When Haseeb Miazad first moved from Kabul to Sydney, he missed his native Afghani cuisine so much, he got his mother to teach him her recipes over the phone. His own Afghani kitchen creations were so popular, Miazad opened Bamiyan Restaurant in Sydney in 2011. He has opened two more restaurants in Sydney since, and expanded into Canberra in November 2017.
The Canberra Bamiyan is only a few months old - it took over the space of former Lebanese restaurant La Mono on Lonsdale Street - but even on a weeknight at a time of year when most Canberrans are at the coast, this place is buzzing. The L-shaped restaurant is filled with light and decorated simply, with a few Afghani rugs and a print of National Geographic's 'Afghan Girl' adorning the walls. A red bench seat extends all the way down one side of the space, with other tables scattered throughout, and they're about three quarters full.
If you have trouble deciding when faced with a menu, Bamiyan's may be a bit confronting. There are 69 items on the menu, all individually numbered, ranging from entrees - a combination of charcoal grilled meats and dumplings - to mains, breads and desserts. Afghani cuisine has a lot of similarities to that of India, with influences from Persia, the Mediterranean and parts of Asia.
To make the decision process a tad easier, specialty dishes are marked as 'chef favourite'. There are also five separate banquet options provided there are at least four of you - one is a dedicated vegetarian banquet - starting from $35 per person, which takes the decision making out of things.
Mantu lamb dumplings ($12) come all lined up in a row, drizzled with yoghurt, a chickpea and tomato sauce, and a sprinkling of mint. They're plump, filled with lamb mince and a fragrant mixture of spices. They're probably more full of flavour than you'd expect from your average dumpling, and extremely moreish.
The grilled chicken ($15) is equally as wholesome and tasty. Five big chunks of boneless chicken are kept simple to show off the taste of their charcoal cooking, served with an 'Afghan chutney' which is quite like a chimmichurri - zesty with a decent kick of spiciness.
The mains are all curries - which are also all gluten free. Big pieces of lamb are cooked slow and gently in the lamb kurooti ($22), finished with a creamy, spicy sauce. Slices of chicken are hidden beneath the chicken kabuli pallow ($30), a traditional Afghan rice dish which is cooked slowly over many hours, and is gently spiced with a pop of sweetness on top from caramelised carrots and sultanas and chunks of almond. It's served with even more chicken in the creamy chicken kodamani korma curry.
The dishes look small on the table but are deceptively filling, and we struggle to finish the mains. The curries pack a punch with their flavour, without leaving an overwhelming taste lingering in your mouth.
To mop up the sauces, naan breads ($5-7) come as plain, garlic, cheese or cheese and garlic, and are slightly less fluffy than their Indian counterpart, but every bit as satisfying.
A wine list has options from all your usual Australian and New Zealand spots, and enough available by the glass, plus there are beers and ciders, and BYO is available for $3 per person.
The dishes are all from family recipes and everything about this place has a warm, homely and welcoming feel. Miazad is a constant presence in the restaurant, from popping in and out of the kitchen to asking diners how their meals are, and is clearly passionate about his dishes.
Bamiyan keeps things simple, and does it well, with seriously good food and a wholesome and friendly feel.
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