Crown Street newcomer, SaltVine, is already winning over the Surry Hills after work crowd, undoubtedly bolstered by a half-price bill offer on Dimmi that is running until the end of January. The restaurant is building upon Sydney’s love of modern Lebanese mezze, stoked by fine dining street-mate Nour, but at a much more moderate price point.
The early popularity comes at a price – with every table full, the small two-person front of house team are looking a bit stressed.
While I look longingly at the top shelf booze awaiting their upcoming cocktail list, they’re making a jug of Beirut Sangria ($20) with a Lebanese Cabernet Sauvignon blend and an air of desperation.
The resulting drink is distinctly Lebanese but a little heavy on aniseed (from the Arak) for my palate. As the Almaza pilsner advertised on the bar neon is also unavailable, I try a few of the Lebanese wines on their short, eight bottle list, where nothing is pricier than $36. The salmon pink Rose de Ksara ($34/bottle, $10/glass) isn’t a sugar bath, though it’s quite acidic for a rose. As for the Fakra Blanc de Blanc ($36/bottle, $10/glass), while I know the region is famous for its oil reserves, I’d prefer not to taste petrochemical funk in my wine. I wouldn’t say either are great food wines.
The kitchen seems to be coping with the crowds as mezze dishes come out quickly. That said, the presentation of my Scotch Meshwi ($26) is a little less inspiring than the Instagram photo that enticed me into ordering this dish. The flavours are good, with tender scotch fillet cooked just to blue served on sweet carrot puree with a pat of hot paprika butter melting on top. I'd have preferred the gristly bits of the steak to have been trimmed.
Where SaltVine does excel is with Shankleesh ($16) – a Lebanese cheese salad where olives and lightly pickled fennel help to balance out the chalkiness of the cheese. Juicy orange segments, baby herbs, red capsicum and hunks of almond add more complementary flavours and textural interest, making this the best version of this popular salad I’ve tried.
The Beetroot Tahini Dip ($12) cleverly combines two elements of traditional Lebanese mezze – an earthy dip and pickled turnip - into one smartly presented bowl.
I’m also enamoured with the saffron labneh under my Lamb Kibbeh ($18). The crisp footballs of lamb mince and bulgur wheat are good quality, but could have been more heavily seasoned.
The only real miss were the Syrian String Cheese Cigars ($16) that were more like empty spring rolls. There’s too much pastry, too little cheese and a nigella seed-topped tomato harissa sauce that’s way to close to sweet chilli for my liking.
It’s still early days here, so it will be interesting to see how SaltVine settles once they have their cocktail list up and running, and correct systems and staffing levels in place.
535 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 8937 2191