CCU Undercover: Almond Bar

I’m sorry that this review wasn’t last post like i had planned, but I felt like I needed to write about the tragedy. Thanks for reading it and sharing your opinions and thoughts.

Now, onto nicer things… like HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE! 😀 😀

And also… my review… 🙂

Tucked away in the central streets of Darlinghurst, with full view of St Vincent’s hospital, is a quaint tiny place that is BOOMING with Mediterranean flavour inspired by beautiful Syria. You enter, it is comfy, you sit down, you get nice service, you taste the food and BAM!

You never want to leave again. I got you with those capitalised words didn’t I? Admit it 😉

Read on for a full review of a small but tasteful restaurant…

birthday review

 


 

No, no don’t assume it was my birthday, stop singing happy birthday, I know you all launched straight into it when you saw the balloons in my review title 😛
Actually it was my brother’s birthday, for which my family and I trekked through the himalayas  the city to get to a Mediterranean feast. I say trek because my house is kind of quite far from the city. It is my Everest getting up each morning to get to uni by 9am!

Sorry, sorry, as always, my tangential Id is making an appearance, so I am going to squash it into a little box and put it at the back of mind. Back to the restaurant 🙂

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To be quite honest with you, with the reviews and reputation of Almond Bar, I was expecting something a bit bigger. I thought maybe Almond Bar was named as such because Almond Restaurant was a mouthful, or the owner was trying to be a little ironic. It is in Darlinghurst.

But no, right on point, it is a bar sized place, on the corner of two streets. Despite being so small however, I don’t think we felt even at one point that we had no room in the narrow construction of the restaurant. Admittedly, we were not there while there were any larger parties, but considering it was still quite full, we managed fine, as did the waiters I noticed.

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The tables are a little on the small side (classic restaurants) and there are seats and cushions reminiscent of their cuisine theme. Dim lighting set the mood as well, I mean, Mediterranean is mystical more than bright lights and colours!

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To get our appetites into the mood, while ordering, we received a small wooden tray with different sorts of almonds in each one. Sugary, sticky syrup-ped, sesame seeded, date wrapped, you name the almond and it was in there. I had to tell my mum that wasn’t the meal but she ate the majority anyway 😛 (she is going to kill me after reading this, so I bid you all, adieu!)

This was a really good idea, to introduce the customer to  a small hit of Mediterranean flavours before punching them in the tastebuds with proper dishes.

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My favourite almond? Well, the couple I could actually get my hands on before my mum (hey, if I am going down, go down in style no?), were the sesame seed and the coconut dusted one. I liked the crunch on crunch factor with the sesame seeds but preferred the coconut one, since the sweetness went quite well with the almond flavour.

Once ordered, we settled in and pre-emptively loosened our belts (you know my family by now, we don’t know how to control our order size!). We also tried not to gorge down the drinks – and what drinks they were…  I had to look this one but my entire family fell in love the Coke of the Middle East. Actually, comparing it to Coke is embarrassing because it was so. Much. Better.

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The Kazouza ($4.50) came chilled in a glass bottle. Although it was served as Tamarind flavoured drink here, the whole range comes from Lebanon and is their sparkling fruit juice equivalent. It had a pungent sweet taste that was rich, almost like wine in my opinion, and spicy as well. One of the most delicious drinks I think my family has ever tried! So much so that my mum, my brother and my dad got one. Each.

I just mooched since I can’t drink a lot of any soft drink (except Fanta. Always Fanta. And occasionally Coke. Ugh, I just disproved my point) 😛

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My dad, before his while-eating Kazouza (fabulous name, am I right?), also ordered a classic Sauvignon Blanc, though I wasn’t sure if it was from France or New Zealand. It was crisp and fresh when I tried it, even though I am not a white wine kind of girl. Should have gotten that pear cider 😛

The service was also quite efficient despite the small quarters of this restaurant, and before we knew it, our table was being filled up with all sorts of delicious nibbles. I say nibbles, but these were nice hearty portions, unlike those frou-frou restaurants!

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Classically, we ordered Dips ($8 for 3), in which we (I say we, I mean I) chose chilli hummus, za’atar and muhamarra. These dips came with wholesome plate of soft pita triangles, oil, and come celery and carrots (because eat your vegetables kids!). The small bowls were also generous filled to the point of tipping over. But s’all good, we saved them… kind of 😉

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The za’atar, a mix of thyme, oregano, sumac, sesame seeds and sea salt was probably my favourite. It was strong and salty when it hit your mouth, and left a pleasantly tangy aftertaste. The chilli hummus was delicious, though I didn’t find it quite as chilli as I was expecting. But it was smooth and creamy. The muhamarra was almost sweet in a way, due to the pomegranate in it, but very rich due to the roasted red capsicum. I also liked the nutty aftertaste from the walnuts.

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We also ordered olives for the side with the bread, but ugh. Confession time. I detest olives. Despite looking spicy and oily and delicious in their little bowl, I just *ugh*. Olives. But I have it on good opinion that they went very well with the pita. So all good 🙂

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For our salad (salata), which I took a taste of then remembered I was a child and therefore do not eat salad, was the Baladieh Salad ($15.50). I am not much of a salad eater, so my opinion is probably biased, so I will go by my mum’s. She really enjoyed the chickpeas and the Baladieh cheese combination, and the dressing was tangy but refreshing as well!

For the mains then, my family and I ordered a mix of tabkha (large dishes) and mezza (small dishes). For the vegetarian side, we had, of course, the classic plate of Falafel ($18). Sorry for the bad photo which does not do them justice, but the creamy tahini really brought out the flavour in the soft and crumbly meal. It was quite crisp on the outside, but once opened, you needed a spoon 😛

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We also couldn’t decide between potatoes and cauliflower, so had out first ‘por que no los dos’ moment of the night and got both! 😛

The Coriander Potatoes ($11), were a generously sized dish of cubes of deep fried potatoes seasoned with, I don’t know, coriander maybe? 😉 and a hint of garlic too. These were addictive. Despite not being golden and ‘looking fried’ as I had expected, they still maintained a crisp skin and soft inside, even after going cold.

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Behind it, as you can see, are the Arr’nabit ($13), or traditionally fried cauliflower with some more tahini dipping sauce. Another addictive side dish that basically became our meal, the cauliflower was a delicious addition to the table. I found a few that were overcooked though, slightly tougher and chewier (what am I explaining, meat?), but overall, it was quite good.

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My dad also had a ‘por que no los dos’ moment when had problems deciding between his favourite things – chicken or lamb. The classic debate just never ends for you omnivores does it?

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He initially ordered the Free Ranged Chargrilled Chicken Skewers 500g ($21), and because this dish didn’t have a cool Middle Eastern name, decided it was his duty to also order the Sumbusic ($14.50), a fresh pastry filled with minced lamb, spices, onion and pinenuts.

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I tried a bit of pastry off the side and it was golden, puffy and just reminded me of McDonald’s deep fried apple pie pastries. But so much better because it was fresh!

The chicken, by looks alone I am sure you can tell, was delicious. Wish I could tell you more but that is all my dad said after he launched into the dish.

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My brother decided to be a little adventurous and it definitely paid off for him, ordering the Mansaf ($24). This was a dish of slow-cooked chicken in yoghurt with smoky freekeh topped with almonds and pine nuts on the side. It looked a bit like lentils and chicken to me, but I think it’s simplicity allowed the flavours to really come out. Making my brother eat like a goober. But a happy goober 😛

Now onto dessert. As soon as we had ordered, and just were casually chilling, pretending every breath was not difficult to take, suddenly the lights dimmed even more and wild middle eastern tunes filled the air. Literally we all looked at each other and mouthed ‘bellydancer’.

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And suddenly ‘Happy Birthday’ sung in the most loud, raucous, fun way ever filled the air, and my brother turned as red as a lobster, tomato, sunburn. It. Was. Brilliant. We had not asked for this or anything, so we were equally surprised and thank god at least my brother did not do something douchey like stand up when everyone started clapping by being caught up int he moment 😛

It is their policy with all customers to embarrass them like this, and I think it is fantastic! I can still hear the drumbeats now 🙂

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After such an entrance to the dessert, it was not a letdown at all! Firstly, we ordered the Almond Pancakes ($13.50)  to share, and divine doesn’t even come close. A soft crepe thin pancake was filled with a sweet, sugary almond paste, all warm. On the side was the classic vanilla ice cream and it complimented the creaminess perfectly.

I got the Rosewater Ice Cream ($9.50), which featured two generous scoops of freshly made goodness that left a flowery taste in the mouth. Definitely my favourite dessert of the evening!

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And I know it does not look pink here but it was a lovely pale pink! It was also served with a deliciously crunchy piece of this thinly rolled out fried bread..

The parental units indulged in customary coffee ($4), though I still think they should have gotten the Turkish coffee and gone crazy with energy all night!

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This was to wash down the plate of Baklawa ($8). I was not a big fan of the pastry, since being traditional, it was not coated down completely in sugary syrup, and was in some flavours, a little savoury. My photo was too atrocious to put up 😛

General Notes

  • Overall we all had a lovely time – great customer service and a pleasant welcoming atmosphere
  • Continual refill of the water cups without having to ask – always a plus
  • Generous portion servings
  • A little loud due to the close proximity of all customers
  • Lovely interior

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Overall rating: 8/10

Would I go back? Yes.

Website Links

Almond Bar on Urbanspoon

 


 

Till next time mes amis, hopefully I will have a recipe by then 🙂

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62 Comments

  1. merrynsmenu says:

    What an honest review. I would definitely eat here after seeing your chosen dishes but would chose hubby’s birthday rather than my one to celebrate there … lovely photographs, gorgeous vegetables, lovely olives, dips and healthy mains. Definitely have to finish with a cup of steaming coffee.

  2. Karen says:

    You are only the second person I know that doesn’t like olives…I’ll be happy to take your share. It sounds like a nice restaurant and I’m sure your brother enjoyed his celebration.

  3. Juliana says:

    Wow, what a nice feast…everything looks so good and in such a generous portion…I hope you had a nice Easter…
    Enjoy the rest of the week Uru 🙂

  4. grabyourfork says:

    Have heard much about this spot – will have to stop by soon, but really I just can’t stop staring at the deep fried cauliflower. One of my favourite dishes!

    • They had Turkish coffee as well, which I was urging my parents to try (because I hate coffee) but they said they would never get to sleep 😛 Maybe try that in the morning haha?

      Cheers
      Choc Chip Uru

  5. You took full advantage of the menu to enjoy a Mediterranean food experience! What a lovely meal. You and your mom obviously have a wonderful relationship so that you can tease her as you do! I love to read about your family and it sounds like you celebrated your brother’s birthday in style. Lovely photos–you definitely made me hungry! I hope you did have a very lovely Easter!

    • I am very lucky to have parents who are also best friends in their own right 🙂 And yes, epic celebrations full of food are the only way to go – hope you had a wonderful Easter too my friend!

      Cheers
      Choc Chip Uru

  6. Kathleen Richardson says:

    Oh, yum, Mediterranean! CCU, I agree with you that sweet baklava is the best. Never had it savory. Sounds like you and your family had a wonderful time. Do you all ever take home leftovers?

  7. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef says:

    I LOVE Mediterranean food and could have eaten everything on every plate, I’m pretty sure. 🙂

  8. Angie@Angie's Recipes says:

    Happy Easter to you and yours, Uru! It looks like a very delicious meal, I love particularly those fried cauliflower florets with tahini dipping sauce.

  9. shenANNAgans says:

    Happy Easter CCU. Now this sounds like such a sweet place! Love your reviews, you make em so fun! Love the look of that coffee, reckon it’d go down a treat with the slice of cake i just ate. Lol! Hope you’ve been enjoying your weekend. 🙂

  10. WHOA girl –high five for an awesome undercover job! !! This place has got to the coolest little nook–you’re flying me over first thing, right? Almonds almonds almonds! Also, Mediterranean food is just my jam 🙂 whoo whoot!

  11. kitchenriffs says:

    Sounds like such a nice place! Terrific review, and you had more important things to write about last week. Happy Easter!

  12. A_Boleyn says:

    Great review. I wish I had been there. 🙂

    The appetizers weren’t too appealing to me (I don’t care for olives either) but the chicken skewers and the sumbusic and the mansaf looked delicious. A slice of the baklawa and a strong cup of coffee would be a great end to the meal.

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