Charcoal Chicken, they do it the best out in west of Sydney apparently.
"Woah! What's that smell?" I ask Karen (Citrus And Candy) as soon as I park the car not far from the Granville train station, my nose immediately got hit by a waft of smokey air. "That's the chicken, Billy... the chicken...", she replies with such confident in her voice as she strides across the street as if she just slaps me in the face telling me why even bother asking such dumb question. Everyone who lives in the area would know what that smell is and exactly why they are here for.
Please forgive my ignorance, I do have to admit that I don't venture out to the western suburbs as much as I'd have loved to, and I am also dreadfully clueless when comes to Lebanese food. So when Linda, Karen, Fouad and I are planning our first Merivale Dinner meeting, El Jannah in Granville seems to be the ideal center point for everyone to travel the same distance from different directions. Any excuse for some tasty charcoal chicken will do, really.
El Jannah, the heaven of aromatic charcoal chicken is located right at the corner of South Street and Railway Parade, a stone throw away from Granville station, you simply can't miss it. If you do, simply follow the smell and the crowd. While me and Karen are waiting outside for the rest of the motley crew to arrive, I am amazed at the constant stream of customers queueing up from the register all the way to the front door.
While most customers are here for takeaway chicken, but inside the shop is just as packed where diners tucking in some hot charcoal chicken with gusto. On a site note, I also noticed that the El Jannah's logo looks very similar to the Chinese character for 'horse' - 馬. Don't you think? It is tormenting just by standing outside sniffing the smoky air watching everyone goes in and comes back out with a whole chicken in the box and a contented smile on their faces.
Thank god it is only a short wait before our M4 Team is complete, we walk straight in and pounce on the last empty table which is still piled with scraps left by the previous diners. But it is efficiently cleaned up by one of the staffs while they all having to juggle between serving customers and roasting the chickens at the same time.
No-meat-diet Linda is skipping the chicken and has requested a few Falafels which we end up with a whole dozen of them on the plate when they arrive at our table. I usually hate falafel - those cold, soggy lump of mushy lentils and fava beans that had been sitting in the glass display for god knows how long. But these piping hot straight out of the fryer falafels really open my eyes and have developed a new love relationship with them all over again.
These bombs are moreish and dense on the inside, packed with ground chickpeas and chunky fava beans, while the exterior is amazingly crunchy. I find the falafel a little salty which needs much relief from the refreshing Tahina yoghurt dipping sauce on the side.
Chicken and chips go hand in hand, the large bowl of hot chips we order aplenty to share. I try not to fill myself up with the chips while we are still waiting for our chicken to arrive, but they are simply too good to resist. The golden straws of waxy potato chips are cooked to perfection, so soft yet so crispy, easily one of the best winter snack you could have asked for.
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An array of dips and pickles soon taking refuge and spread across our table. Light creamy Hummus is swirled around a red plastic bowl, forms a perfect crater to house a vivid yellow pool of olive oil in center with a few smidgen of red paprika to add colour. The hummus is actually quite smooth and creamy with a nutty flavour of the tahini.
The Baba Ghanouj on the other hand is a lot coarser, a rough blend of smokey eggplant mixture dip. "Au-ber-ginee..." I like eggplant and the baba ghanuoj here is actually quite inviting and not too smoky which can be a little overpowering. You will slowly think I am being bias when I tell you even the Tabouleh here is a notch better than what I've had in the city. I can taste a good dash of tangy lemon juice in the chopped parsley and tomatoes which makes it a perfect component to cut through all the richness of dips, carbs and meat.
Then there is the holy Garlic Toum, can be easily named as the national dip for the Lebanese within good reasons. The silky smooth toum is creamy and vampire-friendly without the harsh heat of garlic breath but perhaps we are all immune to the 'garlicky' sensation after a few mouthfuls.
I am in love with anything that is in flourescent pink! Despite putting my high-blood pressure into jeopardy, I can't help but keep munching on those overly salty hot pink pickled radish and green cucumbers. Everyone is happily tearing up the Lebanese bread to mop up the dips or making a monstrous DIY wrap filled with falafels, pickles and tabouleh which can be easily a meal on its own.
After a 20 minutes wait which seems longer, our platter of whole charcoal chicken has arrived at our table. Chicken wing! Yoink! But little did I know that the chicken is extremely hot straight from the grill when I try to picking it up and quickly drop it on my plate beforemy fingers get burned. The blackened skin is thin and crispy, while the flesh is intensely smoky from the charcoals. As mush as I love the chicken, it gets a little too salty after having few pieces too many, and I simply have to stop before salt-pickling myself from inside out.
We went a little overboard with the ordering and end up with lots of food left at the table but surprisingly no one volunteers to doggy-bag them home. The queue at the register is now twice as long just before the dinner hours. Customers still keep flowing in through the door as we are walking out the shop, clutching our bloated stomachs in agony.
Never underestimate what food bloggers' stomachs are capable of. A good stretch and a lady burp, we soon find ourselves further down the street having some Lebanese sweets and a few sweet puffs of shisha in the hope of finding the magical creatures. The rest of the evening was a blur.
El Jannah Restaurant 4-6 South Street,
Tel: +61 (02) 9637 0977
Open 7 days 10am-10pm