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The lady is in town, and we fed him lady finger.

And yes, the lady is a “he” but without asking too many questions about the name, “Lady Iron Chef” or his real name Brad, is one of the top food bloggers in Singapore and we are lucky enough to be able to meet up with Brad for a meal while he was on a whirlwind trip in Sydney a month ago. We had an awesome night organised by Helen, we ventured out to Rowda Ya-Habibi at Newtown for some Lebanese food, a cuisine that Brad not altogether familiar with and perhaps some belly dancing nightmare fun will also help to break the ice a little.

I was first to arrived, well at least I thought I was the first to arrive and waiting outside of the restaurant with Minh and Simon like a pork chop only then realised that Helen, Suze and Brad are actually already seated in one of the cushion rooms upstairs. This is actually my first time here at Rowda Ya-Habibi and I am quite surprised to see how different the ambiances are between the little dingy shop front with harsh fluorescent light like your typical takeaway joint, with big glass food display, a few patrons are having a quick meal while mingling with the shop owner behind the counter who is busy cooking away; comparing to the dimly lit, Arabian tapestries filled the  private dining rooms painted in deep maroon with low tables and cushions for floor seatings.

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We want to try everything and to save everyone from deciding what to order, we simply go ahead with the Extra Special Banquet at $30 per head. A basket full of Lebanese pita bread is first to arrive, accompanied by dippings of Hoummos, Baba Ganouj and a Tabbouleh salad. I always loved how the dips are presented like an edible well filled with a puddle of olive oil, contrasted with a smidgen of vivid red paprika powder and some green chopped parsley in the middle.

The flour dusted pita bread is soft, beautifully mopped up the pasty smooth Hoummos, whereas the smoky Baba Ganouj has a coarser texture. The Tabbouleh provides a zesty crunch in the background. Brad only then realised that he has been fooled by the pale looking Baba Ganouj which is actually made from eggplant, one of the vegetables he doesn’t like.

The food keeps coming at a good pace without having to wait or too rush. Have to say it sounded almost like a James Bond movie, the Golden “lady” Fingers are giant spring rolls, deep-fried to a nice crispy pastry on the outside, jam-packed with lamb mince fillings inside. A squeeze of lemon for that extra tang, but I prefer to dip mine into the hoummos for that extra moreish touch.

Deep brown crusty falafels arrived soon after. The falafel is still piping hot, inside is a very soft filling made from fava beans and a few specks of chick peas for the crunch, happily soaked up the fresh tangy minty sauce on the plate.

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After an array of starters and finger food, we are then move into a more hearty variety of meaty skewers, served with a side dish of beans stew in tomato sauce, and aplenty of fragrant rice with vermicelli. Consider it main course if you like, we are offered with three different types of kebabs – the skewers of minced shish kebabs are charred to a smoky nirvana, freshen up with a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

There are chunky chicken pieces on the garlic chicken kebabs which are succulent and tender, especially love the the charred crispy edges. I don’t think I can taste any garlic on the kebabs.

The lamb kebabs are probably my favorite among them all. The lamb is juicy and very rich in flavour, I can’t help but keeps nibbling on the bitter sweet caramelised bits on the edges. Suddenly the music on the speakers grew louder, and we could just hear cymbals and clink-clanking just right outside our dining room. Twine like a slithery snake, the shimmering belly dancer slowly maneuvering into our room.

It is all good fun with a jaw-dropping contortion performance until she starts pulling up our first victim, Yas, who sits closest to the belly dancer for a personal belly dancing lesson. We are definitely laughing our asses off with a few teary eyes on Yas’ ill fate of belly dancing tragedy until she starts pulling up another victim – Minh is next! At this point, I am not sure whether I should keep clapping my hands along to the music or should start panicking, because someone will be the next victim!

Yas, Minh, Karen, Brad and Helen – one by one were pulled up from their seats for some booty shaking fun. Then the music stops and the show is over – me, Simon and Suze who tucked right inside a corner are saved by the bell. ~phew~

Strenuous exercise after a full belly of Lebanese food takes it toll on some of the food bloggers involved. This is the first time I’ve heard about food bloggers wanting to skip dessert! No way Jose Ya-Habibi! We eventually got everyone to share four squares of baklavas, and a tub of Turkish Delight. The baklava has a flaky top filled with peanuts and pistachio crumbs inside, an aromatic cinnamon and rose water flavour on each bite, but how I wish it can be a bit more syrupy. The turkish delight, however, is firmer than what I usually prefer with a stretchy strand of gooeyness. It gets too sweet towards the end, and some of us simply had to stop before drop dead in sugar coma.

The food at Rowda Ya-Habibi in my opinion is catered for western palate, as I was expecting something a little bit more exotic like fluorescent pink Lebanese turnip pickles and the green chillies. Even a common toum garlic sauce is none to be seen… But $30 per head and get your friends to belly dance for some cheap embarassing entertainment, priceless.

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Rowda Ya Habibi
101 King Street Newtown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9557 5368

Open 7 days 10.30am - 12 midnight

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