It's very hard to give a moderate review to Baraka as it's one of my favourite restaurants and close to home being in the Italian Forum. Generally restaurant staff in the forum will bark at you in an attempt to entice you into the restaurant, when you live in the building this is wearing especially when so few of them remember your face. Originally we went into the restaurant on the strength of this fact alone and it firmly placed itself in our hearts ever since.
At the end of last year, when the restaurant was called Sahara, it shut its doors for renovations and then after a length delay re-opened as Baraka with the Safari Bar next door. The boy had his nose pressed to the glass willing them to complete renovations the whole time. The new dining room is warm and inviting and heavy on the dark woods.
To be honest I don't think the timing was the best and I fear they are suffering more than others in a hard economic time. I am rather hoping that my review will convince some people to go as the food is so amazing that word of mouth is sure to follow. Baraka is firmly Moroccan fare, with some concession to flavours brought in from Spain and France. The sauces are heavenly and the food warming but not overly heavy.
We decide to start in the bar with some African alcohol now that the bar is full service, all in the interest of food exploration of course!
South African Beer - Windhoek $7.50
South African Wine - Nederburg $40
Serengeti Lager $8.00
Salaam! Espanola $14 - spiced rum with blended mango and peach with slices of fresh strawberry
The boy sure is confident in his role as my wife - this is his very girly cocktail while we all sip on beer and wine. It's got a punch but its light and fruity and he seems rather happy with himself even while we jibe him about needing an umbrella in it.
Sahara Bread $4.90
Sadly they have changed from using turkish style bread so this is crustier now than I like however the spices and excellent quality olive oil still make this a real treat and worthy of using the stomach space.
Salt and Pepper Calimari $15.90
This has a more mediterranean feel than the Asian salt and pepper squid you may be used to. The squid is fresh and cooked to perfection and though the boy and I are not big seafood people we all fall on this delighted. The home made mayonnaise based sause is also light and well seasoned and it is served with a dressing made of that Moroccan staple - preserved lemon.
Merguez Sausages $14.90
Home made sausages with harissa and preserved lemon are grilled and served on top of a chickpea ragout with a light sweet curry flavour, heavy on the cinnamon and very addictive. What seemed like an 'uneventful' entree ends with all the party scraping the bottom of the bowl to get at the remaining sauce. If there'd been any bread left it would have been used to mop up the remains.
This is one of their stunning signature dishes which is so unique and unusual to other restaurants that it simply must be ordered. Light filo pastry is filled with chicken and almond and flavoured with cinnamon and orange blossoms. Around the dish a heady aromatic sauce made with a heavy hand of rose water; it rounds off the palette with a sensual mouth feel and musky flavour that lingers while managing to not be heavy. Every member of the party makes unintelligable noises of delight and surprise when they put the sauce in their mouth and then the elbowing fight begins to ensure each gets their own generous serve.
Sahara Feast $24.90
Chicken is marinated in morroccan spices and grilled over kebabs. This is well spiced and light and served with a fresh citrus salad but really isn't my favourite of their dishes, though it is good lacking the mouth-gasmic sauces of the other dishes it leaves me wanting. I think the price is a little rich when compared to the other servings.
Fez Chicken Tagine $23.90
You really can't eat Moroccan food without trying a traditional tagine casserole dish, especially as they come out served in their little chimneyed pots and are whisked off to reveal the steam and spices below!
This is their dish that won me over; chicken is stewed on the bone in both thigh and breast pieces in a light sauce of strong preserved lemon with olives and onion. The olives take on the sauce and explode with flavour in your mouth, the chicken falls off the bone in a satisfying way and the whole dish is both warming and yet still light. Preserved lemon is not as sharp as fresh lemon and gives a different flavoursome approach, definitely worth trying if you haven't before.
Lamb Tajine $25.90
The other tajine we order is a lamb shank stewed in a sweet but not overly hot curry; in fact most of the food at this restaurant is aromatic but not overly spicy. Moroccan is strong on cinnamon and clove but not on chilli, leaving a lot of intense flavour but not the heat that turns some off. You can taste every last bite of the food and you really want to! This curry is mixed with stewed prunes and the sweetness of the prunes with the rich tender lamb on the bone mixes well with the woody spices of the sauce.
Fig and Date pudding $11.90
You can see from the corner cut out of it that it was so enticing I couldn't stop people digging in before I got a photo. As expected after the rest of the meal the sauce is just amazing, the pudding rich and moist.
Creme Caramel $11.90
Another dessert classic done well, you can tell that some of the staff are Spanish as this has the real toffee flavour of flan with dribbles of deliciously light sugar sauce.
Minted tea $4.50
After a rich meal a tea doesn't go astray and this is served in delightful silverware and Moroccan glassware topped with fresh mint.
Tawny Port $7.00
And why not a port to finish off? It is Winter after all.
The sauces here are amazing and the food inviting and memorable, not to mention something a little different in the Italian heavy Leichhardt. They have tried to insert some more mediterranean food into the menu, presumeably to get more customers in, but ignore this you can get that kind of food anywhere in the Forum. What makes this place stand out and where they shine is the spiced and fresh Moroccan food.
Sadly my favourite Maitre'D seems to no longer work at the restaurant, I wonder if he didn't have a fight with the management about the menu additions; still the service is attentive and the chef is a god. I highly recommend taking a few friends and sharing the dishes. Here we had 3 entrees, 3 mains and 2 desserts between 4 and were dying at the end of the meal, but never ever once thinking we could stop eating. Add in a couple of bottles of wine and some good friends and this is the perfect informal foodie delight.
Restaurant Baraka and Safari Bar
Shop 2-3, Level One, Italian Forum
23 Norton Street
Leichhardt NSW 2040
No reservation necessary, though they tend to close the kitchen early so arrive before 8:30