After much contemplation on where to go to dinner on Saturday night, it was mutually decided between me and my two friends Ana and Jes that a Lebanese feast was in order. We had heard that the Al Aseel restaurant in Greenacre was exceptionally good, so decided to try out their second restaurant in Surry Hills. We hadn’t made a booking but rocked up at about 8.30pm and were seated straight away. The place was buzzing with a predominantly young crowd, with most of the tables being big groups celebrating birthdays or getting together with friends.

As soon as we sat down the waitress bought over a plate of green olives and pickles. These were good to pick at while we decided on what to eat and not to salty. The menu has quite a lot of options so we decided to try a whole lot of dishes, and of course ended up ordering a bit too much.

When the olives and pickles came out they also brought over a basket of fresh Lebanese bread- the needed food essential of all Lebanese meals.

The trio of dips was a perfect starter, with the serving size being huge, and probably better fitted for more then three people. We had the labneh (yoghurt cheese), hummus (chickpea)and toum (creamy garlic dip). Originally the trio comes with baba ghanoush (eggplant dip), but we swapped this out for the labneh as I love it more, and it also goes really well with meat. All three dips were drizzled in olive oil, and topped with dried mint and paprika on the hummus.

They are certainly not shy with the bread here, and brought out a serving of this fried bread (za’atar) with the dips as well. I preferred the fresh bread as this was a bit too oily for my liking and had been in the fryer for too long.

Nothing beats the vibrant green colour of a freshly cut tabouli. This salad tasted so fresh, with the parsley having a nice crunch. This was a good side dish to go with everything else we ordered.

Big mistake was to order three of the entree plates as the deep fried pastry pieces were overcooked, too oily and left untouched. Starting from the left (going clockwise) we each got a piece of falafel (chickpea), kibbeh (meatball), sambousek (meat filled pastry), spinach and feta triangle and a ladies finger (also filled with spinach & feta). Next time I would recommend going with just a plate of falafel and the sambousek, both of these had great flavour and complimented each of the dips well.

Close up shot of the kibbeh with some labneh.

By the time the main dish came out I was already verging on full, I found my second stomach and fought on to eat some more. This was a mixed grilled skewer plate served with rice and a side serving of more toum. We shared one of these plates between the three of us but had ordered a double serve of the skewers (in total we had 6 skewers). The three types of skewers were chicken, lamb and kofta (minced meat with spices and onion- very similar to the kibbeh above).

All three skewers were cooked to perfection. The kofta was my favourite as the spices gave it that extra hit of flavour. My suggestion is fresh Lebanese bread with tabouli, labneh and a piece of one of the meats wrapped up = foodie happiness.

Along with the meats was a side of rice cooked with spices, meat and topped with mixed roasted nuts (ruz ma jaj). I have had this rice somewhere before and it has rekindled my love for it. The rice was a bit dry in texture which was a bit of a let down, but again the flavour of the spices used were really enjoyable, especially mixed with the roasted flavour coming from the nuts.

By now, the table next to us was amazed at how much food we had ordered and consumed. We couldn’t say not to something sweet, and chose the mixed dessert plate to share. Starting from the left (clockwise) there was the honey semolina cake, two pieces of baklava, shortbread filled with dates, shortbread with almonds and in the very centre a piece of rose water Turkish delight. None of the desserts really stood out, with most of them being quite dry as well. They needed some more syrup on the semolina cake and the baklava.

Also tried a Lebanese coffee which was extremely strong. Watch out for the dregs of coffee down the bottom which really dont taste nice. Ana flipped my cup so she could read my fortune, but all she could see was a black hole..sounded promising!

Overall we had a really enjoyable night, I would definitely come back with a large group of friends as well, with each of the dishes being made to share. The atmosphere is very relaxed, with Lebanese music playing in the background. If you have one of the seats on the outside section of the restaurant (which is still covered by a roof) you can smoke argileh (Lebanese tobacco pipe) or as I like to call it hubbly bubbly. Some of the food was a bit hit and miss in how it was cooked but overall it had lots of flavour, very generous portion sizes and was reasonably priced.

Al Aseel 

529 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills, NSW, 2010

Ph: (02) 9690 1099