Shouk Cafe

Thursday, June 05, 2014

A couple of my closest friends recently moved to Collingwood St in Paddington and prior to moving, they were particularly excited about the close proximity to a new breakfast spot opening, Shouk Cafe, which was taking over where Jazzcat had recently vacated. While I was in India, a group of our friends including them checked it out and I returned to hear glowing reports about the Middle Eastern-inspired food. Shouk Cafe has also been popular with the food bloggers, Urbanspoon reviewers and even got a Gourmet Traveller Hot Plates mention. So when S, who recently returned from a holiday to the Middle East, and I were trying to think of a place to breakfast, I suggested Shouk Cafe in Paddington. Now Paddington is not a particularly bike-friendly area (at least not for me and my bike) with it's many hills so I decided this would have to be a non-biking adventure.

We planned to meet at 8:30am but I, running late as usual, turned into Collingwood St a little after 8:30 and then spent the next ten minutes looking for a park, maneuvering my car into an awkward space and then walking from the car which was about 200m from the cafe. Note to self and readers: parking in Paddington is painful. Anyhow, by the time I finally arrived at Shouk, S already had a seat by the front window. Brisbane is definitely cooling down and due to being next to the open door, it was a bit cold. But there were already people outside waiting for a table so I was just happy we had one. The friendly waitress appeared soon after I sat down to take our order so we ordered our coffees and asked for a few extra minutes to decide on meals.

The menu was already at the table when I arrived and although I'd already looked at the online menu, there were some minor differences. The all-day menu has some interesting options such as Goats Milk & Date Panna Cotta ($15), Lamb Shwarma ($16) and the Israeli breakfast for two ($35), which is a continental-style selection of rolls, pastries, smoked salmon, salad, cheese, olives, eggs and jam and house-made condiments. They also offer the standards like Avocado on Toast with poached eggs ($16) but with a Middle Eastern twist of added dukkah and pomegranate molasses. Their extras are all priced at $3 each or 2 for $5, which sounds like fantastic value given that they includes bacon, merguez sausage, leg ham and latkes, but there isn't really a basic menu item that you could order multiple extras with. The Grilled Zucchini & Haloumi on flatbread with dill, mint, hummus, olives and rocket ($14) appealed to me but I wasn't sure how I would handle the flatbread so opted for the Shakshuka (Tunisian style baked eggs) with toasted challah and olives ($17). I asked about the gluten-free bread ($1) and was told it was just sandwich bread so decided to leave it. Unless the bread is an integral part of the meal or great bread, I tend to not bother paying the extra to switch it. S decided on the slow cooked Lamb Shwarma on flat bread with hummus, pickled red onion, olives, marinated artichoke heart and lemon ($16). She was somewhat pained by the price given that a few months ago she was paying $2 for a similar meal. By the time we had ordered, the waitress had already been over a few times to see if we were ready to order so I get the feeling that high turnover is encouraged, possibly to cater for the number of people waiting for tables. It didn't really bother me though as I would appreciate it if I had been waiting!

Coffees arrived quickly and my long black was smooth and not at all bitter. Meals took a while longer, about twenty minutes. I was starving by the time my Shakshuka arrive so was a little disappointed it wasn't bigger but it really was a good breakfast size. The sauce was thick with large chunks of tomato, capsicum and olives surrounding the baked eggs. I thought one of the eggs was over-baked with the yolk set but the other was perfectly cooked with a gooey center. The capsicum still had some bite to it - I would have preferred that it had been cooked for longer to blend in with the other ingredients more but that may just be the style. I had a small bite of the challah and it reminded me a lot of brioche and was delicious - pity I couldn't eat more!

Lamb Shwarma

S's lamb shwarma looked delicious with a huge amount of hummus smeared on the homemade flatbread and a generous serve of shredded lamb atop it with the pickled red onion, artichoke and olives. I had a taste of the lamb and it was flavourful and tender and no doubt complemented by the onion and hummus. I think next time I'd just take the pain of eating the bread to have that meal! I was a few other meals being served to other customers and they were all beautifully presented, especially the panna cotta.

We hung around a little longer but, seeing as we could see a small queue forming outside, felt bad about staying too long. We went up to the counter to pay and only then I noticed that there was a large, sunny room out the back too which looked like it fit larger groups.

Overall I enjoyed my meal at Shouk although my meal didn't blow me away. Still I think I'd like to return to try one of the other meals!

Shouk Cafe on Urbanspoon

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