Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sydney Road Food Tour

It started off when I read an article by John Lethlean about Mediterranean Wholesalers. It sounded like a place full of great stuff, so I thought I might go there and have a look. Inspired by Vida's dedication to bakeries and the tour that she had taken us on last week to the Chilean and Argentinean bakeries around Noble Park and Clayton, I thought I would visit some of the bakeries in Sydney Road that I had been wanting to go to. So here is the wrap up.

First stop was at Mario's in Brunswick Road. I've heard about this place before but have never actually ate in it. I've ever eaten at Don Vincenzo right next door to it, but not at Mario's. I think I know the reason why know, it doesn't have a sign hanging above the footpath so unless you are looking for it, you just walk right past it. I was looking for it and still walked past it a few times. A desperate call to my friend John to ask him exactly where it was helped me find it finally.

I had the Eggs Benedict and a fruit cup. The fruit cup of juice and fresh chunks of fruit was very refreshing for a hot day. I tucked into my brunch of eggs benedict. The egg yolks were still runny when I burst them. Bright orange yolk streamed all over my plate like a small lava flow. I mopped it up quickly with my lightly toasted muffin. It was delicious, and the Bernaise sauce made it even richer.

First stop was Mediterranean Wholesalers, since they closed at 2pm, the earliest of all the places I wanted to visit. I don't know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn't expecting a huge supermarket style shop with aisles of everything. I started to walk the aisles and then decided I better get a basket after all as I probably couldn't caryy all the stuff I wanted.

So many interesting things that I had never seen before. I wanted to grab everything but stopped myself and told myself I could always come back. I ended up getting those famous anchovies that Lethlean bought. I love anchovies too but normally just buy the Coles ones. I want to see how much better these ones are. I also grabbed peach nectar the I love. Limoncello since it was about as cheap as making it myself. I grabbed cocoa, I don't know why, it looked good. Some peach jam and dried figs rounded out my shopping. I must come back just to buy the cured meats next time. Oh and be earlier so I can get my hands on the bread too.

So after lugging my stuff back to the car, I drove to the next stop, Balha's. I had read about Balha's on Sarah's blog, Sarah Cooks. Balha's is definitely big and bright like Sarah said. I looked at the tiny tiny pamphlet that they had stuck on one of the windows. The descriptions were so small I couldn't even read them. I walked up to the counter and asked one of the ladies what she suggested. She said that everything was good and that I should try a bit of everything and next time I'll know what I like. So I took her suggestions and started to point at things that looked good, with no idea what was in them at all.

So this is what I ended up buying from Balha's for $9.50. I've eaten at least a bite from all of them now and I can say that some are good, but there are more misses than hits. The white round thing on the right is good, with custard sandwiched between the pastry sheets. The two white baklava type things at the bottom is also good, but not as good as the next shops that I will talk about. The round brown thing is ok, tasting as it looks, a little burnt. The two blocks on the left, with the stringy stuff on top tastes very heavily of rose water and it doesn't work that well with the nuts. The big blocky thing at the back tastes like bland ricotta or something and is the worse of the lot.

The next shop I visited was El Fayha (or El Faiha) depending on which sign you look at. The shop front and skirting board above the shop say El Fayha but the neon sign says El Faiha. I had visited this shop once before when my friend John showed it to me. I had already wanted to come back to this shop. Sarah also found it purely by chance and said how good she thought it was too. It's a really small shop with the blinds closed on the window, so you don't even know if it's open. Here is what it looks like from outside to make finding it a bit easier.

John had been giving me baklava from this place occasionally which I thought his mother in law had made. When he told me it was bought, I asked him to show me the shop. We went there and bought a mixed tray, 12 pieces for $10. It was fantastic and I was hooked already. Well after this time, I'm addicted. Everything is still good after my second tasting, so it wasn't just the initial liking of something new.

The old gentlemen was there again, slightly hunched over with a fairly serious look on his face. I asked him how things were sold, which probably didn't translate well into Lebanese. He said they are sold by the piece. I then asked him who much each cost. He told me it was 12 pieces for $10, so I said I would get that. Here is what I bought for $10 from El Fayha.

Once again, I have eaten a bit of everything from El Fayha. I have to say that I liked EVERYTHING. Ok lets start from the far back left. The round thing you can just see contains cashews I think. It tastes the most nutty out of all the pastries and is more dry. It tastes more like a biscuit but is still good. The lady fingers come in a couple of varieties, with different nuts and slightly different textures and taste. Both the pistachio and almond ones are good. The baklava looking ones again come in different flavours. I like the traditional pistachio one the best, but the cashew one is very very close. Finally though the square parcel things are my favourite. They are unbelievable. The pistachios taste so fresh with the honey and pastry. I like all their pastries and will go back for sure. I think this was better value than Balha, mainly because I like everything and some of Balha's I didn't like. I will still go back to Balha to see what other gems they might have. They have much more variety whereas this is almost everything El Fayha has to offer. But when its this good, less is more sometimes.

Last stop was A1 Bakery. I had been to the Dandenong branch and wanted to see what was different about the Brunswick one. It turns out that the Dandenong branch is way better. This Brunswick store was smaller and didn't carry as much grocerys. What was worse though was that they didn't have any pastries at all (well there was a tiny tray under a cake holder). I had wanted to buy their tube things with custard which are unbelievably good. I also wanted to pick up some dulce de leche, but they didn't have that either. So instead, I was feeling a bit hungry so got a sausage pizza to have there. Only when it arrived did I remember how huge the pizza was. I ate it slowly and managed to eat it all. What a pig I've become!

By that time, I was getting really tired walking in the sun all day. I thought it would be hard to find parking so hiked it everywhere. It was also getting late and I had a dinner to get to that night. Hence, I called it a day, totally contented with everything I had got. Till the next trip out from the burbs to Brunswick. In the mean time, I have to bribe my friend John to help me buy more pastries from El Fayha.

Mediterranean Wholesalers - 482-492 Sydney Road Brunswick Ph:9380 4777
Balha's - 761 Sydney Road Brunswick Ph: 9383 3944
El Fayha Sweets - 648 Sydney Road Brunswick Ph: 9386 6974
A1 Bakery - 643-645 Sydney Road Brunswick Ph: 9386 0440


  1. Well what a charmer you are!!! Everytime I go anywhere you just invite yourself and THEN you go off to all of THIS and invite NO ONE!!!! I HAVE been to most of these places by not ALL so you could have been sociable and invited Ella, Fury and I for a reunion... Some people!!! Vida x

  2. Vida Vida Vida, I had to do a "dry run" first you know. Plus I woke up really late and just decided, what the heck, I'll do it now.

    We can do a proper tour soon, where you will be the first invited, and Ella and Furry and anyone else who wants to come. I'm sure other people know way more places in Brunswick than I do.

  3. Dry run??? When I did the dry run, it was when the stores were all closed and I could not eat or buy a thing whereas YOU were truly able to eat, drink and be merry!!! I will only forgive you because you will take us all with you next time... I might try Houndstooth too one day next week... Vida x

  4. Hahaha, hence I put "dry run" in double speech quotes. We can definitely all visit those places next time.

    Houndstooth is really good value I think. And try to get the pecan tart that ran out, it must be good if it ran out.

  5. Yep, I can confirm that the pecan tart is good! A small slice but heck, you know the price is right.

    One of the people I work with has a Lebanese mother, and last week she brought in a tray of about 8 different homemade pastries just like the ones you pictured. They were HEAVEN. Looks like El Fayha might be the place to buy some more.

  6. Mmmmm looks like I must tell them to reserve me a slice of pecan tart next time.

    Those sweets from El Fayha are so so good. I kid you not. They taste simple yet complex at the same time. It's so simple ingredient wise but the flavours combine wonderfully. Also, the varieties are all similar in the pastry and honey but yet still taste different.

    Definitely go buy some, I recommend the square parcel ones with pistachios the most.

  7. Duncan | Syrup&Tang12/11/2007 10:30 PM

    Hi Thanh. I absolutely agree about that 'big blocky thing' from Balha. Not something for my cultural palate, that's for sure. Do you have a Middle Eastern cookbook? You should learn the names of some of these sweets so as to impress the owners (and maybe try making some yourself if you feel inclined). Great report:)

  8. Duncan, that big blocky thing is definitely the one I disliked the most. I have finished eating ALL the other ones. That one is the only one left, and I don't think I will eat the rest of it. It tastes more sour now, so don't know if its gone off. The El Fayha treats are definitely the best. There was one last piece today and when I gobbled it up, it was so delicious.

    I want to know the names of the desserts too rather than call them big blocky things. I asked the lady at Balha whether I could have the displayed pamphlet, but she said that was the only one they had.

    I will try to find a recipe book. I love all of the sweets. I've already asked my Greek friends for recipes for baklava but nobody can give me a recipe.

  9. Mediterranean Wholesalers12/12/2007 8:27 AM

    Remove me from thisblog or i'll beat the shit out of you

  10. Mediterranean Pretenders, you couldn't beat up a little kitten. Bring it on! :-)

    George, control yourself, the sweets are coming.

  11. If you are planning another Sydney rd tour you should definately try Amir Bakery for their delicious spinach and cheese triangles. Sooo good. btw i agree El Fayha is the best in the street for those sticky sweet pastries

  12. Anonymous, thanks for the tip. I will try to visit Amir Bakery when I next go to Sydney Road.

    Aren't those El Fayha pastries so good. I'm totally hooked now. Must go back for more. Mmmmm.

  13. El Fayha rules!!!!!!!!! Cashew squares are the best.

    xox Sarah

  14. Sarah, the El Fayha pastry do rule. I love the cashew or pistachio squares the most too.

  15. Hi! I enjoyed reading your blog. :)
    I recently went to El Fayha and the place got me swooning over those pistachio parcels as well, but I don't have any photographs to help me brag about it.
    I was wondering if I can use those posted here?

  16. A1- only good foor their dipping bread, if you want pizza or traditonal ricotta or meat with lemon/chilli, try Tabets bakery. Thats the most consistantly good bakery for lebonese pizza styles.
    But if you want nice vietnamese pork rolls, try the bakery next to spotlight. Cant beat it!