Aalia is a new restaurant at 25 Martin Place. The menu is inspired by the Middle East along the coastlines with the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Persian Gulf. This fine dining Middle Eastern restaurant's name Aalia means exalted or lofty in Arabic.
Monica had found the holy trifecta of restaurant for my birthday. It was a place that neither of us had tried, it was one that we wanted to try and it had outdoor dining. Aalia's executive chef is Paul Farag of Nour and it's the latest restaurant from Ibby Moubadder and Jorge Farah who also have Henrietta and Lily Mu. The restaurant is enormous and seats 150 people and there's a large indoor and outdoor section. It's a modern Middle Eastern menu with a caviar section (which a lot of fine dining restaurants seem to have especially in this pocket of the woods with expense accounts handy). Although the cocktail list sound great I am driving today and refrain.
Monica and I hone in on very similar things as we are food twins and quickly decide what to order. Our first bite is a snack which is the raw beef nayyeh with rhubarb and black cardamom on a crisp, thin buckwheat cracker. It's very tasty and crisp and the beef is perfectly seasoned. A dozen of these please.
The Kawera Iskender is one of our favourite dishes. I love iskender kebab which is sliced Doner kebab meat atop soft Turkish bread. This is an upmarket version with three pieces of soft, jellied bone marrow atop half a spongy, soft bread half with chermoula and pickled walnuts. Holy heavens it's good, I mean having a serve all to yourself is probably a bit too much but after I finished eating my half of this I wanted more.
Anther favourite course is the grilled cuttlefish that is served like a small bowl of noodles. There's pickled carrot and fine couscous with the tender textured cuttlefish ribbons and pickled carrot. It's the sort of dish like the bone marrow above that is ideal for sharing.
The quail skewer came highly recommended by our waiter but we aren't quite as taken. Quail is always a bit of a challenge to eat but we love bones but it has a strongly sour-tart flavour that is almost sherbetty from the barberry glaze and dust. It sits atop a bed of silky Egyptian spinach or molokhia puree that also has a bit of tartness (perhaps from the barberry dust). It perhaps needs a bit more balance to it with either a creamy or salty addition.
When they set this down the first thing I think to myself is "I didn't think was going to be crumbed and deep fried" and then Monica says out loud, "I was not expecting this, were you?". I think we had expected something along the lines of trout almandine just from the mention of almonds and fish but this is a John Dory fillet coated with an almond crust that is deep fried and served with tarator (a tahini based sauce) and Maresh chilli oil. The fish is very much cooked through and a little dry and I wish we had ordered the lamb instead.
The persimmon is a delectable side dish. The persimmon and golden beetroot are thinly sliced and served with caraway seeds. It has a refreshing delicacy to it that adds a welcome moisture to the fish
Do I declare now how much I love cabbage? Big fan, huge! But this cabbage dish is a bit unexpected. The cabbage is soft with an almost boiled or sous vided texture to it with a burnt top layer. It is paired with a toum butter which is very moreish but from the name "Burnt Cabbage" I was expecting a roasted cabbage with its sweet, caramelised moreishness rather than this.
Although Monica said that it was a birthday at the time of booking there is no acknowledgement of this (although ever since COVID and we've been out for a birthday it is rarely ever acknowledged nowadays). We share one dessert and it's two layers of kataifi pastry, some chocolate ganache in two types of chocolate and a welcome respite from the sweetness from fresh raspberries.
So tell me Dear Reader, what do you look for in a birthday restaurant?
This meal was independently paid for.
Shop 7.07-7.08/25 Martin Pl, Sydney NSW 2000
Monday to Friday 12pm-10pm