Israeli restaurant chain, Shenkin, are launching a new menu in March 2017 and invited us along to try some of their new items. A homegrown business, the first Shenkin restaurant opened in Erskineville in 2007 by Arie Haikin and his wife Bosmat. Their four boys also helped the cafe grow to what it is today, along with the starting up and success of their three other stores. Their aim is to normalise Israeli food on the Australian palate, which I believe is quite possible with the dishes I was shown.
To welcome in 2017, they are planning on launching a new menu with a focus on vegetarian and vegan options. What this meant for me, was a delicious myriad of dishes which were super tasty and almost completely plant based. We started off with a dip plate which consisted of hummus, coriander pesto, green tahini, harissa, labne, pickles and baby eggplants. The harissa was spicy and smoky, but the green tahini with basil and mint incorporated into the mix balanced the heat. The baby eggplants were something of a novelty to the group, especially when compared with other well known Middle Eastern foods like hummus. Next to try was the Falafel Salad ($18.50). The falafels were so fresh and crunchy on the outside yet soft and flavoursome on the inside. Though it was the dressing which really caught my eye. It was a beautiful tahini dressing with baby beets blended through it, which gave it a sweet earthy flavour. The cos lettuce, cucumber and avocado made this a nice light salad, perfect to start off the onslaught of heavier meals to come.
Another stunning dish presented by the Shenkin team is simply titled The Forest ($18.50). The image of a fairy tale forest is exactly what this dish evokes, with vibrant natural colours creating a strong visual appeal for this dish. Inside is roast cauliflower and broccoli, chickpeas, pickled eggplant and carrot on a hummus and pistachio base. This is another lovely, light salad with tonnes of flavour.
My favourite dish of the day would have to be the Sabih ($17). It might not be as pretty as the other dishes, but it is full of wonderful things like grilled eggplant, boiled eggs, hummus, spicy coriander and mango umba (chutney). What you end up with is a flavour and texture explosion. You get heat and cool from the coriander and umba, chewy and soft from the eggplant and egg, then wrap it all up in a hot puff pastry roll. Delish.
The Eggplant Harif ($18), I believe, was the prettiest dish of the day. It was plated immaculately, with the roasted eggplant arranged so precisely on a puree of tahini with garlic, mint and basil. The eggplant was perfectly cooked and was tender, yet still had a bit of chew to it. The Israeli salad and heirloom tomatoes gave some crunch to the dish and the fire roasted capsicum and chilli gave it some heat and smoke. It was quite well rounded in terms of flavours and textures.
The dish that the team at Shenkin is most proud of is their Shakshuka ($17). One of the brothers Din, compared it to being the Israeli bacon and eggs, being such a popular breakfast food back in their home land. This was my second favourite dish of the day, purely because again like the Sabih, it was so different to something I’ve had before. Shakshuka is a made up of poached eggs in slow cooked in tomato, capsicum and garlic sauce. You can add toppings to them like cauliflower or chorizo, but I can tell you even the plain one is fantastic. It’s rich, a little bit spicy and really would be the perfect breakfast food on a chilly winters morning. It comes with fresh pita, which is excellent to scoop up any left over sauce in the pan. Of course, you can’t eat Middle Eastern cuisine without thinking of hummus. Shenkin has that covered, with their range of Hummus Plates ($17). You can choose toppings to add on including chickpeas, fava beans and boiled eggs. We got to try the mushroom and onion, and grilled eggplant variations which were on another level than the hummus you get from the supermarket. Nothing beats fresh, house made hummus topped with some great ingredients. I loved the mushroom and onion one because it was something different to the usual hummus toppers and the flavour was great. Although, technically breakfast foods, the menu launch wrapped up with a couple of dishes from the all day breakfast menu. The Tamar Pancakes ($18.50) came out first. Tamar, meaning cake in Hebrew, were thick pancakes which came with vanilla creme, date molasses and fresh banana. I loved the presentation, especially the blue crockery and rose petals. The pancakes were a bit thicker than what you would find in other cafes, so they are quite filling and two is more than enough. The other dessert we had was the Maverick Waffles ($19). Out of the two desserts I preferred this one, as they made the waffles a little bit special with cinnamon in the batter. That and the fact that I’m a sucker for marscapone and halva (made from nut butter, sesame paste and sugar). Fresh fruit were used again in this dish, but the banana was grilled, giving it a more caramel texture and flavour.The new menu for Shenkin launches on the 4th of March and it’s definitely worth the trip for those who love Middle Eastern and Israeli foods, or if you are looking for something new and a little bit different. I cannot recommend the lovely team at Shenkin highly enough and the passion and love they put into their food.