With Maha, Shane Delia has created a high-end dining institution in Melbourne. For eight years, he has been crafting Middle Eastern fusion food, carving out a niche for Middle Eastern fare in in the city that is sophisticated and downright delicious.
Now, Delia is looking to expand his range by visiting the other end of the spectrum – fast food.
“There’s more to me than Maha,” Delia says. “I’m not a one-dimensional [restauranteur]. I’ve made my bones in the hatted realm, but it’s not who I was – I grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne listening to hip hop and building cars and hanging out with mates and just wanting to have fun. It was never my goal to own a restaurant, I just wanted to be a cook.”
Delia is returning to these roots in his latest venture, joining the likes of Huxtaburger and Jimmy Grants, entering the world of high-quality fast food for the first time with his new “kbab” (Delia has altered the name to distinguish his product from the traditional definition of a kebab) takeaway/diner restaurant, Biggie Smalls in Fitzroy.
“I wanted to do Biggie because I wanted to do something that’s more about having fun; a place where I can go and relax with my friends and have a good kbab,” Delia says.
“The old school kebabs are great, you know, but the guys who are doing that have been doing that for many years. At Biggie, I want it to be good, tasty, something fun. It’s not traditional. I never do traditional food at any venue I operate. It’s the same at Maha; we don’t do traditional food.”
Delia is certainly steering clear of the traditional with his menu at Biggie Smalls, without sacrificing quality and deliciousness – there’s a maple syrup-glazed pork belly kbab with a peanut butter hommus and pork crackling, there’s a fried chicken variety with peanut butter hommus, there’s a slow-cooked lamb shoulder kbab. And don’t expect anything less than the flavour profiles we have come to know and love at Maha – Delia says he won’t be skimping on flavour and quality of ingredients.
“It’ll be the same at Biggie [as at Maha] – the same ethos, the same caliber of chef,” Delia says. “It’s tasty, fast food – not junk food, not crap food. You know, it’s good chicken, we’re crumbing it, seasoning it; we’re slow-cooking the pork belly and glazing it, slow cooking the lamb shoulder, we’re making the hommus exactly how we make it at Maha.”
Of course, like any Middle Eastern fare, the kbab is only as good as the bread, Delia says.
“Oh yeah, it’s all about the bread,” he says. “Beautiful, spongy pita bread. We brush it with spice, we hit it with some salt, grill it; it comes up nice and fluffy.”
Delicious food aside, the question on everyone’s lips is, why the name Biggie Smalls for a Middle Eastern takeaway joint?
Delia has his reasons. “I love Biggie Smalls as an artist,” he says. “And a lot of his songs, and what Biggie embodies, I can relate to – the hip hop culture, the pursuit of excellence, dreaming big, having fun and expressing yourself; starting from a low base and exceeding expectation, that’s what it’s about.
“Maha… I’ll always have it, it will always be my gem, I’ll always put thought and energy into it – but Biggie is my passion project. It’s about people from all walks of life – they’re all there [at Biggie Smalls], bopping to the music, singing the words, eating kbabs, drinking beer – that’s what it’s all about. And I think we’ve got it right; I’m pretty pumped.”
Originally posted on Gram Magazine on 19 January 2016. Written by Lauren Bruce. Picture by Lauren Bruce.