Is a Middle Eastern restaurant without baba ghanoush still worth visiting?

Is a Middle Eastern restaurant without baba ghanoush still worth visiting?

TERRY DURAK (goodfood.com.au)

I bought a camel

says Nour’s Israeli-born executive chef Roy Ner. It’s the chef’s equivalent of “I bought a jeep,” and if nothing else, it tells me this Surry Hills newcomer is bringing something new and different both to Sydney and to Lebanese cuisine.

Of course “new and different” is not always what you’re looking for when you’re dealing with one of the world’s great, deep-rooted and time-honoured cuisines.
When the young entrepreneurial owners, Ibby Moubadder and Eleanor Harris of Newtown’s popular Cuckoo Callay cafe, proudly announced there would be no
Lebanese “cliches” such as baba ghanoush or tabbouleh at Nour, I found myself muttering darkly about babies and bathwater.

And there’s the small matter of a prawn falafel on the menu. They’ll falafel just about anything these days.

Then I sort of get seduced by it all; by the pretty pastels, the tiles, the rose pink tubular chairs and marble and wooden-topped tables; and by the souk-chic of the rear wall of glass and greenery, the 20-seat bar, the on-view wood-fired oven and the large central open kitchen, where Ner teams with Palestinian head chef Nader Shayeb and Israeli senior sous chef Ran Kimelfeld.

As for that unlikely verb “to falafel”, the herb-green chickpea mix that forms the classic street food favourite actually works well when moulded around whole, sweet prawns ($18), deep-fried and served with a smoky black tahini; the prawn tail being an added bonus as a handle.

Baba ghanoush may be outlawed, but a creamy smoked labna, chunky tomato and eggplant dip, and spice-laden pumpkin and preserved lemon dip ($17) are sweetly presented in hollows on a rough-cast platter with good house-made pickles and some brilliant puffy Lebanese pita bread and Israeli-style bagel.

The so-called Old City Mix ($15) is the kitchen’s take on the Jerusalem mixed grill, with its chicken offal – hearts, liver and spleen – and random lamby bits layered with radish shavings on thin slippers of soft yoghurt flat bread. Fold it over and eat it with your hands (no cutlery should be allowed near this thing); it’s totally delicious.

Mains are definitely for sharing, such as a cut-down lamb shoulder ($39) that’s been slow-cooked and crusted with seeds, accompanied by sliced and grilled tongue (nicely soft), and a salad of Israeli couscous (mograbiah) and radish in a tangy date dressing.

The cocktail list plays with the same elements as the menu, listing spring’s hot new aperitif, the frosé; basically your rosé, rosewater and strawberry slushie.

Wine consultant Ned Goodwin has wrangled a Euro/Mediterranean list running to a smooth and subtle 2013 La Suertes del Marques “La Stanc” listan negro ($83) from (who knew?) the Canary Islands.

While there’s no camel on the menu yet – it’s still curing in the cool room – there is an angelically white and junkety little camel milk mouhalabieh ($17) topped with blow-torched rhubarb, freeze-dried blueberries and a jallab syrup made with grape molasses.

Appropriately, it’s all very light (Nour is Arabic for light) and likeable. The key here, to me, is in the unlikely but happy mix of Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese, working together to refashion a cuisine everyone adores.

Can’t wait to see how they plan to falafel that camel.

THE LOWDOWN
Best bit: Middle East without being middle-of-the-road
Worst bit: Chairs can be a bit slippery-slidey

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating
is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.

Go-to Dish: Lamb shoulder and tongue with mograbiah and date dressing, $39.