By: Sara Wong, Arts & Culture Editor
Looking for hipster bars, trendy boutiques, and specialty coffee shops? Main Street is the place to be. It’s also where you’ll find Zarak, sister restaurant of South Surrey’s Afghan Kitchen, which opened just over a month ago.
This restaurant may be new, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way they execute service. When you dine out as much as I do, the little things like timing when dishes are served and checking in throughout the meal make a big difference. From the moment I stepped inside, the staff was warm and attentive. There was a genuine, down-to-earth quality to their actions that made me feel completely at ease.
At Zarak, it was as if I was attending a cozy dinner party at a friend’s house. And like any experienced host would do, everything was placed with a specific purpose. Details such as custom ceramic dinner plates, exposed brick, and gold fixtures weren’t just there to fit an aesthetic, they reflected a personal journey for co-owner Hassib Sarwari.
The Afghan immigrant and small business owner wanted to commemorate the beauty of his home country, while also recognizing its tumultuous history. Triangle and quadrilateral-shaped bits of gold embedded in the ceiling, for instance, are a nod to kite flying, a childhood activity which the Taliban banned from 1996–2001.
A similar narrative of subtle sophistication was represented in Zarak’s menu. As advertised, they offered “refined dishes, not straying away from the integrity of mum’s recipes.” The food is designed to be shared. If you’re unfamiliar with Afghan cuisine or are having a hard time narrowing down your selection, I suggest asking the servers for their recommendations.
To start, my friend and I got the roasted red pepper hummus ($9), which was served with noni afghani — a traditional flatbread. The bread was light and fluffy, with a hint of sesame flavour that complimented the hummus well. A healthy sprinkling of paprika and some whole chickpeas on top rounded out the appetizer.
The next course, popular Afghan dumplings called mantu ($13), ended up being my favourite dish of the night. Nested on a bed of split peas, the expertly folded and steamed dumplings were presented like the crown jewels of a treasure chest. Translucent wrappers glistened in the dim lighting, inviting us to dive in. And if your spice tolerance is minimal like mine, rest assured the seasoned beef filling of these mantu have just the right amount of heat. Two dollops of chaka — strained and lightly salted yoghurt — on the side offered a cool, refreshing contrast to the dumplings.
My server recommended one of the lamb entrées as a must-order, and the lamb shank ($26) did not disappoint. The meat was tender, falling off the bone without resistance. Mixed with the salata (side salad) and kachaloo (potato medallions in tomato sauce), this dish was a knockout. At this point, I was pretty full, but I savoured every bite.
Equally as impressive as the food was the drink selection. Normally I gravitate towards cocktails, but my affinity for chai took precedence. I opted for sheer chai ($6), a pink tea with ground cardamom and milk. The spices were comforting to me, like being wrapped in a warm embrace. It was the perfect beginning and end to my meal.
Before walking into Zarak, I had never tried Afghan food. I left that late December night declaring it one of the best dining experiences I had in 2021. The love, dedication, and passion poured into the space was abundant. Combined with the quality of the food and drink, my time at Zarak exceeded expectations. Do yourself a favour and book a reservation, before I beat you to it.