“You want people to come to a restaurant and feel good,” Ibby Moubadder, owner of Nour, Henrietta, Cuckoo Callay and, opening today, new Paramatta diner Lilymu, tells Broadsheet. “It’s the dishes that stick in their heart, but it’s how it made them feel that makes them come back.”
Moubadder has created Lilymu in the hopes that people will make return visits. When he was approached by the Walker Corporation – the developer behind a new $3.2 billion project that’s transforming Sydney’s second CBD – they wanted him to open a version of his Surry Hills Middle-Eastern diner Nour. But Moubadder didn’t think the concept would lend itself to the area.
“Nour is very special to me, and I don’t want to have too many of them for the sake of it,” he says. “Nour’s food is a bit rich, and though it’s very delicious, it’s not a restaurant you want to go to multiple times a week. The precinct where it is, there’s a lot of corporate, a lot of dwellings. I wanted to open something a little more approachable for lunch. And I didn’t think Middle-Eastern food, especially Nour’s food, is something you want to eat for lunch all the time.”
Moubadder had considered opening an Asian-influenced diner anyway and, after ex-Mr Wong head chef Brendan Fong expressed interest in coming on board, he decided to commit to the idea. Lilymu’s menu is influenced by both Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines – Fong is half Chinese, while his sous chef Bass Songphum (also ex-Mr Wong) is Thai. Moubadder says that, rather than splitting the menu between the regions, they’re “blending the cuisines, smashing them up a bit. You will eat a dish and it will look Chinese, but it will taste Southeast Asian”.
There are tom yum prawn dumplings, served with a soy and lime dressing, while a Laos-style duck sausage is used in a katsu sandwich. A mi goreng is made with black garlic, and has an egg yolk in the middle and crisp leeks on top (“It’s a play on what you make from the packet at home,” says Moubadder). Live crabs are also on the menu; Fong’s favourite is the white-pepper sauce version, which is based on a dish he enjoyed in Hong Kong. A range of curries, including a prawn red curry and a lamb massaman curry round out the menu. For dessert, the chefs have taken a Latin American-style tres leches cake and given it an Asian-inspired twist by soaking it in milk tea.
To drink, six cocktails which also harness the flavours of Asia. An Old Fashioned is jazzed up with an infusion of pandan and chocolate bitters, while the Tuk Tuk Margarita is infused with Thai chilli and basil, with an extra spicy punch coming from the Sichuan pepper and wasabi-coated rim. An equal amount of attention has been paid to the mocktails – “it’s not just a second thought” – which use non-alcoholic spirits such as Lyre’s and Seedlip.
A 60-strong wine list heavily features biodynamic and Australian wines, with choice selections from Europe. A “reserve list” of 20 premium wines will regularly change, and a range of bottled Asian beers is also available.
The space itself is half indoors, half outdoors – but the al fresco dining area is weatherproof, with mists, fans, heaters and blinds ensuring diners are comfortable no matter what Mother Nature throws at them. Plants have been installed at the entrance. Once they mature, they’ll dangle across the front, creating a screen and a lush garden-like environment. Lilymu can serve alcohol without food, so guests can enjoy a drink at the bar or the lounge section. Two 20-seat communal tables will lend themselves to group dinners, and Moubadder has crafted a playlist to “make people feel good – it’s a vibe”.
The ethos of the restaurant is summed up in its name. “When you dig deep into the meaning of the lily, it resembles purity and passion,” says Moubadder. “The word mu came from Brendan and means ‘rebirth’. There’s a lot of passion from myself and everyone who’s working on it. We are reimagining and redefining cuisines.”
T3.02–3.03 153 Macquarie Street, Parramatta
(02) 7809 4952
Tue to Thu 5.30pm–10.30pm
Fri & Sat 12pm–midnight