This is Middle Eastern cuisine – but not as you know it!
This line has become a motto and catch-cry of the Thievery, one of the most innovative and creative restaurants in the whole of Sydney.
Personally, I love Middle Eastern cuisine. I spent time during my younger, backpacking years travelling through Turkey, Syria and Jordan and in doing so, developed a great fondness for the food, friendliness and hospitality of the people.
It really doesn’t take much to get me to visit a Middle Eastern restaurant: you had me at hello…
Reasons to love the Thievery
I love this restaurant and bar for its original and contemporary, fun and adventurous Middle Eastern/ Lebanese cuisine.
The Thievery is right up there in my favourite haunts of the Sydney dining scene. Situated on trendy Glebe Point Road, Glebe, in the inner west, in an industrial-chic venue with a chilled and laid-back vibe. This local favourite offers contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine that is witty, boisterous and enthralling.
Let me give you some of the reasons we adore the Thievery:
The legendary Thievery Burnt Butter Hummus
Talk to anyone who has dined at the Thievery and they will likely wax lyrical about the Burnt Butter Hummus. If the restaurant has a signature dish, then this is probably it.
If you keep up with the dining delights of Sydney’s inner west, you will have probably heard, seen, read, written and eaten a lot of Thievery’s signature burnt butter hummus. Some have claimed it to be the best in the world.
And then it got a makeover. In fact, the burnt butter hummus got a Truffle Makeover:
Please note – we have received news that the Thievery is currently closed (temporarily, we hope). We fear that it may be another lockdown casualty, but we are not sure. When we know more, we will let you know.
In the meantime, to choose an alternative venue please read our article on excellent Sydney Middle Eastern and Lebanese restaurants.
We thought it could not get any better, but Executive Chef Julian Cincotta (ex Rockpool) decided to drizzle his handmade hummus with some house-made truffle butter, proving that truffles and Middle Eastern cuisine are a match made in heaven.
Julian sourced the truffles from Manjimup Truffle Farm in Manjimup, WA and also created a small but flavour packed selection of truffle dishes on the menu. (Fun fact: the Manjimup truffle farm in WA was started by shipping live oak trees from France to Australia in order for the truffles to start growing.)
To accompany the truffle butter hummus, Julian could not go past the classic combination of truffle and steak, using T-bone from Yamba in north NSW, with agrodolce and shaved WA truffle cooked in truffle butter. Other stand out dishes included the Aphrodite Haloumi with shaved truffle and a ‘Failed’ Fig Cheesecake with shaved truffle.
To compliment the truffle menu, Thievery’s bar manager also created three truffle inspired cocktails (we think this might be an Australian first) including a Truffle Butter Warmer guaranteed to warm you up on a cool evening (Kraken rum, brown sugar, spiced truffle butter), a Peanut Truffle Flip (Hennessy, peanut butter, truffle oil, spices) and a sweet truffle honey addition to the signature Baby Got Baklava cocktail (Maker’s Mark bourbon, amaretto, pistachio, truffle honey, lemon).
Visiting Melbourne? Melbourne has some wonderful Middle Eastern restaurants and we’ve profiled a number of the best.
Update: We’re happy to say that Julian Cincotta has popped up rattling the pans at Butter over in Surry Hills. This venture is all about fried chicken, sneakers and hip hop. Oh. And they also love to spin the latest hip hop tracks and pop a few champagne corks.
Chicken and Toum Tuesdays
Take for example, their Chicken and Toum Tuesdays – where the Thievery re-imagines the classic Lebanese roast chicken.
First the chicken chargrilled and then roasted to perfection utilising Middle Eastern spices – think paprika, cumin, coriander, honey, molasses and garlic. It is then charred on the grill to bring out the smokiness and then finished in the oven to keep all the juices intact leaving it juicy, aromatic, smokey and succulent.
If you’d like to have a go at making char-grilled goodness at home, why not buy yourself a char grill? They are easy to use and add so much flavour to food. For more information, click here.
The roast chicken is served with Toum (toum is a Lebanese garlic paste made with lots and lots of fresh garlic, lemon and olive oil) made traditionally by hand every week, with love, by one of the owners’ mum and coupled with enhanced Lebanese classic dips, salads and sides.
It can be difficult to get people out of the house on a Tuesday night. This dish certainly did it for us.
Heralding the end of winter, every October Executive Chef Julian Cincotta puts together a new flavourful menu just in time for spring. Playing with Modern Australian and Mediterranean dishes, Julian would put his playful, signature Middle Eastern twist to the menu.
Some of our favourite additions to the menu include: Fried Potato Dough with Shanklish Cheese & Bone Marrow, Beef Nayyeh Pizza Fritti, Prawn Cocktail Sandwich with Samke Harra Emulsion & Sweet Potato Bread and BBQ T-Bone Steak with Anchovy Butter, Green Herb Salsa & Lemon.
The weekend brunch
The weekend Middle Eastern brunch menu (available between 9am-3pm) is an excellent way to munch away a few leisurely hours.
Touching on both traditional and contemporary interpretations, executive chef Julian Cincotta has created a breakfast menu that explores Middle Eastern staples like the Breakfast Mezze plate and hearty Shakshuka with eggs baked in chickpea foul and Meredith goats feta.
Alongside the staples you can find the more innovative Tahini Panned Cake (this is not a typo it is a Panned Cake not a Pancake – think fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside) with crumbled halva, sesame ice-cream, roasted pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, caramelised ginger and drizzled with burnt honey and the Fermented Chickpea Crumpet with roast pumpkin and smoked garlic creme fraiche.
If you ask us, we can’t get enough of the Breakfast Kebab with Sujuk (a spicy sausage from the Balkan, Middle East and Central Asia regions) pattie, spicy tahini, house made hash brown, caramelised onions, fried egg and Midnight Moon goats cheese.
Executive chef, Cincotta says the Breakfast Kebab is his Middle Eastern take on the classic bacon and egg roll and can cure the most severe hangovers. The sujuk is fresh, hand-made in-house using beef, lamb and a myriad of secret spices.
The sourdough bread used throughout the menu is from ‘Baked by Keiran’, a small artisan baker in Dulwich Hill, who used to work together with Julian at Rockpool.
Interesting, contemporary and flavour packed variations
At Thievery, it’s seen as a badge of honour to be continually shaking up the middle eastern dining experience.
The menu comprises of creativity, tastes and aromas with dishes like The Sheesh Barak, a play on middle eastern dumplings derived from a unique Levantine lentil and lemon soup. The dish uses biased greens cooked out with onions for a natural sweetness and a broth impacted by aromas from the braised greens.
It also has shanklish cheese, a hung yoghurt cheese rolled in fragrant thyme, mint and chilli. The combination of flavours and the tasty broth is splendid.
Another recent addition is the Lamb Kafta Pancake, derived from a classic Chinese shallot pancake where the dough is hand rolled and filled with spiced lamb Kafta filling. Cooked in wagyu fat dressed with classic sumac onions and a side of sheep’s milk yoghurt. This dish is served with crispy flakes to compliment the acidic onion slathered in yoghurt.
Vegetarians are well catered for
The Thievery invites your tastebuds to rediscover your perceptions of vegetarian dishes. Taking a journey through the souks of Beirut and markets around the world, Thievery has transported those local customary flavours back to Australia and transformed them into simplistic elegant dishes that’s new but rooted in tradition.
Understanding its social responsibility towards the environment, the Thievery strives to make a shift towards offering more colourful vegetarian options to allow the cuisine to be accessible to more people and be sustainable at the same time.
Throughout the new menu, there are reinventions of traditional vegetarian friendly dishes complemented with sweet and savoury flavours found in Middle Eastern markets. An example of this is the Turmeric Baghrir (Crumpet), that turns this Moroccan sweet style dish into something equally savoury with grape molasses, honey crème fraiche and sweet confit leeks.
Other dishes that have this similar delectable amalgamation include the Red Cabbage Fattoush with pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts and chardonnay vinegar, the BBQ Broccolini with labne, burnt honey and za’atar, and Roasted Cauliflower with muhamara, walnuts and molasses.
Are you on the hunt for Vegan Cheese alternatives? See our post.
The team at Thievery utilises one of the most ancient food preservation techniques of the kitchen (fermentation) to adventurously experiment with vegetable produce. The Grilled Field Mushroom with enoki and cavolo nero incorporates shiitake mushrooms fermented in a brine and as a result, it is extremely juicy and succulent with elements of umami tones.
The mushrooms are so rich that even the most committed of carnivores will find it remarkably satisfying.
The menu features an entirely vegetarian banquet. “Vegetables and grains have always been heavily used in Middle Eastern cuisine, as meat was traditionally reserved for special occasions or celebrations. There is such a rich vegetarian history within the region, so I wanted to explore more of that,” Head Chef Julian explains.
However, if you are can’t look past the meat options, you should try the smoky crusty BBQ Lamb Cutlets combined with fruity medjool dates, sheep’s yoghurt and parsley, Cloudy Bay Clams created with roasted bone marrow butter, coriander and charred garlic chives, and Charred Hokkaido Scallops constructed with breakfast radish, lentils, peas and purslane.
Looking for a range of Lebanese eating spots? Check out Blacktown. This suburb is a foodies’ paradise.
Crossing Kafta with a Pancake
A Kafta Pancake is not your usual Middle Eastern dish. Check out below how and why it was dreamt up by Julian Cincotta.
Traditionally Kafta is known to be seasoned shish meat around a metal skewer cooked over the fire with herbs, spices, served with a variety of condiments and warmed bread. It’s a wonderful dish to enjoy with family and friends especially during the colder months with its rich flavours and exotic spices.
Julian Cincotta (Executive Chef) has reimagined the traditional Kafta by utilising the dough of the Chinese shallot pancake to wrap our beautifully seasoned lamb kafta.
The Kafta Pancake is made by carefully folding over our fresh dough into half-moon shapes and then cooking it in rich wagyu fat until they are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The crispy shell contrasts against the juicy contents of the Kafta Pancake and makes it incredible.
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The kitchen dresses the Kafta filling with the aromatic flavours of sumac onions and pickle liquids that to enhance the flavour of the lamb. Julian loves experimenting with contradicting flavours so we’ve combined sumac berries to add a slightly acidic flavour to our Kafta!
This delicious dish is served with a side of sheep yoghurt to not only cut through the spices but to encourage friends and families to break, dip and have fun with it. It is a wonderful dish that’s perfectly suited for sharing.
We recommend pairing this dish with a bottle of the Cochon Volant Syrah blend, but if you’re in the mood for more traditional pancakes in Sydney this article will help you find the best.
The Middle Eastern Yum Cha transformation
For one month only, Thievery was once transformed into a Middle Eastern Yum Cha Restaurant taking customers on a fictional food journey through the Middle East and Asia.
Inspired by his recent travels through Asia, executive chef Julian Cincotta replaced the current contemporary Middle Eastern menu at Thievery with a menu drawing on flavours and forms from traditional Yum Cha.
Diners were seduced by an explosion of flavours from the Middle East and China. This was Yum Cha but not as you knew it.
The Dim Sum menu was a beautiful balance between two different parts of the world. Inspired by the traditional Chinese Dim Sum offering and incorporating unique flavours and spices from all over the Middle East.
Some standout dishes included the Baba Ganoush Dumplings, Middle Eastern Salt & Pepper Bug Tails, Lamb Kafta Pancakes, Twice Cooked Ras El Hanout Duck with Carob, Ginger & Caramel, and Bastourma spiced Char Sui Lamb Cutlets.
Dessert options included a Chinese Donut Bun with Rose & Pistachio and Steamed Cantonese Cake with Za‘atar.
“The idea of a late night dinner, sharing multiple small dishes with your friends have always been something that I loved and that is why I am beyond excited for this one-month restaurant transformation.” Julian Cincotta said at the time. “The Middle Eastern flavours pair well when combined with the more traditional Chinese Dim Sum style of food. For some people, it might sound crazy to combine these two cuisines but you should not knock it until you try it“.
The literal translation of Yum Cha meaning to ‘drink tea’ was not overlooked either.
Doug Livingstone, Thievery’s Bar Manager created a unique drink selection including tea cocktails in large teapots, designed to be shared with friends.
These cocktail teapots included Green Tea with Sloe Gin, Elderflower & Lemon, Turkish Sour Cherry Iced Tea with Rye Whisky and a Hot Buttered Chai with Rum & Spices (served hot).
And if this has made you thirsty for a cocktail, we’ve highlighted Sydney’s best cocktail bars here.
Thievery’s Yellowfin Tuna
The Yellowfin Tuna with ‘samke harra’ emulsion, pickled radish and crispy paratha bread, is a refreshing modern dish with flavours that’s been reinterpreted from traditional Middle Eastern cuisine.
Translated from Arabic, “samke harra” simply means spicy fish. Originating from the northern parts of Lebanon, the traditional dish comprises of a samke harra sauce which is a spiced tahini base (made from crushing or blending roasted sesame seeds) that is smothered over the fish and then baked. Usually the spiced fish is put on kebab bread accompanied with pickles and lettuce, however this classic dish has been given a contemporary twist.
At Thievery, they have taken an elegant approach, using raw yellowfin tuna, deep fried parata bread, samkerhara emulsion and pickled radish that gives spicy, crispy and acidic textures. Yellowfin tuna is sweet, firm and mild in flavour that’s widely used in raw dishes especially in sashimi, so the tuna has been kept raw, diced up and mixed with salt, pepper, lemon juice and oil.
The yellowfin tuna is then placed on deep fried paratha bread, with a thin slice of pickled radish on top, samke harra sauce and garnished with micro herbs.
Those with a sweet tooth will be excited by the dessert menu. The Cocoa & Cardamon Meringue blends a common Middle Eastern and European dessert with Arak, an intense digestive or aperitif, and the Blackberry Cheesecake reinterprets the popular cake with sumac, tossed berries, strawberry wine and burnt butter crumbs.
Other highlights include Charred Pineapple with ginger bread crumbs and toasted rice ice-cream, and Fig & Date Cake with orange blossom and crème fraiche.
I once had an awesome Valentines Day at Thievery – check out the scrumptious 9 course set-menu that we were treated to:
Our set-menu included:
Wild Mushroom and Molasses Tartlet
Baba Ghanoush / meredith sheep milk yoghurt, pine nuts
Hummus / burnt butter, paprika
Tuna Tatare / samke harra emulsion , pickled radish, crisp, prata
Mini Falafel Kebab / tahini yoghurt, pickles, isot pepper
Bastourma Spiced Lamb Neck / pickled peppers
Red Cabbage ‘Fattoush’ / pumpkin seeds, hazel nuts, crispy bread
Cherry and Tahini Sorbet
Valrhona Chocolate Cake / cultured cream, pink murray river salt, crispy raspberry
If you can’t seduce your partner with these flavours, you’re not really trying 😉