How wrong I was. While there are still plenty of dodgy looking places serving average food, or generic pubs/italian family style restos, there are plenty of places that will catch your eye and offer something a bit different. I've mentioned the coffee before, and upon closer inspection the food on Albany Hwy is actually pretty good - there are many a hidden gem, as well as some cuisine you probably haven't tried before. Echye's restaurant specialises in Eritrean/ Ethiopian food, which isn't something I've tried before.
As part of the Perth Winter Arts season 2013 I got tickets to Cirque du Soleil - Ovo. This is also something I hadn't experienced as yet, so it was a night of cultural and culinary firsts for both S and I. We thought we'd go in for an early dinner and head in for the 8pm show on a Thursday.
It was empty when we go to the Echye's but it was before 6pm, so that's understandable - by the time we left, it was getting busier. Our waitress was friendly, if a little awkward. We asked what the go was - how much should we order? She recommended 2 dishes between us, so S ordered the Goredgored, a beef dish where the main ingredients were chilli and butter - reportedly the hottest thing on the menu. Our waitress had said most things have chilli in it, however it was easy for the chef to alter/omit it, which was nice, though we like chilli so it wasn't an issue! I ordered the Zhigni, a lamb stew with berbere spices, onion, garlic and Tesmi (spiced butter). We obviously needed some help with some of the terms on the menu, and our waitress was very understanding and patient. She recommended the Kitfo - prime beef, minced with traditional spices, tesmi and mitmita (spice mix with African birdseye chillies, cardamom, cloves and salt). She explained that it is normally served raw (but not like beef tartar - totally different apparently!) but if you'd prefer it cooked they can do that too! It seemed that they had a good understanding that many dishes in Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisine would be quite challenging for the western tastebuds and they were very happy to alter it for their customers so they had an enjoyable meal. I think this is really good of them, it gives you the chance to try something totally new and foreign if you want to, but gives others at the table who may not be as adventurous as you, the opportunity to ease their way into it. It was really cold that night, so we decided against trying the Kitfo as we wanted something a bit warmer!
Everything is served with Enjera, which is a yeasted bread traditionally made with teff flour (a grass native to Ethiopia, Wikipedia explains it all here). It comes out looking pretty funky I have to say. It reminded me of the old foam mattress you used to have under your bed which you pulled out when friends would stay over! Or flesh of some kind. I wasn't sure...
We were told that we should break off bits of the enjera, and spoon the stew on top, then pick it up and eat it - normally they only use their hands, however she gave us cutlery if we wanted to go western style! It was a bit messy but I gave it a red hot go!
We ordered a side of Azifa, black lentils with tomato, onion, green chilli and dressing, which was a TINY serve. You need to order one each - it was delicious so actually, order it as a dish on its own. It really cut through the richness of my stew and added such a fresh flavour to the whole meal.
Overall, I wasn't blown away by the food, and the pancake/bread was not my cup of tea. In saying that, I think you should try it for yourself, and I would go back and have another go. They have plenty of other options, as well as a vegetarian menu. When S was paying, our waitress said the bread does take a bit of getting used to and they were happy to make rice or bread for the customers if they requested it. The service was good and I'd like to think they offer something different on the Vic Park strip - we just didn't quite get it this time!