A devo­tee of MID­DLE EAST­ERN eats, LEIGH-ANN POW sets the BAR HIGH at a culi­nary HOTSPOT on the rise.

Australian Traveller - - Weekends Reviews -

HAV­ING JUST RE­TURNED from a trans­for­ma­tive jour­ney to the Mid­dle East (to Abu Dhabi and Oman to be pre­cise), my diet while there and since re­turn­ing has been made up al­most ex­clu­sively of hum­mus, lab­neh and flat bread, with some pretty pink pomegranate seeds scat­tered artfully to add colour. Some might sug­gest my ar­dour is bor­der­ing on an ad­dic­tion. So when a lunch-hour get-to­gether pre­sented it­self just a week af­ter my re­turn, I was shame­less in steer­ing my fel­low din­ers to­wards Nour in the Syd­ney culi­nary en­clave of Surry Hills. The menu promised a mod­ern Le­banese hy­brid, but hav­ing eaten so well at the source dur­ing my trav­els, the bar was set high. The din­ing space it­self is de­light­ful, a se­ries of eat­ing zones re­splen­dent in soft pink and rose gold, with a bustling open kitchen at its heart. We are en­sconced in gen­er­ous ban­quette seat­ing and our waiter ex­plains the menu: dishes are de­signed to be shared, with a com­bi­na­tion of two to three mezza starter plates, a veg­e­tar­ian op­tion, a larger main and a side ad­vised for our ta­ble of five. Our starters ar­rive ac­com­pa­nied by fresh, warm flat­breads. The blue swim­mer crab with puffed rice, com­pressed wa­ter­melon, Per­sian raisins and av­o­cado mousse is light and sweet, with the puffed rice adding an un­ex­pected crunch and ex­tra burst of flavour – hav­ing soaked up some of the juices at the bot­tom of the bowl. The hum­mus comes with thin, ten­der slices of za­atar-smoked goat, pomegranate and Per­sian lime, which give a fresh edge to the smoky flavours, while the baby prawn falafel with smoked black tahini and co­rian­der is crunchy on the out­side and soft in­side, with the tahini adding a slightly bit­ter edge that works well with the sweet crus­tacean. With the starter sizes prov­ing to be just right, we are all ready to dive in again when the mains and sides ar­rive at a suit­able in­ter­val. The lamb shoul­der, mo­gra­biah, lamb’s tongue and date dress­ing is a bit of a sig­na­ture dish, and it ar­rives all slow-cooked, aro­matic and sticky; there is no knife on the plate, which puz­zles one of our party, un­til he sees the suc­cu­lent meat fall away from the bone with the gen­tlest nudge of a fork. It is per­fectly ac­com­pa­nied by a crunchy fat­toush salad with smoked lab­neh and chal­lah crou­tons, and crispy gratin pota­toes that come daubed with smoked gar­lic, chilli and co­rian­der. Our last dish of Le­banese dumplings of spiced pump­kin and warm yo­ghurt swim­ming in a pool of wal­nuts and burnt but­ter could give the lamb a run for its money as a must-or­der; the sauce is so de­li­cious you al­most want to drink it. If we were smart we would have sac­ri­ficed one dish in or­der to sam­ple the desserts, but I wouldn’t want to choose what to leave out as they were all un­miss­able. Nour more than cleared the bar I set; I feel a new ad­dic­tion com­ing on.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Rose gold and soft pink hues mark the in­te­rior; Nat­u­ral light floods the din­ing space; Spiced pump­kin cheese­cake with halva ice-cream; Take a seat at the kitchen bar.

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