Go inside Jounieh at Walsh Bay and you’ll be struck by what’s outside. “You have a panoramic view of the sea and the wharf,” says chef Charlotte Gonzales-Poncet of the new restaurant. “The space is open, with glass doors, and there’s nowhere you can sit and not see the view.”
The interior works hard to remain in the background. A colour palette of warm timber tones, cool stone and ocean hues deftly captures the resort feel of Jounieh, a popular holiday destination 16 kilometres north of Beirut.
The Sydney version of Jounieh has taken over the space formerly occupied by Seventeen, a contemporary Australian fine-diner also owned by the El Phoenician group. The group has been serving Middle Eastern food in Sydney for 20 years, firstly at El Phoenician in Parramatta, then at a second El Phoenician in Walsh Bay (on top of Seventeen), which it has also closed to focus on Jounieh.
According to Gonzales-Poncet, this “is a new concept that brings a modern twist to Middle Eastern cuisine”. Her own background has influenced the menu: she’s French, was raised in Gabon in central Africa and cut her teeth at Jean-Luc Rabanel’s Michelin-starred restaurant L’Atelier in Arles, France. She came to Australia and did the rounds at Sydney hospitality group Merivale (Fred’s, Felix, Uccello, Coogee Pavilion) and then Song Kitchen, a not-for-profit cafe owned by YWCA. She’s adept at working with diverse flavours and using traditional French cooking techniques.
“French style is the most present in my way of cooking,” she says. “It’s what I’ve done all my life. I use French techniques to bring a Middle-Eastern vibe to the kitchen, giving it a little kick with the pairings and colours.”
That means grilled king prawns that play on sweet, sour and heat care of a saffron-laced beurre blanc (white-wine butter sauce) and Aleppo peppers. The Kibbi Nayeh is a finely ground lamb fillet given the tartare treatment with crushed wheat, radishes, mint and chilli, served with pita bread. But it’s the simplest dish the chef is proudest of.
“The cauliflower is really special. We cook it in buttermilk, then toast it in besan, which is chickpea flour, then fry it. It’s a really beautiful dish,” she says. It’s topped with a lemon vinaigrette, pomegranate, mint and roasted almonds, for a little crunch and sweetness.
The cocktails also incorporate Middle-Eastern flavours, like za’atar-infused gin, cinnamon, rosewater and figs. The wine list has bottles from Australia, Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley and the wider Mediterranean region.
Although Seventeen was formal and the venue has an expensive view, Jounieh feels comfortable. “It’s casual fine dining, and it feels homey,” says Gonzales-Poncet. “At night you feel like you’re sitting on the wharf watching people walk home. It’s very peaceful.”
Promenade Foreshore, 17 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Wed & Thu 11.30am–2.30pm, 5pm–10pm
Fri & Sat 11.30am–4pm, 5pm–11pm