This morning, after Sylvia’s swimming lessons, we found a table and chairs in the Victoria Street Mall to partake of a falafel brunch and join the crowds who were enjoying the good cheer of the Coburg Carnivale. It was a pleasant morning with the gentle warmth of the winter sun making the cold weather bearable.
We were well rugged up in our winter woollens, as were many of the trees. Artists had wrapped tree trunks in a variety of fabrics, though my favourite was this jaunty one below that, on closer inspection, was layer upon layer of bras. The decorations helped give a festive air to the area.
At one end of the mall was a marquee for the performers and at the others was a scouts sausage sizzle. In between is a obstacle course of tables and chairs , prams and wheelchairs. It is a gathering place for families, the elderly, and students.
Little children brandished plastic windmills and chased pigeons. Old men gathered around a table over coffees, generating a haze of cigarette smoke. Dogs were kept on their leash lest they add to the mayhem. Street performers ran around with dice on their heads, mothers found themselves dancing with ribbons, a Thai dancer passed us by, an old man played on his gum leaf and showed others how to. Meanwhile, on the stage someone was singing Bollywood songs.
There is a tyranny of choice for food in the mall but I often find myself heading for the Egyptian-style falafels at the Half Moon Café. Sometimes I buy them in a traditional pita wrap of falafel with lettuce, rocket, tomato, pickled vegetables and tahini. Other days I just buy the falafel pieces to take home for a salad sandwich.
The falafels are made on the spot. I enjoy watching the patties of fava beans and herbs being shaped from a bowl of mixture and lowered into the oil to fry. They are soft and green inside and crisp on the outside. It is worth waiting for 5 or 10 minutes to eat them warm from the fryer. Even when busy, the staff are always pleasant.
I have seen other places claiming to be the best falafels in Sydney Road but this is my favourite place. I am not alone in my choice. Half Moon Café has earned itself The Age’s 2010 Cheap Eats award for the best vegetarian dish in Melbourne. They are called the ‘holy grail’ of falafels not just for their great taste but also for boasting 5 different falafel options (not counting the specials). Boiled egg, black olives, tabouli, and feta cheese all feature in the falafel menu.
From the outside the place does not look impressive. (Today for the first time I noticed that the verandahs have pressed metal ceilings.) Inside the wood panelled walls, assorted pictures and lanterns are welcoming. However it is a small space that fills up quickly when busy. There are a few small tables and chairs but I have never eaten inside. It never seems as desirable as sitting outside with so much space and so many interesting folk to watch.
Today I chose the special: falafel, lettuce, rocket, cauliflower, eggplant, and yoghurt dips. It wasn’t as excellent as the traditional one but I enjoyed a change and some interesting vegetables. I think I missed the pickles that I usually have in my falafel. Their acidic bite balances the rich creaminess of the tahini. I also observed others with chips and lovely plates of salads and pita bread. (E unwisely decided to purchase his brunch elsewhere!) Cindy and Michael also recommend the creamy “foul medames”.
I bought a bag of three falafels for Sylvia. She has eaten them in the past but is getting so fussy I wasn’t sure if she would be interested. She tried a chunk I gave her and loved it so much that she kept looking for more until she had eaten a whole falafel. I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all these are surely the best falafels in Coburg.
Half Moon Café
13 Victoria St
(off Sydney Road between Bell Street and Munro Street)
Coburg VIC 3058
Phone: (03) 9350 4762