It's been a while since fans of Ismail Tosun, the man behind defunct modern Turkish pioneer Gigibaba, have been thrown a line. But Tosun has resurfaced, teaming up with fellow chef Kirsty Chiaplias at Babajan, a Turkish-leaning café and bakery in North Carlton.
It's a cute space, a former kebab shop transformed via modest budget to a quintessential Melbouráne café, all white painted walls, hanging plants and timber-topped tables and stools with powder blue metal legs. The floors are polished concrete and refurbished timber church pews line one wall. With its open kitchen at the back and a counter piled with house baked loaves of bread, stacks of circular simit, plates of sweet stuff (order the pistachio and quince cake if it's there) and bowls of salads, it feels generous and homely, too. Given all the food on display you can feed yourself here without looking at a menu and be quite content but that would be limiting your options. The breakfast and lunch lists (no nights yet but the impending liquor licence may change that) are interesting and original and fertile ground for a case of dish envy.
Menemen, a dish of Turkish baked eggs teamed with spiced tomato, spinach dusted with a pistachio dukkah and served with Turkish bread or simit, should have you feeling pretty pleased with yourself unless you spot the roe-topped crab and haloumi omelette, a potential cult in the making with its accompanying avocado, witlof and cucumber salad. Or the trout spanakopita that comes with Hollandaise, poached eggs, asparagus and peas. Or the ox cheek shawarma, the meat rubbed in zoug (a pesto-like chilli rub spiced with cardamom and cumin) and served with fermented chillies and potatoes cooked with lamb juices (potatoes kavourma).
Menemen, or Turkish baked eggs.
There are dips too (for which the Tosun fans will be kicking up their heels) and more than decent coffee on a drinks list that includes cold pressed juice and almond milk. It's good to have Tosun back on the Melbourne scene and that he's teamed up with Chiaplias. The simpático nature of their cooking packs impressive firepower into this seemingly modest space. Modern Turkish food is having something of a moment in Melbourne right now. Babajan is an ideal place to understand why.
Open Tue-Fri 7am-7pm, Sat-Sun 7am-5pm; Babajan, 713 Nicholson St, North Carlton, (03) 9388 9814, babajan.com.au.