A bit of family competitiveness can be a very delicious thing. Our waiter at new Lebanese venture, Gemmayze St, is the brother of the chef, Samir Allen – as he places a bowl of the most beautifully soft, silky hummus in front of us, he explains that it was widely accepted in his family that an aunty made the best version. But when Grandma tried this one... well, controversy. What that equals for lucky diners is a taste and texture extravaganza for the palate. And the hummus is only one of the seven flavour-jammed mezze offerings that fill the table as part of the $50 set menu we’ve opted for (recommended as the way to go to fully experience the Lebanese way of dining and, for sure, good value for money).
There are the “usual” options – Baba Ghanouj, Tabbouli, Hummus – except there’s nothing usual about them, all are nuanced and brimming with flavour. Then new sensations: Shish Barak, pheasant ravioli with yoghurt, mint and pinenuts; Jibneh Sticks, crunchy pastry surrounding a cheesy filling of ricotta mozzarella and spring onion; and Arnabeet, a dish starring vege-of-the-moment cauliflower, fried with golden raisins and almonds. All utterly delicious. We’re scraping every last drop of sauce up with our flatbreads as they mean to clear the table. And that’s just the first course.
For mains we are treated to Seyadeyeh, a baked white fish dish served with roasted onion, wild rice, pickled radish and baharat spice, while the meat-eaters among us tuck into Moughrabieh – braised lamb, glazed onions, kohlrabi and caraway seeds. Sardines and fennel; and an octopus and taramasalata dish also star, and brightly. Smoky, salty, sour, sweet, crunchy, smooth – no sensory sensation is left out. To wash all this down we opt for a juicy Lebanese glass of red which is mouth-filling and delicious and new to our repertoire.
The shared arcade space, where the majority of tables are, could seem cold and cavernous on a winter’s eve but is anything but: it’s warmly atmospheric with lovely Lebanese decorative touches including beautiful tiling inside, family photos, mix-and-match chairs… This is a hospitality family who leave no stone unturned. Samir’s mother, Liane Farry, is co-owner and runs the front of house team and from the arcade space you can peer in the window to the kitchen to watch Samir and his team at work. Which is where we spy the Knefe – a shredded filo, sweet cheese and orange blossom jam dish – that will later become our dessert and that will elicit some very enthusiastic responses. It’s totally divine. As is the Ba’alewa “Ice Cream Sandwich”, a creamy pistachio parfait sat between caramelised filo and topped with rose floss. It’s getting late so we forego the offer of Lebanese coffee but it's on the list next time… because there will definitely be a next time.