Find This Middle Eastern Eatery Between This 120 Year Old Church and 19th Century Inn

shaffa sydney dinner
Photo: @shaffasydney

Wandering into Surry Hills is like wandering into small pockets of Italy, Tokyo, Vietnam, India, Greece, and Spain—just to name a few. There’s a world of cuisines in this tiny neighbourhood, and Shaffa is adding one more to the pot—the Middle East.

Situated in a narrow pathway between a 120-year-old church and a 19th century Inn, is Shaffa, a sexy, bar and restaurant with the ambience of a Middle Eastern Marketplace. The chef’s bar and dining space take a wedge of outdoor space enclosed by a dramatic glass roof, and around the corner is an indoor bar and dining space. 

“We looked at several other properties that were fitted out and ready to open, but we had a vision and didn’t want to compromise,” says co-owner Clara Antolín. 

“My husband, Erez has always been in hospitality. He owned a bar at a young age, and several restaurants in Tel Aviv, so when he moved to Sydney six years ago, he had a clear picture of what he wanted to do.”

shaffa pita pockets
Photo: @shaffa

According to Antolín, they noticed a gap in the Israeli culture in Sydney, which is what Shaffa aims to fill. Here, the food isn’t just from Tel Aviv, it’s a mixture of Morocco, Turkey, and Arab food. 

“In places like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the chefs are using the kitchen as a lab. They’re trying to find an identity for their food, and this hunt for flavours is the inspiration behind our menu.”

For lunch, they only serve pita pockets, as is or in a bowl. You won’t find falafel fillings, instead, the menu, written on a piece of butchers paper near the chefs’ bar spells out chicken shawarma, lamb kofta, cauliflower sabich, and slow-cooked short ribs. Each freshly-made warm pocket is stuffed with middle eastern ingredients—to the point of exploding out. It’s a popular lunch spot for local workers during the week, and a go-to on the weekends. 

In the early hours of the night, Shaffa becomes a family home, throwing a dinner party for Sydney. There is music, a buzzing atmosphere of chatter and chewing, and potent aromas coming from the kitchen. 

“In Israel, we welcome everyone into the home as if we’ve known them for a long time. At Shaffa, we do the same. If you sit at the chef’s bar, he will talk to you and give you little bites to taste. If you sit at the bar, they will make something for you to try. We do a lot of things that are considered taboo in the hospitality industry, but at Shaffa, we want to welcome you like family,” says Antolín. 

shaffa sydney dinner menu
Photo: @shaffasydney

The dinner menu is a smorgasbord of Middle Eastern cuisines. The starters include burnt eggplant labneh, hummus, and chicken cigars with dukkah, raw tahini, and date molasses. These are then paired with a selection of shared plates, such as kingfish ceviche, velvety burrata, shaved fennel salad, and a favourite, octopus with sujuk, hummus, and crispy chickpeas. The heavier dishes include chicken shawarma skewers, market fish, kofta, and a black onyx steak sitting on top of a fava bean puree. It’s a must-try according to Antolín. For dessert, you can’t go past the Knafeh served with a scoop of labneh ice cream. 

Even the cocktail menu takes cues from Middle Eastern flavours, and a few original cocktails you would expect to see on the menu in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. There is a cocktail called Layla Lavan, which is made with Arak, macadamia liquor, and coconut and halva cream. Each cocktail uses a specific middle eastern ingredient, whether it be pear juice, tonka bean syrup or pomegranate molasses. 

By using food, drinks, and music, Shaffa introduces a slither of the Middle East to Sydney. Its intimate hospitality, vibrant character, and diverse menu makes it a perfect fit for Surry Hills while leading the charge in creating multifarious venues the city lacks—from a back pocket perspective. 

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