Bite-sized summary: Crown Street newbie ‘SaltVine’ is a Lebanese Tapas Bar offering a modern take on traditional flavours. Some room for improvement is evident, however, highlights included the chargrilled lamb shoulder, roast beetroot tahini and a wonderful (and cheap!) Lebanese red wine.
I’ll admit, my experience with Lebanese food doesn’t extend much further than El Jannah (which I LOVE for the record), so I was excited to try out a modern, more-refined version of traditional middle-eastern flavours and ingredients.
Judging by the buzzing atmosphere at SaltVine on a Wednesday night, it seems the concept of tapas and small plates has not lost its appeal amongst Sydneysiders. Upon first glance, their menu leans on traditional flavours, which have been transformed into polished and thoughtfully garnished plates.
Beetroot Tahini ($12)
First up, we ordered the Beetroot Tahini, an enticing blend of roast beetroot puree, nigella seeds, tahini, dill, pickled turnip, lemon & extra virgin olive oil, served with fried Lebanese pita bread and some extra fresh bread on the side. My partner (who isn’t a fan of beetroot) commented “I can see how people who like beetroot would like this” :’) and he’s right, I loved it! The Tahini has a nutty, toasted sesame flavour, which was well balanced with the sweetness of the roasted beetroot and pops of pickled turnip.
Avocado Zaatar Labneh ($12)
Avocado lovers, this one’s for you! This cold mezza consisting of strained yoghurt (labneh), zaatar, (a whole!) avocado, sweet pickled chilli, toasted sunflower seeds & extra virgin olive oil was recommended to us by the waitress. Now I love avocado as much as the next millennial and enjoyed its creaminess against the tart labneh and subtle spiciness from the pickled chilli, but after a few bites, it seemed lacklustre. Since there’s just so much avocado on the plate, so I think a touch more of the spices or a pinch of salt would have gone a long way, they could even reduce the serving size to just half an avocado.
King Prawns ($8 each)
It was hard choosing from the Comfort Mezza section of the menu as all the chargrilled meats and seafood sounded amazing! Considering the meat items ranged from $20 for the chicken to $26 for the scotch fillet, we thought the prawns were on the pricier side at $8 each (minimum 2).
Here we have chargrilled king prawns, chilli, bay leaf, cardamom & lemon. The prawns themselves had a wonderful, smoky, chargrilled flavour to them and were cooked well, albeit on the small side considering the $8 price tag (we were however given 4 instead of the 2 we ordered so perhaps they are normally bigger). I’m a fan of spicy food and this chilli paste definitely was HOT but I found it to be quite overpowering with the delicate prawn meat and in need of some seasoning. Overall, this dish didn’t win me over.
Quinoa Tabbouli ($14)
I love tabbouli but find it can often be dry and flavourless if not fresh! SaltVine’s quinoa version, however, was a beautiful, light and zingy accompaniment to our mains, which I really enjoyed. A fresh combination of parsley, mint, shallots, tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, quinoa, lemon juice & extra virgin olive oil was perfectly seasoned and not dry whatsoever.
Chargrilled Lamb Shoulder ($24)
Here we have it – hands down our favourite dish of the night by far! Spiced, slow cooked lamb shoulder with roast onion labneh was so incredibly soft and tender that it fell apart with the touch of a fork. Potentially too fatty for some, I found this imparted a lot of incredible flavour to the juicy meat, which melted in the mouth and paired well with the creamy roast onion labneh.
Unfortunately, I forgot to snap a picture of our drinks! SaltVine offers select beers and wines from Lebanon, alongside a fun looking cocktail list with names like ‘Yalla Yalla’ and ‘Habibi Colada’.
We decided to go with a couple of Lebanese drinks as this wasn’t something we had ever tried before. My partner opted for the Mexican Almaza ($9), which was served in a chilled glass rimmed in salt, with a shot of fresh lemon juice. The salty flavour with the beer was not his cup of tea, but something different nevertheless.
I chose the Ksara Reserve du Couvent ($8 glass/$28 bottle), a Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Syrah and Cabernet Franc – “With a deep ruby colour it combines finesse and elegance with oaky and vanilla aromas and supple tannins to give it a rich and sumptuous feel with a persistent finish.” As a disclaimer, I am not a wine connoisseur by any means and have little knowledge about wines. This one, however, I really loved! At such an affordable price point, it was smooth, rich in flavour and paired well with the lamb.
Overall, SaltVine hit some strong highs with the chargrilled lamb, beetroot tahini and Lebanese red wine, all which I’d recommend. Since the lamb was done so well, I’d love to try their other grilled meats, including the Scotch Meshwi and Grilled Spiced Chicken, which are all at a great price point considering their generous serving size. Other dishes could definitely have used some extra seasoning in my opinion and didn’t leave much of an impression.
SaltVine is definitely a winning concept and judging by how many people walked past our table (outside on the street) and commented on how good it all looked, I think they’ve made a very smart move by creating refined tapas dishes from traditional and well-loved flavours, however in my opinion, there is still lots of room for improvement.
All in all, it’s a trendy little tapas bar and well worth trying!
EATS with Marie dined as a guest of SaltVine. All opinions, comments and photos are 100% honest and my own.
535 Crown St, Surry Hills, Sydney
(02) 8937 2191
Follow me on Instagram @eatswithmarie for more eating adventures!