Saturday, 14 December 2013

Mecca Bah - when it all goes wrong, when do you pull the plug?

You're out at a restaurant and things are not going well.  At what point do you realise that you've made a huge mistake?  At what point do you move past considering storming out and actually storm out?  I was able to contemplate these and many other similar questions recently when we visited the Mecca Bah over at Emporium in the Valley.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  We had had a particularly difficult week at work and were in need of a nice meal to take our minds off our recent long days in the office.  Of course we have our favourite spots that we could have easily visited (Hello Esquire), but being a food blogger, I want to check out new places a lot of the time.  I have a long list of restaurants that I want visit, either for the first time, or go back to because I've not been since starting my blog.

I started down my list which started off with an old favourite of mine, Kingsley's Steak and Crab house, which is just across the street and would have been very easy to get to.  Amazingly, for the second night in a row, there were no tables available until after 8pm.  Scratch that.  Next up was a spot that I had never been to, Byblos over at Hamilton but even more amazingly no one answered their phone and after three attempts, I gave up and moved down my list.

With hindsight I'm sure the universe was telling me to give up but I'm pretty persistent and it had been a week that called for eating out.  Next on my list was Mecca Bah, a spot that I had been to quite a few years ago when I was in my Mediterranean phase of eating.  At the time I had not been very impressed with the food or service, but it's funny how time can dampen feelings.  After a quick call to make a booking, I was informed that there is no need to book, just come on down.  Score, we were in.

We contemplated walking over, it's only a twenty minute walk to the Emporium but a quick check of the radar put an end to that though, a huge storm was approaching.  Grabbing some umbrellas we took to the car and drove off for the inevitable search for parking in the Valley.  Feeling quite delusional I started to look for a car park in Emporium, but after spending ten minutes stuck in traffic at Emporium, I dropped SC off to get a table while I looked for a street park somewhere in the Valley.  After about a minute of looking, my first lucky break of the night came when I scored a park just around the corner. 

As I started to walk from the car to Emporium, the heavens opened up, so I was glad that I had a 'brollie' even if it was the spare we keep in the boot. Mecca Bah is one of the largest restaurants in the Emporium and has a large indoor seating area but a huge outdoor seating area.   As I walked up to look for SC and struggled to find her, I was guided by one of the waitresses who noted that she was 'behind the pole'.  As I walked into the restaurant to see where we were actually sitting, I noted that we were placed in the worst possible seat in the restaurant, hidden right behind a massive support pole in the dining area.  I was quite amazed to be sitting in this spot given the restaurant was only half full, it was not a good sign for things to come.

When I sat down I noted that we had menus and glasses of water at the table, which was a good start but when I quizzed SC about the seat, she said she told the wait staff she didn't mind inside or out, but they stuck us behind the pole.  We quickly made our decisions on what we wanted to eat, but it was now the task of getting someone's attention from behind the pole.  It took a while and it was a portent of things to come.  We actually joked that we should go next door for pizza, but just as we started to get serious about this, someone came to take our order, which included a glass of wine for SC.

So began our next long wait.  I could lean around and see the bar and tried to keep an eye out for SC's wine and while numerous glasses of white were leaving the pass, none were heading our way.  After about twenty minutes of waiting for the wine, SC was about to go 'Jackie Chan' on our waitress who was doing a great job of avoiding us, but the glass was finally presented.  It had been sitting around for so long that it was covered in condensation and was a bit warm.  There was still no sign of entrees and we again joked that we might need to cut our losses and leave.

Things stared to get beyond a joke when about seventy minutes into our wait we still did not have our entrees. Mecca Bah must have a sixth sense because just as we were about to throw in the towel again, our entrees magically appeared.  We were a bit underwhelmed by the  presentation of the Bastilla, which are Moroccan chicken pastries.  The three pastries looked a little like desserts with the icing sugar sifted over the top but what they lacked in the visual department, they made up for in taste.  The chicken was moist and really nice and the pastry as light and crisp.  The main problem was that could have used a dipping sauce, after a few mouthfuls they became a little hard to eat and a spicy sauce would have worked well with the sweet pastry and icing sugar.

Our other starter was the baked haloumi with pomegranate, mint salad and lemon, which looked very  quite nice but very different most haloumi I'd had before.  The haloumi was submerged in a liquid with a salad of mint and pomegranate seeds and a puree, which I can only assume was also pomegranate spread on the cheese.  The haloumi was really thick and soft, but being submerged lost some the caramelisation that helps give haloumi its flavour.  The dish had an unusual flavour profile that took me a while to decide I quite liked, sweet but an underlying haloumi flavour.

We were a bit pissed off with the wait, ostensibly because we had been hungry to begin with and it didn't help that we waited so long before our starters arrived.  We were feeling a little happier after we'd eaten something, but only a little better.  By this time I had been tweeting about my displeasure and a heap of followers and fellow bloggers where starting to share their stories about waiting at the Mecca Bah.  Waiting seems to be a theme at this particular restaurant and to prove that point, we settled in for another long wait, this time with our dirty plates sitting ready to be cleared.

Our frustrating wait was exacerbated when a table of about eight cute young girls were seated next to us and very quickly had their orders taken by one of the male wait staff and not too long after that, their food was brought out.  It was at this point that our blood really boiled and we were about to storm out again when our mains finally turned up (with the dirty starter plates still on our table!)

First to the table was the Pide (Turkish pizza) and the waiter just placed it on the table and took off (presumably for my main) without taking away the dirty plates.  Harrumph.  SC had ordered the Tunisian merguez sausage with roasted and marinated red pepper with cracked egg pide, which looked pretty good. Unfortunately looking good was as far as it went.  It was severely under cooked with the pide dough being practically raw underneath and at the thicker ends of the pide.  Some of the flavours were pretty good, with quite a bit of heat from the sausage and peppers, but SC was just too angry at our treatment and the poor quality of the cooking to eat more than a third.

We were right.  Our waiter had disappeared to get my mixed kebab grill and had started to place the plates on our table, with the dirty plates still on there before finally taking them away, with a parting shot that she should have put the kebabs on the one plate!!.  I'd originally wanted the mixed grill which had three types of meat, but was informed that there was no chicken on the day so had to settle for the Tsire spiced lamb, which was good and the Baharat spiced beef, which was not.  The lamb was nicely spiced and well cooked and reminded me a lot of Greek yiros, which is one of my favourite foods.  The beef on the other hand was practically raw and the spices had not cooked properly and were really harsh on the palate, it was quite ordinary (to say the least).

I was bitterly disappointed with the beef kebab, it was terrible.  We had been advised that the kebabs didn't come with a salad, so I had ordered the beetroot, radish and rocked salad with pomegranate dressing.  I really needed the salad to get the taste of the Baharat spiced beef out of my mouth, which it did but then left a bit of a weird aftertaste in my mouth also.  It was a bit oily and after I had eaten the top part of the salad, the lower half was drenched in liquid and became very difficult to eat.

We had been waiting for a very long time for each of our courses and at many times tried to catch someone's attention to ask about our meals, but every time we were at the stage where we were about to walk out, our meals came.  We were not going to run the risk of dessert, it was just not going to happen.

We weren't even going to wait until someone took our plates away to get the bill.  By that time I had read some other blogger posts and some urbanspoon comments that waiting for the bill is an equally long process. We simply got up and went to pay at the counter.  While I was taking photos of the restaurant and SC went to pay, the staff member at the counter kept their head down and didn't bother to ask us how our meal was, at which point SC would have unloaded.  It actually seemed as if they didn't care at all and just wanted the cash.

Reflecting back on my questions to start the blog, at what point do you realise you have made a mistake?  Well in the case of Mecca Bah, it was not soon enough.  I'm pretty sure there won't be a next time for Mecca Bah, so you could say I've learned my lesson.

I watched the staff making drinks but SC's just took forever to come
On a stormy night it was better inside
But it wasn't packed so I'm not sure why we were seated behind a pole
The kitchen area.  Not sure what goes on in there, but from my experience and as it seems many others, there is not a sense of urgency
The large outdoor area was pretty full, but still a lot of empty seats

Mecca Bah on UrbanspoonMecca Bah


  1. Interesting, insightful and fair review. If the owners offered you a refund, would you return?

  2. mmmm, good question. I don't think so. When this has happened in the past I normally say no anyway.

  3. Oh dear.... we can all bond over our bad Mecca Bah expereinces. And yet, it could be so good because I've had some really tasty little plates. As one of the closests retaurants to where I work, we'd be there all the time if it was good but alas, we have all been burned.

    1. I know, so much potential. But there are so many new places opening up in the Valley, around the M&A lane, that places that give crap service may not last that long!

  4. 70 minute wait, WTF .. epic fail for them, so many better places to try

    1. Yeah Mark, and it seems to be a pretty regular occurrence too!

  5. In the 10 years that I have dined there, it seems that you must have had one of those nights that things just didn't go your way! Its a shame to write off a 'snapshot' of what this restaurant truly is. And that is a unique blend of aromatic flavours, a high presence of quality service, and a genuine passion that normally makes competitors soar low. I feel for you and your poor dining experience, but I personally hold high hopes and high standards for this establishment.

    Everyone cant get it right 100% of the time and again am appalled at this review. If you knew this was unacceptable, why didn't you raise the issue with the manager on the night? As a previous restaurant owner I think its low to tarnish the reputation of what I believe as one of Brisbanes best destination venues. and at looking at countless of positive reviews made by others it just seemed to have happened to be one of those nights.

    1. Thanks for your comments. If only it were a snapshot. I have in fact been to Mecca Bah before and had a very similar experience. It seems that from many tweets and comments I have received that others have also had similar experiences.

      I'm glad that you have had good experiences there and that you rate the restaurant. You clearly have experience having been in the industry. However, I eat at many many restaurants and my experiences at this restaurant differ from yours.

      We always provide feedback to restaurants when dining there when asked, but on this night the staff seemed very disinterested and didn't bother to ask, which is unusual for most restaurants we dine at.

      We could debate for some time about the status of this restaurant as one of Brisbane's best destination venues and I certainly would disagree. I also disagree that by noting my experiences that I have tarnished the reputation of the restaurant, they were my experiences and they were sub standard on the night


  6. Great review Anthony. We have been going to Mecca Bah since it opened. Back then it was consistently excellent, but now completely hit-and-miss. No doubt this corresponds to when the original owner and chef, Cath Claringbold, sold the franchise some years ago. We ate there last night, and the service, though not quite Fawlty Towers calibre, was nearly Basil Fawlty and Manuel-worthy. The food had moments of its former brilliance but was overall, pretty lacklustre... tough lamb, tiny servings..I could go on...

    1. Right, this blog post has been quite polarising! I think that consistency is the thing I value most when it comes to restaurant, and by that I mean consistenly good! I really don't like poor service, restaurants after all are in the service industry. Sounds similar to my visit...

  7. Dear Anthony,

    My name is Stan Kravchenko and am the Operations Manager of Mecca Bah group. Being based on the Gold Coast, I have only recently became directly responsible for the Brisbane venue after having opened and operating other group's restaurants. Let me start by firstly apologising for this very negative experience at our restaurant. The very reason I became involved with Mecca Bah Brisbane is to fix the wrongs and reestablish Mecca Bah as what it truly deserves - one of Brisbane's iconic venues. New Head Chef and Venue Manager have been hired in the past month and the whole team and, down the track, venue itself will be undergoing a complete overhaul. I can provide a million reasons for this negative dinner but this will not fix the experience. All I can say is: we stuffed up and i would like to fix it. Instead, I would like to invite you to our Gold Coast venue to sample our food and service the way it should be, whether anonymous or not. I will cover travel expenses and pay for accommodation if required. If you decide to dine anonymous, please introduce yourself to my team after your dinner. All I am asking in return is a repeat review describing your experience. My email is or my mobile is 0459 275556. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this further. At any case, I am truly sorry for your experience and cases like that will be a thing of the past within the next month.

    1. Hi there Stan, thanks for your comments. I actually really appreciate the response and it shows that you are very serious about customer service and making sure you have a first rate restaurant.

      It sounds like you are putting the pieces together to really improve the restaurant, which has a lot of potential.

      I will take you up on your offer of visiting the Gold Coast Mecca Bah, it sounds like you are very proud of that venue and want to replicate it in Brisbane, so I am very interested to see how you've already set the GC and how it could be a model for Brisbane.

      I will also do this anonymously but will let you know personally the week that I will be down, and then will link in with your team after finishing up with the meal. If you could let me know who to speak to after the dinner, I will certainly provide some feedback straight up and then will write a follow up post about the GC visit.


Thanks very much for your comment, I really love and appreciate feedback and your thoughts


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