If you’re not yet under the spell of mezcal, a night at Casa Nom will change that. The Mexican spirit – a smoky, earthy distillation made from the heart of the agave plant – is at the centre of the Greville Street bar’s drinks program.
Owners Thomas and Nicholas Welch (Americana dive bar Silverlake Social and the neon-lit White Oaks Saloon) have opened a shiny new bar that leans heavily into traditional Latin American spirits (and serves booze-friendly regional cuisine). Casa Nom takes you to a world where agave – rather than rye, corn or barley, as at the duo’s other venues – is the star of the distillation show.
“We wanted it to be a place where you can treat [mezcal] like whisky,” says Nicholas.
There are five mezcals on the menu, including a $19 Delirio Anejo, which is produced by Ricardo Gonzalez, a fourth-generation grower and distiller from Oaxaca, Mexico. You can pair it with beer, or order by the half shot if you want to try them all.
There’s also pisco (a potent spirit produced in the winemaking regions of Chile and Peru, with light grape-y elements), barrel-aged cachaca (a spirit made from fermented sugarcane), aguardiente (which translates roughly to “fire water”) and a selection of American rums. The Welches have dedicated plenty of time to sourcing spirits they’re hoping you’ve never tried before, making Casa Nom the sort of place where you can impress your more drink-savvy friends, but with service that makes it approachable for the novice.
Cocktails are diverse and also serve the Latin theme. Paired with Select Aperitivo and two kinds of vermouth, raicilla – a fragrant gin-like cousin to mezcal and tequila – brings a floral edge to what is essentially a tequila Negroni. In the Jamaica Crush, mezcal sits at the bottom of the glass and flavours of cinnamon, hibiscus flowers, ginger, lime and cardamom are stacked on top. There’ll always be a Mule on tap, made with a rotating spirit, such as rum or mescal, mixed with lime and ginger beer.
All the wine is Latin American, so you won’t find any shiraz on the list. Get familiar with regional varietals such as carmenere, a member of the cabernet family that originated in France but is now mostly grown in Chile. Or a big, punchy malbec from Bodegas Esmeralda Tilia in Mendoza, Argentina. Beer is a mix of crisp South American lagers and complex local styles that make clever food matches, such as Stomping Ground’s salty-sour guava gose.
The kitchen is plating traditional fare that holds its own against the booze. Forget tacos – instead order choripan, a type of Argentinian sandwich stuffed with chorizo, chimichurri, salsa criolla (a combination of chopped capsicum and onion with red wine vinegar and oregano), mozzarella and pico de gallo (tomato, coriander, onion, jalapeno and lime). Arepas (flat, dried bread-like discs from Colombia) are served with plantains, black beans, cheese and pea guacamole. And vegan empanadas come filled with mushrooms, spinach and potato (or beef, onion and salsa verde for carnivores). If you’re only snacking, try the taco fries, with taco seasoning and chipotle mayo, or sweet corn with lime, queso fresco (a fresh white cheese), sour cream and chilli.
Textured cement walls and subtle touches of agave green remind you of Casa Nom’s inspiration, and contrast with the huge polished stone bar and brass fixtures. The front windows open up completely in the warmer months.
110 Greville Street, Prahran
03 8394 5358
Tue to Fri 4pm–12am
Sat & Sun 12pm–12am
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on August 19, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.