Shwarmama, the all-day takeaway joint serving shawarma and falafel in Sydney's Surry Hills by Ester chef-owner Mat Lindsay and the Paramount Coffee Project crew, is open.
It's the off-hand joke that, over the months, became a culinary reality. "Mat half-jokingly mentioned the shawarma concept when the space was offered to us," says co-owner Russell Beard. At the time, the kitchen at nearby Ester – ranked 17th in GT's 2020 Restaurant Guide – was going through a phase of making shawarma-style dishes for their Sunday lunches. "But if Mat's cooking shawarma, that's something I want to get behind."
The punchline: 30 kilograms of boneless, butterflied chicken Marylands flavoured with a dozen spices including star anise, cinnamon, cumin and fenugreek, and layered on the gas-powered vertical spit roast.
(There's an onion spiked on top, a tip from their bread supplier who insists it adds to the flavour of the cooking meat. Lindsay isn't so sure, though he says he'll experiment with a crown of tomatoes when they come into season. "The idea is that the tomato juices dribble down and flavour the meat," he says.)
The meat is shaved to order and piled on laffa (Middle Eastern flatbread) with tahini, hummus, garlic sauce and pickles; or layered on a pile of chips, sauces and fefferoni (chilli pickles) in the Not Halal Snack Pack.
Most of the ingredients are made in-house, though Lindsay's end-game is to make everything from scratch, including the amba (green mango pickle), laffa and pita.
The latter is the bread of choice for the all-day breakfast items: sabich, the breakfast-style kebab of Iraqi-Jewish-Israeli origins stuffed with fried eggplant and boiled eggs; and a wrap filled with fried-to-order falafel. You might pair these with self-serve coffee by Reuben Hills (also owned by Beard), or Wildflower beer and Sparrow & Vine's wines-by-the-tap later in the day.
Want to pull up a seat? There aren't any. This is a standing-room only venue, the sort of get-in-get-out joint that's been optimised for casual counter leaning. And though Lindsay takes his shawarma seriously, Shwarmama isn't a restaurant. "It's a takeaway place," he says. "Please don't come and review us."