Three days after Barzaari opened their doors in the inner west suburb of Marrickville in July last year, co-owners Andrew Jordanou and chef Darryl Martin had some special diners. Those customers just happened to be reviewers from the Good Food Guide which for almost four decades has named Australia’s best restaurants by awarding hats.
Hats are given to restaurants that receive 15 out of 20 points, and three hats are awarded for those who get 20 out of 20. This year Barzaari received 14 points for a second year in a row which saw them just miss out on a hat, however their wine list earnt a goblet which is awarded for having a strong wine list.
“That’s thanks to Dennis Roman,” says restaurant manager Andrew.
“Dennis is our sommelier and he knows wine back to front. He started working on our wine list months before we opened. He saw the menu and where it was heading and his work was evident in this year’s review which got us a goblet.”
For Barzaari it is important that their wine is also paired with the food from the same region.
“For us it’s not just wine on a wine list,” says Andrew.
“While we do have some local Australian wines, we do work our way through the Mediterranean. So we have wines from Morocco, Lebanon, and Greece. One of our most popular wines is a Lebanese one we have on the menu called Musar Jeune. People are thrown off, they go, ‘what, Lebanese wine? How does that work?’ But in the region where the wine comes from, which is Beqaa in Lebanon, the temperature, the weather, works a treat.”
Even with the accolades and the feature nationally in the Good Food Guide, Andrew says running a restaurant is not about awards.
“We didn’t come here aiming for a hat,” he says. “We came here to provide good quality food, a good vibe, good ambience, good value and a good wine list.
“We would have loved to have gone further because we do believe that our food has grown and that our wine list has matured, as has our service and our staff. We’ve found our flow now. Darryl and I are over the moon that we received what we did. As far as pushing for a hat, we’re pushing in the direction and getting better day by day.”
Andrew worked at his parents’ seafood restaurant in Newtown for 10 years until 2012 when his father took over the kitchen at the Cyprus Club in Stanmore.
So, food is clearly in the family genes, and it was while Andrew was managing a restaurant group a few years ago that he first crossed paths with Martin.
While this is where the story of Barzaari begins, Andrew reveals that the seed was planted in his grandfather’s village of Trimithousa in Paphos, Cyprus.
“Bazaari is like the market or the laiko that the Greeks go and is where my pappou used to sell his produce at the bazaari in Papho – the local market,” he says.
“In the village of Trimithousa, my grandfather had all his vines and produce, he picked his crops and hives and drew his honey and then he would go to the bazaari overlooking the water in Kato Paphos and sell his produce there.
“I first went there when I was eight years old. It’s like those old movies on SBS. There’s tables and meat hanging up. People selling clothes, bags, and there’s a fish market. There’s also fruit and vegetables and men playing tavli (backgammon) while drinking their coffee.
“Our menu is quite seasonal. So, it’s a modern take on a market, but we’re catering for you, you don’t have to cook, you come here, and we cook for you.”
Darryl Martin is a veteran of the food industry and a respected figure, being a former sous chef at three-hatted restaurant Quay in Circular Quay. Soon after they met Andrew became an instant fan.
“I just loved what he did,” he says.
“He was the executive chef of the restaurant group we were both working at, at the time. It was our second or third shift in we said, ‘let’s just open something together’.
“We first started working on Barzaari in November 2013. Darryl’s parents are from the Hunter Valley and we went up there and cooked whole lambs and pigs on the spit and tried different wines from suppliers and saw what worked and what did not.
“We wanted to open in the inner west in Sydney because we feel it’s a very cultured demographic. We had multiple sites fall through but I remember when we came and had a look at this site it was all boarded up and there was actually no concrete. We stepped in and it was all mud. So, from a mud pit we turned it into what it is now.”
It’s fitting that Barzaari was just a mud pit to begin with because the first thing you see when you enter the restaurant is a sandpit that makes traditional Greek coffee which Andrew says is the only one in the country.
“We’re the only people doing it over sand in Australia, I can comfortably say that,” he says.
“We use Cypriot coffee from Haralambos in Lefkosia. You can have it sketo, metrio, glyko and we explain it in English in brackets as: no sugar, one sugar or two sugars. So, this is how we say it to people as not everything can be translated.”
As you walk further into the restaurant you see lamb neck, pork neck or lamb shoulder spitting over charcoal then there is a wood fire oven which cooks the pita bread.
Neos Kosmos was lucky to have tasted one of Barzaari’s signature dishes – wood-fired duck breast. It’s served with freekeh, a Middle Eastern grain, wood-roasted peach, beetroot and purslane (glistirida) which is a succulent found in Cyprus.
Andrew talks us through the various flavours of the Mediterranean you can expect to taste at Barzaari.
“So, the food has a heavy Cypriot accent as I am from Cyprus but Darryl’s wife is half Greek Cypriot, half Lebanese, so his inspiration is pushing us into the Middle East flavours,” he says.
“If you look at history, how many different tongues went through Cyprus? How many different people went through Greece? Back in the day, the cultures were intertwining. All that passed through Cyprus and that part of the world left something behind. So, what we’ve done is a modern interpretation of the flavours of that pocket of the world.”
You can’t walk any further into the restaurant without noticing a stunning wall mural which is a graffiti artwork that contains the restaurant’s ethos inspired by the paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, an Italian artist in the 1500s.
“They’re the fruits, flowers, and vegetables available each season,” explains Andrew.
“You’ll see summer which is all stone fruit. Then you have spring which is very floral, then autumn is the wine barrel and then finally winter which is the dried-up lemon tree.
“So, if you look on Darryl’s forearms he has those tattoos. People are seasonal and more importantly food is seasonal, as is our menu. It’s true to what we’re doing. You can have dinner and come next week and find something different on the menu. So, the idea of us constantly moving our menu is to keep people intrigued and to keep it interesting for them to come back every week and try something different.”
After sampling the dishes at Barzaari you leave feeling like you have had a fine dining experience, and are so stuffed that unlike other hatted restaurants you don’t walk away wondering where the rest of the meal was hiding.
Here is some of the food Neos Kosmos was lucky to taste as presented by Andrew Jordanou.
“We start with the lountza which is a traditional Cypriot cured pork dish, with shanklish which is a Lebanese cheese and then it works its way through the seasons with the sour caramel cherries – Darryl’s put his take on that.
Then you’ve got the tiropitakia which have a Tunisian brick pastry, so we take you to northern Africa. It’s the same idea of the Greek tiropita with feta and ricotta cheese, but served with blood orange, which are in season at the moment, pine nuts and South Australian caper leaves.
That is followed by the lamb tartare, traditionally a French dish – steak tartare. When the French colonised Lebanon, the Lebanese adopted some of their cooking techniques. We’ve incorporated a French tartare with the lamb served with woodfired pita bread, and pickled onion – pickled in-house – served with quail egg yolk.”
The dish from Cyprus, the sheftalia, is usually served back there with lemon and pita bread. But Barzaari are not mucking around with it. It kicks goals and has done for many years and will do for many years to come.