Dinner and dessert.
My favourite baklava source in Sydney is still Rabeih Sweets in Punchbowl, an Aladdin's cave of rose syrup, ashtar and tray upon tray of delicious desserts. We wandered here with still-full bellies from our Lebanese banquet at Jasmin 1. But it's surprising what a brisk walk down two blocks, across a set of traffic lights and up two steps will magically do to your appetite.
Friends are always amazed when I lead them into this pastry shop that doubles as a late-night cafe. Tall glass panels supported by carved wooden columns are the only thing that stand between you and a diabetic nightmare of dessert. Roses of damascus are the pretty flower shaped towers made from filo. Soaked in a thick rosewater syrup, they are served sandwiched with a generous spoonful of ashtar, or eishta, a thick cooked milk cream. Semolina cakes glisten with the sheen of rose water syrup, a namoura slice is decorated with a blanched almond trail.
Ashtar and rose water syrup is ladled over almost everything. A steady stream of people come through the doors all night, ordering generous servings of dessert in takeaway trays, presumably a late night treat for friends and family waiting at home.
But the ever-friendly staff here are always happy to sell you smaller portions, and their patience, as we hem and haw over the plethora of dessert options, is always endless.
Zroud al sitt (lady's arm) topped with ashtar;
Turkish delight with almonds in the background
My kanefe [top photo] is warmed in the microwave hidden beneath the counter, causing the white cheese beneath the crunchy semolina crust to ooze deliciously. The slice itself isn't sweet, but it's helped along with a generous puddle of rosewater syrup, dollops of ashtar and a pretty dusting of crushed green pistachio. The contrast between crunch, cream and syrup is delightfully comforting, our forks relentlessly dipping in for more.
We also share a serve of zroud al sitt, or ladies' arm, a spring-roll like pastry filled with ashtar and deep-fried. It's covered with, you guessed it, more ishtar and ground pistachio.
The square of turkish delight is a little harder and firmer than we'd prefer, but the chunks of almonds scattered throughout are large and generous.
But you can't come to Rabeih Sweets without leaving laden down by a kilo of baklava. Six different shapes offer varying pastry to nut ratios. I've always been a fan of the boukaj "pyramid" shape but my latest purchase has seen me switch to the "sausage roll" slices which definitely have the most pistachio to pastry ratio per delicious mouthful.
And the difference between Greek and Lebanese baklava? Greek baklava usually consists of walnuts and honey; the Lebanese version includes pistachio and rose-water syrup.
There's a whole display of Lebanese biscuits and shortbreads too. Mamoul biscuits are filled with fig jam. Others are pale and buttery. Chocolate and vanilla biscuits are sandwiched with jam, then dipped in chocolate and crushed pistachio. On the top shelf are plates of assorted biscuits, wrapped up in cellophane and secured with curls of ribbon, a popular gift for dinner party hosts.
I haven't even mentioned the refrigerated cream cakes or tubs of fluorescent ice cream.
Next time. There's always a reason to return.
Rabeih Lebanese Sweets Shop
Shop 5, 769 Punchbowl Road, Punchbowl
Tel: +61 (02) 9708 4103
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8/18/2007 06:08:00 p.m.