Aalia brings creative flair to the CBD with Middle Eastern smarts, + OMG! a new bread which knocks Totti’s off its #1 spot!

How many times have you been to a restaurant and seen the same things? Mweh! From Thai, Chinese, Italian to Middle Eastern. Each menu might have the odd twist but largely we are not challenged or pushed outside our boundaries.

Not so at ESCA Group’s Aalia (from the team who brought us Nour), in fact you’ll have a love affair with your waiter as it’s likely you will have to consult with them many times, (or Google) as you debunk the menu. This is exciting cuisine, created by executive chef Paul Farag who pulls on his Egyptian heritage whilst leaning on Levantine and Middle Eastern origins as his playground. We are already amped and we haven’t had a tablespoon of food.

Aalia is tucked into the underbelly of the mountainous structure of the MLC, which has recently been renamed ’25 Martin Place’. The fit out by Matt Darwon (Automata, Toko and Pony) is stunning. It’s as if we are dining under a polished tree canopy, as hundreds of steamed, forged, rounded strands of wood reach from ground to ceiling level like an urban forest. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

Sea urchin

The menu is broken into raw, mezze, seafood, meat & additions. We kick off with an insta worthy Waraq Simsim – its a glossy perilla leaf with a nigri style oblong of cumin flavoured aged rice, topped with sea urchin. Tuck the edges in, roll up and pop in your mouth…you may not speak for a few seconds. It’s a flavour bomb.


So too is an oblong of crunchy sourdough topped with a ruby red aish muhammara and a single Angelachu anchovy. The cuttlefish is sliced so finely that it resembles spaghetti and the ummak huriyya couscous is a perfect partner with a classic blend of finely chopped carrots, harissa and herbs. Then there is the stretched halloumi which is juicy, chewy and so pretty with in a glorious multicolour burst of orange and charred edges

If bread was an Olympic 100m category, Aalia is the equivalent of Usain Bolt smashing out of the ballpark and not even trying – whilst Sydney favourite, Totti’s, is still at the starting blocks resting on its lorals. This ball of Persian, salted, golden, glossiness is quite frankly in a class of its own. It took over 30 iterations to get it right. It’s smaller, sturdier and more suntanned than Totti’s but when you slice it open – wow! stretchy, chewy, steamy strands of dough hold its structure. Flavour, texture and fun in one glorious bundle. Please sir, can we have some more?

Eleanor the sommelier is such a delight that you may want to offer her a chair to join you. None of the stuffy, puffery-ness, she’s savvy, dialled into every wine, flavour profile and tells story after story about each bottle and wine maker. We are hanging off her every word. This chick, simply rocks. She really makes our experience from an Almaza Lebanese Pilsner, House of Arras Brut to 2019 Craggy Range Hawke’s Bay NZ Chardonnay and onwards to more funky natural wine territory of 2020 Couvent Rouge Bekaa Valley LBN 21 52 Sauvignon Blanc + Viognier. Elanor doesn’t miss a beat.

John Dory and Heirloom Carrots

Mains arrive. Masgouf is the national dish of Iraq normally made with carp, but here it’s replaced with Murray cod with a rich glossy apple jus and flavoured with ajwain which has a similar flavour profile to caraway seeds. It’s a majestic looking dish and the white flesh is perfectly cooked with a crispy crackling skin.

Aged duck and cabbage

The sliced, dry aged duck fesenjan is slow roasted and served in sauce of blended walnut and spices with a slightly sweet edge complimented by burnt cabbage with toum butter and heirloom carrots.

Now if it sounds like we have had one bread roll too many, it is for a good reason. Aalia is pretty remarkable. It’s everything you look for in a dining experience. The looks, adventure, expertise in the kitchen, creativity in plating, service and wines. Aalia means to ascend, to high social standing or lofty sublimity. We are now operating on a higher plane of existance – this is simply a magical dining experience where every element is wonderfully right.

Aaila, Shop 7 + 8,25 Martin Place, Sydney, NSW 2000 ((ground level of 25 Martin Place)
Hours: Mon to Fri – Lunch from 12pm and Dinner from 5.30pm , Sat – Dinner from 5.30pm

About the author

Karen’s corporate job back in the UK had included entertaining clients in some of the best restaurants. This ultimately sparked a curiosity 'Just how do they do that?' (she confesses she was brought up on meat and vegetables, so this was all very exciting). Currently a Mr & Mrs Smith 'Tastemaker', she’s flashpacked around the world, learning about wine, experiencing different cultures and cuisines and had a two- year love affair with it all. Originally from England, she finally settled in Australia and continues to be besotted by food, wine and travel preferring to focus on the luxury end of town (thread count does matter).


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