One day Fouad Kassab is going to open a permanent restaurant and we’re all going to cheer. Until then, we’re going to line up at every pop-up and stall he can assemble. Baraka is the ex food critic’s latest venture since the closure of his acclaimed Summer Hill pop-up, Chic Pea.
Kassab’s new project operates out of Pyrmont’s temporary OzHarvest kitchen from Thursday to Saturday nights. The menu mixes Kassab’s wholefood philosophy with his childhood memories of Lebanon. “I wanted to create a restaurant that serves food that's traditional, that you’d find in a normal household in Lebanon 100 years ago.” It’s not strictly traditional, though. Kassab has an experimental knack borne out of years of food writing and restaurant reviewing.
Everything on the menu is based on a traditional Middle Eastern dish, but Kassad has added a twist with his ingredients, or he has modernised the preparation. The falafel-spiced Brussels sprout and tahini is a take on arnabeet mekleh, the popular Lebanese fried cauliflower dish. “I like fried Brussels more than cauliflower because it has a more interesting flavour profile, more bitter-sweetness.” A main of barramundi with pistachio cream and Mediterranean herbs is a modified samke harra, a baked fish with tahini sauce that literally translates to “spicy fish”. Baraka’s version adds a textural tabouli-like mix of nuts and herbs. The fish itself is flash fried, keeping the fillet juicy while creating one of the crispiest fish skins we’ve ever seen.
Kassab says a lot of his recipe development happens over the phone with his mum in Lebanon. “I won’t replicate the recipe, I’ll take the elements that make it interesting and apply those.”
Baraka’s menu is slightly more expensive and technical than that of Chic Pea. It’s probably down to the inclusion of sous chef Bektaş Özcan. Özcan, who has previously worked at Chiswick and Efendy, is responsible for the banquet’s centrepiece, a sumptuous lamb shoulder on a bed of smoky eggplant begendi with twice-cooked potatoes and Middle Eastern pickles.
The banquet, including eight separate dishes, is great value at $65 for dinner and $25 for lunch. It’s particularly impressive considering a portion of every table’s bill goes to OzHarvest. The accompanying wine list, designed by sommelier from restaurant Aki’s Indian, Harshal Shah, is similarly good value with glasses from $8–$14. We recommend one of the Lebanese 391 beers, infused with wild thyme, sumac, chamomile, sage, anise, and mint.