A devotee of Middle Eastern eats, Leigh-Ann Pow sets the bar high at a culinary hotspot on the rise.
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.
Shop 3, 490 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW
The verdict: With the bar set high, Nour cleared it effortlessly, with every element of the experience, from the food to the staff to the setting, hitting the mark.
We rated: The depth of flavours and the clever (but never tricky) modern interpretation of tried and true classics. And special mention goes to the delightful décor.
We’d change: The wine list, which features some interesting new world wines, could be a little bit more inclusive: it’s good but it’s not excellent.
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