A visit to the local shuk (Hebrew for marketplace) in the Middle East is a sensory overload of the best variety. Mountains of fragrant spices waft exotic scents from hessian bags; plump fruits and vegetables in the most vibrant of colours are piled sky-high in handwoven baskets; and hawkers exchange animated greetings and negotiations with regulars and encourage newcomers to sample salty cheeses, fleshy green olives or soft chunks of nougat before continuing on their travels.
This bustling sense of marketplace adventure has been bottled and brought to Bondi, enlivened with a compelling authenticity at new cafe/restaurant Shuk. Rows of shelves display all manner of market wares: massive tins of whole tomatoes, jars of house-cured olives, bottles of pomegranate molasses and vegetables pickling away until they're just right for adding punch to a Mediterranean feast. Along one wall is a deli section that offers fresh produce and interesting dairy products like buffalo milk butter and Israeli-style cheeses, while the nearby bakery area is stacked with bagels, flaky pastries and loaves of crusty sourdough all baked daily on-site.
The menu is jam-packed with exciting Mediterranean options that capture the imagination and deliver on the plate. The shakshuka ($16), a traditional tomato-based dish whose hero is its sauce-poached eggs, is devilishly piquant and comes with plenty of house-baked bread with which to wipe the plate clean. The salads are at once fresh and hearty. Our favourite is the fattoush ($17), a summery mix of tomato, cucumber, radish, spanish onion, mint, parsley and pita crisps, dotted with cranberries that provide tangy bursts of sweetness and topped unexpectedly but brilliantly with crispy chicken schnitzel.
If you're really hungry, go for the Lamburger ($18): two giant slabs of grilled eggplant and a flavoursome kofta patty are drizzled with harissa aioli, wedged between the halves of a sesame-topped knot roll and served with sage chips that are soft and crunchy in all the right places. To wash down all that deliciousness, opt for a refreshing glass of homemade lemonade, a giant freshly squeezed juice or a Zohan-inspired "fizzy bubbalach".
It would be easy to while away the afternoon here, enjoying the pretty decor, taking in the buzz and noshing on a hazelnut scroll and a punchy coffee. Soon, you won't even have to leave when the sun goes down: plans are for Shuk to transform into a Mediterranean haven of cocktails and fine dining at dusk.
Joining the Shenkin and Kepos Street Kitchens that have turned Israeli fare into a food trend to watch, Shuk is shaping up to be a fixture of the Sydney dining scene. And, much like the Middle Eastern marketplaces for which it is named, it promises a new adventure with every visit.
Images: Natalie Carroll