As soon as the chicken is cool enough, nab the biggest piece. Carefully peel the skin off so you’re left with one large piece of it. That piece of crusty, slightly charred magic is your pita bread. Add a generous dose of garlic sauce, then (in this order) a piece of chicken, a single pickle and a chip or two. Now take the edges of the chicken-skin and fold them over the ingredients so you’ve got a mini chicken-skin wrap. Now dip the whole thing in more garlic sauce and eat.
That’s Joseph Haddad’s recipe for the best way to eat charcoal chicken. He’s a trustworthy source. Not only has he been eating it since he was a kid, he and his family also run one of the best Lebanese charcoal chicken shops in Sydney, Al Barakeh. The chicken is brined, marinated (in what is a secret the owners will take to the grave) and cooked slowly on a spit above flaming charcoals. It’s salty, intensely savoury and so soft and juicy it drips at each tear. “We're not scared of flavour here,” Haddad says seemingly critical of other restaurants that cater to what they think white Australians want. “We serve it how we think it should be served. We salt everything.”
That’s where the pickles come in. Lebanese charcoal chicken is generally eaten with four sides, pickles, pita bread, chips and toum (garlic sauce). Haddad says the pickles are the most important side. Because the toum is rich and the chicken quite fatty, you need pickles to balance the meal.
Of the Lebanese charcoal chicken pantheon (El Jannah, Awafi and Charcoal Kingdom are the other regularly mentioned restaurants) Al Barakeh is particularly well known for being old school in style because its chicken is salty and because it has been around for a long time.
“We’ve been here for 14 years this year. When we came here nothing much was happening, Liverpool was still developing,” says Haddad. His dad was coming out of a 15-year career as a cab driver and his mum had been working odd kitchen jobs since the family arrived in Sydney after fleeing the Lebanese civil war. “We wanted to do our own thing. My parents always used to do barbeques and we knew we could do something with it.” Haddad says all of Al Barakeh’s recipes are inspired by either those initial barbeques or by his grandma’s recipes. “My grandmother was full on with cooking,” he says. “When I was younger we used to do every weekend at my grandma's house. We would do the full massive feast. It was awesome.”
A full table at Al Barakeh will look just the same – hummus, rich, charcoal-roasted babaganoush, fattoush (a salad with cabbage, herbs, crispy fried pita bread, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses), tender kebab skewers and chicken.