61 Georges River Road Croydon Park, New South Wales 213302 9705 7941
|Opening hours||5.30pm-late, Sat 7am-2pm, Sun 8am-2pm|
|Features||Private dining, Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
This suburban hot spot recently transformed from Shisha, the upmarket Middle Eastern restaurant Croydon Park needed, to Shisha, the trendy bar and grill it needed even more.
It's a reinvention that's come with a bit of recycling, but the hand-me-downs here have been thoughtfully repurposed instead of becoming a frugal clash of fashion's most embarrassing moments past (mums, let's take note). Old fence palings lining the wall above a dimpled leather banquette and light fittings incorporating old pipes merge as part of a cohesive look.
The odd Middle Eastern dish from Shisha's former incarnation has made it on to the new menu - an otherwise American-leaning, globally inspired assortment of share plates, salads, grilled Riverina-sourced meats, ribs and burgers. The new stuff is good - meat falls easily from the bone in a dish of slow-cooked beef ribs slathered in a sticky, smoky house-made barbecue sauce and piled on top of a mountain of hot chips - but one of the highlights is an oldie: plump tortellini-shaped dumplings filled with lamb and pine nuts, covered with warm yoghurt.
While the ceviche was a little flat, sure-fire crowd pleasers include curls of fried calamari with mayo and a dried chilli-dipped lime wedge; a radish, pomegranate, rocket and pickled cauliflower salad topped with bright strips of smoked salmon; and chunky cubes of watermelon and feta garnished with oregano and fresh spearmint.
Another popular carry-over from the Shisha of old is the fragrance hanging in the air from punters smoking shisha pipes. The sweet smell is pleasant, even for a non-smoker, and the pipes ensure a big outdoor crowd regardless of how dreary a night it is.
Inside always seems crowded, too, with a celebratory mood ruling the house. It's partly because locals love having such a youthful, vibrant place in the 'hood, and partly thanks to the loaded bar and a barman primed to get more than one party started (note - in addition to the six fresh, fruity cocktails on the menu there are specials scrawled on the wall beside the bar).
Ameer El-Issa, co-owner with brother Joey and sister Mouna Emsis, has plans for yet-more reinvention. A large back room, now used for functions, is slated to become another dining space/"old school butcher" with house-cured meats as the focal point, and the Shisha-take on knafeh - a lovely, warming dessert mixing three cheeses, semolina and pistachio sugar syrup - is destined to be the sole star of a spin-off eatery … watch this space.
DO … also try their weekends-only brekkie menu
DON' T … lose hope if it looks full: there's an upstairs section, too
DISH … knafeh with pistachio sugar syrup
VIBE … a party smelling of steaks and fruity shisha smoke