Merkato is a cosy little Ethiopian restaurant tucked away in the forbidden lands north of Kings Cross. This was my first time up this far North and I can’t say I would have ventured there if not for it being one of the best Ethiopian restaurants on Yelp. If you are waiting for friends or dining companions, there is a pretty cool pub just down the road called The Driver, but more on that in another post.
We started off with a round of beers and, in order to stay true to form, asked for typical Ethiopian beers. Merkato had two on offer: Castel & St. George. Naturally, we couldn’t decide and ordered both. Despite all my years of beer drinking experience, I have to admit that I couldn’t tell much difference between the two (and thankfully neither could the bartenders in our group). The Castel was slightly hoppier and the St. G slightly sweeter but both are light lagers that go down quite easily. We also chose a bottle of Tej which is like a slightly alcoholic (3-4%) tropical fruit juice. It’s a refreshing beverage but don’t expect it to get all by the lightest of weights drunk.
We kept with the game plan and ordered 5 of the 6 starters (we opted to avoid the salad) which consisted of samosas, spring rolls, a spinach and cottage cheese dip, and, my personal favourite, bits of the typical sour bread fried in a spicy butter. The samosas were fairly tasteless and the spring rolls unmemorable so I’d advise giving those a miss and looking to your nearest Indian and Chinese takeaway to satisfy your craving. The spinach and cottage cheese dish (apologies as I couldn’t spell the actual names without a menu in front of me) was tasty even though I’m not the biggest fan of cottage cheese. The spicy bread bits I could easily snack on at any time. For those that are a bit worried, they aren’t very hot but rather with a good mix of spices that give a good depth of flavour.
When in came to mains, we asked for a selection of traditional dishes and ended up with a variety of meat tibs (dry stir fried style) and w’et (curry style), a trio of lentils (think dal), and a minced beef that reminded me of a keema curry. My favourites were the house special tibs which had a delicious chargrilled crust containing tender juicy meat with a robust seasoning and the minced beef dish which had a rich meatiness although it was a tad oily. Definitely get the extra bread but make sure to save room to eat all the bread in the main dish that will be soaked with the juices and sauces of each dish as you eat. It’s by far the best part of the mopping up segment of your meal.
By this point, we were far too stuffed to even consider dessert and the 30 min bike ride home was a daunting challenge. The food coma was quickly setting in and for once I was damn happy it was freezing cold outside.
Overall, it was a tasty meal with great company so a definite win. I would note that the bathrooms are pretty dodgy and dirty but it kinda adds to the authenticity of the whole thing. Price wise, it’s damn cheap with what was essentially an all you can eat and drink (we must have had 3-4 rounds of beer) for just 18 squids.