Three years ago, Simon Zalloua (The Collaroy Hotel) and his mum Saide cooked for Justin Hemmes, the CEO of Sydney hospitality group Merivale. “It was the first time I’d ever met him,” Zalloua tells Broadsheet. “We made kibbeh nayeh, ful, Lebanese chicken rice and an omelette filled with labneh. Those dishes planted the seed for Jimmy’s.”

It must have impressed Hemmes, because Zalloua is now at the helm of the Jimmy’s Falafel, the latest addition to Merivale’s Ivy Precinct in the CBD. Although the menu has evolved since that meal, iterations of those classic Middle Eastern dishes can be found at the handsome new bar and eatery.

Jimmy’s Falafel is the pick-me-up we all need in these topsy-turvy coronavirus days. Firstly, it’s beautiful. The interiors – orange banquettes and booths; a chrome-edged bar; warm, frosted-glass sconces; tourism posters of cosmopolitan 1960s Beirut – transport you far from George Street. The food, too, is different from the fare you usually see in restaurants in this part of the CBD.

“A lot of the menu revolves around falafel, but that’s not all we do. There’s a meze menu – you can get hummus, pickles, bread and kibbeh nayeh, which is my favourite,” says Zalloua.

Kibbeh nayeh is similar to steak tartare. Traditionally, the raw beef is pounded in a mortar and pestle to create a smooth texture, but at Jimmy’s, Zalloua also folds in cracked wheat, salt and a blend of seven spices. Pickles, raw onion, mint and parsley are mixed through to finish the dish.

If you’re after something plant-based, there’s ful (a comforting, Middle Eastern staple of slow-cooked fava beans, served here with chickpeas), and, of course, falafel.

The way falafel is prepared varies throughout the Middle East – it’s usually made with fava beans or chickpeas (or a combination of both), and different herbs and spices are added, resulting in a range of colours (from brown to yellow to green). Zalloua spent months perfecting his recipe. “We went for a blend of legumes – half chickpea, half fava – and we’re heavy-handed with the herbs, chilli and spices. They’re really delicious and light,” he says. The result is a small, round, golden brown falafel ball dotted with sesame seeds.

The original Jimmy’s opening was thwarted by the coronavirus shutdown – it was open for just three days in March before it was forced close its doors. But with restaurant restrictions easing last week, Merivale decided to quietly reopen Jimmy’s for dine-in (with a maximum of 10 guests at one time) and a limited takeaway menu. When the rules are further relaxed and more patrons are permitted, the bar will open at night to serve Middle Eastern-inspired cocktails and beers (such as Almaza from Lebanon), as well as dishes from the meze and charcoal-grill menus.

“In the evening, we’ll start the charcoal [and] cook some skewers. We’ve got chicken and beef shish, we do amazing sausages and calamari on the grill,” says Zalloua. “The music will get louder and we’ll become a bar. We want people standing, having a drink and a dance.”

Jimmy’s Falafel
312 George Street, Sydney

Hours:
Mon to Fri 11am–6pm (subject to change, depending on coronavirus restrictions)