Baba ghanouj eggplant dip
It's always funny to watch your friends get pulled up to join the belly dancer, until you realise, with horror, she's coming straight for you.
There's a belly dancer at Rowda Ya Habibi most Friday and Saturday nights. This spot seems to have become my fall-back venue for group functions. It's not hard to see why. The most expensive banquet will only cost you $30 per head, there are private cushion rooms upstairs, and its location in Newtown is central to public transport with limited parking options too.
It's also a cuisine that is not altogether familiar to our guest of honour tonight, Lady Iron Chef., aka Brad, one of Singapore's top food bloggers on a whirlwind visit of Sydney. When Singapore is blessed with stellar Asian food, our get together of Sydney food bloggers resisted any danger of comparison and rejoiced in the flavours of Lebanese cuisine instead.
Fresh soft Lebanese bread
We climb up the steep stairs to the cushion room, a little run-down looking these days, with some obvious plater patchwork on one wall, but there's still a secluded sense of privacy, with a canopy over our heads and hanging tapestry rugs on the walls looking down on us.
We order the Extra Special Banquet at $30 per head, starting with baskets of soft and fluffy Lebanese bread which we rip by hand and use to scoop up dollops of hoummos, smoky baba ghanoush eggplant dip or the zingy freshness of tabbouleh.
Brad seems a little perplexed by the ladies fingers until we point out there no, the name does not refer to sugar bananas. Instead these hot-from-the-fryer pastries are wadded with a fine filling of lamb mince, its meatiness refreshed by a generous squeeze of lemon.
Egg-shaped falafel are next, and whilst fresh, these are not a patch on my favourite crunchy-shelled version from Jasmin in Lakemba.
We move into the meat section of the banquet next, the charcoal skewers of minced shish kebabs moving onto strong and almost gamey flavoured lamb kebabs and concluding with succulent cubes of garlic chicken.
It's at this point we're starting to regret our over-indulgence of dips earlier on in the evening, as skewers are abandoned in defeat.
Beans in tomato sauce
Our final two dishes are barely touched, although I do welcome the beans in tomato sauce and find some starchy satisfaction in the rice cooked with vermicelli, the rice fragrant with stock and the fried noodles adding a nutty richness.
Rice cooked with vermicelli
The banquet carnage
Baklava $2.50 per piece
We conclude with diamonds of baklava - not syrupy enough for some, but I've always preferred mine on the drier side. Fat cubes of pink Turkish delight dusted with icing sugar are stretchy and chewy although most people can't find theirs (I have no such problem).
And in amongst that all, our own personal show of belly dancing. Our shimmering belly dancer got half of us up to join her, myself included - here's a tip: sit on the outside edge of the table and be prepared to join in!
Our belly dancer with Yas
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Rowda Ya Habibi
101 King Street Newtown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9557 5368
Open 7 days 10.30am - 12 midnight
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12/17/2009 02:04:00 am