"Oh. My. God."
I tend to get nervous whenever I recommend a dish or a restaurant, plagued by a moment of self-doubt when the moment of truth arrives.
The falafel at Jasmin's are the best I've ever tasted," I confidently declare to Simon and Yas, but even when the dish arrives, I'm a little uncertain.
I needn't have worried. Simon takes a bite and then nods in approval. Yas adds a chortle of delight. Oh yes, Jasmin has done it again.
"It's so crunchy on the outside! It's still moist in the middle!"
I nod, clucking with approval.
This seemingly simple vegetarian dish, a disc of crushed chick peas mixed with cumin and herbs, is a whole other experience at Jasmin. The exterior is a deep golden brown, the insides are soft and flecked with herbs. But it's the crust that provided the joyous moment revelation, its surface corrugated and nobbly to create a crunch so satisfying it sounds like you're biting into a shattering potato crisp.
Baba ghannouj $6
The amazing falafel are not the only reason I love to revisit. Food is served with speed and a smile, and the prices are unbelievably cheap. Vegetarian dishes are $6 with meat dishes $10. Combination plates are available but I always prefer to order whole dishes and share them around.
The decor is something else too, with painted scenes of the sea, marble frames and recessed domes in the ceiling amidst a stucco-gone-wild backdrop.
There's a steady rotation of locals. Families, couples and friends eat their fill and leave. We always end up loitering over our meal, watching the tables next to us change over two or three times. There's always too much food.
Baba ghanoush is a crater of mashed eggplant, smoky from the char grill and tempered by tahina sesame paste, garlic and a spritz of lemon. A puddle of olive oil and a few generous shakes of paprika add extra flavour.
A bright and happy mix of chopped parsley leaves studded with tomato, onion and burghul crushed wheat forms the tabouli. Fresh mint leaves and lemon juice add zing.
Although cutlery is provided, it's much more fun to use your hands. A basket of fresh Lebanese bread, so soft and fluffy it's more like a bready crepe, is best torn into smaller pieces and then curled to scoop up dollops of baba ghanoush or pinches of tabbouleh.
Chilli sauce, toum garlic sauce and tahina sauce
The free side dishes are a generous gesture. Each person, regardless of what they order, receives a basket of Lebanese bread, a plate of salad with pickles, and saucers of tahina sesame sauce and garlic toum.
Garlic toum is one of those magical gifts from the gods, an emulsion of fresh garlic and olive oil that creates a fluffy vision of white. It tastes like a super strong garlic mayonnaise, without the egg, and is divine on its own or as an accompaniment to meats.
Complimentary salad and pickles
The complimentary salad plate is a useful source of ingredients for DIY kebabs, with mint leaves, tomato, hot jalapenos and strips of fluorescent pink pickled turnip. Green olives have a distinct salty flavour and whilst a whole onion is provided, we never use more than a layer or two.
Chilli chicken $10
For the protein component of our meal we order the chilli chicken, grilled chicken thigh fillets marinated in a spicy chilli sauce. The chicken is still succulent, spicy with chilli and an undertone of garlic.
Kafta are the Lebanese version of rissoles, but moulded around a skewer to form a sausage shape and grilled. The lamb mince is flavoured with parsley, onion and spices, served with curls of paprika-dusted raw onion and wedges of lemon.
Lebanese dessert at Rabieh, Punchbowl
Despite groaning stomachs, the others don't need much convincing to continue on to dessert. It's only a short drive across a few suburbs to Punchbowl, where we feast on a Lebanese smorgasboard of sweets. The ice cream doesn't have the stretchiness we'd hoped for, but there's plenty of deliciousness in the kanefe, a semolina slice filled with creamy ishtar, a clotted huddle of cooked milk cream and garnished with rose water syrup and crushed pistachio nuts.
Zroud al sitt translates as lady's arm, a deep-fried pastry roll filled with ishtar and drizzled with rose water syrup. We also share a selection of baklava - they're a little drier than usual although Simon and Yas both say they prefer their baklava drenched with syrup.
It's a cheap night of eats - about $30 per head for a two-stage banquet. Forget the doubt - just get out and enjoy. And make sure you order the falafel too.
Our feast at Jasmin
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30B Haldon Street, Lakemba, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9740 3589
Open 7 days, 8.30am-10pm
Related GrabYourFork posts:
Lebanese - Jasmin, Lakemba (Apr06)
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Lebanese - El Jannah, Granville
Lebanese - El-Manara, Lakemba
Lebanese - Emma's on Liberty, Enmore
Lebanese - Jasmin I, Punchbowl
Lebanese - Rowda Ya Habibi, Newtown (Dec09), (Mar07) and (Jul04)
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El Rabieh Sweets & Ice Cream
Shop 5, 769 Punchbowl Road, Punchbowl
Tel: +61 (02) 9708 4103
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Baklava - El Bahsa Sweets, Bankstown
Baklava - Rabieh, Punchbowl (Aug07) and (Feb05)
Baklava - Sabbagh Patissery, Greenacre
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2/10/2010 06:00:00 a.m.