Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kazbah, Balmain by Big Fil

I don't get to Sydney nearly as often as I would like but a work business trip provided the chance to visit our older and brasher sister to the north. Catching up with a friend I hadn't seen for a while evil Jaime and posse decided on dinner in a part of Sydney and with a style of food I wasn't that familiar with - Middle-Eastern and North African food down at Kazbah in Balmain.

Immediately on entering I was quite taken with the set up for this restaurant. Lighting levels were a little lower than I prefer but my first impression was of a restaurant that successfully straddled the line between formal and casual dining. Not so casual that it felt like somewhere you would eat at everyday but not so formal that a fairly wacky group in a mischievous mood couldn't give play to their natural inclinations. One thing which was a bit incongruous though, the white paper over the table and crayons provided for writing on it. That's something I'd associate more with a cheap neighbourhood café than a moderately upmarket restaurant, though that didn't stop us writing on it.

The menu provides a reasonable range of mezzes and mains. To sample a range of dishes we started with the mixed mezze plate to share. From memory and with the waiter a little hard to hear over the background noise babaghanouj, taramasalata and carrot dips, grilled haloumi cheese, quail, white anchovies, camel kafta and tabouli. The dips were light and creamy, more subtly than robustly flavoured, with the babaghanouj as usual my favourite. The haloumi and quail were nicely cooked, the tabouli fresh and light and the white anchovies - which I hadn't had before - nicely flavoured and presented if not really my thing. A bit of a disappointment though was the camel kafta, which I thought was small and overpowered by the sauce.

Jaime was also keen to try the Zataar bread. For this version a significant amount of olive oil had been poured over the top, more than I really liked. Consequently it didn't seem to have the almost citrusy tang of some versions that I've tried.

For mains we ordered the Casablanca Royale to share - 12 hours braised lamb shoulder with roast vegetables and sultana jam, served with cous cous on the side. As you would expect with such slow cooked lamb it was deliciously moist and tender, with the fat almost melted into the meat. No need for knives here, as the meat easily fell away under slight pressure from the fork. Combine this with firm vegetables and warm, light and fluffy cous cous and it was a rustic style winner.

With some of us nearly full by this stage we shared two desserts amongst the four of us. My choice was the Halwa ice cream with affagato and Frangellico. Served on what looked like a birds nest and topped with Persian fairy floss, I thought it was a generous sized serve and an interesting mix of creamy and tangy flavours.

Competing with the lamb for dish of the night though was Jaime's choice from the night's specials, a Turkish delight cheesecake with ginger sauce. I was a little concerned about this, not being a fan of Turkish delight. However, with its crunchy base, smooth texture and wonderful flavour it may have gone some way to converting me.

Ok, while the food was very good, there were a number of let downs. First of all, the service. The waiter who took our order was obviously very familiar with the menu and I know we weren't the most organised of groups and took a while to come to a decision on ordering. However, that's no reason to be so obviously frustrated with us so as to pull a face when attempts to up sell us from mineral water to a cocktail or additional food fails. That being said, the waiter who delivered the food to our table was friendly and polite.

Secondly, while first impressions of the venue were good as the night wore on and it started to fill it became increasingly noisy, to the extent it became hard to hold a conversation.

And lastly, while Sydney does have a reputation of being a pricier place to eat out in Melbourne, even my Sydney hosts felt the price was a bit on the high side. A pity really, because I did enjoy the food very much.

Food - 8
Ambience - 7
Service - 6.5
Price - 6

379 Darling Street
Balmain NSW 2041
Tel: (02) 9555 7067

Kazbah on Urbanspoon

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