While Almond Bar is far from a new restaurant, they’ve stayed in the forefront of my mind with their monthly Syrian breakfasts, and the big Syrian barbeques they hold in their back lane. The long, narrow restaurant is set just off the busy intersection of Liverpool Street and Darlinghurst Road. It’s decked out with dark woods, running from beams along the ceiling, to long thin tables to maximize seating. Whether you dine as a couple, or as a group of six, you’ll be sharing the same sized table, so be prepared for a bit of cheek-to-jowl eating.
What Almond Bar lacks in floor space, they make up for with ingenuity. Ornate wood-paneled walls cleverly draw your eyes up, where you’ll find woven basket lights and a stack of golden tasseled fezzes to distract you from the intimacy you share with the table next door.
Relaxed, friendly service gets us drinking reasonably quickly, and we begin to relax in the loud, tightly packed space. Bloody Miriam ($17) takes the Bloody Mary to the region in question with the addition of appropriate spices. Cinnamon Fire ($18) starts with cinnamon-infused Tennessee whiskey and mixes it with spicy liqueur, orange and lemon juice, and presents the blend with a cassia quill. The aromatic spice provides a linking line to the cuisine.
Dip starters, like Chilli Hummus ($9), work quickly to take the edge off your hunger. It's a lively and filling dip, equally good when smeared on soft flatbread as it is when dragged onto batons of celery and carrot. While I liked the flavour of the Toum Bread ($9.50), the profit margins felt a bit extreme on this relatively small serve of crisp flatbread smeared with creamy garlic paste.
Funky turnip is the highlight of our Mixed Pickles ($10), a plate that also includes wild cucumber, chillis and cauliflower. It’s a nice blend that will get your stomach juices working before the main event.
From the sharing menu, the chickpea pancake – Ejjit Hummus ($19) – topped with lightly cooked cherry tomatoes coated in tart pomegranate molasses, proved to be my favourite dish. It’s vegetarian, with a filling of English spinach and arish (grape vine leaves) flavoured with sumac and Aleppo pepper, a mild chilli that reminds me of cumin. It's a small serve that with hindsight, I'd order all to myself.
The wine list is interesting, with lots to drink around the fifty-buck mark. I suspect we chose badly with the 2015 Kurt Angerer Grüner Veltliner ($70). It’s quite an acidic wine, with a pineapple note that I thought clashed with the Syrian dishes, including the aforementioned pancake. It was particularly jarring against the overly acidic Stringy Haloumi Salad ($17). This was an unbalanced dish that I found hard to enjoy, particularly when the acidity’s path wasn’t smoothed with olive oil, allowing it to totally overtake the cheese.
Perhaps the acidic salad would make better sense against a rich and fatty meat dish, but in our meal it was served at the same time as our Mukloubi with Chicken ($29). This is a layered rice dish with gently spiced rice, a meagre amount of pulled chicken, chopped nuts and a hat of homemade yoghurt. I find it homey and comforting, but the blandness bores my dining companion before we finish the moderate serve.
This is, of course, Syria via Darlinghurst; and the prices here seem predicated upon the knowledge that most diners won’t have explored the region’s cuisines in Sydney’s Western Suburbs, where generosity and low prices abound. The loyal following of well-to-do Darlo regulars means their summation is probably correct.
379 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9380 5318