Foster Street: a pocket of Surry Hills devoted to pleasure-seeking,from tequila shots at Tio’s, dancing a whisky-fuelled jig at Wild Rover, vinyl-spinning at Play Bar or taking a more civilised approach to eating at Bar H. Ex-chef Nathan Sasi has moved on to open Mercado. Stepping up to take over is position is Sasi's sous chef Jacqui Challinor.
Nomad is good fun. Especially if you start with a Trinidad Sour, that bracing classic cocktail of a whole shot of Angostura bitters shaken with whisky, sweet syrup and lemon juice. Or just go straight to the wine. The list is a smart combination of approachable and challenging. It’s a really nicely designed room, too, all open plan and sunlit with its Danish-style furniture and decorative jars of pickles by the bar-style seating. It can feel a little empty if you’re eating on the early side, but once the attached bottle shop is up and running, there’ll no doubt be a little more foot traffic to scuff up the place.
Enjoy the quiet moments while they last, because the gear Sasi’s bringing to the table is queue-worthy. For us, the highlights tend to be the smaller, lighter dishes like the crunchy spanner crab-spiked felafels captured inside a soft, fluffy steamed ‘pita’ bun with a side of yoghurt.
We’re also here to tell you that melted butter on hummus is a great idea. Get your chickpea purée with a swirl of browned butter over the top and a pile of cumin crackers on the side. It’s the highly spiced and richly buttered party dip of your dreams.
Devils on horseback translate as super-dooper sweet fresh dates wrapped in pancetta, served all warm on a dab of (slightly unnecessary) orange-blossom marmalade. Veggos, go straight for the house-made haloumi. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. It’s a hand-sized disc of creamy-yet-firm grilled cheese made on jersey milk nesting on a salad of grilled zucchini, raisins and pine nuts.
We’re not quite convinced the roasted quail sitting on a bed of roasted sprouts and shredded pork hock works as a dish – it’s a bit confusing and unwieldy with no reprieve. Better go with the wood-roasted pork instead, which is beyond excellent with its huge ribs of crackling and tender sweet juicy meat. Or maybe you’ll just order a big plate of ham. You can do that.
Making really delicious bread from scratch is definitely a labour of love. Especially living in the same city as Iggy’s, Brasserie, Sonoma, Bourke Street and Brickfields. And we like that they geek out about spreads here too. (Though we still don’t know what “inoculated butter” is, and our waiter gives us a sobering look when we ask when it last had its shots.) But it might be worth considering not pre-cutting the bread before service.
So, a bit of stale bread is a little disappointing. But it’s hard to stay sad when you’re served a Seville orange filled with marmalade-flavoured soft serve. It’s just the sort of thing your nan would’ve served at a dinner party in the '70s (probably along with those devils on horseback – the minx). And then there are fluffy, sugar-crusted doughnuts so puffy that when you pinch them they breathe a sigh of relief, like a dessert that’s been holding its breath for too long.
Our bet for next visit is to make it a long lunch. Order up big from the snacking section, drink all the wine and take a tribe. There’s no need to ever leave Foster Street.