Review: AALIA Has Officially Opened Under Sydney’s MLC Centre

Eat, Sydney / 1 March 2022

From the founders of Nour comes a new and unforgettable dining experience…

There’s a distinct and captivating revival of the Sydney dining scene post-lockdown, and with that, we welcome AALIA restaurant in Martin Place. Two years in the making, co-founders Jorge Farah and Ibrahim Moubadder are over the moon that the venue is finally unveiled. AALIA has an Arabian soul that embodies refined Middle Eastern food in another light compared to ESCA Group’s sister restaurant, Nour.

Executive Chef Paul Farag has a wealth of experience which has led him into detailing the finest techniques on the menu at AALIA. From Monopole, Fish Butchery and most recently heading up Nour, his years of expertise shine through. “Through food, we’re trying to showcase a beautiful region of the world which almost everyone seems to forget has a luscious coastline, flanked by oceans, rivers, and seas. I want this menu to reflect a lighter way of shared eating – in the same way you assume a Mediterranean restaurant is going to be bright and fresh in flavour, this is truly the same principle for Middle Eastern cuisine” explains Farag.

The food travels through different regions and eras of Arabic culture. The AALIA journey starts through raw appetisers, where you’ll find a Regal Persian Caviar from Iran (from $190), Beef Nayyeh with rhubarb and black cardamon ($9 each) and Waraq Simsim with aged rice, sea urchin, cumin ($16 each).
The menu then moves to meze sharing plates including Quail Skewers with molokhia, barberries ($16 each), Chickpea Masabacha with Urfa mussels ($26) and Ummak Huriyya Cuttlefish with couscous ($25). The standout was the Chickpea Masabacha as it is creamy like hummus but unfamiliar with mussels underneath. The mussels were perfectly cooked, and the dish is best served with some of AALIA’s Khorasan Pita ($9 each) to mop it all up. The bread is chewy like dough and comes oven-baked and puffy; easy to rip apart and enjoy with sauces. We also enjoyed the cooking of the cuttlefish on the Ummak Huriyya as it was charred and smokey in flavour.

The mains were also centred around shared plates with seafood options, meats, and side dishes to accompany. The Murray Cod Masgouf, often considered the national dish of Iraq, is butterflied and barbequed, served with double apple and ajwain ($65). On one end of the dining room is a dry-ageing fridge, so you know you’re in for a special treat with the meats. There’s a Dry-Aged Duck with fesenjan ($44/$82) and also a delectable Lamb Neck Shawarma served with tarator, pickles and Saida saj ($56). This dish is a wonderful crowd pleaser and perfect for sharing. It has delicious tender meat and is slow-cooked to perfection. Wrap it up with the thin bread it sits on, and make your own little morsel filled with tangy pickles and tarator.

The sides are generous and you’ll easily round out the meal with options like Jerusalem Artichokes with shanklish ($18), Burnt Cabbage with toum butter ($16) or Heirloom Carrots with sahawiq and labneh ($18). If you manage to fit dessert in, you can’t go past a Medjool Date with caramelised chocolate and ashta ($8 each). There are some wonderful choices away from your stereotypical rosewater-laden desserts, like the light Turmeric Sfouf with fresh carrot ice cream and mace ($20) or Valrhona Chocolate with kataifi and sesame dulce ($22).

The wine list explores lesser-known wine regions of the Middle East including Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, as well as wines from Australia, France and New Zealand. Cocktails range from inventive to classics, including the Arak Orchard Sling with Arak, gin, cucumber, all spice and apple and pear Soda ($22), and the Mash Mash Sour with vodka, apricot and turmeric jam, lemon Juice and lemon Myrtle Foam ($23).

Farah and Moubadder have waited through two lockdowns to get here, and the beautiful restaurant is a testament to their hard work. They have worked with renowned Australian architect, Matt Darwon on the design, and it encompasses their vision of blending the past with the now. AALIA’s striking indoor and outdoor dining room has warmth and a touch of the MLC centre’s new surrounding theatrics in the venue. AALIA is a wonderful addition to Sydney and offers a unique experience of Middle Eastern food.

Find out more and book here.

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