Sydney’s dining scene is probably at its most vibrant in the last thirty years. Eatstreets abound where many have become a melting pot of exciting restaurants for locals.
Traditional food hubs in the CBD, Darling harbour and Chinatown are now complemented by countless suburban eatstreets – John street in Cabramatta, Crown street in hip and trendy Surry Hills, Campbell Parade and more recently Hall street in Bondi, Rowe street in Eastwood, Military road along Sydney’s Lower North Shore and the list goes on.
Tonight, I am driving along King street in Newtown where it was a dinghy suburb more than twenty years ago. Today, King street is still rather grungy to me with its bohemian lifestyle where nose studs, elaborate body art, stud boots, chains, spiky green and pink hair are the order of day … or night.
Despite at least a hundred restaurants along King street where a good majority are Thai, many are catering to students and most are a hit and miss unless you know what you are after.
And with a kind invitation from chef Mohamad Zouhour of Arabella Restaurant & Bar, I am with three friends to sample what is claimed to be “one of the best and most authentic Lebanese food restaurants in Sydney”.
Located at the “quieter” and southern end of King street, there is ample street parking despite being Thursday night compared to the strip closer to University of Sydney.
Chef Mohamad Zouhour is affable and says that Arabella has been in Newtown since 2002. Back then, it was a more quiet end of King street but more restaurants have opened since then.
He invites me into his kitchen and the aromas of lamb cutlets and shish kebabs sizzling on the grill are beginning to make my tummy grumble with anticipation.
“All the salads, cold dips and meats are marinated and prepared fresh each day” he explains.
A 2010 Beelgara Estate Black Label Shiraz is full bodied with hints of spice and licorice.
Tannins are soft and this bottle can most certainly age a few more years.
Tabbouleh is as fresh as it would be with diced parsley, shallots, mint, tomato, crushed wheat and lemon juice.
I have never quite warmed up to this salad when I was a kid but a doner kebab is never quite the same without this salad and lemon juice is the real hero in making this salad come alive.
Arabella’s hummus is smooth and creamy with blended chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice.
Being a meat lover, this is one dish that I would turn to if I wanted a meat-free detox because it is high in carbohydrates and protein and low in fat. Thankfully for now, we have a big serve of Lebanese bread on our table because this is an awesome dip. This is my go-to snack when watching sports on TV at home apart from my healthy homemade crispy Lebanese bread sticks.
A fattoush is a similar salad but with the added crunch of crispy bread, cucumber, capsicum, rocket leaves, red onions and pomegranate. Olive oil is putting an extra dose of healthy and I am beginning to yearn for some meat.
The smoky aromas of grilled eggplant in a babaganouj is unmistakable. This is another dip that we happily dunk strips of Lebanese bread into.
Garlic labneh is chilled yoghurt with bold chunks of cucumber and the hit of garlic that is making our Lebanese bread disappear in double quick time.
Within a space of ten minutes, our table is filled with some of the most popular Lebanese entrees and starters.
Mansaf lamb is tender from a yoghurt broth with a nutty crunch of crushed pistachios. It is tasty on its own but I am enjoying this lamb wrapped with more Lebanese bread and washed down with a swig of spicy shiraz.
A platter of falafel is crisp with deep fried chickpeas, broad beans and herbs drizzled with tahini.
Pre-made falafel which I have previously come across are rock hard but these are crisp outside while piping hot and soft with its chickpea filling inside. Sesame seeds add a nutty flavour to these golden brown nuggets.
Arabella potato is chunky, seasoned with coriander and lemon. They become a hearty complement as we tuck into our grilled meats and shish kebabs.
Grilled halloumi is one of my favourite cheese for its ‘squishy’ texture in the mouth. Combined with tomato slices, cucumber, mint and olives, these Mediterranean flavours are hard to beat.
An Arabella special arrives in the form of lamb kofta and chicken skewers topped with more Lebanese bread and an onion salad.
Tasty as it may be, I found the lamb koftas a little tough. The chicken skewers are more tender and best dipped into some babaganouj and hummus.
Chef Mohamad is hospitable and loaded us with some homemade chilli sauce for the meat skewers as well as Turkish delight and Lebanese tea to finish off our meal.
The food at Arabella is fresh with wholesome and traditional flavours that I would think about when I am pining for Lebanese cuisine.
So dear readers, which is your favourite Lebanese restaurant in Sydney and if so, what is your favourite dish there?
ChopinandMysaucepan dined as guests of Mohamed Zouhour and Arabella Restaurant & Bar. Prices are for readers’ information. All views and opinions are our own.
Arabella Restaurant & Bar
Shop 12, 489 – 491 King street
Newtown, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9550 1119
Opening hours: 7 nights dinner, Friday & Saturday lunch, Sunday from 12pm to 11pm. Monday to Thursday lunch booking available.