Sydney

On the lam at luncheon

Jonathan Porter

One taste of raw lamb and I’m hooked.

I’m dining at El-Phoenician Restaurant, the El-Bayehs  new venture right opposite the water at Walsh Bay in Sydney.

The raw lamb – or lamb tartar – is washed down with a Lebanese beer and accompanied by flat bread, homous, baba ganoush – and most importantly pickled green chillis.

The beer is ice cold, the sun sparkles of Sydney Harbour, the company is excellent and the crowd is highly ornamental to say the least. It is the perfect place to settle in for a not-go-back-to-the-office luncheon (or non returner as I call them).

My dining experience at El-Phoenician – the inner-city’s first fine dining Lebanese restaurant – has barely started.

Goes well with cold beer and pickled chilli … the starters – the lamb is in the middle

The Walsh Bay location is the second offering from Sydney’s award-winning food connoisseur family, the El-Bayehs, who have reaped over a decade of success after opening the original El-Phoenician back in 1998.

The lamb comes with tabouleh and is mixed with pine nuts, crushed wheat and is accompanied with chillies, mint and onion rings and olive oil. I throw the extra mint on every mouthful mixed with bread.

It really is the perfect place to escape the office, or go on the lam as it were.

The wine is the big bold Bekaa Valley 2008 Chateau Kefraya La Dame Blanche and it’s the ideal wine to go with these morsels.

Next up chilli barramundi, lamb kebabs, lamb kafta shish, tawouk (chicken on enormous skewers marinated in Middle Eastern spices and fired chilli cilantro potatoes).

The kofta is beyond tasty, and very moist, and I begin to wish I hadn’t eaten so much of the starters.

The restaurant is run by owners, brothers George, John, Tony and Peter El-Bayeh who have been in the hospitality industry for over 30 years. They are renowned for their upmarket and contemporary approach to traditional Lebanese cuisine.

“We provide our customers with a wonderful fine dining experience with all the personal touches, from the moment they walk in the door,” said George El-Bayeh. “We are very proud of our success and reputation which has been built on a rich family history of providing fantastic Lebanese food, best served banquet-style which is the traditional and festive way it is meant to be enjoyed”.

Positioned in a prime spot overlooking the water at Walsh Bay, the restaurant is located just a short walk from the Sydney Theatre Company and Sydney Dance Company. It has a capacity of 100 people and the kitchen is led by Matthew El-Bayeh (son of George El-Bayeh). The wine list has been created by Hugos/Barrio Chino/Fei Jai sommelier Nicole Galloway.

Quality sides … a belly dancer selects her next partner

El-Phoenician Walsh Bay is a contemporary restaurant that features a warm and elegant interior. This is complemented with a sophisticated and relaxed mood on weeknights and a lively, vibrant atmosphere on weekends. Entertainment will be a big part of the El-Phoenician experience with belly dancers every Friday and Saturday night.

It’s an audacious venture considering the sometimes fickle nature of Sydney diners who don’t always reward great cuisine and excellent service, preferring sometimes to go down the road and rummage through a bin for inedible offal being ignored and condescended to by cretins who call themselves wait staff.

But I have a hunch this venture will make it. It’s a radical idea I know; serving great food with awesome service in this end of town. And who knows; if El-Phoenician can do it, maybe the idea will catch on.

El-Phoenician Walsh Bay (now open) – 7 Towns Place, Walsh Bay

El-Phoenician Parramatta – 328 Church Street, Parramatta

Website: www.el-phoenician.com.au

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