3 490 Crown St Surry Hills, NSW 2010
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9331 3413|
Nour, you have ruined me. Once a person has had warm hummus, it is unlikely they will ever go back to the stuff straight from the fridge.
And once they have had warm hummus with a spoonful of stewy chicken bits (heart, liver, leg) on top, spooned into small, tender folds of saj, unleavened yoghurt flatbread ($24) with crunchy radishes and pickles, it's a done deal.
This is the sort of food that fills me up and turns me on. Puffy flatbreads, smoky coal-fired grills, pickled vegetables, slow-roasted lamb, lentils, sweet barbecued onions. Big, enriching, irresistible flavours, carried by the magic carpets of yoghurt, tahini, rice, flatbread.
This is Nour take two, after the first three original chefs gradually dispersed to do their own things. It's a clever strategy for owner Ibby (My Kitchen Rules) Moubadder, to import Ben Willliamson of Brisbane's Gerard's Bistro for a few months, and to anchor the kitchen more permanently with a solid talent like Mike Dierlinger, fresh from the Bridge Room.
The bonus here is that where Williamson goes, his falafel crumpet goes, too. Sorry Brisbane, but you've had it to yourselves long enough.
At dinner, it's a little wheel of real deal goodness ($8); the sourdough base loaded with ground chickpeas, fava beans, garlic and shallots and fermented for 24 hours. Grilled in butter and dusted with warm spices, it's topped with tahini, sumac-purple pickled onions, parsley and a soft-yolked quail egg. It looks like a crumpet, tastes like falafel and is more fun than either.
While the kitchen may have evolved and re-energised, the room is still one of the most enjoyable spaces in Sydney. It's not showy but wears its square metreage lightly, with pretty pastels, rose-pink tubular chairs, marble-topped tables and a bustling, central wood-fired oven and open kitchen. Staff, on the other hand, are quite showy, adding to the personality of the place.
The Williamson/Dierlinger collaboration has its high points; chief among them being the house-baked breads, leading in with puffy cushions of nigella-seeded Turkish bread served with smoked butter ($4 each). You may not, like me, need the warm hummus and saj bread and the crumpets, and the Turkish bread. Hey, your carbs, your call.
Sweet prawn dumplings sit under a foam of yoghurt, with crunchy chickpeas making a texturally over-the-top mouthful that should appear on the Financial Review's Rich List.
Lamb collar, or neck fillet ($46), is marinated in carob molasses and finished in the wood-fired oven, sent to the table with a charry crust and fall-apart meat under a shower of rose petals.
You could order it for the mujaddara alone, notable for the sweet mass of caramelised onions through its gently spiced rice and lentils. Add a ripe, savoury 2015 Nautilus pinot noir from Marlborough and it's immensely satisfying.
Did I mention this food was rich? Too rich. There's no respite. Even a tomato salad ($19) comes with more creamy richness in an almond tarator.
Strangely, however, a dessert of rose and mastic booza ($14), that mastically stretchy, creamy Arabic ice-cream, doesn't feel like overkill. Paired with persimmon granita and sliced persimmon dressed with orange blossom sugar syrup, it has flavour coming every which way.
Nice reboot, Nour. By digging deeper into the riches of Middle Eastern cuisine and reworking them with respect and relevance, you've brought something new to the table.
Vegetarian: Lots of mezze dishes and salads.
Drinks: Middle Easternish cocktails, plus a thoughtful wine list running from "orange and natural" to "elegant with depth".
Cost: About $150 for two.
Go-to dish: Falafel crumpet, tahini, pickled onion, soft quail egg, $8.
Pro tip: A larger version of the falafel crumpet stars on Nour's Sunday brunch for $16.