"The future is falafel," say the staff T-shirts at Jimmy's Falafel. I'm not about to argue, because T-shirts always state the truth. Always. Like "Best Dad Ever". And "Vaccines Create Adults". And "95% of people are stupid. Just as well I'm in the other 10%".
But the falafel at Jimmy's Falafel are good enough to want now, not just in the future. They're fresh, green, herbal and fluffy inside and crunchy outside, without being dry and scratchy, or oily and heavy.
Head chef Simon Zalloua worked hard on the recipe, building on his Lebanese heritage via Israel and Egypt.
He uses a mix of both chickpeas and fava beans – soaked, ground, kneaded and spiced – then goes heavy on the coriander, parsley and mint, sending them out with hummus, leafy greens and pickles ($13). They're so good you could live on them.
Couldn't live at Jimmy's Falafel though; not until they change the playlist from Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, Mos Def, Nate Dogg, and Gang Starr featuring Big Shug and Freddie Foxxx and Smoothe Da Hustler.
To be fair, that's clearly the point of the '90s rap, the retro fitout, and the bum-numbing kitchen chairs. You get in, you eat, and you get out, so that more can get in. Rinse and repeat.
Jimmy's gives the Merivale group a street-entry to fast food in the heart of the city, a hop and a skip along George Street from Bar Totti's.
The front half is all takeaway kitchen and quick, casual dining; the rear is upholstered with clockwork-orange banquettes and booths, cocktail bar, DJ decks and glittering disco ball.
Walls are lined with the sort of vintage Middle Eastern posters that gets the oldies all misty-eyed, from Leonard Cohen's 1972 Tel Aviv concert to cute ads for Trans World Airlines.
But I need falafel. The Original Pita ($17) is a two-hander lunch of just-right, soft-firm, round pita bread in a brown paper bag.
Stuffed as it is with falafel, hummus, cucumber, tomato, sumac, onions, tahini and pickles, it's like holding the entire Middle East in your hands, in all its glorious historic messiness.
More falafel, please. They come on a mezze plate ($19) with really good, nutty hummus, pickles, a spoonful of lentil kibbe, another of tangy, spicy eggplant salad, and a tangle of wilted wild bitter greens.
It's a clever way of squeezing what is usually a table-covering feast on to a single platter.
Add kibbe nayeh ($19), that pounded spread of raw beef, onion, burghul and dark, sweet spices, and scoop it up with Lebanese bread.
Whoosh, the open grill flares up every few minutes, a reminder to add a round of lamb kofta shish ($20). The two well-spiced, smoky fingers of meat look small, but are all-meat: solid and satisfying.
Some drink cola, others beer from the bottle – it's that sort of place. At night, it's cocktails and rosé on tap, or an enjoyable glass of crisp, aromatic Jeune Vignes ($16/$25/$75), a blend of viognier, vermentino and chardonnay from Lebanon's famous Chateau Musar.
And when I say the pistachio and walnut baklava ($13) is too sweet, don't take any notice. Of course it's sweet. It's baklava.
It's not allowed to be anything other than too sweet, even when sandwiching scoops of stretchy rosewater and orange blossom booz (ice-cream).
Jimmy's is like one big, loud, Lebanese party, a signpost to the future when the city will be filled with workers and players once again. In the meantime, we have falafel.
Address: 312 George Street, Sydney 02 9114 7381, merivale.com.au
Open: Mon-Sat 11.30am-late
Dining window: 1.5 hours
Protocols: COVID marshalls in attendance.
Takeaway: Absolutely; it's almost half the business.
Vegetarian: Two-thirds of the menu is meat-free.
Drinks: Classic cocktails, Turkish and Lebanese bottled beers and a likeable Mediterranean wine list with almost all available by the small glass/big glass/bottle.
Cost: About $90 for two, plus drinks.
Score: Scoring is paused while the industry gets back on its feet.
More falafel love
Safar Middle Eastern
Bekya at Tramsheds may have become Safar, but it has the same crunchy broad bean falafels and crowd-pleasing Egyptian-led Middle Eastern dips, pickles, and freshly baked Egyptian breads.
Tramsheds, 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, 02 9188 7437, safarmiddleeastern.com.au
This new, no-nonsense Turkish-influenced Middle Eastern diner has excellent falafels and killer little star-shaped manti dumplings from chef Enver Katranci.
215 Clarence Street, Sydney, 02 8592 4200, aboveparsydney.com.au