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Baba's Place

  • Restaurants
  • Summer Hill
  1. Interior of Baba's Place
    Photograph: Supplied
  2. A margarita with basil
    Photograph: Supplied
  3. Labne with parsley oil
    Photograph: Supplied
  4. A plate of mince with greens
    Photograph: Supplied
  5. Little sundaes with cherries and nuts
    Photograph: Supplied
  6. Toast with tarama and bottarga
    Photograph: Supplied
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Time Out says

A thrillingly unique dining experience lies in wait behind a roller door in the Inner West

In physics, we’re taught that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. More often than not, a similar logic is at play in the unending rhythm of venue openings in Sydney. So when bigwigs like Neil Perry and Phil Wood open swanky restaurants in the moneyed heart of the Eastern Suburbs, for instance, it usually follows that something more DIY appears in an industrial pocket of Marrickville best known for illicit raves, craft breweries and wholesale poultry. 

In this case, that something is Baba’s Place – a sprawling, high-ceilinged warehouse turned eatery with an interior design that looks as though St Vincent de Paul himself decked the halls with kitschy chandeliers, hanging tapestries, framed needlepoint art work, old family photos and mismatched chairs and tables overlaid with doilies and clear plastic. If it strikes you as a roguishly energetic operation run by a few mates who got together and decided to give it a red-hot go, it’s because that is pretty much exactly what it is, set to a deafening soundtrack of throwback Levantine jams.

Those mates are co-owners Alexander Kelly and head chef Jean-Paul El Tom, two school friends with respective backgrounds in literature and engineering who ran Baba’s Place as a pop-up at places like CBD bar PS40, Newtown café Rolling Penny and Bush in Redfern. Kelly hails from Macedonian descent (the restaurant is named after his ‘baba’, or grandmother), while El Tom has Lebanese lineage, and sous chef/co-owner James Bellos’s ancestry is Greek. Their backgrounds inform much of the Baba’s Place concept, which doesn’t set about to recreate them faithfully, but rather to recontextualise what it was like to grow up juggling their culinary traditions and Sydney’s polyglot food culture. 

The small menu, comprising a dozen or so options, roams freely – almost wildly – across borders and continents, often on the same plate. A meal might begin in Lebanon, with hummus and labne served with shards of crisp Afghan bread. Or perhaps at a suburban backyard barbecue, with a handful of chicken wings that wouldn’t seem out of place at an izakaya. Then, you might jet off to Mexico for a platter of pork al pastor before winding up at a corner kebab shop for a side of chips with “chicken and toum salt”. These dishes are almost always underpinned by techniques that belie their simplicity, along with an obvious interest in fermentation. 

That labne? Unthinkably smooth and elastic due to the use of a Lebanese starter culture that was brought here from El Tom’s family’s village, Kousba. The wings? Tenderised by shio-koji and buttermilk, and characterised by a sticky, savoury sweetness from lacto-fermented garlic crack caramel. The salt on those skin-on chips? Made in-house by frying and dehydrating chicken skins, then combining them with fermented garlic solids and spices. 

Italy collides with China in a delicious bowl of bouncy Shanghai-style noodles sauced in lamb ragù and a twangy bacon-and-prawn XO. Japan chimes in, too, via the addition of shio-koji, which would send things straight over the edge were it not for the chopped cucumbers and shallots, as well as a squeeze of fresh lime. Occasionally the abundance of inspiration and experimentation gets in the way of the cooking’s clarity, as it does in a dish that soaks a blackened eggplant in cardamom-scented honey, rests it on a delicate rockmelon emulsion and tops it off with passionfruit pulp and pistachio nuts.

Still, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the electric, intoxicating chaos of it all, especially after a sumac and watermelon soda spiked with locally distilled rakija or a few Margarita seltzers. The food may not always land on the table as hot as it should be and certain prices (why $20 for a block of labne parfait with tahini mousse and a drizzle of whey caramel?) might raise an eyebrow, but to critique Baba’s Place as a restaurant is, in some ways, besides the point. Few dining experiences are this much fun, and fewer still dare to present a vision that’s so refreshingly original and so deeply personal. There’s no place in Sydney quite like it.

Matty Hirsch
Written by
Matty Hirsch

Details

Address:
20
Sloan Street
Marrickville
Sydney
2042
Contact:
02 9090 2925
Opening hours:
Thu-Sat, 6pm-midnight
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