Naim is an eatery in Paddington that has been around for a few years now. It was formerly Shouk, but we had not visited since the change. From what we gathered, it had not actually changed hands, but perhaps adjusted direction a bit. The middle-eastern ethos remains, and we were interested to find out what they were doing now.
Located just off the popular eatery stretch of Latrobe Terrace (quite near Chapter IV), on Collingwood Street, it is perched near the top of one of hilly Paddington’s slopes. The renovated cottage it is housed in has been painted a patchwork of colours, so it stands out from the surrounding buildings more than it used to. The signage wasn’t the most obvious though, and we had to wander a little further up the hill to make sure that we had correctly remembered the location.
Once through the entrance, it wasn’t immediately obvious what was supposed to happen. The service counter was at the end of the space, with the kitchen visible just beyond. Just one of the tables was occupied, but no staff seemed interested that we were there.
We approached the service counter, and it was only then that we discovered that there was a whole other seating section beyond that, more occupied and bustling than was discernible from the entry area. We told the staff that we would like a table for two, and they showed us through to an available table.
The previous section had a more Middle-Eastern flavour to the decor, with an arabesque-patterned mirror on the wall, and lanterns and coloured tagines on shelves. This second area was surrounded by glass windows, taking advantage of the view from the height of the hill. Festoon lights slung across the ceiling had a warm glow that gave the space a welcoming feel.
The white ceiling was contrasted by nautical blue walls, one of which cleverly had a series of shelves that displayed their available wines, with chalked commentaries next to them. Wood-topped tables and crossback chairs in natural dark wood shades kept the styling simple and classic. The area was air conditioned, making it a more pleasant temperature than the summer heat outside. There was a hubbub of patron chatter that was a bit trapped by the hard surfaces.
We were brought menus, a laminated sheet with food options that were not just your standard brunch dishes, but all incorporated Middle Eastern flavours and components. For instance, their Smashed Avo Toast had avocado, pistachio dukkah, Persian feta, pomegranate gel, red vein sorrel, poached eggs, and sourdough. We were tempted by a few of the options, but eventually managed to narrow it down, eventually picking the Shakshuka and the Hummus Bowl.
We began with coffees. The flat white was found to have good flavour, tasting almost chocolatey. It was well-textured, rich and smooth. It was a notably smaller cup than your typical cafe flat white would be though.
The soy iced mocha was certainly chocolatey, and it was not too sweet. The coffee could just barely be tasted over it though.
It did take a while for the food to arrive, but it was a busy brunch time, with many other diners there to be fed.
There are varying ideas about where Shakshuka originated, but it is certainly well known through the Middle East. We do like well turned-out baked eggs (Melbourne’s Hardware Societe is well known for them), and Naim seemed just the place to have shakshuka, Middle Eastern baked eggs. The menu described their Shakshuka as Tunisian style baked eggs, tomato and capsicum sauce, saffron labneh, white beans, kalamata olives, and toasted house-made challah bread. We took up the option to add lamb kofta meatballs for $5. It was served on a wooden board, with an earthenware dish holding the shakshuka itself on one end, and a couple of rounds of toasted bread on the other end of the board. It was piping hot, the couple of eggs sitting in a rich, fiery-hued sauce, with the meatballs placed in a ring around them, and dollops of the labne in between. A sprinkle of herbs across the top added freshness to the presentation.
The sauce was tomatoey, with a little spice heat. It was a mix of sweet, savoury, and tangy flavours. Unlike some other baked eggs we had had (which disappointed us), it was a rich, thick sauce. The beans, and pieces of tomato and capsicum, added texture to the mix. The lamb kofta meatballs were well seasoned and had plenty of cuminy, herby flavour. They made the dish hearty and filling. Without them, it seemed like the dish would not have been as satisfying. It seemed to have been served with Turkish bread rather than challah bread. We had not been informed that they had run out. Still, it was quite good Turkish bread, and worked well for mopping the stew up.
The Hummus Bowl was listed in the menu as having housemade hummus, spoon salad, marinated olives, fresh rainbow radish, toasted za’atar flatbread, and a choice of marinated artichokes, carrot falafel, or braised beef cheeks. We had initially not been quite as swayed by it, until a table near us had their order delivered. It was simply presented, in a plain white bowl. This is certainly one for hummus lovers. Hummus bowl was absolutely an accurate description. Unlike where dishes are called, for instance, salmon bowls, and you get a dish that is mostly salad and a few strips of salmon, in this case, the bowl was indeed mostly hummus. The slices of flatbread were fanned out along one edge of the dish, and a serving of the meat and colourful vegetable and fruit components laid atop the hummus in the middle. The hummus was dense, nutty, and well-seasoned. Different spices sprinkled over different sections of it not only gave it a little more colour, but meant that there were different flavours to it as you ate, rather than it just being uniform. The flatbread slices were fluffy and warm, and there was a good number of them, rather than just a token amount, so you didn’t run out too soon. The braised beef cheeks were tender, and the meat pulled apart easily. It was just lightly seasoned, rather than competing with the hummus flavour. Pieces of cucumber gave it freshness. The pickled radish added both colour and crunch, but was not tart, defying our expectations. It was quite a good dish altogether, but had a milder flavour profile than the Shakshuka.
Naim, as their menu explains, means “happiness” and “pleasant”. It was indeed a pleasant meal that left our tummies full and happy afterwards. The menu nudges more towards restaurant in pricing than casual cafe, but the food does deliver the Middle Eastern flavours promised, and you can tell that they put care into their dishes. Worth visiting if you like Middle Eastern food.
Price point: $19 to $28 for brunch items. Our dishes $26 and $19 in order above. They do also offer their Baklava Waffles and Avo Toast in half serves for less cost, but we only do whole serves..
Address: 14 Collingwood Street, Paddington
Phone: 07 3172 1655