image006THE NAME Merrylands has a fairy tale ring to it, like it’s some happy place where the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell frolic in fields of sunflowers and beer pours freely from bubblers in the parks.
Whether Arthur Todd Holroyd had this in mind in 1855 when he gave that name to the home he built there is anybody’s guess. There are photographs of Mr Holroyd (after whom the adjoining suburb is named) in which he appears every inch your archetypal Victorian ghost – all serious mutton chops, glowering eyes and angry eyebrows. Lips that fierce and thin should be saying “two hundred and fifty lashes” not “let’s call it Merrylands”.
Today, Merrylands is one of Sydney’s most multicultural suburbs, where 56% of its 29,000 or so residents were born outside Australia and where 22% speak Arabic at home.
Before arriving in Australia from his native England Arthur Holroyd had travelled extensively in the Sinai, Palestine, Syria and the Sudan and as such would be very familiar with the beautiful Arabic script that today adorns so many of the shop signs in Merrylands high street.
Though beauty wasn’t top of the list when the Kabul House Afghan restaurant was fitted out. The colour scheme is purple, the tables are topped with easy-to-clean glass and plastic tablecloths, and there is art on the walls which should be taken out the back and shot. It’s as if someone said ‘let’s just concentrate on the food’. Which is fine by me.
It’s Wednesday night when we go and the place, while not heaving, is still very buzzy, with tables of multi-generational families, older men eating in reverential silence and a hubbub of young men up to their Number Ones in kebab skewers.
Using the photographs in the laminated menu as a guide we order hummus, something called mantu, half a chicken, lamb curry and a glass of dogh, which turns out to be a salted yoghurt drink mixed with dried mint. All this is accompanied with plate-sized circles of traditional bread and a somewhat desultory salad of lettuce, red onion and pickled cabbage.
The hummus in the menu is a work of art (unlike the stuff on the walls). Concentric waves of artfully prepared hummus are enlivened with four slivers of tomato, a drizzle of olive oil and a thoughtful smattering of pomegranate seeds.
What arrives is hummus in a takeaway container into which have been plonked three bruised olives. It is perfectly acceptable but does not bode well for the future when the pictorial is so far at odds with reality.
We needn’t have worried. The menu says the chicken is marinated overnight in traditional Afghan spices before being cooked on a charcoal BBQ but I know better. Somewhere out the back is a wellness clinic for chickens. It is here that blissfully happy birds are pampered, massaged and fed whatever their little chicken hearts desire before being softly exhorted to take their own lives for the greater good.
I don’t know this for a fact but it’s the only explanation I can come up with that explains the softness, juiciness and the sheer damn yumminess of the saffron-coloured bird that is served atop a small hillock of long grain rice peppered with raisins.
The lamb curry is good – it’s of the European spicy tradition rather than the too-often-too-sweet Australian style – but it’s the mantu which proves to be the hit of the evening. These slippery little steamed, beef-filled, thin-skinned dumplings, topped with yoghurt and lentils, are simply delicious. Dipped in the accompanying chilli sauce they are so moreish we unexpectedly finish off all 10 in the serve.
All this, then, plus two diet Cokes, and out the door for just $60. We’ll be back, inshallah.
Kabul House
186a Merrylands Rd, Merrylands, NSW 2160
TEL: 9682 4144
Open 7 days 12pm-10pm