The weekend before I left for the States, EVERYONE wanted to take me out to a restaurant to say farewell and Bon Voyage. Almost every meal of Friday, Saturday and Sunday was assigned to someone, and it didn't leave much time for packing or getting my affairs in order.
The Sunday morning I had set aside for some of my work friends, who had been planning for months to take me out for a traditional Lebanese breakfast at Al Aseel. The girls are legendary for their abilities to cancel - this was actually attempt 4 to meet, and the fact that we managed it at all was worthy of a celebratory meal itself!
The girls are regulars, so we used their connections and parked underneath the building, and walked through the back door. We found seats straight away as it was pretty quiet, and looked through the spiral-bound menu. I had NO idea what I was doing, so we all let our friend Yasmin order for us, and I have to say, she did an excellent job.
Food started arriving almost immediately, and we soon ran out of table space. Massive stacks of Lebanese bread were served to us as an accompaniment to the dishes. The waiters were fleeting visions - they came and put the food down, then disappeared. Drinks were obtained by heading up to the four massive fridges by the main counter and making a selection from the dozens of different brands.
The fatteh was outstanding - a creamy concoction of chickpea, yoghurt, and torn flat bread, topped with crunchy pine nuts and melted, clarified butter.
This dish was a chunky mixture of filling fava beans, garlic, onion, and topped with flavoursome olive oil and lemon juice.
The labneh, a cheese made by removing the whey from yoghurt, was wonderfully creamy and smooth, and slightly salty. It was served with chips of crispy fried bread, and the contrast between the two really made this simple dish special.
The hommos was good, predictable yet comforting with the nutty flavour of chickpea and olive oil.
This is the best fattoush I've ever had! Diced pieces of fresh lettuce, parsely, cucumber and onion were delicately flavoured with sumac and garlic. Fried pieces of flat bread were broken into chunks and tossed in, and seriously, 15 minutes later the bread (even though it had been left to soak in the dressing) was STILL crisp.
The tabouli was beautiful and fresh, full of good things like parsely and tomato, and olive oil and lemon juice. It's never been my favourite dish, but this was definitely one of the better ones I've tried.
My friend Fatat told me to try this dish especially. The crumbly, cheesy substance was sharp and tangy on the tongue, and little pieces of tomato and spanish onion broke it up quite nicely. When I asked what Shanglish translated to, she told me it was "rotten cheese", which made me cringe a bit, but later on I found out it's actually dried yoghurt - still not so delicious-sounding, but a bit better for my state of mind.
I found the idea of chicken for breakfast a tad off-putting, but I tried some anyway. I found it to be dry, and very much in need of the little bowl of toum (garlic sauce) to lend a bit of moisture.
These scrambled eggs were made to be eaten with the complimentary lebanese bread - they were so light and fluffy and gorgeous that I found it hard to share this plate around. Definitely a highlight of the meal.
Al Aseel is the local hang-out, the cheap-and-cheerful - it ain't fancy, but it's full of a brightness and an energy that is difficult to replicate. The food is, for the most part, outstanding. The girls wouldn't let me see the bill, but I estimate that the bill was roughly $120 based on what everyone put in (there were 6 of us). Fantastic price for what we received!
4/173 Waterloo Road
Phone: (02) 9758 6744