After looking rather slummy for years and with curious little businesses opening and closing without much attention (such as Crafternoon, which relocated to Sydney Rd) and Bramble and Vine, and the Italian replacement for the sadly missed Bistro Flor recently disappearing, Nicholson St is starting to look more alive again.
Neighbourhood Wine is super popular, the revived Empress hotel looks great, and opposite the latter is Babajan, a new Turkish cafe restaurant on the corner of Nicholson and Pigdon streets where Troy kebabs used to be.
One of the chefs is Ismail Tosun, formerly of Gigibaba and, before that, Eminem in Perth. Good Food reports Gigibaba closed owing about $300,000 in debts to suppliers and staff. In its advertorial churnalism for Babajan’s opening, Good Food refers to Tosun abruptly closing Gigibaba and leaving town as ‘a self-imposed hiatus‘. A convenient whitewash to the industry gossip that the profits were converted into white powder.
One of the laws of the internet that I agree with implicitly is that you should never trust anyone with a vanity Wikipedia page, which Tosun has. The owners of Mana video game bar, formerly on Brunswick St had one too, and their egos were much larger than their business sense.
I was therefore conflicted about going to Babajan, but Turkish food is in fashion at the moment and I love it (Tulum in Balaclava is another example of a traditional cuisine being given a modern makeover in Melbourne). I want to try everything, and it would be unfair to the owner, Kirsty Chiaplias, to boycott her new enterprise based on the past behaviour of her employee.
It is easy to see this as trivial, but I’m all for customers making ethical choices in spending on food and eating out, and that includes not rewarding businesses who repeatedly screw staff and suppliers. That’s why I’ve never returned to Lentil as Anything after the unethical business practices of its founder were exposed.
So I met my Turkish friend (who also dined with me at Tulum) at Babajan for brunch last Saturday, and we loved the food. She had braised beef cheek with flatbreads and fat chips (in effect a kind of unassembled kebab). The meat was incredibly tender.
I ordered the menemen (baked eggs with feta, tomatoes and paprika, with additional lamb shoulder), which came with simit (round chewy bread kind of like a bagel). I’m a fan of the menemen at Babka and Gutz, but this was perhaps the best I’ve had. The simit has a glaze on it, which was sweet and tangy, possibly pomegranate molasses.
The coffees were excellent and we also had to have cake – fig and almond cake for me (front) and raspberry bread and butter pudding for my friend (rear). Babajan was packed at midday after only being open for a few weeks. It’s smallish inside so you may need to time your visit strategically, or loiter about, to get a table. There’s also bread and cakes to take away. It is obviously going to be popular, and it adds significantly to Nicholson St.
Speaking of Good Food, after being confronted with their ad every session of MIFF, I thought I’d search their restaurant listings for Fitzroy 3065. The first listing of 25 on the first page of search results was Feldman’s, which closed over two years ago. The 25 also includes Little Creatures (closed), Mao’s (closed), Gigibaba (not even in Fitzroy and long since closed), Pireaus Blues (closed), Brix (closed), Goshen (closed) and Red Rice (closed). Fail.
Note: the review was amended on 29 September 2016 to clarify that Tosun is an employee and the sole owner is Chiaplias.