"Is it the new hot spot?" someone asked me when I was describing where I'd eaten last night. It's not a phrase I particularly like, but yes I suppose Barzaari is just that.
New to Addison Road, Barzaari will turn out to be more than a restaurant for Marrickville locals or visitors to the close-by Depot and Enmore Theatres. If any new suburban restaurant this year was going to add "destination dining" to its description, Barzaari will be it.
"Is it posh?" then he continued. I laughed. Not a mocking kind of laugh, but a silly giggle. Posh? No, Barzaari greets you with the broadest smile possible as co-owner Andrew Jordanou welcomes guests at the door. He met his good friend, working in a restaurant a few years back and by the end of their shift they had decided to open a place together. I've known his food before. Executive Chef Darryl Martin has a pedigree that includes Quay, Foveaux and 3 Weeds. Now add Barzaari to that list lad. And co-owner to the CV.
Barzaari brings a menu that offers lots of options for versatile eating, from Bites to Small plates and Big. This is an extraordinaary menu and these are extraordinary dishes as in addition to traditional eastern Mediterranean flavours and techniques, Martin delights with his own contemporary hand making this the must eat now new food of Sydney.
Bites start at only $4.50. Sharing my table, my friend started with this oyster. I must have missed the wood-fired part when I skimmed the menu. As he ate the single mollusc, while I started on the other dishes, he said how much he enjoyed a cooked oyster as a change. I looked again and quickly ordered my own. The oyster is just lightly warmed through until opaque and the smoke is just a back drop. Wood fired Coffin Bay Pacific oyster, lountza, parsley stalk is clever and delicious.
We didn't even know what shanklish or majdouleh was when we ordered our next Bites but I'd seen this inventive vine-leaf-wrapped pyramid on the Barzaari facebook page. Then I never needed to Google them (although I now have) because I could taste the marvellous cheeses. One of our other choices from Bites was the cheese like yoghurt labne abundant across a large pottery plate with basil oil, pink pickle, pistachio and pomegranate. And a huge crisp wafer of nigella bread. It was magnificent by itself and in contrast with the other cheeses and with our first glass of wine. As well as the quality of labna the generosity of the portion and of the garnishing accoutrements made this a fabulous choice for just ten bucks. From the half a dozen choices in the bites the star of the show has to be the latest addition, Tiropitakia, feta & ricotta, mandarin, pine nut, SA caper leaves. These flavours are a wonderful marriage the piquancy of feta and the vinegared leaves, the sweetness of the mandarin and syrup against the crisp pastry cigars and the ricotta. It not only tastes superb it looks like a diva with its little upright towers. Where can they go from here?
The next section of the Barzaari menu, Small is headed by Ox tongue, onion, cabbage salad, golden raisins ($14). It's cold so makes a good mix in the share plates as it can comfortably sit. Yet it is extremely delicious in its own right too. The Ox tongue has been slivered finely and wraps around the sharpness of the cabbage salad. Again Martin contrasts sweet and sour, with vinegar matched against the raisins. There are no wallflowers yet nothing overpowers. It takes confidence to play this strong.
Sheftalia ($25) was filling in itself and although simple would always be worth ordering as part of a feast or as the only dish of the night. The tasty sausage is doused with lemon, and begging to be wrapped by its pita bread. The pita is worthy. It is wood fired, still warm, and cooked to order.
Above all the greatest memory that Barzaari created was our single choice from Big. Quail, toum, smoked eggplant, pickled onion, pomegranate again pitched sweet and sour against each other. A finger bowl arrived promptly with our poultry pair encouraging us to use our fingers, and pick the bones clean.
Sweet was also a single choice and while we were debating, we were rerouted to an entirely different option by the recommendation of the waiter. I don't actually like cake for dessert I complained to my friend after we had been railroaded, but not misled. I was wrong. The waiter was right. The pistachio cake was perfect. Mounted in blossom syrup, topped with an enormous fine round of kataifi. It was a close to perfect end to our feast. Close? Because we had to finish with traditional sandpit coffee. Of course.
Beyond his food, Martin lends a visible hand to the restaurant in another way too. The fit out adds warm exposed bricks as a counterpoint to bare steel table tops and granite benches and stone floor. The use of stone extends to some of the flatware too with stone bowls and pottery plates supplementing white to showcase this amazingly creative and tasty food. Yet perhaps the most interesting additions to the design are the two walls of art works by Jack Egan. Behind one wall there is a story. Sitting around a table one night, Jordanou explains they were scratching their heads. What would they put on the walls? While they sat there Martin pulled his sleeves up. Look closer. Those Renaissance Four Seasons might seem fitting for a restaurant, but they are also the tattoos on the arms of Martin.
Yet there are even more reasons to be excited. We can't comment on the cocktails (as we didn't go down that path) but we can turn cartwheels over the wine. First up we just loved the list layout Our Open Bottles. In there I found an Orange wine (Alicante, Spain) unusual in Sydney offered by the glass. Oh praise to Dionysus.
It's already a busy restaurant, just a week or so after opening. We didn't linger long but some of the tables around us turned over, some more than twice, while we were eating. All of our dishes in each course came at once, bites then small then big, and to the middle of the table. Here, at Barzaari, it is all about sharing. Posh? Not at all my friend, but incredibly welcoming and wonderfully delicious. Go soon is my advice.