chicken slow cooked on the bone with a hard boiled egg ($25). The slightly sour taste of the fermented bread cuts through the spices of the stews and is, on the whole, very moreish. You'll need about three stews between two people, and an extra serve of injera ($2).
Even Saba's little sister gets a look-in. She suffers from coeliac disease, and because of this, the entire restaurant is 100% gluten free. There's even a gluten free chocolate brownie ($16) for dessert made from the aforementioned teff flour. It's a rich finish to an otherwise earthy meal. But if you don’t think you can fit it in, at least order an ouzo-spiked cup of tea to aid digestion.
The understated, no-frills restaurant is a nice new edition to Brunswick Street. It feels just like you're dining in the family's living room, and it's a place you'll want to drop into any night of the week.