For many people, Middle Eastern cuisine is defined by tabouli, falafel, meat skewers and baba ganoush. Aalia (Arabic for “highest point”) aims to expand this definition through techniques, ingredients and dishes from lesser-known regions of the Middle East and North Africa, including Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and the Emirates. To do that, Paul Farag (executive chef at Nour, ex-Fish Butchery and Monopole) studied cookbooks dating back to the 10th century to uncover some of the restaurant’s dishes.
Take, for instance, the masgouf which is considered the national dish of Iraq. Typically its cooked using a freshwater fish (with scales on) over a charcoal grill. Here, Murray cod is cooked as above, before it’s glazed in garlic, turmeric, tamarind, and the juices of apples and pineapples to create a sweet and sour flavour.
Foie gras served with pickled grapes and broad beans is another dish on the menu, which was discovered to have origins in ancient Egypt. The kitchen has also recreated a popular 10th century Iraqi condiment called murri that is traditionally made from fermented barley using anchovy molasses served with raw tuna.
A sophisticated cocktail list uses ingredients from the kitchen such as halva, turmeric and tamarind to complement the restaurant’s dishes. You can also try wines from Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Morocco, as well as a bunch from Australian female wine producers including South Australia’s Petaluma and Bellwether, and Western Australia’s Dormilona.
Like its menu, Aalia’s fit-out is purposefully unlike any other Middle Eastern restaurant in town. The design seamlessly emulates the architecture of the iconic Seidler “mushroom” building, which the restaurant overlooks in Martin Place. Think curvaceous timber ceilings and a grey concave concrete pattern for the kitchen walls.