This nine-year-old restaurant is one of few Afghan restaurants in Australia.

Afghan Village

14:20:PM 22/09/2010
Leanne Tolra

If you’ve read either of them, images from The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea might flicker through your mind at this exotic suburban restaurant. The Kite Runner when you see the colourful kites hanging from the walls – “children in Afghanistan love their kites the way Aussie kids love footy”, says restaurant owner Monir Samad – and Three Cups of Tea when you look at the portraits of the Karakoram Range and the proud, authoritarian sherpa on the wall.

This nine-year-old restaurant is one of few Afghan restaurants in Australia. Samad arrived here 19 years ago and spent many years working in the hospitality industry while he worked on his English.

In part, the 9/11 attacks in 2001 were the inspiration for this restaurant, which opened just one month later. He and his brothers saw the attacks and the portrayal of the Middle East on television, like other Australians, and it added to their growing concerns about the way Afghanistan was perceived in their adopted country.

“We wanted to show Australians about our culture and to give them some positive images of Afghanistan,” says Samad, who works seven days a week to achieve this.

The menu at Afghan Village offers a glimpse of the culture in its broad spread of dishes, from the crisp, toasted Afghan nan bread to the fine traditional desserts that end the meal.

A banquet selection includes a taste of the badenjon bourani (pan-fried eggplant topped with tomato and yoghurt sauces), which is velvety and flavoursome, and a bourani kachaloo (pan-fried potato), which is lacklustre by comparison, the potato floury and dry despite the excellent lowab (yoghurt and tomato) sauce. But the ashak,a delicate half-circle envelope of whisper-thin pastry encasing finely shredded leek, is the redeeming element.

The main-course selection arrives all at once and looks daunting, but the flavours are so clean and appealing, that it’s soon disappearing.

A chef’s selection of different kebabs arrives sizzling on a cast-iron plate with a medley of salad that needs quick attention before it wilts.

The long-grain, perfectly cooked bachlani rice is topped with shredded carrot and sultanas. It’s an essential sponge for the other three dishes on the table – a fluffy, pale-yellow dahl with a gentle kick of spice and a crown of darkly roasted paprika; a subtle pink chicken khandahari (marinated chicken in yoghurt and herbs); and an auburn-toned, rich lamb korma.

The meat dishes are meltingly tender but their sauces seem thin, until we eat them the right way, mixed with the sumptuous rice and the creamy dahl.

The undoubted hero on the plate of prettily presented desserts is the firnee, a small wheel of refreshing rosewater and cardamom mousse sprinkled with pistachios, which would find its place in any high-end restaurant. The accompanying bakhlava and Turkish delight pieces are more standard fare.

A refreshing glass of Afghan green tea is bright and fresh, without a hint of astringency, and finishes the meal perfectly.

verdict A cultural experience intended to offer Melbourne diners an alternative view of war-torn Afghanistan. This family-run restaurant – with one brother front-of-house and the other in the kitchen – offers hearty and wholesome dishes from northern Afghanistan. The varied menu is unlikely to be what’s served in every home in a country with a much harsher climate but it is a glimpse of the generosity and finesse of the culture. The menu is accompanied by a compact but serviceable list of Australian wines and the option to BYO. Service is polite and brisk but content to let the food do the talking.

Eat this

Afghan Village, 923 Burke Road, Camberwell

Chef Nazir Samad

Prices Entrees $10-$17.50; mains $17.50-$35; desserts $6-$12; banquets $39-$52.

Open Daily 6-11pm.

Bookings 9882 2775

High on the Burke Road hill, this classic Camberwell shop space has taken on an exotic persona. Step inside and step away from all things Melbourne. It’s not quite a home in an Afghan village but, with a bit of imagination, it could be. Colourful cloths line the ceiling; smoking pipes, imported lanterns, woven rugs and shawls hang from every available space.

There’s a quaint, rustic feel to the décor, but it’s authentic enough to not seem tacky or overdone. Many of the items displayed are gifts from travelling family members or pieces that belong to the owners. Dark Bentwood timber chairs, paper-covered, white-clothed tables and quality cutlery and crockery are concessions to Melbourne’s dining culture, but little else feels like a compromise.

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