Food News

Nomad Melbourne, the long-awaited follow-up to the Sydney original, is finally open on Flinders Lane

“Opening a restaurant over Facetime is not an easy thing to do.”
A landscape shot of the dining room, with booth seating to the left and a kitchen full of ched

Nomad Melbourne is finally open on Flinders Lane. Photo: Sharyn Cairns

Have you tried travelling interstate at any point over the last two years? Between border closures, lockdowns and other pandemic hurdles to overcome, just planning a holiday away is a bit of a nightmare these days. Now imagine instead of a long weekend trip, you were trying to open a restaurant in another state. And not just any restaurant, but a long-awaited follow-up to one of the best restaurants in Sydney, in one of the best-known dining precincts in the country.

That’s what Jacqui Challinor, the executive chef at Nomad Sydney (and as of yesterday, Nomad Melbourne), has been dealing with. And she’s a bit knackered.

“Opening a restaurant over Facetime is not an easy thing to do,” says Challinor. “It was pretty bloody difficult … opening one restaurant [after lockdown] and then literally getting in a car and then coming down to open a second – I’m tired, I’m pretty beat.”

(Left to right) Co-owner Al Yazbek, beverage director Ged Bellis, co-owner Rebecca Yazbek, executive chef Jacqui Challinor

(Photo: Nomad)

Nomad is a fire-powered Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-leaning restaurant in Sydney that, under Challinor’s careful stewardship since 2014, has become one of Australia’s most feted restaurants – both locally and abroad. But she’s had a wild couple of years: a fire in late 2019 forced Nomad Sydney out of its Surry Hills home and into a new spot, literally Up the Road. Then, Nomad reopened properly in January 2020, just in time for COVID-19. At the same time, plans for Nomad’s expansion into Melbourne – initially slated for June 2020 – were continually scuppered by successive Victorian lockdowns.

But things are looking up again. Sydney’s finding its mojo, and Nomad Sydney is “busier than it’s ever been in eight years of trading,” Challinor says. (Beau, its spin-off and wine bar and deli,is coming next.) And Nomad Melbourne opened yesterday, at long last.

So how does it compare to the original? The most prominent difference is the space. Where Nomad Sydney, in its converted warehouse, is light and bright; Nomad Melbourne – because of its basement dining room that was formerly home to Ezard – is narrower and darker, with caramel leather booths, banquette seating, soft sconce lighting and neutral walls. It feels like Nomad, and it feels like Melbourne. As with Sydney, the kitchen has pride of position in the room: wherever you’re sitting, you’ll get a good view of the team – led by head chef Brendan Katich, who worked here while it was Ezard – while they work.

Those chefs are cooking a menu that, just like the room, blends old with new. Favourites from Nomad Sydney’s menu – the kingfish ceviche, zucchini flowers with pecorino and truffle honey, Challinor’s olive oil ice-cream sandwich – are all present and accounted for, but the bulk of the line-up is comprised of newcomers taking full advantage of Victorian produce.

“The joy of this is being able to do something new, in a new environment, and the produce down here is insane,” Challinor says.

“Don’t get me wrong, you can get your hands on some beautiful stuff in Sydney, but the proximity and the abundance of growers down here – and how easy it is to get – is mind-blowing. It’s a pretty special place.”

Raven’s Creek pork from Moriac in Victoria’s Surf Coast region is one of the stars of the new menu. It shows up on the plate as a dry-aged cutlet that’s cooked over the hearth then dressed with a golden-raisin and caper salsa. In another dish, baked ricotta with Ortiz anchovies and roasted peppers, the cheese is made in-house with Jersey milk from the Messina dairy farm in Numurkah, about a three-hour drive north of Melbourne.

Drinks, by beverage director Ged Bellis, showcase Australian growers and winemakers, with a particular focus on Victorian producers. There are over 30 wines by the glass, with a slight lean towards whites. The few international representatives on the list come predominantly from France, with cameos from South Africa, New Zealand and the US.

There’s a substantial non-alcoholic drinks range, including cocktails such as the Nogroni, Heaps Normal non-alcoholic beer, and alt-vino from Non. Every signature cocktail heroes a different spirit (The Tequila Drink, The Rum Drink), but the bar can make all the classics, too.

The Nomad Melbourne dining room.

(Photo: Sharyn Cairns)

Melbourne is a very different place to what it was when Nomad was announced back in 2019. And Flinders Lane, despite still being the nexus of the city’s culinary culture, is situated in a CBD that’s in the middle of a pandemic-induced identity crisis. No one’s sure what the city centre will look like in a few months’ time. But Challinor couldn’t be happier to finally be here.

“Melbourne’s been through hell and back, but when freedom’s there, people embrace it, it will come back, I’m so confident that it will,” she says. “And as far as iconic dining destinations in Australia go, Flinders Lane is up the top, so I’m especially proud and honoured to have a little place here to call our own.”

“We cannot wait to see the city come back to life again.”

Nomad Melbourne

187 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Vic

Mon-Tue 5pm-late

Wed-Sun 11am-late

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