It is late in the afternoon in the galley kitchen of Suq restaurant where chef Michael Guirguis stands, pen poised, head down, scribbling a recipe he has suddenly recalled from his six-week stint in Japan.
‘Yellow fin tuna. Wasabi. Sesame dressing. Pickled ginger … that’s it,’ says Michael, with a satisfied smile, pausing from his note taking. ‘My restaurant is called Suq because it’s a little bit like getting lost in the narrow passages of a Suq [marketplace], where the flavours and aromas seem to meld together,’ he says.
The extensive dinner menu at Suq revisits Michael’s past, taking customers on a magic carpet ride from Egypt, where he learned to cook alongside his seven uncles, to France, Japan, Italy, Greece and, finally, to his home on the NSW Central Coast.
Instead of flicking through photo albums of his travels, diners at Suq are transported to pockets of Europe, northeast Africa and Australasia through their palate with dishes that Guirguis believes represent the most delectable parts of each particular cuisine.
Kernels of truth
Taste the Cairo-style corn on the cob in peanut and sweet chilli mayo with aged parmesan and you can envisage Michael first as a little boy in Egypt, wandering around the maze-like bazaars of an old medina eating corn from the cob. Close your eyes while crunching on a fresh-baked baguettine and you may follow him to France where his parents sent him at age 13 to join a seminary and become a priest.
‘My mum was Egyptian; my dad was Moroccan and we spanned the cultures between the two countries. My parents sent me to France to become a priest in order to avoid being called into the army like my older brother. They wanted me out of there. After six months in the seminary, I said I wanted to become a chef. A family friend sponsored me and I stayed there in France for six years, learning and studying,’ says Michael.
‘At first, I didn’t want to stay in the country. It was very difficult without my family. But I eventually regarded this family friend as being like a father. It was more than three decades until I saw my family again,’ he says.
A haven of tranquility
Today, Michael’s globally inspired menu reads like a compilation of his greatest hits: you might start with a selection of small tapas-like dishes such as Tasmanian salmon on betel leaf, Japanese edamame with Maldon salt and seared Japanese scallops. Then move on to the To Share sections where the flavours are even more abundant: there’s the house-made Grand Marnier duck liver pâté with cornichons, Dijon mustard, quince,truffle oil or beetroot remoulade, or the crab and lobster wrapped in house-cured salmon with a gremolata-style salsa. Egyptian-style broad-bean falafel, crispy-skin barramundi fillet and a 12-hour braised lamb also trace Michael’s career path from Egypt to the Central Coast where he opened Novanta Quattro in Terrigal in 1990 and Sirocco in Sydney’s Darlinghurst in the year 2000.
Sharing is caring
During a busy dinner service, the terracotta-hued restaurant in Wamberal is a haven of tranquility, far from the sounds of scooters and haggling of hawkers that echo around the Egyptian suqs that inspired its name.
‘Suq leaves the concept of an entrée and main course behind. It is like a snapshot of my travels but it also melds the different cuisines together. I want people to explore the whole world on the table, to feel and taste different flavours. It is my interpretation of my experience around the world and what I explored, touched and tasted,’ Guirguis says.
‘The whole menu is representative of my life. These are the dishes that I love and that I have kept close to my heart. When I was in Greece, I learned how to make the perfect lamb shoulder. I make the prawns the same way they do in Japan with the wasabi mayo. The duck foie gras speaks 100 per cent to my time in France and the Moroccan lamb roast with cinnamon is how they do it in North Africa,’ he says.
As for what Guirguis is most proud of over the course of his career, he says it’s the fact he has clung to the concept of food made to share, which harks back to his Egyptian childhood: ‘Food tastes better when you share it.’
Suq Restaurant is located at 80 Ocean View Drive, Wamberal. For bookings visitsuqrestaurant.com.au or call (02) 4306 0859.
WORDS CARLA GROSSETTI. PHOTOGRAPHER LISA HAYMES