Jesse McTavish sums up Nomada in one social-media-friendly utterance: “#noflowers”.
It’s a change in emphasis, then, from the last landmark project he was involved in, The Kettle Black, which generated plenty of its own hashtags with edible flora atop porridge, in sandwiches and scattered in salads. The presentation at Nomada is more laid-back.
Set in the former home of Hammer & Tong on Brunswick Street, the cafe is a collaboration between five hospitality veterans: another Jesse, this one Gerner (chef and owner at Bomba, Anada and Green Park); Michael Burr (also of Bomba); Greg McFarland (ex-chef at The Kettle Black); and Shane Barrett (of Northcote’s latest indie bottle-o, Samuel Pepys).
Designed by Samantha Eades, who worked on Bomba and Green Park, the 50-seat space has a hand-pressed tile bar, Scando furniture, hand-stitched leather upholstery and the occasional bit of (fake) fur. Picture’s of McTavish’s dad rocking a bus-sized longboard hang on a denim-coloured wall. “It feels warm and lived in,” says McTavish.
Gerner and McTavish have continued to raid the night-time-dining pantry for things to bring to breakfast. This time they’re doing tapas, inspired by Gerner’s travels around Spain and McTavish’s appetite for solo surf journeys.
“Jesse and I are both sort of nomads. I’ll jump into my car and go surfing for a couple of days, cook over fires, and he did the same through Europe,” McTavish explains. “It’s nice lighting a fire in the morning and having that smell. The food style we’re doing is really pared back and clean … We just wanted to tell a story about what we really love to do.”
If you’re thinking tinned meat and eggs cooked on a shovel, you’ll be disappointed. Nomada’s about fermentation, dehydration, water-baths, vacuum-packs, compression and curing, with a bit of wood smoke for good measure.
Ceviche, for instance, is vacuum-sealed to order, compressing the acid throughout the fish consistently for each diner. Almonds are pressed in-house, and their milk is heated at 40 degrees overnight to make a cultured yoghurt. Anchovies are caught off Lake’s Entrance and cured especially for the restaurant. Cabbages are fermented – twice – then dehydrated and ground into a powder that’s used as a salt substitute. Olives are aged in hessian sacks for two weeks and used for a similar purpose. The avocado remains, defiantly, unsmashed.
“There’s no flowers, no garnish, no nothing. But the work in it is just as much as anything else we’ve done, if not more,” says McTavish. “We’re trying to understate the presentation – it’s a bit of a modern trend, and I kind of like it”
One standout dish is the pumpkin porridge laced with Catalonian flavours of cinnamon and orange. Below the oats are sultana grapes, dehydrated during this summer’s harvest, then plumped up in a bath of pure Pedro Ximenez. On top is a crumble of those pressed almonds, made savoury and a little salty, which contrasts with a smoky dash of maple. “It warms your cockles,” says McTavish.
The sherry selection is also warming, selected especially by Barrett, with four varieties on the list at present. Wines are from both old world and new, such as the Henty Farm Riesling and the Azul y Garanza Garnacha. While there’s Capitol Coffee brewing, McTavish prefers the stuff from Ochota Barrels: “The venue does lend itself to drinking vermouth in the afternoon,” he says. “Or for breakfast.”
Nomada Cafe y Tapas
412 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9416 4102
Mon to Friday 7am–4pm
Sat & Sun 8am–4pm