Manuka’s mecca, bar none

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A cosy Moroccan eating house sits in the heart of Manuka – a feast for the senses.

Fragrant spices, such as cumin, cardamom and cinnamon, waft from the open kitchen of the Mecca Bah, as does the delicious aroma of freshly-baked Turkish pizzas.

And the décor is as rich as the cultural heritage of the Middle East – superb patterns, rich colours, sensuous fabrics, hand-crafted ceramic dishes.

When the Mecca Bah first opened in Canberra several years ago, the then-managers (long gone) told me, when I called to ask some questions, that they would “not allow” a review until they had been trading for long enough to iron out the wrinkles. Ouch.

I loved the food then, but have found the service over the years sporadic. However, on my last visit, I was pleased with the lot. New management is in place and there were smiles all round and friendly, efficient, attentive service.

Sharing dishes will give you the ultimate Mecca Bah experience, so we started with two mezze dishes. The chickpea battered mussels, served with almond skordalia ($15), are salty and addicting, although the skordalia wasn’t quite as velvety smooth as on my last visit.

Then we enjoyed, for the first time, the lamb and pinenut boureks ($13) – stunning little numbers. The pastry was light and the filling a distinctive spicy taste.

Tagines are a specialty and, of the five on the menu, we selected the lamb with preserved lemon, green olives and harissa ($24). Cooked in special Moroccan clay pots, guaranteed to create rich flavours, tagines are a real treat, and this one, with tender lamb that fell off the fork, was no exception.

The Turkish pizzas are unique: Sardine, caramelised onion, roast tomato and olive ($20)? Roast pumpkin, chilli, pomegranate jam and feta ($21)? For us it was the spit-roasted lamb, rocket, yoghurt and sumac ($22). We knew it was “more lamb”, but we didn’t care.

The topping was tasty and the Mecca Bah doesn’t skimp on the ingredients.

Canberra’s operation (the same group runs the Mecca Bah in Brisbane, Cairns and the Gold Coast) is large. The outdoor area features a fountain and has strong heaters in winter.

When the Mecca Bah first opened the wine by the glass (listed on the specials chalk board above the bar) was a tad expensive, but this has been adjusted and the prices, we agreed, now sit well in the marketplace.

The Mecca Bah – a real mecca.

Open seven days, lunch and dinner. 20 Flinders Way, Manuka, call 6260 6700. Fully licensed.

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Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson: Food reviewer for Canberra CityNews magazine since 2004, covering stories for true foodies to digest.

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