LAST day of the school holidays.
After eight weeks of ice cream, beach and video games, it felt like the Fall of Saigon in my house with Bamm-Bamm and Pebbles desperately needing to get back into some kind of routine.
But before they were hoisted onto the roof and bundled into the Catholic chopper, we went for one final holiday treat at Rotana Garden Cafe in Maylands.
Specialising in Middle Eastern cuisine, the cafe is situated on Eighth Avenue, just down from the Guildford Road intersection, and has a nice alfresco overlooking the street.
But with the mercury nudging 38 celsius and not a breath of wind, we gave the alfresco a miss and sought refuge inside.
The casual dining area had a Middle Eastern flavour and was decked out like a courtyard with faux stone walls, vines and Turkish-style furniture.
A nice touch was the large array of colourful lanterns dangling from the roof as you walked in.
It created an authentic air without feeling forced or like you were in one of those fake towns in Disneyland.
The menu was extensive with a wide range of dishes including chicken tajine, chicken shawarma, fattoush salad, cold and hot mezza, and of course plenty of grilled skewer dishes with meat, chicken or kafta.
If you’re not into exotic fare they also do chicken and beef burgers, wraps and a meat box.
On a nuclear hot Tuesday lunchtime, we were the only people in the restaurant, but the lady behind the counter turned on the air con so we were nice and cool. Sounds like a given, but plenty of operators would leave it off to save money and make you sweat.
Not long after ordering, the lady was back with my vegan plate with flatbread ($27.99).
They don’t skimp on the portions in Rotana and my oval plate was overflowing with stuffed vine leaves, falafel, hummus, baba ghanouj and fattoush salad. It was a colourful affair, almost like a modern, slightly messy art installation, and very appetising.
The fattoush salad was top notch with a refreshing and vibrant mix of veggies including crunchy red cabbage and green capsicum.
It had tons of fresh mint, conjuring up that trademark bright and lively flavour. Very enjoyable.
Stuffed vine leaves are one of my favourites and these were lovely with a nice balance of flavours and soft moist rice.
The falafel had a crunchy coating and had been deep fried, giving them the appearance of tiny doughnuts.
I was a bit reluctant at first, half expecting them to be desiccated and lacking in flavour, but the insides were super moist and tasted delicious when dunked
in the baba ghanouj (a sort of dip/appetiser made from finely chopped roasted eggplant, olive oil, lemon juice and tahini).
Rounding the dish off were some sliced tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and a basket filled with flatbread. A very filling and enjoyable vegan encounter.
Across the table, my kids were sharing a shish tawouk ($24.99) with two chicken skewers, rice, garlic sauce, chilli bread and Lebanese salad.
Young kids always surprise you and they actually liked the fragrant rice and salad the best, while dipping the chilli bread into the tahini-style dip came a close second.
I had a taste of the chicken and it while it had a nice chargrilled tang and subtle marinade, the flesh inside was ever so slightly over and could have been more tender.
As my kids chugged down a thick strawberry and vanilla milkshake (both $6.50) R&B songs were pumping away in the background.
I hate modern R&B, but that didn’t bother me and the kids were nodding their heads in time like demented chickens.
But the song Billionaire shouldn’t have been on the playlist as it features the repeated lyric “I wanna be a billionaire so f****** bad.” Not the best when you are eating a meal with your kids. I felt like a prude, but it’s not very family friendly.
At the rear of the cafe, Rotana also has a shisha lounge, where despite the desert-like heat, some men were puffing away on pipes and sweating like Prince Andrew.
If you’re after a casual, filling and very tasty Middle Eastern meal then give Rotana Garden Cafe a whirl.
Rotana Garden Cafe
42 Eighth Ave, Maylands
by STEPHEN POLLOCK