34 Harrington St The Rocks, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch daily noon-3pm, dinner daily from 5pm; Tayim Deli Mon-Fri 7am-2.30pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8220 9999|
What I always look for in a restaurant is the one thing they do that others don't. Do they have a point of difference? What's their "thing"?
The "thing" at Tayim is Israeli/Middle Eastern food with cocktails in the historic heart of The Rocks.
Around me, tables are carpeted with multiple small dishes and tall, colourful drinks. Is this enough to make what is essentially a boutique hotel restaurant stand out? Let's take a look.
Tayim is desperately trying not to look or act like a hotel restaurant, and succeeding. Enter from Nurses' Walk, and it's a vision of tall sandstone walls dividing dining pavilions, with a long bar at one side and a small takeaway deli at the other. Marble tables are unclothed, the kitchen is largely unseen, but the golden warmth of that sandstone is all the atmosphere you need.
There's a simple charm about the eight small dishes that make up the "Tayim plate" ($32), designed for two to share. Small saucers hold a lovely, light hummus studded with chickpeas; glossy tahini; creamy labna; super-crisp little frisbees of falafel; lightly pickled vegetables; and marinated olives tossed with coriander and caraway seeds, chilli and lemon rind.
Depth is added with a sinisterly dark salata matbucha (literally "cooked salad"), a reduced concasse of capsicum, tomato, green chilli, garlic, olive oil and paprika that I need by my side from here on in. There's bread, of course – a pile of pita bread chopped into small triangles that feels a bit lifeless. Some warmth or scorch would have been good.
Former Nour (Surry Hills) head chef Ran Kimelfeld has based his menu on the Israeli street food he grew up with, adding the odd Libyan influence passed on by his mother.
Similar influences are shaken together in the Silk Road cocktail ($19) of yoghurt, cucumber syrup, zaatar, lemon, dill, mint and Ketel One Vodka. It's quite delicious, like a boozy Middle Eastern lassi.
Skewers and main courses are cooked over coals, including two politely mild, tahini-squiggled sticks of finely minced lamb kofta resting on zalouk, a fine eggplant puree ($15).
If you were graphing this meal, the arc upwards would start to plateau about now, as things get more and more decorative. Fire-roasted eggplant ($23) is an edible Kandinsky, the soft flesh daubed with tahini, dappled with fermented chilli, baby leaves and olives, roofed with a seedy cracker.
Equally decorative, chicken "masahan" ($38) sees darkly tanned, spice-rubbed, grilled chicken, jointed and served on grilled flatbread with a rich onion sauce fruity with dried figs and raisins; a busy rendition of the original Palestinian musakhan.
Likewise, layali lubnan ($15) sees semolina rosewater pudding dressed up for a big date; a circus of chantilly cream, pistachio meringue and berries disguising its simple, mastic-bound charms.
General manager and sommelier Reuven Lim likes to showcase the beauty of Turkey's new generation of winemakers, suggesting a medium-bodied 2016 Kayra Kalecik Karasi ($55) that's juicy and punchy.
With few waitstaff, there can be gaps in service, so hopefully they double on busier nights.
Tayim gives The Rocks another interesting spot for us to visit, despite a tendency to embellish that doesn't always let the clean, bright, fresh Israeli way of eating shine through. But maybe that's their thing.
Vegetarian Plenty of small plates and side dishes (mushroom skewers, fire-roasted eggplant) with which to cover the table.
Drinks Bespoke cocktails Middle Easterned with saffron, yoghurt, zaatar, dill and mint; Efes Turkish beer; and a spice-is-nice wine list with a few worthwhile Turkish wines.
Go-to dish Tayim plate for two, $32
Pro tip Grab a takeaway wrap or roll from the Tayim Deli next door.