379 Liverpool Street Darlinghurst, NSW 201002 9380 5318
|Opening hours||Breakfast, first Sunday of the month, 8.30am-noon; dinner, Tue-Sun, 5.30-11.30pm.|
When sisters Carol and Sharon Salloum opened their Syrian-inspired restaurant Almond Bar in 2007, they had two main missions. First, to change the reputation of Middle Eastern cuisine in Sydney ("It's not just kebabs and hummus or something you eat after a big night out," Carol says), and second, to showcase their mother Violet's beloved family recipes.
The modest Darlinghurst 40-seater has gained a loyal following among locals and food adventurers alike, and Sharon the chef has recently released a new cookbook based on the popular mezze, or small shared dishes, on the restaurant's menu. Regular customers also know that some of the restaurant's best and most authentic dishes are served at the traditional breakfast held on the first Sunday of the month.
Sydneysiders are notoriously susceptible to brunch fatigue. About three years ago, Sharon and Carol noticed a growing appetite for a different kind of breakfast experience and decided to do something new.
The result is a menu that's bold and unabashedly homey, featuring Syrian comfort foods such as fatteh (a layered breakfast dish of crushed chickpeas), beef shawarma (smoky beef strips marinated in Arabic seven spices) or the nourishing ful mudammas (a fragrant fava bean stew simmered for hours).
On a busy Sunday, we join a buzzing, inner east crowd. The long, narrow space is decked out in dark woods, ornate walls and slender share tables.
Service is friendly and unfussy. Once seated, a waiter promptly takes our coffee orders. My companions get their caffeine fix from the robust Middle Eastern coffee, simmered on the stove and served in tiny, individual copper pots. I try the refreshing mint tea made with leaves picked "from mum's garden".
Envious of our neighbours' three-tier breakfast platter, we decide to follow suit. The feast is served on a high-tea-style silver display stand, adding drama to the already extravagant spread.
Our waiter explains the platter is a combination of two of the restaurant's most popular items: Michel's plate and Violet's plate, named after the dream breakfasts of the owners' parents.
We work our way through the top tier, which has five kinds of miniature mezze - the sharp and fluffy shanklish (aged yoghurt cheese), makdoos (pickled walnut and chilli- stuffed mini eggplants), olives, the dark and smoky za'atar (a Middle Eastern herb mix) and labna (a strained yoghurt cheese).
All are speedily devoured with a small pile of flat bread.
Then there are the scrambled eggs with sumac and oregano, firmer than Western-style eggs as no cream or milk is added. But the real standout is the fatteh, a creamy melange of chickpeas, tahini and yoghurt speckled with caramelised almonds and hazelnuts. Fried bread takes the richness of the dish to its logical conclusion. It's home cooking like this that shows the chef at her best, layering contrasting textures and flavours with love and discipline.
What's remarkable about the Salloums' success is neither sister has had formal hospitality training. Guided only by their palettes and an early exposure to their mother's cooking, the former high-school teacher and heathcare counsellor have created a traditional meal experience that's both personal and exotic.
Menu Syrian home-style mezze with a modern twist.
Recommended dishes Ful mudammas (fava bean stew), fatteh breakfast platter, Middle Eastern coffee.