El-Phoenician Restaurant, Parramatta

Monday, January 16, 2017

Despite being a big fan of more well-known Lebanese foods like falafel, hummus and tabbouleh, I must sheepishly admit that I know very little about real Lebanese cuisine. The reality is that I don't really eat Lebanese food very often - not because I don't like it, but rather because it's just not the first thing that comes to mind when we go out for something to eat.

El Phoenician is a Lebanese restaurant that elevates the cuisine to a refined, modern dining standard. It's a step up from your typical run of the mill casual eatery, with locations in stylish Walsh Bay and the burgeoning western suburb of Parramatta. Furnished with white tablecloths and sleek, dark brown interiors, it's an elegant, up-market purveyor of traditional Lebanese cuisine.

I was recently invited to a dinner at the Parramatta location to sample the restaurant's festival feasts menu, offered in conjunction with the Sydney Festival which runs until the 29th of January. The idea of a Lebanese feast is one that is difficult to resist!

Homous ($11)
In true feasting spirit, we begin with a selection of mezza - dips, bread and pickles. We love this creamy homous. It has a purée consistency that is not altogether smooth, but not overly chunky either, with the perfect balance of tahini and lemon. The table is given baskets filled with a combination of fresh flatbread and fried, golden Lebanese bread, the latter of which is a must try. 

Tabouli ($17)
Tabouli is synonymous with Lebanese cuisine, and this one lives up to expectations. With roughly chopped fresh parsley, diced tomato, shallot, mint and crushed wheat, it's fresh, zingy and is the perfect salad addition to our feast.

Kabees ($17)
Mixed marinated pickles are refreshing palate cleansers. There's well-seasoned feta - which is more of a firm variety rather than crumbly - whole kalamata olives, mild chillies, pink-pickled turnip and fresh, crunchy radishes. My favourite pick are the bright magenta turnip wedges - they're crunchy and very lightly pickled, without too strong a flavour.

Falafel ($10/18)
Falafel is probably one of the most recognisable products of Lebanese cuisine. These ones have a thick, sturdy crust that is speckled with sesame seeds. The inside is dense but not heavy, flavoured nicely with garlic, herbs and spices. It comes with a small side of salad and creamy tahina. This is what every falafel should be like. 

Shish tawoul ($30)
In this kebab-style dish, marinated chunks of chicken are coated in a spice blend of Middle Eastern aromats, garlic and tomato puree, then grilled on a metal skewer. They're served with roasted coriander potatoes and the most heavenly toum - that white garlic dip that goes so well with grilled meats. The meat itself is tender, flavourful and cooked well; it sits on top of a surprise piece of fresh flatbread that soaks up all of the resting juices and residual marinade. Wrap some of the meat in a piece of fresh flatbread bread with a smear of toum and a spoonful of tabouli for the most delicious mouthful.

Fruit selection & baklava
Of course, what better way is there to end a Lebanese feast than with baklava? This is prime dessert material - the crunchy, light pastry stuffed with a sticky, sugar-laden nut filling that is dangerously addictive. There are two different types here: a cigar-style roll, and diamond-shaped bird's nest. 

Baklava cocktail
And how about a baklava cocktail to go with your meal? I didn't get to try this myself but the lovely Lily from Lily not Louise and theweekendfoodie relayed that it tasted very much like baklava! An utterly gorgeous looking sweet cocktail. 

The Lebanese staples are done very well at El-Phoenician. Even if you've had them before, it's worth making a visit to check out the lesser known gems of Lebanese cuisine - delightful sounding dishes like loubyeh (simmered beans in tomato and spices), warak'aresh (stuffed vine leaves), kibbi mikliyeh (fried lamb mince in a crispy burghul shell) and sharwarma (marinated sliced meats). This is definitely something I endeavor to do!

As part of the Sydney Festival, El Phoenician's festival feasts menu features everything we ate here - a mixed plate of homous, tabouli, falafel, chicken skewers (or vege alternative), potato coriander and unlimited Lebanese bread - for $30 per person. It's a great way to get a taste of the Sydney Festival!


El-Phoenician Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

I was lucky enough to dine as a guest, however all opinions are my own. 

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