If you live in the inner city of Sydney, there comes a time when you realise you may have forgotten your roots and become the food snob that you always feared and/or dreamed. You accept that mains cost $30, that waiters must know the molecular breakdown of asparagus foam and that waiting two hours for a table is the norm. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Sometimes I think you need to visit a great restaurant out in the ‘burbs to remember why you eat out in the first place. Wow, even that sounded super snobby but I think you catch my drift. The restaurant that has recently restored my faith is none other than Darband Persian Restaurant in Auburn.
The most striking element of Persian cuisine for me has always been the focus on the rice. The Persian rice cooking method is very much a laborious process and one that takes skill to master. Rice is very much the centre of the dish with meat, and to a lesser extent vegetables, the accompaniment. Flavours of saffron, mint and yoghurt are infused throughout and the chefs at Darband are, I’m told with authority, excellent at recreating the traditional flavours that you would find in Iran. This is why the restaurant is filled with Persians on a Tuesday night, besides this humble food blogger, of course.
Now while rice is nice, meat has always been my favourite. That’s why I picked the Darband Special ($21), a combination of barg, joojeh and koobideh. A combination of what? Well, kebabs cooked over coals basically. Barg (above) is marinated lamb back straps with an onion flavour and was the standout for me. Koobideh keeps the onion/lamb combo rolling but this time with mince. Joojeh is chicken marinated in lemon juice and is super succulent. This is simple, traditional food cooked to perfection based on years of history. At $21 for the most expensive dish that it so generous it is difficult to finish, it is also honest and unassuming.
While Persians might finish their meal with some tea, we decided to move on, both within Auburn and regionally, to Sweets on Queen, a Lebanese sweet shop known for its coffee (aka Ahweh, Kawha or Kahva) and the pièce de résistance, the waterpipe (aka hookah, narghile or Qalyān). Lebanese coffee (above) is super strong and is similar to Turkish coffee, although don’t mention that. Put it this way, you don’t want to have just before bed.
Their chai latte was also very good but the reason we came was the waterpipe (below). Using an entire apple as a filter (in addition to the water) along with apple tobacco makes even this non-smoker enjoy a puff or two. There is something quite calming about sharing a waterpipe amongst friends; it’s reminiscent of a simpler time where people shared stories around tables long into the night rather than on screens while sitting next to each other. Like Darband, Sweets on Queen was very busy on a Tuesday night and the two places are undoubtedly local institutions.
This mid-week adventure to Auburn has restored my faith in the diversity of Sydney cuisine and culture, and confirmed that $20 in Sydney can still go a long way toward a fantastic dinner. Auburn makes for a different night out that I highly recommend. You can even sneak in a visit to Costco if you plan ahead.
Darband Persian Restaurant
9/45 Rawson Street
Auburn NSW 2144
(02) 9646 4466
Sweets on Queen
Shop 8, 57 Queens Street
Auburn NSW 2144
(02) 9646 4482