[invite] Bianca: Middle Eastern food is always so generous in flavour and spirit. I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from a meal thinking ‘Yeah, I could totally go for a cheeseburger’. Which is typically my gauge-o-meter after a meal.
Zahli sits on the site formerly occupied by Al Alseel, just next door to Bondi Wholefoods in Surry Hills. Lebanese food is going through a renaissance in Sydney’s Inner Sydney at the moment; with Cubby’s Kitchen and Nour Restaurant, a stone throw away on Crown Street. They are, however, very different beasts. With Nour & Cubby’s offering a more inventive and experimental take on modern Lebanese. And Zahli offering the ‘more traditional’ every day, like mumma would make.
Our meal was epic… as most Lebanese feasts are, as we ploughed through mezze, salads, entrées, mains and dessert. We couldn’t help but attract the eyes of other diners questioning why two people had so much food in front of them. We’re ambitious?
The highlight for me is always the bread and dips, I’m a simple lady. The Mixed Dips – Hummus, baba ghannouj & labneh w/fried and fresh Lebanese bread $20 are a safe crowd pleaser. The hummus was very smooth and creamy, with the excellent addition of the while chickpeas adding some texture. The baba ghannouj had a mild smokiness and lastly, the Labneh. Acidic with a sharp sour note and a silkiness from the Lebanese olive oil.
I’ve always been apprehensive when it comes to Kibbeh Nayye – fresh raw lamb meat w/crushed wheat, herbs & condiments $20. But this was probably one of the better kibbehs I’ve had. The texture was velvety, seasoned exceptionally well. And the combination of the fresh spring onion and kibbeh was my go to.
And perhaps my newest favourite discovery, Shanklish – spicy aged cheese w/tomato, onion & parsley $12. Texturally very similar to feta. It is a popular breakfast staple but served here with pomegranate seeds, was a virtual flavour explosion. Despite the pants becoming tighter minute by minute I kept gravitating back to this dish.
The usual hot mezze appears in the Mixed Finger Food – Fried Kibbeh, falafel, meat sambousik, ladies fingers & spinach pastry $17. Our standouts were the Kibbeh. A crisp outer shell encasing beautifully soft minced meat. And the Sambousik, with the pastry at the forefront. These are classics for a reason. The only thing I was disappointed by was the falafel. A nice mild flavour but on the dry side.
Fattoush $15 & Tabbouli $14 are staples in any Leb feast. There was an enjoyable sharp citrusy element to the fattoush. And the biggest compliment I could pay to a Tabbouli salad, it didn’t have that ‘grassiness’ that you usually come across (I really don’t like tabouli).
I was pleasantly surprised by the Loubieh – Green beans in a traditional tomato salsa $12. Perhaps not the most exciting part of a meal but the combination of the beans, fresh tomatoes and cooked tomatoes was a good one to cut through all the heavier food.
I wouldn’t ordinarily gravitate towards seafood when eating out but we were recommended a number of Zahli’s popular dishes. The Grilled Octopus $23 was a generous portion, a smoothness on the palate from the olive oil and the parsley and fresh herbs added a good dose of freshness. The Samki Harra – Seared Barramundi fillet, w/ roasted mixed nuts and tahini sauce $27 was also a surprise favourite. The barramundi was beautifully cooked, tender and moist. A nice texture from the pistachio nuts and tying everything together, the thick gluttonous peanut butter like tahini sauce.
And getting to the last of the savouries, we were on Struggle Street by this point. No feast is complete without the Mixed Grill – Kafta, Lahem Mishwee & shish tawook $27. With the favourites being the classic Kafta and the shish tawook.
And to finish on a lighter note, the Namoura – Semonlina & coconut slice with orange blossom syrup $12. A simple, sponge-like cake – I’m usually a sucker for Baklava, so that would probably be my recommendation.
Whilst not groundbreaking and overly inventive, the food is very very good. Prices are reflective of the inner-city Sydney but servings are generous and you still walk out with a respectable waddle.
*For Food’s Sake dined as guests of Zahli restaurant, all opinions, however, are our own and independent.