186 Flinders Ln Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu 5pm-late; Fri-Sat noon-2pm, 5pm-late; Sun noon-2pm|
|Features||Bar, Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 8419 2800|
It is lucky that Al and Rebecca Yazbek seem to have the nomadic spirit their popular Sydney restaurant is named for. Because setting up a Nomad outpost in Melbourne has been nothing short of a pilgrimage.
It has been four years since the couple started seeking Melbourne sites, and two since they nabbed the former Ezard on Flinders Lane. That was December 2019. And while the pandemic affected everyone in the industry, Nomad Sydney was also hit by a fire that required a total relocation. But here we are, finally, with one of Sydney's best-loved, sustainably focused, Mediterranean-leaning restaurants to call our own.
The transformation of the Flinders Lane basement has been so dramatic, it's hard to remember its appearance during its 20-year run as Ezard. Designer Clare Cousins has done a clever job. It's not exactly bright down here, and yet by ousting carpets for floorboards, moving the bar to the front, where it forms a buzzy space of it own, and stripping back to the smart, sharp concrete bones, there is a sense of openness and airiness that was the hallmark aesthetic of the Sydney warehouse.
It's a tricky thing importing a star from another city. How to genuinely recreate the magic but land some city-centric wins? I think they've struck a good balance here.
Executive chef Jacqui Challinor built Nomad's reputation (and her own) with signatures that draw broad inspiration from the Mediterranean and Middle East but land bold punches all her own.
Many of those dishes were worth bringing south. Ballooned and blistered flatbread with sweet pools of oil and zaatar filling its craters are the most unmissable thing on the menu.
Ditto Challinor's cold-smoked mussels which, licked with a peppery oil and toum (that garlic and lemon-heavy yoghurt sauce) you load onto a potato roesti. Tick tick tick.
But the smart move was always going to be in finding Victorian producers and a commander who could carry Challinor's torch while finding their own path. Head chef Brendan Katich seems to be the right fit. It's early days, but his own dishes are fitting the brief.
Using local Jersey milk, he's created a house-made ricotta, which takes on the fluffy, light texture of an omelette when baked in a skillet then is hit hard by the salty ping of Ortiz anchovies and the bright anchor of roasted bullhorn peppers.
From the charcuterie section you might add a few plush, spongy slices of mortadella made from our own Great Ocean Ducks. It's the spiced luncheon meat you love, with a slightly darker edge.
The crisp summer greens playing support to judiciously crisped Murray cod are from Ramarro farm, some of the best in the veg biz.
You'll notice quite quickly that it is a rich, raucous, take-no-prisoners time on the plate here. Other highlights include finely shaved and ruffled slices of poached ox tongue (a sublimely soft and fat-rich cut) licked with a date caramel that transforms it to smoky-sweet meat candy.
There is also the brilliant shallot tarte tatin, a thick flaky raft of buttery puff pastry whose crown of petite onions has been so jammily caramelised I'd willingly take it as either a savoury course or dessert.
As such, my best advice here is not what to order, but how. In short: brace yourself and pace yourself. There's ample freshness to be found in kingfish ceviche and electric fennel salads, but it's generous food in every respect: big on flavour, serious in size and flush with sauce – and this is without even mentioning the big-ticket items such as the bronzed dry-aged pork chop. I'd eat everything again, but I'd take a crew, or do it more moderately over multiple trips.
It feels hopeful to be thinking that way about a Flinders Lane restaurant again. About coming back. Coming often. This strip has long been the scene of our city's buzziest and busiest dining and it's good to see Nomad fit right in.
The moves are sharp, thanks to a strong service team. The drinks are considered, from the tidy cocktail list starring liquors from local makers such as Marionette and Starward Whisky to a wine list with decent depth by bottle and a nice local angle by glass.
Most importantly, the energy is there. Starting dinner late, we're eating dessert at 11pm (it's all about the olive oil ice-cream sandwich) but the crowd isn't going anywhere.
Even after the marathon it took to get here, Nomad has come out of the blocks at a sprint.
Pro Tip: Go bigger or smaller with a feast menu or bar dining.
Go-to Dish: Wood-fired flatbread with zaatar.