Erez Nahum wants visitors to his new Tel Aviv-inspired Surry Hills eatery Shaffa to feel like they’re at a dinner party at their mate’s place.

“Shaffa is your best friend’s house,” the chef-owner tells Broadsheet. “It’s where you feel comfortable, taken care of. Where is better than going to your best friend’s house for that?”.

From the relaxed and friendly service to the market table of fresh produce and an open kitchen that melts into the middle of the dining space, every detail at Shaffa is designed to be noticed but not noted. It strives to replicate the ambience of a Middle Eastern marketplace, right in the heart of Sydney’s inner city.

Diners have to walk through a narrow alley between a 120-year-old church and a 19th-century inn to enter the modern indoor-outdoor space, which is enclosed by a dramatic 10-metre-high glass roof designed by architect Vince Squillace. You can take a seat in prime position at the chef’s bar or in the dining space below the atrium, or head into the indoor bar – a space originally constructed in the 1850s.

“We turned down amazing, fully kitted restaurant spaces – we had to wait for the right one,” says Nahum. “Navigating an alley between buildings, it feels like Tel Aviv. You can feel the energy in the walls, in the room.”

The menu takes cues from the many influences that inform Tel Aviv’s cosmopolitan cuisine, from across the Middle East to Europe. A saffron and yoghurt chicken shawarma (currently cooked over gas but soon, coals) is brightened by an tangy tomato salad, and complemented by the addition of sweet caramelised onions.

There’s burrata with earthy matbucha – a patiently cooked vermilion capsicum and tomato puree – and a Black Onyx hanger steak, sat among pickled onions, a fava bean puree and beurre noisette (brown butter). Other menu highlights include the signature Holy Pita Pocket – a street-food staple – served with short ribs or lamb kofta; a warm paprika-spiked hummus; and kingfish sashimi. In the mornings you’ll find Allpress coffee alongside bourekas (filo pastry filled with spinach and cheese, cheese, or potato) with boiled egg, grated tomato salsa, tahini and pickles.

Throw in a list of original cocktails curated by The Lobo’s Samuel McWilliams, harnessing ingredients like arak, pear, date syrup and halva, and you’re onto a winner. There’s the Layla Lavan, with arak, macadamia liqueur, coconut and halva cream, and coconut milk; and the Port Said – dark rum, lemon, plum syrup and pear juice.

As important as the food is, it is just one of the elements that makes Shaffa a dining destination. The aim here is to introduce a piece of Israel-born Nahum’s Tel Aviv to Sydney – its intimate hospitality and vibrant, evolving textures and flavours.

80 Albion Street, Surry Hills

Mon 7.30am–3.30pm
Tue to Fri 7.30am–10pm
Sat & Sun 5.30pm–10pm