The team behind Toko has done it again — they've creating a casual dining setting with delicious food and atmosphere aplenty. However, you won't find any sushi chefs or robata prowess at their newest venture. In a surprising move away from his well-regarded Japanese restaurants, restaurateur Matt Yazbek has teamed up with sisters Amanda and Diala to try his hand at Lebanese cuisine. And it's working. Less than two months in, Cubby's Kitchen is heaving — the dimly lit, wood-heavy interior playing host to couples, families and friends alike.
The menu at Cubby's offers a selection of starters, mains and desserts with appearances from classics like smoked labne, baba ghanoush and tabouli. The turps? We're talking a limited, but considered lineup of cocktails, brews and wine.
To start, it's the cocktails you'll want to get amongst. Already a favourite among locals, the pomegranate mojito (vodka, lime juice, pomegranate, soda; $16) comes with a miniature Turkish delight atop and makes for just the right amount of bitter and sweet. For a classic palette, the Aperol spritz ($12) offers a tangy twist with fresh passionfruit and can be downed almost in one. Get it into you (responsibly, of course).
At the heart of Cubby's, however, is the Middle Eastern comfort food — it's so comforting, it's almost as though we've been invited to pull up a chair at a Yazbek family dinner. So where to begin? Foodies the world over agree that the marker of authentic Lebanese cuisine is the hummus, so that's a good place to start. The version at Cubby's is served with chilli edamame, chilli oil and an assortment of crispy and fresh Lebanese breads ($9); with a dense and powdery texture, you won't be disappointed.
Next up try the fattoush Cubby's way ($11) for a balanced and refreshing take on the classic tomato, cucumber, lettuce, radish, and mint bread salad. But wait — there's a twist. The bread comes in dome format and sits atop the salad shielding the diner's eyes from what lies beneath, making the experience somewhat of a spectacle. What's more is that there's a hint of spice in the bread. Nutmeg? Cinnamon? Amanda doesn't give away mum's secret ingredient, and we don't blame her.
For something more substantial get into the falafel kebabs ($9 for two) for your fix of tarator, pickled turnip, paprika and parsley on Lebanese bread or the lamb kofta ($15) that comes served with yoghurt dressing. Both are hearty, designed to share, and damn tasty.
To polish things off you've a choice of three deserts: knafeh, booza, and a Lebanese sweet selection ($9-11). For the uninitiated, the knafeh's where it's at. The traditional Middle Eastern dessert is a flavour bomb that combines cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based rose syrup, sheltered by a golden crust and served with clotted cream.
The booza? What a treat. The fun with this mastic ice cream begins with the rotating flavours — on our visit it was chocolate cinnamon, pistachio, and mottled cream — and continues into the experience of eating something that's elastic, sticky and stretched in texture. Mastic ice cream is eaten using a knife and fork so if you're up for enriching your experience, give it a go. Just saying.
With offerings like Cubby's and Nour (which just opened a few doors up), it's no wonder Surry Hills is embracing a Middle Eastern resurgence. With accessible pricing and an egoless approach to food dished up in a cosy, non-pretentious space, Cubby's has our vote.