THE CUISINE AT NOMAD WANDERS THROUGH THE MIDDLE EAST AND EUROPE BEFORE SITTING DOWN WITH SOME GREAT AUSTRALIAN WINE.
Rebecca Littlemore was an interior designer when she and her then boyfriend Al Yazbek decided to open a restaurant and bar called Nomad in Surry Hills. The pair had loved travelling around smaller wine regions in Australia like Mudgee in NSW and King Valley in Victoria, and wanted to recreate in Sydney the intimate experience of visiting boutique cellar doors in the country.
“It was a steep learning curve, a very, very steep learning curve,” says Rebecca – now Yazbek – of the process of opening the restaurant, 4½ years on. “It was actually driving to Nomad on opening night for family and friends that I had a bit of a heart attack in the car. Up until then it was a building site and that is what I know, so I was in my element. But then I realised that there were people coming tonight to eat at our restaurant and then it hit me. Then the hard work actually started.”
The pair have taken to it pretty well. Al had been running restaurants for a few years but it was a whole new world for Rebecca. Nomad has regularly scored great reviews since it opened; they have ventured online with a Nomad wine club and they are actively hunting for a Melbourne site to open a similar restaurant (but not a replica) down south. They also managed to squeeze in getting married and having one baby and are expecting another in August. Rebecca credits hiring the right chefs, restaurant managers and sommeliers and also backing themselves from day one.
“We also had a clear idea of what we wanted to do with the food,” she says. “My husband has a Lebanese background, that real Middle-Eastern flavour, and so he wanted to do a Lebanese restaurant for aeons. I thought that wasn’t going to work, and we had been travelling through Europe, through Spain, Morocco and Paris so I wanted that sort of melting pot, the cuisine didn’t need to be that defined.” This melting pot of cuisine translates to dishes ranging from Jersey milk haloumi with roast crimson grapes, honey and sherry to barbecued WA marron with Israeli couscous to spiced cauliflower with labne and cashews. Nomad also specialises in boutique Australian wines, showcasing the smaller regions that Rebecca and Al originally fell in love with.
Rebecca also finds herself in the unique position today of being a female restaurateur with a female head chef, Jacqui Challinar, in a fairly male-dominated industry. “I don’t think women grow up thinking they are going to be a chef or a sommelier or a restaurateur,” she says of the rarity of her female team. “But then again, I didn’t hire Jacqui because she was female. She was up against three men at the time and she met the brief. She excelled. I had an external recruitment consultant help assist in that hiring process and she told me Jac was my man.”
Rebecca Yazbek at Nomad