Zahli Restaurant is traditional Middle Eastern with a modern twist
My bus was late. It had started to rain. I was immediately regretting the decision to leave my warm apartment and cosy pyjamas. When I finally arrived at Zahli Restaurant after a wet walk from Central Station, I felt relieved.
As soon as I caught glimpse of Zahli’s interior, I knew the rainy commute would be worth it. Zahli Restaurant felt light and open, with blue tiles decorating the walls and white table clothes draping the tables. The aesthetics had hints of the Middle Eastern theme, but the marble bar and exposed concrete walls gave the space a contemporary and modern feel.
To start the evening we had a scan of the drinks menu. We must have looked overwhelmed by the selection of cocktails and wine because our waitress kindly suggested a bottle of rose from Lebanon. Keen to try something new, we went with the waitress’s offer. Little did we know that Lebanon is one of the oldest sites of wine production in the world and today, the industry is booming. We could see why. The rose was crisp and dry, without the sweetness that puts a lot of people off rose.
We wanted to get a taste of everything without making difficult menu decisions so we opted for the ‘Zahli Banquet’ ($60) plus some extra dishes. To kick it all off we started with a selection of dips including hummus, baba ghanouj and labneh. We also tred their house favourite ‘mutabal’ dip consisting of smoked chargrilled eggplant, mixed with tomato, Spanish onion, capsicum, garlic, parsley and fresh lemon juice. If you like baba ghanouj then this will be right down your alley.
Our waitress had warned us not to OD on the fresh pita or crispy pita chips so we resisted and instead dug into the tabbouli salad ($14) made with finely chopped parsley was tossed with mint, tomato, shallots, crushed wheat and the Fattoush salad ($15) made with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, radish, capsicum, mint, parsley, onions, crisp bread, sumac, pomegranate molasses.
For the second course, a selection of hot mezze landed on our table ($17). Think coriander potatoes, fried cauliflower, traditional pastry filled with meat and of course, falafel. We also had a try of ‘Lebanese steak tartare’ ($18) – raw lamb meat, finely blended & mixed with crushed wheat, herbs and special condiments. We listened to the advice given and put a small piece of the meat in pita with fresh herbs. This was an interesting twist and not a dish we would typically order. Like the wine, it was a very pleasant surprise.
A Lebanese meal wouldn’t be complete without an array of meats. Given that Zahli is particularly well known for its seafood selection, we started off with a generous serving of white bait ($16). We used the small lightly floured and crispy bites to dip into our leftover dips.
Next came a meaty piece of seared barramundi ($27), topped with roasted mixed nuts, spices and tahini sauce. It was a beautiful piece of fish and the sauce was tasty, but together we thought that the fish was slightly overpowered.
As if we hadn’t had enough already! But wait, there was one final course to go which consisted of a selection of kebabs – chicken, two types of lamb and beef ($27). Fresh from the grill and served with the classic garlic sauce, this dish did not disappoint. There was also a seasoned rice pilaf topped with slow cooked lamb and roasted nuts, served with cucumber yoghurt ($28). The nutty texture of the rice worked well with the slow cooked, melt-in-your-mouth lamb.
The intersection between the classic and the contemporary in the interior of the restaurant plays out across the menu at Zahli Restaurant. It specialises in true, home-style Lebanese cooking with minor tweaks to give it a modern touch. Do not expect fusion cuisine, because why mess with something that ain’t broke?
529 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
02 9318 2228
Open Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed: 11:00am – 10:00pm, Thu, Fri, Sat: 11:00am – 11:00pm