3 Kensington St Chippendale, NSW 2008
|Opening hours||Lunch Tue-Sat noon-3pm; Sun 11am-3pm; dinner Tue-Sat from 5.30pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8277 8533|
Before we commence, I'd like to formally apologise to the cleaners at Barzaari for the sesame seeds.
It's not entirely my fault. They virtually leap off the Cypriot koulouri breads and seed-encrusted salads until the floor looks like the bottom of a bird cage. Big sorries.
Andrew Jordanou and former Quay chef Darryl Martin have followed up the success of their original Eastern Mediterranean Marrickville Barzaari with a sister restaurant in the old Kensington Street Social space, operated by Singapore-based entrepreneur, Loh Lik Peng.
Apart from the sesame seeds, the strong-boned, high-personality industrial space hasn't changed dramatically. You can still choose to sit at a table or perch on a stool, at the bar or at the kitchen counter under towering shelves of pickles and preserves.
But just when you start thinking this is going to be a rough-and-ready, cover-the-table family-style feast, a couple of opening "bites" show delicate precision instead.
Tiropitakia ($6) is a miniature pot plant of fava leaves growing from a crisp brik pastry cylinder filled with feta and burnt honey, and "tarama in a pickle" ($4) is all crunch from the pickled onion cup and cream from silky tarama and bottarga.
Much of this food crosses borders, highlighting the similarities between neighbours such as Syria, Egypt, Cyprus and Lebanon, rather than the differences.
Dips ($4 each) are of smoky, lush eggplant; rich and nutty hummus; and cute little minarets of garlicky toum; all ready to slather on a must-order puffy slab of pita bread ($5) scattered with black nigella seeds. (More sorries.)
Fresh-as southern calamari ($26) is a compelling version of the cliche; dusted with rice flour and fried into golden nautilus curls that play off an aerated buttermilk and tarama cream dusted with lountza (Cypriot dried pork loin).
Some cross sweet/savoury borders as well. Fresh figs, lightly torched, wallow in creamy labna with date molasses, fig leaf oil and Egyptian preserved lemon ($25). Entree? Dessert? Make your own call.
Main courses lead with protein – duck, hapuka, beef short rib, lamb rump – but lack the punch and lightness of smaller plates. You could make a perfectly balanced meal without a main.
Roasted and sliced duck breast is pink-fleshed and crisp-skinned ($40), with dukkah, green garlic and spring onions; and lamb rump ($37) is an old-school pleasure, lifted with a fruity harissa drizzle and Palestinian cous cous. Mother-in-law salad ($16) updates slaw with shredded purple cabbage, maple mayo, pickled caper leaves and a flurry of sesame seeds. I'm just not sure where it fits in.
A sweet little trolley arrives at the table loaded with sweetmeats from which to pick and choose ($3 each). Try soutzoukos (a Cypriot almond-studded grape jelly rarely seen these days), a dreamy orange blossom marshmallow or a sesame macaron with a sweet, strong, sandpit coffee ($6).
Or go for broke with a richly sticky baklava as big as your fist ($18), the coiled pastry topped with a scoop of carob and salted caramel ice-cream as if it wasn't already over-the-top.
Barzaari has what it takes for those who love the food of the Levant – and their sesame seeds – but will also appeal to those who want to play it safe. With its upbeat Middle Eastern tucker and democracy of dining choices, it's a good fit for this end of Kensington Street – or as I now think of it, Sesame Street.
Vegetarian: Loads of choices across snacks, dips, small plates, and sides.
Drinks: Eastern Med-leaning cocktails, craft beers and an eclectic wine list of local, Turkish, Greek and Croatian labels tended by the gentlemanly Luigi Vanacore.
Go-to dish: Southern calamari, buttermilk tarama, air-dried lountza, chilli, $26.
Pro tip: Hail the dessert trolley for something small and sweet with your sandpit coffee.