This sweet is a balancing act on every level. The filo pastry has to be thin and light enough to rise and crisp in the oven’s heat yet resilient enough to support copious quantities of chopped nuts, honey and syrup. Cooks who mistime the syrup drenching end up with a heavy, sodden mess while a skilled pastry chef will manage to keep things crunchy. Even small towns in Turkey have shops, sometimes several, called baklavaci that sell nothing but this in dozens of different shapes but it’s also adored throughout Greece, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Arab states and as far east as Afghanistan.
Chef and owner of this waterside hot spot, Somer Sivrioglu, is such a purist about the food of his native Turkey he imports the baklava (AUD $12) from a specialist back home. Said specialist has nailed this classic interpretation too, with sweetness and structure in perfect balance. Our waiter instructs us to invert each piece before biting into it so the crunch of the feather-light pastry top can be fully appreciated as it lands on the tongue. Sound advice, but congress like this is good in any position.
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Layers of sweetness, all subtly different, characterise chef Peter Conistis’s clever take on baklava (AUD $16). It includes a mix of milk and dark chocolate along with hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts and almonds. Ground cloves and cardamom are less noticeable than cinnamon, and fat muscat-poached sultanas and currants on top add chewiness and tang. Oh, then there’s dark chocolate Metaxa sorbet and sour cherry ice cream, dual cool weapons against the saccharine.
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The idea for his entrée of pork belly baklava (AUD $28) came to chef David Tsirekas in a dream, the layering of meat and fat echoing pastry and nuts in the traditional incarnation. And what better way to up the indulgence factor of baklava than adding this succulent cut of meat? The belly is steamed, vinegar-soaked, roasted, sliced then layered with mustard, date purée, pistachios and pastry, the labour involved being well rewarded. Salty tiles of crackling on top work nicely with the sweetness of the dates, the whole dish served with a light date and mastic sauce.
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