Fans of Emma's on Liberty would've had their hearts in their mouths earlier this year when the newspaper went up on the windows of the restaurant, the lights went out and they closed the place down. Never fear however as they restaurant has reopened as Emma's Snack Bar.
During the brief shutdown Emma got herself a new kitchen, a new look and a new direction, bringing a more casual vibe to your Lebanese dining experience. Owner and chef Anthony Sofy is still cooking delicious Lebanese food (so fans of the former incarnation needn't worry), just in a more simple, street food-esque kind of way these days. He tells that after operating Emma's on Liberty for 13 years it was time for a bit of a change of pace and to make things more simple. This isn't really surprising to hear is it, given so many other restaurants are following the same path.
I have to confess that I never got myself to Emma's on Liberty so it's impossible for me to compare the old and the new. What I can tell you is that the food we had on our visit to Emma's Snack Bar is some of the best Lebanese I've had anywhere...ever...and I've already made a booking for a family dinner this week! Dave has plugged the address of Emma's in to his GPS so it's set to become a firm favourite with us.
We kick things off with a drink. Dave goes for a refreshing Lebanese Beer and I have a shot of Arak - a milky-looking spirit that tastes similar to Ouzo. I love it. I'm told that you are meant to sip Arak slowly and enjoy the flavour and coolness the ice imparts in the drink (I obviously look like a boga skuller of tiny drinks)!
We ask Anthony to choose our dishes for us, although I do have just one request. Hummus with meat is something I hunt high and low for on every Lebanese menu I come across and I'm delighted beyond belief that they serve it at Emma's. I'm going to put it out there and say that this is THE BEST Hummus with meat I've very had. EVER! The meat is so deliciously charred, with just the right hint of spices like cumin to elevate the flavor of the lamb to something amazing. The hummus is really nutty and creamy. I basically forget eating this with the bread provided and just scoop the dip out of the bowl with my spoon.
I had read that when Emma's reopened the much-loved baba ganoush was no longer on the menu, much to the regular customers dismay. It wasn't long before it reappeared however and I have to say I can see why people were so upset that it was no longer on offer. Our baba ganoush had a wonderful smokey flavour - not overpowering, just enough to let you know that this is the real deal. A little dash of paprika and a handful of pickled turnips makes this a bit different to other versions of this dip that I've had before.
I've made fattoush salad at home myself (I know right, I cannot believe it either) and I'm really taken with the combination of fresh veggies with the crunch of crispy, fried bread. It's a good textural combination and the fried bread perks up what could otherwise just be a regular salad. Unlike other versions of fattoush that I've had Emma's offering does away with the flat bread and uses a thick, rush like bread known as ka'ak. It's quite hard initially but softens up as it spends time in the bowl with the dressing and other salady items. I can detect of slight aniseed flavour - not sure where this comes from, but I like it!
What can I say about the Moorish Chicken other than Dave liked it so much that he ate all of his share plus most of mine! Outrageous! You've got to be quick around these parts folks. The chicken is tangy, moist and tender and comes wrapped in charred flat bread. Inside the flat bread the chicken sits on a bed of thinly sliced red onions and the dish is accompanied by little pot of potent garlic sauce. You all know the garlic sauce rule right? If one person eats it then everyone at your table has to too otherwise you risk killing each other with your garlic breath!
At the first taste of the fried cauliflower Dave declares that "Emma's has done for cauliflower what Porteno has done for the brussel sprout" (if you've been to Porteno and had the brussel sprouts then you'll know what I'm on about). He's right of course, dramatic, but right! The crispy florets are doused generously in a tangy tahnini sauce and scattered with parsley.
When presented with the bowl of fried potatoes we politely and sedately pick at them until we realize that perhaps the other person may have had one more potato cube than the other...and with something this tasty that is just not on. I wanted my fair share of these as they are GREAT (I'd already lost my share of Moorish Chicken so I was now keeping score)! The potato is wonderfully crunchy on the outside with pillowy soft innards. The whole lot is drizzled in garlic sauce and topped with a pinch of coriander. Honestly, so so SO good!
And last but not least is the shish kebab - tender pieces of lamb and skewered over the grill which gives them a wonderful flavour. It's amazing how much flavour the lamb dishes here have - I think that's down to the quality of the produce used. I love pickled veggies and the little pile of pickled red cabbage is very welcome.
It's funny to me (well, more like sad really) that I drove past Emma's on Liberty regularly over the last decade or so and never really gave it a second thought. I'd often hear people saying how lovely the food was there but I had no idea what the place was about, nor that they served delicious Lebanese food. I feel like with the opening of Emma's Snack Bar I've been given a second chance to make up for last (eating) time.
Emma's Snack Bar is at 59 Liberty Street, Enmore