Shane Delia is almost bouncing out of his high-top sneakers showing off his million-dollar renovation at Maha, the once dark and moody basement diner that has just reopened in a blaze of white and teal.
"I've been planning this renovation for years," says Delia, who parted company with Made Establishment restaurant group in 2013 to run Maha on his own. "It's all about the detail for me… the sound engineering, the lighting, the comfort at the tables. I want our customers to feel the difference."
Architects Mills Gorman oversaw a five-week refit that included knocking out walls, changing the entry and shrinking the bar to up the seating in the dining room from 100 to 130.
Gone are the timber panelling, sombre lighting, ochre tones and shisha pipes, replaced by a spacious, modern feel that's all glowing white ceiling panels and luxe touches including sandblasted solid oak tables with bronze trim and soft velvet seating in shades of teal and blue.
The raised front room that once housed shisha pipes is now a bright semi-private dining area sporting an oversized portrait of a Bedouin girl by aerosol artist Adnate. The work is based on a photo Delia took while filming his SBS food series Spice Journey.
The old Maha lives on through Delia's excellent Middle Eastern food. The format of set menus designed to share remains (there's a choice of two, four, five and six courses), but the fancy new gold-leaf menu hints at fresher, cleaner flavours such as the smashed radish, smoked pepper, almonds and mint that now accompany his trademark slow-cooked lamb shoulder.
Delia is also convinced his new Unox oven in the revamped kitchen produces a more succulent version of his famous lamb dish. "I have no idea why," he says. "It just tastes more intense and the texture is amazing."
The new Maha is more open and relaxed, and this is reflected in the new front-of-house uniform: faded teal aprons, black jeans and Converse sneakers teamed with stripy black-and-white socks in the same flowing design as the new Maha logo. The socks are even available for purchase, along with a range of Delia's spices and condiments.
"I told you I was all about the detail," Delia says with a grin.
Maha, 21 Bond St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9629 5900