Sefa, so good
Strong background … chef Simon Zalloua trained at Rockpool. Photo: Edwina Pickles
IS IT TURKISH? IS IT LEBANESE? OR is it simply a bright and bouncy newcomer to the lower inclines of Bondi Road - squaring off against all the other almost-bars/almost-restaurants that sit on every corner? With outdoor tables, group tables and cocktails, Sefa certainly slots into the groove. Ditto the share plates and fun drinks - beers brewed everywhere from Turkey to Manly and wines from Argentina, Lebanon, even Orange (as in NSW). The food bit is fun, too: clever Med-Middle Eastern combos such as dandelion, chicory and feta in see-through sheets of brik pastry, za'atar-spiced fried haloumi puddled in honey, and eggplant served with flaking-off-the-bone beef ribs that's sexily sticky.
Keeping under $30 requires a little concentration - and preferably a group - but smaller plates work well, such as pumpkin fatteh with chickpeas and yoghurt (a more delicate version of a bread-and-chickpea breakfast dish sometimes referred to as ''Lebanese concrete'') and cubes of sweet, raw kingfish crunched up with bulgur (cracked wheat) and spiced up with muhammara (walnutty chilli paste).
Turkish people always think about coffee.
There are scarlet curls of basturma (cured, spiced beef) overlaid with sheets of pickled turnip, sitting over nutty blobs of hummus and, wickedly, a slosh of burnt butter.
Must try dish ... cardamom cream and tea-soaked dates with sesame wafers. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Everything appears pretty speedily, and with good grace, racing through to cardamom-scented cream (crema catalana style with a crunchy topping) with tea-soaked dates and sesame wafers, and a gooey-sticky ball of the perfumey ice-cream known as booza (sourced from local manufacturers in St Peters*).
There's a brekkie menu too, featuring such ecumenical melanges as challah (Jewish Sabbath brioche) with ricotta, almonds and sour cherry jam, and sucuk (spiced sausage, chorizo style) with tomato and egg shashouka (a Tunisian/Israeli baked eggs dish). And Turkish coffee.
''For breakfast, we say 'kahvalti','' our waitress says, ''which means 'before coffee'. Turkish people always think about coffee.''
So it's starting to add up to Turkish. Turkish movie posters on the walls, a promise of thick, dark, heart-starter caffeine brewed with the grounds, Turkish apple tea and even Black Sea black tea (Turkish again) on the menu.
But the kitchen, we discover, is run by Lebanese-Australian chef Simon Zalloua, who trained at fine diners such as Rockpool and goes in for a ''modern interpretation of the food traditions of the Middle East''.
And the name ''Sefa'' is used in both Turkish and Arabic and means ''pleasure''.
Lebanese? Turkish? It doesn't really matter. When it comes to describing the latest Bondi Road hot spot, ''pleasure'' seems to sum things up quite nicely.
* Check out the Booza boys at The Sydney Morning Herald Growers' Market on March 2.
Address 292 Bondi Road, Bondi, 8068 6461
Open dinner Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm, breakfast and lunch weekends only, to 3pm.
Do … book because it's buzzing and busy.
Don't … be deterred by unfamiliar ingredients.
Dish … Basturma with hummus and burnt butter. And that cardamom cream dessert.
Vibe … Bondi Road bar meets restaurant meets modern Middle Eastern.
Bottom line … smaller plates from $9, bigger from $23, desserts from $5.50.