In the midst of a fast food enclave that boasts bad food giants McDonalds, Subway, Oporto and KFC, you’ll find Massaya: Authentic Lebanese Cuisine. While the exterior architecture that sees it tucked underneath a gym in bland, corporate-style, might not imbue you with confidence, the big, 170-seater space is actually a great place to eat an honest and authentic Lebanese meal.
Plus it’ll be way tastier (and better for you) to smash a heaving plate of Chicken Shawarma ($26) than pick up a bucket of fried chook after your session at the gym. Resting on a mountain of chicken salt dusted chips, the lemon and garlic marinated chicken topped with sumac-sprinkled Spanish onions is lean and tasty against house-made vegetable pickles and pots of garlic and tomato sauce.
You can either eat your shawarma inside in the voluminous function-centre style space, complete with long tables all pointing toward the entertainment stage, or in a booth on the indoor-outdoor patio.
The latter is set up for smoking, with a row of colourful hookahs (or as the Lebanese call them, nargiles) lining the wall.
Ducking in for an early dinner, nobody was currently imbibing, but I imagine it could get quite hectic out here later in the night. I advise pulling up under the chandelier at an inside table if smoking isn't your vibe.
On Friday and Saturday nights, I'm told the the crowds all order banquets to take care of all their grazing needs for between $50-$85 per person.
Dining earlier in the piece, we opted to create our own feast, kicking off with a selection of hot and cold mezze. Before we can blink, dishes start to arrive, starting with a generous bowl of mint-heavy Tabouli ($15) that is refreshing and light on a hot and smoky Sydney night.
The Shanklish Salad ($15), based on chalky aged cheese, is particularly good at Massaya. The cheese is bound up with olive oil, capsicum, shallots, tomatoes and mint, meaning it’s neither too crumbly nor too dry.
From the hot mezze selection, the Makanek ($15) are an easy favourite. The short, lean Lebanese sausages are sautéed with pomegranate molasses and topped with sweet burnt onions and pine nuts, which is particularly good with a squeeze of fresh lemon when mopped up with pliable flatbread.
Ladies Fingers ($13), stuffed with non-greasy cheese and mint come with a clever dipping sauce made with za’atar, lemon juice and olive oil.
The combination is particularly good, edging out big, golden brown slabs of Grilled Haloumi ($19) interleaved with fresh tomato under a dusting of olives, slivered almonds, sesame seeds and dried herbs.
To a soundtrack of generic pop, we take a brief breather with smooth, dry Martinis ($16/each) washed down with Almaza ($12) Lebanese beer.
By this stage our table is heaving with food, with Hummus with Shawarma ($19) the latest to arrive.
The smooth, creamy puddle of hummus has artfully ramped up sides, allowing it to hold in meat juices and tender grilled lamb morsels. Beautifully decorated with sumac, and other garnishes, it is easily the evening’s best dish.
While I found it hard to pull my flatbread away from the hummus, there was a homely charm to the Kousa Bil-Laban ($25). Served with nicely separated long grain rice, it’s a little clay pot of zucchinis stuffed with marinated lamb mince, floating in tangy yoghurt sauce. I reckon it would have been more appreciated if it had arrived earlier in our Massaya feast!
Massaya: Authentic Lebanese Cuisine
608 Liverpool Road, Strathfield
Ph: (0416) 411 114