You're going to have to order the sandwich. There's some pretty exciting stuff going on between sliced white at the moment, but the golden soldiers of pan-fried brioche holding thin layers of smoked wagyu tongue and pickled green tomato at Mercado are hard to beat. Bring a glass of lightly oxidative chardonnay from Jura producer Jean Bourdy into the mix and it's basically unstoppable. On the strength of this combination alone it's easy to see this place being a hit.
Mercado's menu will be pleasantly familiar to anyone who enjoyed chef Nathan Sasi's cooking at Nomad in Surry Hills. There's the same commitment to making as much as possible from scratch - the bread, the charcuterie, the "everything" vinegar that dresses the impeccable leaf salad - and he's still working with the flavours of the Mediterranean. The presence of piquillo peppers, romesco sauce and sobrasada signal that Moorish flavours and culture, too, remain a passion. Ortiz anchovies laid across roasted bullhorn peppers on crisps of pastry almost rival the tongue sandwich for the title of most essential bar snack. But they and the likes of the salt fish croquettes with lemon mayonnaise and morcilla with smoked white beans are joined on the menu by less Spanish things such as wood-fired prawns with bottarga and shellfish butter, and a lush plate of Turkish ravioli stuffed with gooey wood-roasted pumpkin and dressed with yoghurt and isot pepper.
Most of the main courses come with a lick of smoke from the rôtisserie or the wood-fired oven: chickens, lambs, suckling pigs, Blackmore wagyu blade. Snapper fillet makes a great case for the kitchen's facility with flame, juicy and sweet against a backdrop of spiced eggplant and pomegranate.
Sitting in a glammed-up room just below street level on the corner between Ash Street and China Lane, Mercado seems very well placed to make a killing as part of the new Martin Place push, opening ahead of new projects still to come nearby from Icebergs' Maurice Terzini and Andrew Cibej, the restaurateur behind Vini, Ester and Berta. And that's just on the strength of the sandwich alone.
Mercado, 4 Ash St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9221 6444; open lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm, dinner Mon-Thu 5.30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm.