Kazbah is the exotic jewel in Darling Harbour’s crown at Harbourside Centre. Except that with it’s fusion of Middle Eastern, Moroccan and Mediterranean food perhaps a more appropriate analogy is to a sultan and his wares.
Kazbah Darling Harbour is the sister restaurant to the one that originally opened in Balmain in 1998. It is also similar to it’s fellow restaurants, the Kazbah Souk in Potts Point and the newly-opened one in Miranda in that it reflects it’s owners’, Zahi and Penny Azzi’s, Lebanese, Turkish and Greek heritage. But what sets it apart is that it also reflects Head Chef, Wasim Shaikh’s personality because he has produced his own exclusive menu for this location and has put his own unique spin on things.
We were treated to the Royal Dinner Feast as well as an additional lamb shank tagine. The former, 15-course banquet is available for $65 per person for groups of eight or more. It is nothing short of decadent, flavoursome and magnificent. But for those people who want a smaller option, the restaurant also offers a 9-course Ottoman Dinner Feast for $45 per person (also for groups of eight or more). This one has some of the same dishes as the Royal Dinner as well as some other additions that sound just as mouth-watering.
Kazbah boasts friendly table service and this embodies the true spirit of Middle Eastern Culture where the host takes pride in putting their guests’ needs above and beyond their own. It’s a quaint and cosy space and it offers the perfect setting to enjoy your food and drink in good company. We suggest that you go to this restaurant on a Saturday night because at 8pm there is a belly dancer and you have wonderful views of Darling Harbour’s fireworks display at 8:30pm (and you can smoke a shisha outside too).
The banquet commenced with a series of Levantine dips ($8 each) – silky hummus made from mashed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic as well as babaghanouj or cooked eggplant dip with various seasonings which was soft and smoky. The dips were accompanied by fresh and crispy fried Lebanese bread (also known as flat-bread or kumaj) and the highlight was the taramasalata dip. The latter is typically made with the cured roe of cod or carp and it has a salty hue and is very fresh to the taste.
The addition of crunchy walnuts, superfood quinoa and peppery rocket leaves to the traditional tabouli ($14) recipe based mostly on tomato, parsley, mint, onion and lemon juice elevated it from good to great. It was also served on a bed of crisp green lettuce and with a lemon wedge. The fried cauliflower with eggplant jam, pine nuts and yoghurt tahini sauce ($15)was a solid vegetarian option.
The Muhamara sauce accompanying the kataifi wrapped prawns ($6 each) packed so many flavours into a tiny dollop. Anyone who has watched My Kitchen Rules would know that Manu Feildel would have lost his shit over this hot pepper sauce, which is typically eaten as a dip. Here it topped some large prawns and provided a crunchy, shredded pastry casing. The barbeque garlic and harissa marinated octopus ($22) was cooked to perfection and almost melted in your mouth and this is no mean feat for a fish that is notorious for being temperamental.
Boreks ($4 each) are named after the Turkic word for “twist” and are a spring roll made from thin, flaky phyllo (filo) pastry. These ones had a yummy, spicy lamb mince and pine nut centre and were served with tzatziki. There was a theatrical element to watching the lemon baharat chicken shish kebab ($32) being released from its sword-like skewer. This was combined with caraway or Persian cumin and parsley pesto and the flavours danced on your tongue, meaning you couldn’t say “No” to seconds.
The whole baked baby snapper with pistachio samke hara sauce ($34) took the prize for the most appealing dish to the eyes. But it was difficult to eat and serve unless you knew how to properly fillet a fish and negotiate the odd fish bone. The sauce and capers were nice but they were no match for the house speciality, the Casablanca Royal tagine ($68 for two people).
This masterpiece is designed to sit in the middle of the table and is slow-cooked for 12 to up to 16 hours and boasts seven different raw vegetables. It is served traditionally in a hot pot and lifting this and unveiling its warm goodness is like watching your lover undress seductively in the bedroom. Like so many dishes tonight it was very flavoursome as the slow cooking process really infuses the meat with the different herbs and spices, making it soft, juicy and succulent. The same can also be said about the lamb shank tagine with prunes, carrots and kidney beans ($33) which fell away from the bone so graciously it should have had its own musical accompaniment.
The roasted duck ($35) was also slow-cooked to preserve the flavours and was even cooked in a stock made from its own bones. This made it very tender and it also boasted nothing less than 22 different spices (take that Colonel Sanders). The mains were accompanied by a fluffy rice pilaf which was sprinkled with nuts and a fragrant saffron couscous as well as chips seasoned with Kazbah’s own flavouring ($10).
A Lebanese summer salad, Fattoush ($10) was as bright and colourful as Christmas and it was a fresh side to the heavier mains. We washed all this luxurious food down with a sweet Mecca Cocktail ($18), red ale Lebanese beer ($9) (this sits nicely between a pale ale and a stout) and a fruity mocktail ($10.50). Another drink we could have tried is an Arabic liquor called Arak ($8-12.50). This is combined with water and goes a cloudy colour and is like Raki and to a certain extent, Ouzo, in that it has a strong aniseed taste.
For dessert we were treated to more theatrics thanks to the Kazbah bomb of Turkish delight ice-cream, blueberries and Kurrant Vodka ($28 for two people) (where the latter is torched in order to brown the meringue). It’s a sweet treat but the highlight was a new menu addition called Umm Ali (which replaced the menu’s baklava). This dish was straight out of the oven and was a rosewater bread pudding with nuts and raisins ($12). We were told by our kind waitress Nicole that it also makes a hearty breakfast. Tonight it was the perfect conclusion to this great feast along with a thick, Turkish coffee ($4.50). The secret to Umm Ali is that although any bread or pastry can be used, our chef had used a combination of light croissant and Danish pastry and cardamom and cinnamon and it was just gorgeous.
The chefs at Kazbah should be applauded for the time and effort that goes into creating these tasty dishes as some involve cooking from up to a day ahead. But this ensures that the spices enhance the taste and texture of things. In fact, most other foods will seem bland and tasteless after you’ve sampled the Arabian delights offered by Kazbah Darling Harbour.
Originally published on 24 April 2015 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/lifestyle/eat/kazbah-harbourside-darling-harbour-sydney
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