'We'll get the banquet,' we told the waitress. I turned to the group and said knowingly 'I read a review and it says whatever you do, don't eat all the bread.'
We were at The Prophet in Vic Park. A dozen or so ordinary tables, unadorned walls, bare lighting, this is not a beautiful room designed to impress. Why bother when the food that comes out of the unbelievably small kitchen is all you need to make people swoon. And swoon they do.
With an awesome reputation as some of the best Lebanese food in Perth, this is 'must have a booking' territory. If you turn up on any night of the week hoping to jag a table, you will most likely be met with looks of pity and derision (luckily, they do takeaway though).
A researcher by trade, I always read reviews before I head out to a new place. And all the reviews I read said the same thing: 'excellent food; try the falafel and ladies fingers; and don't fill up on bread.'
The menu is quite extensive with half a dozen starters (mainly dips at $12 and the highly recommended felafel at $14 for 6); half a dozen 'meat' dishes (which are all lamb) including kafta ($21 for three, includes salad and fries) and the must-try ladies fingers, a mixture of minced lamb and pine nuts rolled in filo pastry and baked (3 for $20, includes salad).
There are also chicken and fish dishes (some of which include lamb) and a large range of vegetarian dishes including spinach ladies fingers (3 for $20), cabbage roles ($18) and deep-fried cauliflower ($15.50).
Based on these a la carte prices, the $40 a head banquet is therefore exceptional value, and the nice thing about the Prophet is that you can get a banquet for just 2 people. Since vegetarians are taken care of so well, the vegetarian banquet is the same price as the normal one.
Tip Number 1: get all the extra stuff off the table because you're going to need every inch for your food. For example, do you really need the wine glass and the water glass?
Tip Number 2: when someone says 'don't fill up on bread', listen to them.
We barely had time to pour ourselves some wine (strictly BYO only) when the starters arrived. Three large plates of dip: garlic dip with lovely crunchy pickles, a smoky baba ghanouj and a beautifully smooth (and not too garlicky) hommus. A sprinkle of fresh parsley and some rich olive oil in the middle, these dips were ridiculously delicious and you could happily eat dip and nothing else and leave a happy person indeed.
But then the felafel arrived. If your experience of felafel is of greenish brown disks the size and consistency of a hockey puck, then you really need to find out what it is meant to be.
These balls, doused in a perky yoghurt sauce were crunchy on the outside and soft as air on the inside. What a revelation! What on earth are they serving up in the local kebab shop, I ask, because they are nothing like this.
Why doesn't all salad come full of deep fried bread?
Before we could become too intoxicated over the felafels the salads arrived. Now, I don't really 'believe' in salad, but these were – and I hate to admit it – just brilliant. The tabouleh (usually $12) was fresh and (as clichéd as it sounds) bursting with flavour. I was happily wrapping it up with some dip and pickles in my bread when I began to realise just how much I had already eaten.
I loosened a button.
The next salad was crisp lettuce, cucumber and tomato with a great dressing and full of deep-fried bread. Heaven! Maybe if all salad had deep-fried bread I would be more amenable.
Then the actual food arrived, like the proverbial floods. The carnivores received shish tawook (chicken kebabs) and shish kebab (lamb kebabs), ladies fingers and fried kibbeh (both little snacks made with lamb mince).
For the table there were dishes of beans cooked in tomato and lentils and rice.
The vegetarians got cabbage rolls, spinach ladies fingers, deep-fried cauliflower (arnabeet) and eggplant (bat injan).
I'm getting indigestion just writing that. Loosen another button.
It was phenomenal. The kebabs were juicy and tasty. The deep-fried cauliflower had a zing that took your ears off. There was way too much food.
I eat more than any person I know, and even I had to admit defeat. Many of the dishes were still half full. Had we eaten too much bread?
If you are a big eater, this is awesome value. This is a meal with quality and quantity, but one wonders whether a smaller feast could be provided at a smaller price. We took everything home in a doggy bag, but I would imagine that a lot of food is unfortunately wasted.
Turkish coffee is included in the price of the banquet but dessert is not. We all wanted to try the thick, sweet, muddy coffee but it wasn't to everyone's taste. I thought I could detect mint essence, but am probably wrong. One friend forgot what she was drinking and gulped a huge mouth of thick, muddy, coffee sludge. It was strangely addictive.
Despite the fact we had all eaten way too much, we all wanted a taste of something sweet to finish, so the seven of us shared two baklava and three Turkish delight. Outrageous!
The bill for our feast came to just $42 each.
There are two things about the Prophet that I didn't love. Neither are deal-breakers, but forewarned is forearmed. First is parking: we were there on a Friday night and we trawled through the side streets for ages before finding a place to park. We eventually found one two streets east of the restaurant: it's all parallel street parking in residential streets.
The other thing was the toilets. There are no toilets in the restaurant: you have to leave the Prophet, walk a couple of shops down the road, then you are confronted with this.
You walk down this rather dodgy lane and find yourself in a poorly lit backyard. The ladies toilet is attached at the back of a building. The poor blokes literally have to use the old outhouse. Stay safe - take a friend, take two.
Great review. Lebanese food is amazing if done properly. I am salivating over that hommus and the falafels. My favourite kinds of food as long as salad is available to create balance. The prices seem really good too.