379 Darling Street, Balmain, NSW
02 9555 7067
Husband and wife team, Zahi and Penny Azzi, are the driving force behind the successful Sydney hospitality restaurants, Kazbah Group.
Opening its Balmain restaurant on Darling Street in 1998, the couple set out to share the sophisticated and exotic flavours of the Levant region in the Middle East. From the 1500s -1800s, the Levant region was a thriving commercial gateway between Europe and the Middle East, encompassing Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Egypt, and parts of the Mediterranean, France and Spain. This region has since come to represent the rich cultural identity of Arabia. Kazbah Group, through its multiple restaurants in Australia, offers these Middle Eastern and European flavours combined with modern cooking techniques and Australian ingredients.
Both Zahi and Penny have food and hospitality in their blood. Lebanese-born Azzi’s father was general manager of several five-star hotels in Dubai and Yemen in the 60s and 70s; Penny’s Greek/Turkish heritage meant cooking and food were the linchpins on which her family and friends’ lives revolved. However their culinary kudos is not only personal, but also professional. With extensive backgrounds in fine dining, in a city whose breakfast landscape was limited to café style service, Zahi and Penny are most famous for elevating Sydney’s morning offerings. The result? Luxuriously thick, cake-like pancakes drizzled with double cream and syrup, or sweet couscous with mixed nuts, dried fruit, stewed rhubarb and cardamom milk. However, it is their refined tagines with spicy lamb mince, roast tomato and capsicum, and fragranced with coriander and cumin for which Kazbah is most famous, spurring countless imitators but peerless contenders.
Kazbah serves breakfast and lunch Tuesday to Sunday, and dinner Tuesday to Saturday, and the restaurant is a bustling place. In warm weather, large front windows open onto the street creating a light, al fresco feel. Traditional decorations, from ornate tiles to hanging Moroccan lanterns, bring a flurry of colours to the restaurant, and the vibe is electric and fun- fantastic for dining with a large group of friends.
Across its breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, Kazbah uses iconic Arabic ingredients, including dukkah, a blend of herbs, nuts, and spices; harissa, a hot chilli pepper paste; and ras el hanout, a complex blend of spices whose recipe varies from region to region. The flavours pack a punch and take dishes such as kebabs, seafood specials, and a host of mezze, or tapas, to an aromatic level unfamiliar to many Australians. Further, Kazbah focuses on sourcing its meats and produce from ethical producers. To ensure its dishes have an Australian character, it uses local ingredients whenever possible and only looks toward the Middle East for authentic ingredients.
Side by side in the kitchen is Ross Thompson, Kazbah Group’s executive chef. His chief aim, aside from innovative, on-trend menus, is also to maintain consistency across all of the Kazbah restaurants. He ensures that there is something for everyone – from earth to paddock to sea. A plethora of traditional and contemporary desserts and drinks, including Turkish coffee, are also available.
Due to the popularity of Kazbah Balmain, Zahi and Penny went on to open locations in Top Ryde City and Darling Harbour. They’ve created a number of partnerships with other hospitality groups in Sydney, and have also established Mezbah, several cafe/bar-style restaurants principally serving mezze with a selection of wines, coffees, beers, and cocktails.