Neighborhood Watch: Surry Hills, Sydney

Now a trendy neighborhood with posh cafés, wine bars and galleries, a spruced up Surry Hills is staying true to its Lebanese roots

WORDS Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore
February 2019
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In 1980, when Jimmy Ben Az first touched down in Sydney from his hometown, Beirut, he wound up in Surry Hills: an inner-city neighborhood that, although characterized by tree-lined streets and Victorian-era terraces, wasn’t very glamorous. “It was the Lebanese area,” recalls the 59-year-old, who has worked at his family-run eatery, Emads, Sydney’s oldest Lebanese restaurant, for 27 years. “Through the years it has changed,” he adds. “Now it’s become trendy.

Every two or three years you see the restaurants changing.”

Today, Surry Hills—now a hub for Australia’s media—is chockablock with sleek clothing stores, pricey restaurants and even pricier real estate. But there is still a place for traditional Lebanese establishments, many of which haven’t changed for decades, as well as newer kids on the block. These include the likes of Nour—with its flashy fusion dishes—and SaltVine, which, buying into Sydney’s obsession with all things small-plate, sells itself as a Lebanese tapas bar.

 


SaltVine

At this tapas and cocktail bar old classics have been reworked, including a chargrilled barramundi with tahini dressing. For the thirsty, try the pomegranate martini or take advantage of their BYO option. To finish, the baklava ice cream is a must. 


Zahli

Named after the area in Lebanon where the Berdawni River flows from Mount Sannine, this upbeat eatery brings some of that charm to Sydney. Dishes such as the Balmain bugs and seared barramundi topped with roasted nuts make use of fresh Aussie ingredients.


The Prophet Restaurant

This family-run eatery whips up more traditional plates, such as fried beans and vine leaves, and features works by Lebanese-American philosopher and poet Khalil Gibran.


Nour      

With its airy dining room and lush back terrace, Nour is where Surry Hills’ bold and beautiful come to hang out. Traditional Lebanese flavors are given a contemporary twist. Dishes include camel sambusak, prawn falafel and hummus with smoked goat.


Emads Lebanese Restaurant

Opened in 1964, Emads bills itself as Sydney’s oldest Lebanese restaurant. 

An 80-year-old “auntie” cooks delicacies such as chili fish baked with tahini garlic or kibbeh nayeh—raw meat with crushed wheat and onion. The decor, too, is a throwback with Middle-Eastern carpets and hanging lights. 

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