Reviewed by Ken A. Fjord
Ghanoush meets glamour in this stylish Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant.
The first thing I noticed was the saxophone.
It grew stronger as I walked along the street, up to the cute cottage shop-front, and onto its narrow verandah. Inside, amongst the patrons and wait staff, a saxophonist played live to a backing track of new hits. He wove his way through the crowd, staying a moment longer with anyone willing to dance along. This is The Old City. It’s confident, energetic, and ready to help you have a good time.
We stood and chatted as tray after tray of delicacy was brought out from the kitchen for us to sample. Presumably the set up will be different when it isn’t in party mode, but the food will be just the same. Which is a very good thing indeed.
We’re first treated to kibbeh; torpedo-shaped balls of fried ground meat, drizzled in yoghurt. Food like this can be tricky. It doesn’t take much for it to become soggy with oil. But to my delight, the kibbeh is so crisp I can almost hear myself chew above the saxophonist’s cover of Uptown Funk.
Freshness becomes a theme for the evening. From the kofta kebabs to the cute little falafel, our finger food is light and relatively oil-free. As more and more plates pass, toothpicks gather on the tables like small piles of kindling, only to be swiftly cleaned away by our attentive and friendly wait staff.
The night had a few stand-outs. The chicken kebabs with garlic sauce were delightfully succulent. The tabbouleh had a lovely fresh lemon zing. The bar staff’s guava-and-prosecco cocktail won’t be giving anyone a hangover anytime soon, but it was sweet and thick with fruit. But the clear winner (for the savoury dishes, at least) was the haloumi and grape kebab. The menu had been carefully curated so that dishes like this would appear just as you felt everything was getting a little meat-heavy, cutting across the palate with ease and whetting your appetite for more.
The only off-note was the calamari. The generous salt content wasn’t quite hidden by the creamy dressing. Still, credit where credit is due – deep fried calamari is soggy almost by tradition, but The Old City once again delivered when it came to the crunch.
Through the whole night, the room buzzed with activity. A cheer of ironic recognition went up as our saxophonist covered Careless Whisper. A veritable free-for-all for selfies and snaps started at the Old City photo backdrop. But for me, nothing could be more exciting than the emergence of dessert. Fortress-like mounds of baklava, platters of semolina ma’amoul (date-stuffed semolina cookies); the artistry behind these delights alone should be enough to tempt the passerby to treat themselves for some Middle Eastern cooking a world away from a 2am kebab.
Amongst the kale burgers and spirulina lasagna of superfood super-charged King Street, The Old City has chosen to stick to what it knows. You won’t find gimmicks on the menu here. Just delights; truly cared for, truly well cooked.