Crushed wheat, chopped parsley, onion, mint,
tomatoes, lemon juice and oil
If there's anything that brings people together, it's food. Communal dining is even better. Sharing dishes amongst the table means everyone has to engage with each other, and consumption is no longer a private affair but a loud and colourful group effort.
At Jasmin, in Lakemba in Sydney’s south-west, there's plenty of sharing and chatting going on. Groups of friends are talking amidst regular bursts of laughter, kids are swinging their heels mid-mouthful, and parents are clucking as they replenish everyone's plates.
We've visited Jasmin a couple of times now and each time the place is full. Despite the chatter, people tend to quickly eat and leave, and it's never long before our smiling host shows us to our table.
The decor here is strangely compelling. Rendered textured walls come complete with coloured stucco paintings framed with marble. The ceiling beholds three recessed church-like domes, each handpainted and inlaid with downlights.
Tables are a practical black marble, and the chairs--in 70s style brown or black--scrape with jarring regularity on the chequerboard floor. The menu is short and sweet: 19 options of which five are combination meals. Pricing is simple. $5 if it's vegetarian, $8 for meat, and $12 for a mixed plate of almost everything.
Baba ghannouj $5.00
Mashed eggplants, sesame seed paste, lemon juice and garlic
For me, Lebanese food is all about the dips. A basket of Lebanese bread, cut with scissors into manageable quarters, quickly diminishes as handfuls are torn off into makeshift spoons. Splodges of smoky baba ghannouj are mopped up with gusto, alternated with packages of bright green tabouleh, zinging with plenty of lemon juice.
Broad beans, lemon juice and garlic
We try the foule, a comforting dish of simmered broad beans in garlic and lemon. Fateh is another homestyle dish with cooked chick peas on a bed of yoghurt-soaked Lebanese bread and dusted with paprika, parsley and a handful of crunchy pine nuts. There's plenty of plate passing and friendly reaching as arms criss-cross all over the table.
Chick peas, pine nuts and yoghurt
Cracked chick peas, cumin and other herbs
The greatest test of a Lebanese joint, however, is the falafel; on both occasions Jasmin doesn’t fail to disappoint. The falafel are superb. Giant orbs of deep-fried darkened brown are irresistibly crisp, and they remain so even until the end of our meal. The chick pea mash inside is flecked with green, the texture is light and fluffy and tasty too. These are reputed to be the best falafel in Sydney and I see no reason to disagree.
Toum garlic sauce, tahina sauce and salad plate
If I could only eat two dishes at Jasmin, they would be the falafel and the toum. Toum, a kind of garlic fluff, is made primarily of garlic and oil, whipped until fluffy and addictively delicious. It's like garlic fairy floss and its lightness of texture makes one quickly dismiss any superficial concerns about resultant garlic breath.
Also complimentary are tahina sauce, made from sesame seed paste, and a salad plate of assorted greens. There are chunks of raw onion, tomato quarters, olives, gherkins, jalapeno peppers and sprigs of mint and parsley. Plenty of fun for the tastebuds.
Chicken tawouk $8.00
Sliced chicken thigh fillet (thin)
We try chicken tawouk twice, sliced thick and sliced thin. Thick is the way to go.
Chicken tawouk $8.00
Sliced chicken thigh fillet (thick)
We also sample charcoal chicken: whole thigh fillets grilled on charcoal, and lamb shish kebab.
Chicken grilled on charcoal $8.00
Both arrive hiding within a pocket of Lebanese bread, the bed underneath soaking up all the tasty juices. This chicken isn’t as spicy as the tawouk; the lamb alternates between somewhat rubbery and delightfully tender.
Lamb shish kabab $8.00
Lamb cubes grilled on skewers
Hot sausages $8.00
Mince meat, hot chilli and spices
Hot sausages are spicy little fingers of mince. Meaty with bits of pine nuts, there are washed down well with mouthfuls of sweetened tamarind drink, a Lebanese national drink.
Tamarind drink $2.50
The food is fresh, fast and ridiculously cheap. On both occasions we’ve eaten ourselves to burst for under $10 including drinks. Forget about the mixed platter for one. Bring your friends and dig on in.
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30B Haldon Street, Lakemba, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9740 3589
Open 7 days, 8.30am-10pm
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4/23/2006 11:41:00 p.m.