Going from owning and operating Cuckoo Callay, one of Newtown’s most beloved and youthful cafes, to running what is now a hatted restaurant in Surry Hills may seem like a huge leap for young restaurateurs Ibby Moubadder and Eleanor Harris, but it’d certainly come as no surprise to anyone who enters Nour. As soon as one steps off Crown Street through that large fantastical pink door and into an absorbing rose gold glow of peach and salmon pink, natural oak, and some really beautiful copper detailing, it’d be a safe bet to count on them becoming a regular.
Designers DS17 (Alpha, Bel & Brio) have turned in what is perhaps some of their finest work to date, lifting Ibby and Eleanor’s adventurous restaurant far beyond your everyday Surry Hills newbie, shaping several dining and drinking spaces that flow into one grand, gorgeous space complemented by far-end greenery, a spacious front-bar, a theatrical open-kitchen, and a seductive private dining room. Seriously, this is one very good looking restaurant, a graceful and highly attractive space that sets the perfect tone for Middle Eastern done differently.
And “done differently” really is the key here. Israeli Executive Chef Roy Ner (ex-Aria, The Owl House), Palestinian chef Nadar Shayeb (formerly of London’s Moro), and Israeli senior sous chef Ran Kimelfeld (formerly of Tel Aviv’s Raphael Restaurant) riff off of Ibby’s Lebanese roots to create something much different from what one would think when diving into the cuisine, rethinking and reinterpreting the big, bold flavours of the Middle East to bring Sydney a gift that’s truly exciting. And what a gift it is.
One could easily tell from a visit to Cuckoo Callay that these owners have imagination by the tonne, and they’ve made full use of that for Nour, working with the reputable kitchen team so guests won’t be sitting down to predictable servings of traditional Baba ghanoush and fattoush. No, this extravagant atmosphere demands some risks so for entrees one would find the likes of the Israeli influenced Old City Mix ($15), a curious dish that makes use of offal like chicken hearts, liver, and spleen wrapped in a pan-fried yoghurt flat bread. The intense flavour is lifted with bits of grilled lamb and shavings of radish, delicious enough to win over most who would cringe at the mention of offal. Just as surprising is the Ox Tail ($19) with black chickpeas and puffed grains wrapped tight in vine leaves, served with a burnt onion dip, a nice showcase of what Nour is all about: accessing these big flavours of the Middle East via the road less traveled.
The big wood-fire oven between the open kitchen and front bar pumps out such beautifully soft, puffy breads so ordering some up with pickles and dips is an absolute must for groups, if not just to have an anchor that’s closer to familiar Lebanese cuisine while you go off on tangents with the more unexpected, exciting plates.
Other starters range from Pacific Oysters ($5 each) dressed with a pomegranate margarita sorbet, mint and sumac, to the meaty Crispy Cumin Quail ($22) which is served with crispy burnt eggplant, blistered chili and onion sprouts.
Those ordering up the quail will surely want another dig at the kitchen’s use of eggplant, in which case a smart choice would be the Charcoal Eggplant ($21) with pickled green tomato, lupini beans and goat’s curd emulsion. It’s beautifully crispy and smokey on the outside before the soft, melt-in-your-mouth middle dances on the tongue. Those smokey notes are mirrored by the essential order of Charcoal Octopus ($27), a strong and generous serving of tentacle that’s balanced with fresh fennel, olives, and a nice drizzle of harissa oil, pairing up well with the soft yemenite bread.
Looking at the “smaller” plates further, Nour also do a beautiful tartare, but instead of the typical beef this is a Lamb Tartare ($22) with quail eggs, pickled okra, and some more of that divine yoghurt bread. The tartare is wet with a rich, intense flavour that makes one wonder why more restaurants aren’t jumping away from the classic steak.
It’d be tempting to go for the huge Lamb Shoulder ($39) or the beastly Wood Roast Spiced Short Rib ($46) (both big enough for two to three diners) but surprisingly it’s the Snapper ($38) that proves the most valuable main for Nour. It’s served as a fillet underneath a crispy saffron cracker, one that’s been flavoured with squid ink sauce that drips down onto the bed of interesting, creamy cuttlefish rice with caramelised leek and nuts to give add extra depth.
Unsurprisingly dessert is just as imaginative. The best pick: Baklava Our Way ($15), a leap away from the syrupy sweet classic towards something a bit more “deconstructed”: pieces of crispy pastry sticking close to cinnamon and sesame seed marshmallow with goat’s milk mousse and cashew ice cream. The dessert is a fairly modest way to round out a feast that brings a whole new perspective on Middle Eastern cuisine, but it’s just enough to cap the night off with some sweet satisfaction. For those hungrier, there’s always the Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake ($15), the Middle Eastern Bombe Alaska ($16), or the gorgeous, light Camel Milk Mouhalabieh ($17) with rose water, rhubarb, and jallāb.
So what about the drinks? Ibby has called upon the talents of Master of Wine Ned Goodwin to help put together a list that sources from Greece, Italy, Lebanon, and across Australia, while the cocktails have been designed by none other than Amir Halpert, who most will know from one of Sydney’s very best small bars, The Owl House.
Again, what a beautiful gift Nour is to Sydney’s more open-minded diners. If you’re lucky enough to be able to secure a booking between now and the end of the year, I highly recommend heading along and experiencing an imaginative twist of Middle Eastern food.
Address: 490 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Contact: (02) 9331 3413
Lunch Hours: Thurs-Sat 12pm-3pm
Dinner Hours: Mon-Wed 5pm-10pm; Thurs-Sat 5pm-12am
Headline image: Charcoal Octopus | Supplied.