Since it opened late last year, Gibibaba on Smith St has become one of the most desired places in Melbourne at which to dine. Reviews from Gosstronomy, Everything goes with cream, Hieronymous the anonymous, Melbourne gastronome, 1001 dinners 1001 nights and Hookturns are all fundamentally positive. I loved it the first time I went and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to visit again.
On my first visit they were yet to offer Turkish coffee due to a lack of the right stove on which to brew it; that has been corrected now, and the Turkish coffee is excellent. The service has improved too.
Gigibaba’s popularity, no bookings policy and modest size means it has became one of the most difficult restaurants to get into. The only solution is to get there early, preferably in both the evening and the week. That’s the local’s secret exposed; you’ll all do it now and I’ll never get in again.
This strategy worked perfectly on a recent Tuesday evening when I arrived at 6.30pm and scored the prized front table in the window for my group of four, including an old friend who I have not seen much of lately, and her husband who I have not met before, both of whom were looking forward to their first visit. The timing was necessary to ensure we could get in. Here’s what we ate.
Ezme – tomato and capsicum salad.
Smoked eggplant salad – the most delicious smoky eggplant ever. I could eat buckets full of this!
Sultan’s delight, which is lamb in a rich sauce. The meat was extremely tender.
Sardine fritters – one of the games played at Gigibaba is using names for food that are not what you would normally use – in this case fritters instead of balls.
The blue eye with potatoes and beetroot. A beautiful balance of subtle flavours.
The prawn iskender remains the best dish on the menu. We refused to allow the waitress to take away the empty plate until we had savoured all the leftover oil with our bread. My only criticism of Gigibaba is my frustration at the miserly serves of bread that come with the dips and ‘salads’ that are like dips. One piece of bread per person per serve is silly to start with, particularly when we have ordered dishes to be eaten with bread. Diners should not have to keep asking for more. Staff should notice and ask us if we would like more and then deliver it like they refill glasses of water.
There’s no dessert menu, and we were offered a selection of what was being made that night. Like the savoury food, the serves are tiny but $8 per person is a reasonable price to pay to sample three different desserts. The chocolate truffles have prune inside and are extremely rich and delicious.
Turkish chocolate creme brulee – also rather delicious.
I started with a glass of Crittenden alboriño and we later got a bottle of the fabulous Jamsheed ‘Pepe’ pinot noir. The wine list is fantastic and well suited to the food.
Gigibaba is not a place for the famished. The dishes are small, so you’ll graze modestly and want to linger over every mouthful because the flavours are so delicious, and there are relatively few mouthfuls per meal compared to most other restaurants. Most people will begin to fret about the possible size of the bill before they come close to leaving food uneaten on the plate. As an occasional treat though it’s hard to beat.