Visitors to Sefa Kitchen and Bar in Bondi often ponder about the origin of the food they are eating. Is it Lebanese? Turkish?
A bit of both, says owner Utku Ayhan, who was born in Turkey and moved to Australia eleven years ago. “We have positioned ourselves to represent regions rather than countries.” According to Utku, the biggest influence on Sefa Kitchen’s cuisine comes from an area called Levant, which is roughly the size of NSW and stretches from Jordan to the south-east corner of Turkey.
The result is a uniquely indefinable yet authentic Middle-Eastern cuisine, created by chef Simon Zalloua, an Australian of Lebanese descent. Simon is well known in the Sydney restaurant circuit as the former chef at Rockpool and Ambers in Darlinghurst. “We’re not traditional at all,” says Utku. “We serve cocktails, and we use Western techniques and ingredients. We would call ourselves refined Middle Eastern.”
They also follow the Lebanese tradition for finding a use for all their left-overs. “In Lebanon and Syria, the leftover fresh Lebanese bread is used in salads next day. Nothing is thrown,” says Utku. Simon uses the excess bread to make pumpkin fatteh, an extremely popular bread salad.
With its long rustic tables and dishes designed to be shared among friends, Sefa Kitchen has smoothly blended into the easy-going sociable atmosphere of Bondi. The restaurant is a sea-change experience for Utku, who broke away from his corporate career several years ago to follow his dream and work as a restaurant manager. Sefa Kitchen, opened in November 2012, is the first restaurant he has owned. “We are booked out every day since our second week,” Utku proudly states.
One of the reasons for Sefa’s success is the financial flexibility offered by hospitality equipment funding company, Silver Chef. “We leased all our essential equipment – dishwasher, glass-washer, stoves, fryers, fridges – and we’re planning to buy at the end of the year, now we are more financially stable. We do have the option to continue leasing, so we can upgrade the equipment further on. We’re a small budget business, so Silver Chef made it possible by easing pressures, so we could use our budget for other needs.”
Sefa’s Kitchen is even building up a loyal social media base, with fans checking in to hear updates, and learn the latest special cocktail. On Sunday, Facebook fans can tune in to hear the acapella music playing through the restaurant. “We also find Twitter is a really good way to connect with customers,” says Utku. “We share industry-related articles with followers, and we even take bookings through Twitter!”
Utku’s next big plan is to expand the restaurant with an outdoor dining area. “Right now we’re growing herbs and vegetables in the back garden. We’re planning to open up that area by summer-time so guests can eat outdoors.”