I sometimes wonder what it would have been like walking into a restaurant like Quay or Rockpool for the first time, back when they first opened. Would diners get that instant feeling of longevity, the kind that says to you “yeah, this is something special, this is going to be here for the long run”? I certainly got that feeling when I first walked into Restaurant Hubert earlier this year, and it hit me again while walking off Marrickville’s quiet Addison Road and into Barzaari. In a few years time this will be considered an indelible part of Sydney’s dining scene, I had little doubt about that as I walked back out after a very filling, inspiring meal.
Ex-Quay chef Darryl Martin runs this restaurant with an atmosphere that is worlds away from his fine-dining background. The vibe at Barzaari is that of a neighbourhood cafe, one which has already been fiercely marked as a local favourite for diners of all types, from quick catch-ups over Sandpit Coffee (that’s coffee cooked in a sandpit mind you) to vibrant, loud family feasts. The gorgeous interior is understated but beautifully decorated, with the most striking feature being a black and white mural of “The Four Seasons” by Italian painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo, a commissioned work that symbolises Martin’s love of seasonal, high quality produce.
Floor manager and co-host Andrew Jordanou works the relatively small space with a warm, inviting smile while Martin and his team work wonders in the open plan kitchen, which features a massive wood fire oven, coal grill, and rotisserie. It’s from here my guest and I watched in wonder as larger-than-large pita breads were swiftly delivered to afternoon diners and vibrant looking cocktails (I could down quite a few of those Mastic Sours) were poured up at the adjoining bar under a sightly display of wine bottles. It was a leisurely Sunday afternoon on my visit, and the place was absolutely packed, a buzz that made it feel like Barzaari was a restaurant that had been established in the neighbourhood for several years.
Prices are unbelievably generous for the large, hearty portions. Start with a crisp serving of Nigella Bread ($10) that’s so big it won’t fit on the plate. Beside the large nigella-seeded crisp is an attractive mix of labne, basil oil, kabees el lift (pink pickled turnips), pistachio and pomegranate, only scratching the surface of the beautifully detailed presentation at Barzaari. There’s a lot of labne here – maybe a bit too much – but the creamy yoghurt absorbs flavour and texture from the fresh ingredients, making it a joy to scoop up with the nigella bread.
The kitchen is playful with the Tiropitakia ($14), cylindrical reinterpretations of the Greek snack with exceedingly crisp brik pastry holding in a creamy blend of feta and ricotta, the flavour fancied by dried and marinated caper laves from South Australia, with mandarin and pine nuts strewn at the foot of the two-bite-sized pastries. The pastries here are so impeccable that it’s a no brainer to keep the texture rolling with a pastry cigar filled with soft Lamb Breast ($15), the earthy taste wet by a quick dip into the delicate sheep’s yoghurt with cracked spices and red pepper.
Moving up to the “small” section of the menu will bring you the likes of slow-cooked, charred and chewy Octopus ($24) tentacles that are spiced up with garlic, mint, lemon and olive oil, and if you look to “big” you’ll find winning dishes such as Spencer Gulf Wood Fired Prawns ($33), smokey and juicy on a bed of skordalia, fluffy, salty garlic potato mash with dukkah.
Though it’s simple that works best at Barzaari, the best example bring the unadorned show-stealer that is the Pork Neck ($33) main, served with a massive wood fired pita bread, a chewy pillow for the mountains of meat to be wrapped and delivered straight to a palate which has already been on an eye-opening journey through the many different flavours of Cyprus and its neighbouring countries.
If you’ve followed the above route it’s hard to believe you’d have space for any sides (especially if dining with just one or two others) but its worth ordering up a few of these to colour the table spread. Mograbieh ($15), a larger pearl type of couscous is generously stuffed into a little pumpkin with aromats, tomato, halkidiki, and a small amount of labne, while the rustic Kipfler Potatoes ($11) with lemon, rosemary, garlic, oregano and parsley work to satisfy any carb cravings that could possibly still exist after all that pita bread.
You may feel like you’re ready to literally roll out the door by this point, but a sit-down at Barzaari demands you give the desserts a close look. Much like the savory dishes, the sizes of these desserts are generous given the price, massive treats that are best shared among three or four. One of the largest is the Baklava ($16) with quince ice cream; again, the pastry here is so lovely so you’ll get a smooth, buttery surface before you get to the soft nutty filling of walnuts and pistachios.
Just as worthwhile, and arguably more memorable, is the uniquely presented Pistachio Cake ($14) (feature image) which is given shade from a large, artful kataifi disk flecked with kitromilo, which is a traditional Cypriot sweet made of orange peel. Underneath the canopy like disk sits the sizable pistachio cake, topped with summer-y orange blossom ice cream.
2016 has been Sydney’s year as far as new restaurant openings go, a fine push that not even culture-killer Mike Baird can overshadow. There’s no doubt that Barzaari will rank near the very top of all those fine options when those end of year lists come out, a unique and very welcome addition to a part of the inner-west which has to date been best known for the superb brews at Coffee Alchemy. This is a destination that needs to be on everyone’s radar.
Address: 65 Addison Rd, Marrickville NSW 2204
Contact: (02) 9569 3161
Hours: Tues-Thurs 5:30pm-12am; Fri 12pm-3pm and 5:30pm-12am; Sat 5:30pm-12am; Sun 12pm-5pm
All images taken by Chris Singh for the AU review.