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« Middle Eastern mezze no.4: Tabbouli | Main | Middle Eastern mezze no.2: Falafel »

Middle Eastern mezze no.3: Hugh Foster's spicy lamb mince


Hugh Foster is often credited with having introduced Sydneysiders to Morrocan and Middle Eastern food in the 1990s with his trendy Darlinghurst restaurant, the Fez. The Fez is now closed, but he continues the theme with Café Mint in Surry Hills which has been open since the early noughties and still draws a large crowd, a testament to his ability to keep up with the times.

Café Mint’s takes the successful Sydney café model – communal tables, sleek furnishings and interior, good coffee, all day breakfasts which merge into lunch and dinner – but adds a twist, Middle Eastern cuisine. Alongside the usual breakfast offerings of sourdough toast, bircher muesli, and scrambled eggs, you have breakfast cous cous with yoghurt, merguez sausage with chakchouka, and baked eggs with beans and sucuk.

My Dad did a stint working at Café Mint after he closed his own restaurant. It was probably around this time that Middle Eastern mezze became a regular part of our weeknight dinner menu. One of my favourite of these recipes is Hugh’s spicy lamb mince with pine nuts, which has made appearances on Cafe Mint’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menu over the years.

Hugh was clearly quite fond of the recipe himself because, when I asked Dad to share it with me almost four years ago he handed me a cut out from the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Living supplement. I still have the copy I made of the original recipe, but as with most things that one makes regularly, I have developed it over time to suit my own tastes. 

I often add a little ground coriander, some finely chopped shallot or red onion, and a bit of garlic. Sometimes, I mix all the ingredients in a bowl before cooking and make skewers or kofte-style meat balls instead. The recipe below is as per Hugh’s original recipe, except that I have halved it and added fresh mint, an addition I never skip. 

Hugh suggests serving the mince with hummous and za’taar toast or in filo pastry. I usually serve it as the meat option in a main mezze selection, alongside various dips and salads with flatbread for dipping or wrapping. 


1 tbsp olive oil
500g lamb mince
½ tbsp ground black pepper
½ tbsp maras pepper flakes (or pinch cayenne pepper)
½ tbsp all spice
1 tbsp cumin, toasted and ground
½ tbsp dried mint
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses, or to taste
Salt, to taste
50g pine nuts, toasted
Small bunch fresh mint, finely chopped (approx 2 tbsp)


Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the lamb and fry until browned all over, stirring continuously to ensure the meat is broken up into small granules.

Add the ground black pepper, maras pepper flakes or cayenne, all spice, cumin, and dried mint and stir through. Next add the pomegranate molasses and season with salt, adjusting both as necessary.

Just before serving, add the pine nuts and fresh mint, stirring through all but a small handful for garnish.

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Reader Comments (2)

Yum yum yum
i have been to cafe mint a couple of times this year and i always order the lamb mince with humous, caramelized onion and z'aatar toast....its sooooo good! but i always get some roast tomato on the side because it need something to pick it up a little bit...i don't know what that means exactly but hopefully you get my gist!?

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Brown

Yum, that sounds delicious. And yes that makes perfect sense.

April 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterVix

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