Here’s hoping the state authorities’ plans to open up our streets and footpaths to diners will help more restaurants survive. In the meantime, pity those with no outdoor dining space at all, as we celebrate our gradual emergence into the world to eat and drink in a safe and government-sanctioned way.
Lucky Ezra, then, with its Kellett Street terrace house sandwiched between courtyards front and back. Co-owners Kirk and Nick Mathews Bowden, part of the founding Bistro Rex team, fell in love with Israeli cooking and the lively hospitality of Tel Aviv during four years working in London, and wanted to bring it home.
Chef Ben Sears has done quite the pirouette from his Korean oeuvre at Moon Park and Paper Bird.
Ezra in Potts Point is blessed with courtyards front and back. Photo: Wolter Peeters
It’s a long way from bulgogi to bagels, but I’ve always assumed that if you can cook, you can cook, and that culinary multi-tasking is a particularly Australian trait.
Not one of them, you will note, is actually Israeli or Jewish, but to be fair, nobody is claiming to be an authority either.
The menu plots a happy course through both Ashkenazi (eastern European) and Sephardic (Mediterranean, North African, Levantine) influences, leaving itself plenty of room to play.
Jerusalem bagel pictured with macadamia muhamurra (left). Photo: Wolter Peeters
Desserts, for instance, are easty-westy, from an almond milk panna cotta, to a caramelised white chocolate and halva cheesecake.
To begin, San Sebastian’s favourite pintxo, the Gilda, gets a twist with house-smoked salmon pastrami replacing anchovy in the traditional trio with green olive and pickled guindilla chilli ($5).
Next, choose a fluff-puff of house-made pita pocket bread ($4) or a horseshoe of Jerusalem bagel (baked, not boiled, $5) coated in pomegranate molasses and sesame seeds.
Then choose your sidekick, from confit and charred bonito with dill tarator (walnut yoghurt sauce) to raw beef, bulgur and baharat (Lebanese seven-spice blend).
But do not – ever, but especially here – go past the hummus; not when it’s topped with a lightly smoked, runny-yolked boiled egg, tiny radishes, and sprigs of what I now know to be the leaf of the chickpea plant ($14). It feels like an Israeli breakfast, and is very, very delicious.
There’s falafel, of course, which is on a roll. (Not literally on a roll, although if you ordered the pita bread you could pop it inside the pocket.)
Labne, grilled zucchini, pickled cucumber and zhoug. Photo: Brook Mitchell
Here, the small, round, crisp-shelled orbs ($12) are darkly herby, resting on a silky avocado puree under a coating of tahini that makes them look like miniature plum puddings.
Ezra’s potato latke ($22) is up-sized to a large cake, then served as a thin, crisped wedge, laced with silverbeet and salmon roe with a plop of sour cream. Clever, but I’m not a fan; it feels fried and overloaded.
A tagine of lamb shoulder ($29) is warmly spiced, sweetened with prune and thickened with maftoul (Palestinian cous cous).
Tagine of lamb shoulder with prune, hazelnut and maftoul. Photo: Brook Mitchell
The meat itself feels a bit tight, but the downloaded wine list has just the thing to help it relax – a smooth and savoury 2018 Yarra Valley Save Our Souls sangiovese from William Downie and Jason Searle ($14/$27/$85).
My small beef is that main dishes are almost too concentrated, too cared-for (yes, strange to suggest that a restaurant is trying too hard).
I miss the light and shade you get from a table of hot, cold, crunchy, punchy, sharp, fresh, raw and grilled dishes that somehow work as family.
Falafel, avocado and tahini. Photo: Wolter Peeters
It’s a cultural thing, and difficult to reproduce when you’re in the middle of the eastern suburbs, rather than in the Middle East.
But Ezra is such a nice place to be, by the pink neon sign on the verandah outside, or by the gorgeous mosaic-tiled archway that frames the dining room and bar.
Team Mathews Bowden (proudly married) get the vibe just right between professional and easy-going, and sitting around with a few snacky things, great cocktails and terrific breads is a treat. Inside or out.
Address: 3 Kellett Street, Potts Point, ezrarestaurant.com.au
Open: Lunch Sat-Sun noon-3.30pm; dinner Tue-Sun from 5pm
Dining window: 1-3 guests – 1.5 hours; 6 guests – 2 hrs; 7-10 guests – 2.5 hours.
Protocols: Tracking details taken, single-page disposable menu, social distancing.
Drinks: Classic and Middle Eastish cocktails with a thoughtful, mostly natural wine list available to download.
Vegetarian: Healthy selection of plant-based options.
Cost: About $150 for two, plus drinks.
Score: Scoring is paused while the industry gets back on its feet.