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Nuts Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before: Almond Bar

Away from the mayhem of Darlinghurst’s Victoria Street, Almond Bar is a buzzing little oasis with attentive staff, fabulous fare and stylish surroundings. Whether you want to dive into the desserts head first or unwind with a stiff cocktail, this tiny Syrian restaurant is the perfect tonic to a long day. And with hundreds of drinking holes within a ten-minute radius, it’s a great spot to kick start a night you won’t remember in the morning.

That was the plan when a friend and I wandered in early last Saturday night. Before most restaurants have their first diners, Almond Bar is already heating up, largely due to its stylish looks and affordable dining. The restaurant’s deep chocolate interiors mix the old and the new with a distinctive Middle-Eastern flavour, creating an elegant aesthetic that feels intimate and relaxed rather than self-conscious. It’s a low-key environment that forces any posers to keep their pouts to themselves.

Whilst perusing the menu and debating the merits of each cocktail we’re served a little selection of almonds to ease the process. They’re a revelation. Who knew almonds could taste like this? Menu and drinks are momentarily forgotten as we sample them roasted, smoked, and covered in sesame seeds and sweet chilli sauce. However, it’s the cinnamon and sugar-coated almonds that go faster than a Jäger bomb. It’s surprising how different each variation tastes – the almond is reborn with every flavour. Hallelujah to that.

While we debate over our meal plan, I order a Damascus Breeze (Chambord, vodka, peach schnapps, sweet ‘n’ sour, orange and pineapple juice) from the hefty cocktail menu. It tastes like sweet tropical juice and I find it altogether too smooth and too easy to drink. It’s an alcopop for adults.

The menu is based on sharing plates and the only real conundrum is deciding on when to stop ordering. The many choices create a slight amount of agony, but luckily the food arrives quickly so you can always reorder or simply take it home in a doggy bag, American-style. For those with troublesome bellies, the lactose and gluten free options are clearly indicated on the menu and there are a plethora of options that your friends will be all too happy to share.

Within minutes of placing our order, the food starts making its way from the kitchen. We begin with hummus served with celery, carrots and toasted pita bread, which is quickly annihilated. Almond Bar is big on dips. In fact it offers eleven different types so if you want a nibble before a liquid dinner (or have a bird-like appetite), Almond Bar is the place to start.

Next in line is the Arr’Nabit. We launch ourselves at the traditional fried cauliflower, smothering it in tahini sauce and lemon juice before devouring it whole. This dish will convert even the most devout carnivore. It’s light and juicy without tasting oily.

However, the restaurant’s piece-de-resistance is the addictive Mukloubi with chicken. Throughout the night I see endless servings leaving the kitchen. Layers of delicately spiced rice, fried eggplant and poached chicken are topped with yoghurt, roasted pine nuts and almonds to create a culinary epiphany. The contrast between the crisp nuts and the soft rice add a satisfying texture, and despite the generous serving, we’re soon confronted with an empty plate. By now, you might have noticed a theme. Despite protests of being ladylike species with small appetites, we act like ravenous beasts hoovering up the food before our brains have even registered the first bite. The reason is simply this: the food is so damn good.

When you truly can’t take another bite, swallow some alcohol and try again: it’s time to stop by the desserts menu. Follow our lead and try the rosewater ice cream, which is made on the premises. It’s smooth and creamy and covered in sticky rosewater syrup, which adds an extra punch of flavour. It’s also accompanied by two pieces of deep fried pita bread, which are doused in sugar syrup and stabbed into the dish like wafers in a sundae.

If ice cream is a tall order, sink your teeth into into the baklawa. They serve two bite-sized morsels with fillings such as pistachio or walnut paste. Accompany this with Turkish coffee; the potent dose will fill you with super-human powers. Well, not really, but it’ll certainly leave you satis-fied.

With our stomachs pleasantly, it’s time to head out into the night – but not before a little glass of chocolate and coconut smothered almonds arrive with our bill. Hey, what can we say? We can’t help ourselves.

Almond Bar is located at 379 Liverpool St., Darlinghurst and is open Tuesday to Sunday.

words: Susannah Singh


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