At Poplar, it’s chunks of lamb skewered onto swords of flattened steel, cooked over charcoal until smoky. Dusted liberally with cumin, the meat is tender and aromatic – if you’re lucky you’ll score a fatty piece that’s reminiscent of a caramelised lamb chop. The sword-like skewers are a throwback to the Central Asian soldiers of yore who would use their swords to grill meat over an open fire.
The family-run Poplar has been open for two years but it’s quiet most nights bar a few loyal diners. It’s a shame because the menu offers a comprehensive selection of dishes that span the breadth of Central Asia, from lamb-filled Uzbek mantou buns to Kazakh lamb with noodles to Russian-style kotlet beef and potato croquettes. The interior is bright and clean, the menu is helpfully illustrated with photos and service is friendly and obliging.
The zik kawap charcoal lamb skewers are a given. They’re so good you’ll probably order another round. Dapanji, meaning ‘big plate chicken’, is also a specialty and a much-loved favourite with Uighur locals. It’s a hearty comfort-food dish of chicken pieces on the bone, boiled potato, dried chilli and capsicum mixed through with handmade noodles that are satisfyingly chewy. Piyaz poshkal, or shallot pancakes, are also a winner – flaky rounds of pastry with a golden bubbled crunch.
If you’re a fan of tripe, Poplar has you covered. The Xinjiang-style lamb tongue salad is vinegary and refreshing, but the lamb tripe salad with capsicum is our pick with its sweeter dressing.
Relax. It’s not all innards. The gosh nan is like a pizza on steroids, a thick disc of bread cradling hunks of braised lamb on the bone in a lake of gravy. Finish up with suyukash, a massive bowl of Xinjiang spicy soup brimming with tomatoes, tofu, black fungus and noodles.