After travelling around Australia’s best wineries, restaurateur Al Yazbek and Interiors architect Rebecca Littlemore returned home to Sydney with plans to set up a vineyard-style “cellar door” in the city. The pair managed to secure the perfect site in Surry Hills and they opened the fabulous Nomad restaurant in October 2013.
Since then the 150-seat Nomad venue has gained its position as being the place to go for boutique Australian wines. The food has its own cult following thanks to head chef Nathan Sasi reviving old world techniques such as pickling, curing, cheese making and whole animal butchering.
Al and Rebecca worked with architect Annie Snell for the warehouse conversion in Surry Hills. Built in 1927 the space has a colourful history. Originally a bingo hall for the Air Force Association, then a Chinese lodging house and brothel, it became a garage, and then most recently the Spence & Lyda furniture showroom.
Littlemore recalls that she knew she had found the right place when she saw the solid ironwood columns and the ceiling height. “It was a furniture showroom with a painted white asbestos ceiling. I knew that if the original timber columns were as beautiful as they are, that if we stripped back the surface finishes we would end up with a beautiful space.”
When it came to designing the restaurant, Littlemore had a few priorities on her list. She wanted to keep the warehouse feel. An open, central kitchen was important. She also wanted to use natural materials and local Australian designers. Rendered brick walls were stripped back and floors polished. The hardwood columns were left in their original state and concrete, timber, steel and glass were introduced. Littlemore says her favourite feature in the space are the I-beam foot rails around the bar and kitchen. “I wanted a foot rail that was really comfortable and looked amazing.”
“The most challenging part was turning the space into a restaurant – with kitchen, services, grease trap and air conditioning. Working within a commercial building had restrictions and we were very conscious of our neighbours throughout the process. Any design comes together right at the last minute though – it wasn’t until the furniture arrived that it looked remotely like a restaurant!” says Littlemore.
The bar is constructed from solid concrete and American oak timber. “The timber has been wire brushed so you feel the grain, the metal mesh and our solid steel I beam,” explains Littlemore.
Littlemore wanted a solid timber chair that was designed in Australia. “I had noticed Ross Didier’s work in Shannon Bennett’s Vue de Monde restaurant in Melbourne and loved the attention to detail”. The seating provides the perfect match for the A-Joint tables by Sydney-based designer Henry Wilson.
“Our head chef Nathan Sasi and I designed the plate ware and Malcolm Greenwood was receptive to what we wanted and then made it happen. He did a lot of tests to get the colours we were after and Nathan collected stones from local beaches for the shapes. It was an amazing process seeing them for the first time and seeing how they fit together and looked on our tables.
Littlemore collaborated with Light Project to get the lighting spot on. “We wanted to highlight to timber columns. I also used block and tackles we sourced from around the place and turned these into light fittings with bare Edison bulbs. As much as it is a restaurant cliche, the colour of the light works so well, so we just approached it a little differently.”
“We were fully prepared to open without an art work on the wall. A blank white wall wouldn’t have had the impact but I didn’t want the wrong art piece. After searching, we took the concept of what we were after to our graphic designers, Maud and David Park. They suggested we look at CJ Hendry’s work. We fell in love, called, explained, told her the scale and flew her down from Brisbane. CJ got it done in a week using the skull from the first pig we made into charcuterie. It was hung two days before opening.”
16 Foster St,
Surry Hills NSW Australia
T: +61 2 9280 3395