NOUR Contemporary Lebanese with a twist on Crown Street - Concrete Playground
New kid on the Surry Hills block, Nour, should have the fine dining glitterati shivering in their boots; long gone are the days when hat-quality food was only accessible to Sydney's elite. This restaurant is testament to our city's ability to deliver first-class fare and fine wine in a casual yet sophisticated setting.
What Nour does so well is offer us a thing of contrasts: the pastel-heavy, airy interior is enough to fool diners into thinking they'll get a 'play it by the rules' middle-of- the-road experience, but we're sorely mistaken. Executive chef Roy Ner's (formerly Aria) lineup is bold and experimental in nature, sporting dishes prepared with a twist. Buzzword overload? Just hear us out. It's as though any notion of tradition has been ostracised to make room for modern versions of what we've come to love and trust from our favourite Middle Eastern cuisine.
"Take a leap outside of the box while your eyes flirt with our beautiful, contemporary interior and your senses are set alight. You think you know Lebanese food but we want to show you the surface is yet to be scratched and there is so much more to offer," claims Nour. Although the venue's food philosophy is fluffy and reeks of a bad press release, there's actually a lot of truth beyond the hyperbole.
Nour's menu is designed to share, so we settle on a starter, a couple of small plates, a large plate and dessert to polish things off. Remember how we hinted at 'bold' and 'experimental'? Well, here goes. The baby prawn felafel with smoked black tahini and coriander ($18) is enough to offend even the slightest loyalist. Baby prawn. And falafel. We know, right? But it works, if only a little dry and stingy on the tahini. More sauce, please!
For something more complex, try the bastirma-style spiced kingfish with celeriac, garlic chips and chilli ($24). Although beautifully presented — it's seriously like an edible colour bomb — the dish is disappointing. We're not quite sure the flavour combination allows for the hero, the kingfish, to really take centre stage. Texturally interesting, but lacking in refinement (we craved something silky and moist), we'll skip this on our next sitting.
The heroes? The hummus with zaatar smoked goat, pomegranate and Persian lime ($21) and the lamb shoulder, mograbiah (pearl couscous), lamb's tongue with date dressing ($39). Although both standouts, we can't go past the lamb. Described by our dining companion as somewhat "lacking the drama" of, say, the Apollo's indulgent shoulder, Nour should be praised for honouring the simple flavours of a dish that goes wrong a surprising number of times 'round Sydney's culinary traps. If you're looking for something to pair this with, go for the charcoal eggplant with pickled green tomato, lupini beans and goat's curd emulsion ($21) for just the right amount of sweet and tangy.
But the real showstoppers are the desserts. The baklava 'our way' ($15) is served in what appear to be dense balls of ice cream. Tap into them and you get perfectly chewy, nutty baklava. For the more adventurous, it's the camel milk mouhalabieh (traditional-style Lebanese flan, $17) you'll want to get amongst. A bed of flowers sits atop the delicate milk creation that hides below and we just can't get enough. In all honesty, these sweets are enough to keep us coming back.
It's no secret that Crown Street is seeing an eating and drinking resurgence. As the strip's pubs are overhauled, Japanese institutions challenged, and trendoids seemingly at ease with the influx of higher-end dining options, Nour is a most welcome edition. With memorable flavours on offer, atmosphere aplenty, and room for both solo and group diners alike, we hope this one's here to stay.