Sarah’s Lebanese Cuisine slid into Leichhardt’s landscape so seamlessly, it took me a year to notice it had arrived. The faded brown retro fonts and cedar tree logo melds in beautifully with Norton Street’s existing signage, on a strip still dominated by Italian entries, from La Gardenia's children’s wares to Bar Italia’s pasta.
While many locals, like myself, relish the widening of cuisines in our local ‘hood, the personable Zahraa explained that she has recently been told to go back to Bankstown by an angry local of Italian descent. The Lebanese migrants who call Australia home have been settling here since the mid-19th century (around 1850). The biggest Italian wave of immigration happened between 1947 and 1950, about a hundred years later. As none of us, bar for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, can claim this land as our own, there's certainly room for cultural diversity on this faded dining strip.
With white metal chairs and wooden tables that stretch out onto the pavement, Sarah’s is largely a featureless, white space, widened with mirrors and decorated with a few dangling charms to ward off the evil eye (which clearly don’t work on racists). It’s a family business, staffed by a friendly mother and daughter team. Keen to avoid making decisions, we opt to eat banquet style. We're firmly steered away from the pricier Grand Banquet ($55/head) to the cheaper Deluxe Banquet ($45/head) to avoid getting too much food.
Leichhardt’s (uptight) dining proclivities have seen Zahraa and her mother Sarah morph the usually shared hommos and baba ghanouj into individually plated affairs.
Once we get our bread replaced – the first basket was stale – I find myself drawn to the smoky eggplant dip over the slightly grainy hommos.
By the time our shanklish arrives, table Tetris has begun in earnest to find spots for all the individual plates, so I’m grateful that we're encouraged to share our tabouli.
It’s a light and lemony mountain of parsley, mint and shallots with no burghul to be seen. No humans were harmed by sharing it from one plate.
After showing an interest in the haloumi cheese on the more expensive banquet, we’re served a heaving plate of soft, fluffy cheese. Flavoured with plenty of garlic, the wedges of herb-flecked cheese have been very gently fried with big, juicy acidic tomato slices and topped with darkly toasted almonds.
Well-drained fried cauliflower – arnabit – comes with tahini.
They’re also great with a delicate splodge of Sarah’s darkly brooding chilli sauce.
On rapidly disintegrating charred wooden skewers that scream home-style cooking, we get a hefty plate of six mixed kebab apiece. Lahme – chicken skewers - eat best dragged through toum (garlic dip) balanced out with chilli sauce. While the skewered lumps of barbequed lamb are tasty, the real winner is the kafta made with hand-cut mince and fresh herbs.
While even the lower tiered banquet was too much food, compounded by bigger portions because the food was not shared, I enjoyed this good value meal. Sarah’s has a homey vibe that makes you feel like you’re sitting down at the table with an adopted Lebanese Mum, all the way to the freshly baked jawz al hind (coconut macaroons) she pushes onto you to finish.
Sarah's Lebanese Cuisine
165 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (0449) 545 594