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8 Salamanca Square, Hobart
03) 6287 6286
Open: Wednesday to Sunday 11.00am to late..

With so many positive reviews lately, regular readers might be thinking I’ve mellowed or lost my critical faculties. But no, the fact is that along with an explosion in the number of restaurants in Hobart over the past 12 months or so, there’s been an even more impressive lift in food quality, diversity and the level of service.

As they say in the classics, we’ve never had it so good. And you can now add the excellent Syra to the list.

Opened by Ibraham Assi and his brother Ali about 6 weeks ago – and while Pashas is Pashas – Syra is the first full-on Lebanese/Middle Eastern restaurant in Hobart that I can remember since the long-ago days of Ali Akbar.

Both Ibraham and Ali were born in Australia after their parents migrated from Tripoli in Lebanon in 1970. And both were in their early teens before they knew what a chicken parmi was or ate a steak. Instead, they grew up eating traditional Lebanese food cooked by their mother and so learnt to appreciate just how exciting the spices, flavours and colours of the food could be. But the inspiration for opening Syra came after eating Shane Delias’ Middle Eastern food at Maha in Melbourne and seeing that Australian diners were now ready for the tastebud adventure of Lebanese food.

And a tastebud adventure is precisely what they deliver at Syra in dishes variously spiced, marinated or partnered with such exotica as pomegranate, saffron, sumac, cardamom, labne, harissa, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, zaatar, freekah, fattoush, haloumi, toasted almonds, chermoula and so on.

Dishes in the Middle East are almost always designed to be shared and so it is at Syra. So the four of us at dinner opted for the six-course $65 menu plus ordering a few more dishes to accompany a second bottle of the delightful Chateau Mussar Rose from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

Dinner started with crisply fried chickpeas spiked with cumin, coriander and chilli followed by a fabulous dish of fried cauliflower with tahini and pistachio crumbs followed in turn by four nicely flavoured kibbeh with harissa and almonds.

Then came three of the night’s highlights – two wonderfully flavoursome pizza-like manoush, beautifully grilled eggplant with chilli, mint and labne and a special dish of sumac baby calamari with Lebanese zucchini, diced Turkish sujuk sausage, chilli and fennel.

A dish of saffron and coconut mussels, maghrabriya and fennel then led to two of the night’s specials to finish – beautifully cooked and presented blue eye with eggplant relish and a green olive, pistachio and sumac salsa and braised lamb shoulder with black pearly barley, mint, apple, pomegranate and minted labne.

We forewent the typical overly-sweet Middle Eastern desserts contenting ourselves instead with the thought that it’s not every meal where you can have 10 dishes and not have even one which might slightly disappoint. But that was our experience on the night when chef Rebecca Sullivan – ex Smolt, Ginger Brown and Gordon Ramsey’s Aubergine in London – really did deliver a delicious and different tastebud adventure.

Manoush $5.00; chickpeas $7.00; kibbeh $15.50; sumac calamari $18.00; mussels $29.50; lamb $35.90; desserts $14.00.

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