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Supreme Pizzas – ARAX Fine Lebanese Cuisine & Wood Fire Pizza

ARAX Fine Lebanese Cuisine & Wood Fire Pizza, or just simply ARAX, holds a special place in my heart. It’s a restaurant that I’d first been introduced to more than 15 years ago and is pretty much the only place on the North Shore I’d make the approximately 40 minute drive to on a whim.

I find the woodfire oven at ARAX somewhat enthralling. A magic transformation portal that turns often simple ingredients into palate-pleasing platters of pizza perfection. Nowadays for me, the term “woodfire pizza” holds the same sort of meaning as the word “organic” does; there’s an implication of superior quality over the standard variety, which unfortunately doesn’t always deliver. This is one of those places, I assure you, that delivers on that implied sense of superior quality.

Marcelle, owner/operator of ARAX runs the friendly front of house staff while her son Tony works his magic with the woodfire oven as pizza chef. Awards and news articles are displayed around the restaurant proudly show off their accolades in their over 30 years of operation. They’ve even received Heritage status from the local council, something that I’ve learned about only recently.

The restaurant itself is a testament to their achievement as this place was a humble takeaway pizza restaurant when I had my first pizza over 15 years ago.

The restaurant has a casual, almost homely feel to it, which carries through to its service. A beautiful mural of a countryside town adorns a feature wall giving the sense of a calm, relaxed environment. That is except for Saturdays.

On Saturdays, as seems tradition for a lot of Lebanese restaurants, the party engine red-lines as a belly dancer takes centre stage to entertain the diners. As with my experience at Rowda Ya Habibi, it’s sure to lift the spirits and have you keeling over in tearful laughter. As I’d also learned, if you want to avoid the attention and ensuing embarrassment, pick seating along the walls in an inaccessible spot that would make it difficult for you to participate.

If you decide that you want in on the belly dancing action, make sure to book well in advance. Saturdays are always booked out, often days prior.

The dining party of a couple of mates and I order up some drinks. A round of lemon, lime and bitters. All the elements are balanced nicely, unlike a lot of that I’ve had in the past, especially from some bars & pubs that should know better.

ARAX isn’t just about pizzas. They’re also quite a nice Lebanese restaurant as well. “The finest Lebanese food on the North Shore”, according to their signage. Having had a variety of their Lebanese dishes over the years, my favourites being the hommus (pictured above), fatoush salad and a wonderfully crunchy falafel that rivals the best that Sydney has to offer, I would have to agree. Though, to be fair, it’s the only Lebanese I’ve had on the North Shore and frankly the only Lebanese place I’m aware of in those parts.

Since we’re in a pizza sort of mood, our venture into the Lebanese menu only extends as far as hommus ($9), served with fresh and fried Lebanese bread. The hommus is smooth and very flavourful whilst the Lebanese breads offers a wonderful contrast in textures.

The Seafood Supreme pizza ($27) is the best of all the seafood pizzas I’ve had in Sydney hands down, and is one of my all-time favourite pizzas overall. The quality of the pizza does vary with the seasons but when it’s at its best, the scallops are large, plump & juicy, the prawns are likewise sizable with a nice springy bite to them and the cured salmon is flakey and deliciously smokey. At its least best, when the scallops and prawns are less generous in size, it’s still far better than most seafood pizzas you’d find anywhere else.

The friend who orders this pizza prefers to have it without cheese. He says that the pizza tastes fresher and the flavour of the seafood comes out more that way. I’m more of a traditionalist and prefer mine with the cheese.

Another favourite pizza of mine and THE favourite of the friend who ordered this pizza is the bastourma pizza with fresh tomato ($22). Bastourma is typically air-dried beef cured with salt and spices such as cumin, fenugreek, garlic and paprika. The thin slices of bastourma, when cooked, ends up being something akin to crispy bacon in texture with a sublime, smokey aroma. The fresh tomato in the pizza is essential to mellow out the saltiness of the bastourma.

If it isn’t the Seafood Supreme pizza, odds are I’ve purchased one of these instead.

In my case, I decide to go with something a little different today as my two favourite pizzas were already ordered. The sejouk & bastourma pizza with fresh tomato ($22) is very much like the bastourma pizza but finishes with a different texture and a little more spice to it. It’s normally served with onions, mushrooms, capsicums and black olives but I forego this option in favour for what I would normally have with the standard bastourma pizza.

There are various other pizzas in their arsenal, including various chicken, seafood, vegetarian, as well as your more traditional toppings. After recommending this place to a former work colleague, he’d recommended the Mediterranean pizza, which comprises of grilled lamb, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, spanish onion and rocket. Might have to give that a go at some stage.

We finish the meal with some complementary Turkish delights, which are wonderfully sweet and gooey. These aren’t usually complementary but perhaps Marcelle was in a generous mood that evening. It’s happened from time to time when I dine there and I’ve never taken such generousity for granted.

Before my dining companions and I decide to call it a night, I put in for an order of a Seafood Supreme pizza with cheese to takeaway. I know how my family gets about missing out on some great food, especially my sister. Would never hear the end of it! Anyhow, it means I get a slice or two for breakfast the next day, so I can’t really complain :)

Of all the places that I’ve been to, this is one that I would have no hesitation recommending. Give it a go and let me know what you think of it. Oh, if you decide to name drop about how you’d come across this restaurant, just say that Caine sent you. Pretty much anyone I know who has eaten at ARAX was introduced by Caine, or through him in a Six Degrees sort of fashion :)

ARAX Fine Lebanese Cuisine & Wood Fire Pizza
670 Willoughby Rd, Willoughby
Open Tues to Sun – 5pm til late.


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{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Simon Food Favourites January 14, 2010, 9:00 pm

    thanks for the recommendation. the seafood pizza does look like a winner. so much on top including scallops woohoo! :-)

  • john@heneedsfood January 14, 2010, 10:09 pm

    Those pizza bases look like perfection and the Turkish delight, nice and chewy

  • BNDQ8 January 14, 2010, 11:32 pm

    the food looks super delish…just enjoy lebanese food..my best friend is lebanese and she takes me out on lebanese food which is in plenty out here :)

  • chocolatesuze January 14, 2010, 11:57 pm

    i keep staring at the plate of turkish delight! i dont normally like them but they look so soft and pillowy!

  • Steph January 15, 2010, 9:25 am

    Oh my gosh, the fat scallops on the seafood pizza! That is seriously the most generous looking seafood pizza I’ve seen.

  • Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. January 15, 2010, 10:38 am

    Woo two of my favourite food in one place! (and not too far from my work.)
    I’ll take your word for it and try their pizza.

  • Helen (Grab Your Fork) January 15, 2010, 11:02 am

    The seafood pizza looks fab, and I agree, you can’t beat a real woodfired pizza!

  • Krista January 15, 2010, 11:40 am

    Oh, lemon, lime and bitters – what good memories for me with that drink! My first trip to New Zealand, dear friends, great food in an Irish pub. :-)

  • Kate January 15, 2010, 2:26 pm

    Simon, thankyou! Ive always wondered about Arax. Ive been driving past the place for years (about 8 now) and have never ventured in. I just HAVE to try it. I was a bit dubious about the claim to the best pizza on the north shore and hadn’t come across anyone who had actually been there. The pizza’s look wonderful. I am a girl who can never go past a good pizza. Hope you and your lovely pup are well x

  • Kate January 15, 2010, 2:27 pm

    P.S. oh and yes when I said I read your archives I did mean ALL of them.

  • Simon January 15, 2010, 6:48 pm

    Hi Simon! The toppings are quite generous.

    Hi john! Yes, they’re certainly good :)

    Hi BNDQ8! I’m a big fan of Lebanese food myself. Living where you are, you must have some really nice Lebanese out your way :)

    Hi chocolatesuze! They’re quite. I don’t believe that they make them in house so where ever they’re sourcing theirs from knows how to do it properly :)

    Hi Steph! This pizza was an example of what you get when the pickings are good.

    Hi Yas! Cool! Let me know what you. Wouldn’t mind knowing what you make of it.

    Hi Helen! It’s just a shame that there aren’t many woodfire places that make good pizzas.

    Hi Krista! Cool. Love how food can evoke fond memories, or rather drink in this case :)

    Hi Kate! Well, there’s no need to wonder anymore :)

    You have to be mindful that the claim is Finest Lebanese and not best pizza in the North Shore. I take the pizza thing one step further. For me, I yet to have a seafood pizza that was better anywhere. I guess you’ll have to judge for yourself as to whether that is a fair claim or not :)

    I really appreciate that you’ve taken the time to real through the WHOLE archive. Kind of feel like I should give you an award or something :)

  • Kate January 15, 2010, 8:04 pm

    Reward, NO WAY!! I love to read your blog and I check each day to make sure I don’t miss anything. Food is my passion. I only wish my friends were into it as much as you food bloggers. If I wasn’t technologically challenged I would attempt my own, especially so I could meet all the wonderful sydney bloggers. It must be amazing to rub shoulders with people like Helen.

  • FFichiban January 15, 2010, 8:08 pm

    Aww I was hoping to see more lebanese food but the pizza sure looks good too mmmm and since its so close yay ^^!

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella January 15, 2010, 11:57 pm

    It’s good to see North Shore is getting more dining options and more “ethnic” cuisine for lack of a better word. I’d get sick of traipsing across the bridge for a good Lebanese fix!

  • Ellie January 19, 2010, 5:39 pm

    I used to live 5 minutes away from this restaurant. Heard a lot of good feedback but never stepped into it myself. Food looks good!

  • Rose January 20, 2010, 6:40 pm

    Wow, I so want some of that seafood pizza right now. I’ve always been a bit scared to order them as they’re usually disappointing.

  • Trisha January 24, 2010, 10:18 am

    Ohhhh look at the seafood pizza and the massive prawns!!!!! Btw how’s parking there?

  • marcellina January 28, 2010, 1:37 pm

    The pizza’s look amazing! I will have to remember this place next time we are in Sydney

  • Simon March 5, 2010, 10:56 am

    Hi Kate! You should give it a go all the same. If you have enough tech knowledge to post on a blog, you’re most of the way there to be able to create your own posts.

    Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Helen is great, though she prefers to play down her food blogging celebrity-like status.

    Hi Richard! Perhaps with another post. Though I’ve tried some of their Lebanese food, most of the time I just get pizzas.

    Hi Lorraine! Well, ethnic beyond Chinese food, certainly! :)

    Hi Ellie! There is certainly good feedback to be had, though the reviews on Eatability hold some water too when you go during a busy period and/or order both pizzas and Lebanese food. I rarely go during those times so it’s never been a problem for me.

    Hi Rose! The Seafood Supreme is far from disappointing. The scallops may get a little small at times, depending on the season but it’ll still taste great!

    Hi Trisha! Parking on the street right outside the restaurant is usually good during the week. Weekends can be a little tough but there is usually enough parking within a block radius even at those times.

    Hi marcellina! Please do. I don’t think you’ll regret it! :)

  • Marcelle November 4, 2010, 5:37 pm

    Hi Caine this is Marcelle from Arax, i really appreciate this review.. Thank you so much and when ever you have time come pass to have a bastourma with fresh tomatoes pizza with a glass of wine..
    One more time thanks so much!!!
    Best regards
    Marcelle and Arax team!!

    • Simon November 8, 2010, 9:05 pm

      Ah, hi. Though I can understand the misunderstanding, this is not actually Caine. Might have to jog your memory the next time I come by, with or without the man himself.

      A small token of appreciation after the many years of awesome service and equally good food.

      I’m sure we’ll catch up soon enough :)

  • claudiaraul January 19, 2013, 6:10 pm

    awesome

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