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Published November 27th 2013
Affordble, delicious and sustaining food for frugal uni stud
Weak limbed and famished after a week of partying, all night study sessions, and 8am lectures, Moroccan Soup bar holds an almost narcotic allure for the hordes of university students making the nightly migration from share-houses and sports bars all over Fitzroy. With it's warmly lit glow and unpretentious buzz, this unassuming vegetarian restaurant belies its sparse signage, seeping a cocktail of turmeric and ginger out into the surrounding street with each swing of its ever-turning door.
Seated between alternating walls of yellow and vibrant orange, it is clear that the hearty North African food alone is not the basis of the restaurant's popularity. Azure green shelving, filled with glossy clay tagines and intricately decorated Moroccan artefacts, line the walls. Soft lighting destroys any remnants of arrogance that trails in behind would-be diners, with velvety cushions adding to the sensual, grounding experience, and pots and pans making a transition from kitchen to display as if in well earned retirement.
Authentic decor and vibrant ochre walls add to the inviting atmosphere
Although containing 'bar' in its title the restaurant serves no alcohol, yet it is not the promise of liquor induced frivolity which ensures it is always brimming with eager mouths to feed. Moroccan Soup Bar is a place where bonding occurs over the sharing of curried lentils and saffron rice, with their famed chickpea bake the perfect disruption to the bland haze of two minute noodles and two for one supermarket tuna specials students typically endure.
The menu is verbal and recited on request yet can be predicted with relative accuracy, usually consisting (as the name suggests) of traditional Moroccan fare extending to strong, sweet after dinner coffees and honeyed desserts. The banquet, consisting of either soup or dips, olives and pitta bread as an entree, multiple mains to share, and dessert/coffee, presents the most cost effective and perhaps authentic dining option.
Mint tea is offered upon being seated, providing an ideal pre-meal palate cleanser, but for many, takeaway may be the most viable option with the eatery often filled within minutes of its 6pm opening time.
In spite of its obvious popularity, the minimal floor space may prove overwhelming for some when filled to full capacity and heaving with patrons. At $10 -20 per meal, however, economy provides a strong incentive with identical offerings available to take home – the initiated arriving with container in hand as if akin to some secret code of the restaurant's faithful.
In keeping with the Moroccan Soup Bar's relaxed, familiar dynamic, service is friendly but relatively nonchalant, and takeaway requests are usually met with "cool, so just pop back in in like 10, maybe 15 minutes". As seating is rarely available by a certain point in the night (and bookings available only to groups of six or more), this provides an opportunity to explore the surrounding area, perhaps wandering in and out of surrounding bars or venturing to adjacent Edinburgh Gardens if light persists.
Returning to find a container laden with nourishing ethnic dishes is made all the more comforting upon re-emerging from a chilling autumnal evening. The food is hearty but not overtly spicy, appealing to a broad spectrum of tastes from the seasoned vegetarian to fussy eater or even adamant carnivore. Opening the container upon arriving home is met with hunger-induced anticipation, like opening a treasure chest. The dishes provided on any given night vary slightly hence you can never be certain what awaits to be devoured.
One such container, carried lovingly from the warmth of the kitchen to a nearby student dwelling, arrived like a long awaited care package, pored over enthusiastically. Offering the comfort and contentment only a lovingly cooked meal can, the bland colouring is easily overlooked with crunchy pitta, rich roasted eggplant, and creamy yoghurt covered chick peas more than compensating in terms of both flavour and texture. The inclusion of spiced rice, marinated vegetable stew, and fragrant cous-cous offer staying power to the array, yet serves are generous enough to sustain a hungry student for two, or even three meals.
Payment is cash-only so if you occupy the category of financially-challenged uni student with less than $20 available on their card, it's best to come prepared with notes/coins in hand. Any pain of parting with stretched funds is more than compensated for with obvious value for money, satiety power and more than enough quaint bohemian charm to ease the worries assignment pressed minds.