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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

El-Manara, Lakemba

Lebanese feast

It's always a good time for a Lebanese feast.

Lately much of our feasting has taken place at Jasmin in Lakemba. Fresh. Cheap. Plentiful. When Veruca finds a good thing, she likes to stick to it. Persistently.

Me, on the other hand? I'm the eternal stickybeak. I'm the one who compulsively flicks through the other channels during the commercial breaks. Who has to check every pre-set radio station in the car before settling on the best song playing. Who often orders the most obscure dish on the menu. Just because I can. And because I think I might be missing out on something.

So on my second attempt to relocate our usual Lebanese feasting destination, Veruca finally relented. We went 100 metres up the road instead.

El-Manara interior

Perhaps because it is only a block-and- a-half up the road, El-Manara has as many fiercely loyal patrons as Jasmin does. "The prices at El-Manara are a little bit higher for their mixed plate," a Lebanese colleague once confided, "but oh my good their meat is so freshly cooked it's worth it."

The interior here is a marked contrast to Jasmin. Where Jasmin is a long and narrow restaurant, all rendered walls, stucco paintings, marble columns and somewhat dim were it not for the spotlights above, El-Manara is a short but wide premises with laquered wood panelling, huge glass windows, bare walls and plenty of natural light.

Toum garlic sauce

El-Manara is quiet today although we notice plenty of couples picking up takeaway orders, telephoned in advance. We order an enormous feast and within minutes our complimentary side dishes arrive. The garlic toum is thick, fluffy and so intensely garlicky it almost sets your throat on fire. We love it so much we need a refill.

This is generously mopped up with wedges of Lebanese bread from our little side basket. The bread is unfortunately a little dry from pre-cutting and exposure, and we can't help but compare this to the soft fresh loaves consistently served at Jasmin.

tahina sauce
Tahina sauce

The tahina sauce is a mild palate cleanser, a mixture of yoghurt and crushed sesame seed paste dusted with a sunset of burnt orange paprika.

salad plate
Salad plate

The salad plate is a riot of colour as always. Batons of hot pink pickled radishes splay over the edges of the plate, looking like the legs of can-can dancers, whirling with luscious tomatoes, green olives, jalapeno peppers, raw onion slices and the coolness of fresh mint leaves.

Sausages: mild and chill (soujok) $8.00
Mince meat, pine nuts and spices

We'd been unable to decide between the mild or the chillli sausages (some of our party are yet to get in touch with their chilli side) so we are thoughtfully provided with a mixed plate of both. To my surprise these are completely different sausages: the mild are more meaty and plumper, their skin blistered to a golden brown; the chilli ones aren't really hot but slightly spicy, a dried preserved sausage that is almost crumbly in texture.

Chicken kabab $9.00
Marinated chicken and spices cooked on a rotating skewer

The chicken. Oh the chicken. This is beautifully tender, piping hot and deliciously succulent with a generous coating of spices.

Falafel $5.00
Chick peas, garlic, cumin and spices

Falafel are delightful crunchy golf balls, and again we find ourselves comparing them to Jasmin. Theirs win. By a mouthful. Their filling is moister and somehow more flavoursome.

Tabbouleh $5.00
Chopped parsley, mint, tomatoes, lettuce,
crushed wheat, lemon juice and olive oil

The tabbouleh is a colourful mound of refreshing greenery: chopped parsley, bits of tomato, a few specks of burghul with a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil. It's light and crunchy, but not quite as lemony as Jasmin's.

rice pudding
Mouhallabieh (rice pudding) $2.00

Dessert isn't offered at Jasmin, but it is at El-Manara. In the refrigerated cabinet beneath the counter is a shelf packed full with rice puddings, and for $2.00 I add it to our stash of takeaway treasures. I have it later that night and revel in its thickened spoon-hugging starchiness. It's perfect comfort food and reminds me a little of Turkish salep, like the one had at Mado.

I suspect the mouhallabieh has been thickend with cornflour though, the sprinkle of pistachio nuts adds a delicious crunch and flavour, whilst the faint aroma of rosewater is calming.

Final damage: $27 (plus drinks and dessert) for four females with a takeaway box of leftovers.

El-Manara or Jasmin? It's too close to call. I might have to head back. To each, just to make sure.

el manara

El-Manara Lebanese Restaurant
143 Haldon St, Lakemba, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9740 6762

Related GrabYourFork posts:
Emma's on Liberty, Enmore
Jasmin, Lakemba
Rowda Ya Habibi, Newtown
Mado Cafe, Auburn
10 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Anonymous on 1/10/2007 09:38:00 pm


  • At 1/11/2007 12:19 am, Blogger Jeanne said…

    OK, I'm drooling now... What a fabulous feast! And wow, aren't those pickled radishes too gorgeous? I adore Lebanese food. Damn - why did I have to read this while having a boring lunch at my desk? :P

  • At 1/11/2007 4:28 am, Blogger Yvo Sin said…

    I've never eaten at a Lebanese place, but similar fare at other Middle Eastern (I think?) places... yum yum. I love love LOVE that picture of the salad!!!

  • At 1/11/2007 4:41 am, Blogger Kalyn Denny said…

    Ohhh, I want some of this food. Some of my faves there. But really came by to say congratulations on the Food Blog Award!

  • At 1/11/2007 4:59 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Congratulations on the Food Blog Award!

  • At 1/11/2007 8:20 am, Blogger neil said…

    I think everyone should have a good look at the tabbouleh, plenty of parsley and not much cracked wheat, much better than the other way around. Congratulations on your shiny new award!!!

  • At 1/11/2007 9:45 pm, Blogger Veruca Salt said…

    I'm glad I finally tried El-Manara. How I know for sure that I need Jasmin's on speed dial.

    I could get full just on the freebies and their bread is always so soft & warm.

    But for research purposes, we should definitely try a few others. Lets start dipping.

  • At 12/24/2007 3:47 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    glad I found a compatriot
    the reason I'm reading your blog is
    because I'm always on the hunt for
    new and interesting dishes.

  • At 12/24/2007 11:19 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - Me too. I'm always on the hunt for new and interesting dishes :) Glad you're enjoying the blog too.

  • At 8/24/2010 6:31 pm, Blogger rsahgal said…

    I love the fact that you have written a review about this great little find. I love the place.

    It is refreshing to see people review the amazing food that exists beyond the City-Eastern Suburbs-North Shore-Inner West area that tends to get the most attention.


  • At 8/27/2010 1:59 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Ratcfc - All the tastiest eats are in the West. lol! I think that's where food blogs do offer something above and beyond what mainstream media tend to focus on. Glad you're a fan of this place as well :)


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