Cautious diners may worry that Nomad is going to be too challenging. They might rather have something simpler, quieter and yes, maybe cheaper. These people are wrong, and we’re about to explain how.
The previous restaurant under the Nomad brand was open in Newport for just a short time and gained a sensational reputation, not least from us. We were unapologetic Nomad fans and spent far too much time and money in there. Now Nomad is back, just a few doors down the road, and it’s grown up a bit. Bigger, more professional, and with some serious investment behind it, Nomad is now in the historic red brick Charter House, arguably the most prominent restaurant location in the town.
Nomad was our place for a lazy weekday lunch, and we both knew what we wanted. The stylish venue was filled with lively club music, wafts of incense, low lighting, fancy silver-tipped chopsticks and a wall of plants to make it very easy to forget we were in Newport on a wet winter weekday.
Cat ordered the express lunch deal – worth a tenner of anyone’s money, as we shall see. Matt eagerly asked if the ‘shut up and feed me’ menu was on for lunch. It was. This is the Nomad signature methodology, where you just pay your money and take whatever the chefs feel like giving you. Sounds scary? There is a full menu for the tentative, but if you’re going here (and you will be, obviously) then you’d be foolish not to just take the ‘shut up’ choice. Four or five exquisite dishes is the norm, which makes £25 excellent value – and ensures you won’t be walking away hungry.
Matt’s first course was cached in a big bamboo steamer, which emitted intriguing wisps of smoke. When he lifted the lid, a plume of goodness rose from the smoke-infused hot food within. This dramatic bit of food theatre, we must underline, took place on a Thursday lunchtime. In January. In Newport – not Shoreditch or Bray.
Sweet, sticky pork reclined opulently in a cloudlike bao; a bowl of pho was bursting with fresh oriental vegetables and herbs, and three little dumplings relinquished their mysterious contents in a few delightful bites.
Once the preserve of cranks, vegan dishes are de rigueur these days; perhaps to the detriment of dairy-lovers everywhere, but who cares about those cheese-eating monkeys? They can go find themselves a ploughman’s elsewhere. No, if a venue is going to have a meat-free option, they might as well go full-on plant-based and be done with it.
And the three-dish vegan lunch deal at Nomad is no half-baked textured vegetable protein option with some crisps thrown on top (yes, we were sold that elsewhere once as a vegan showcase dish). No siree, it’s as full-on sexy muddyfunster as the rest of the Nomad offering. Three vegetable dim sum were prettied up with a sprinkle of saffron-yellow pickled cauliflower and sparky red chilli. When dabbled in their accompanying lemongrass dip, these tender dumplings yielded to the flavour burst, which danced on Cat’s eager tongue.
In the wrong hands tofu can be bland, soggy and regrettable. At Nomad, it is tucked up cosily inside a fluffy bao bun, having been lightly breaded to support its creamy silky-smooth interior. A flavour hit is provided by more red chilli, plus mushroom ketchup caressing the tofu, garlanded with a sprig of aniseedy Thai basil – the chef’s new favourite herb. Soft. Delicious. You need this.
The mushroom ramen pho was so packed with herbs and noodles that the thin broth was pimped up into quite a substantial dish. Like delving into a clown’s pocket, Cat hoyed out forkful after forkful of crispy beansprouts, pickles, skinny noodles and yet more sprigs of that aromatic liquoricey Thai basil and fresh mint leaves. The warming soup was perfect for the inclement day.
Next on the ‘shut up’ conveyor was a prawn laab – a kind of prawn cocktail from Laos. Four succulent king prawns, one still shell-on, with noodles on crisp lettuce leaves, laden with sensationally spicy, tingly stuff and fresh pickles galore.
And then there was more. You know how your heart sinks when you see BBQ on a pub menu? It usually means a perfectly good piece of meat is about to be smothered by some saccharine gloop straight from an American’s overstuffed condiments cupboard. Well it doesn’t have to be like that. Nomad knows how. Matt’s third course – a barbeque jerk chicken leg with baked yam – came infused with a wonderful black, rich, sweet and tangy sauce that was a million miles from those travesties. The bird was steaming hot, tender, and moist. Matt picked up the thigh and devoured it street food-style; tearing into its crispy skin, savouring the baked-in flavours.
And then, trufito – a sensual dessert, glistening with luscious chocolatey promise. At this point Cat, who’d been leaning back moaning with pleasure about how full she was, found room in her pudding stomach. A big dollop of very soft chocolate ice cream was swathed in a heavenly chocolate sauce and freckled with what chefs will call ‘soil’ but we can safely describe as a whole load of crumbled white chocolate. After three stand-out courses Nomad shot for the back of the net and scored yet again. A superbly-judged pudding, indulgent enough to almost be too divinely rich for one person, yet a dish that neither of us wanted to share.
Shut up and feed me (four courses) £25
Express lunch deal (vegan) £10
As well as the outstanding Asian-inspired dishes, we could also rave about the wonderfully classy interior of the venue, the lively cocktail menu, and the promise of a big outdoor area to dine in the summer. But by now, you’ll have got the idea.
We are confident that Nomad is not only as good as it ever was, but better. The chefs have not quite left Mexico behind – Cat’s beloved truffle quesadillas are still on the menu – but the focus is real Asian dishes and this is working very well indeed. ‘Shut up and feed me’ remains the great deal that it always was. If you abdicate control to the kitchen, this option gives even the most tentative Nomad virgin a way to dive straight into an oriental kaleidoscope of a menu with the full confidence that they’re going to get a truly excellent meal.
This is the full-length version of a review that was first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
They might rather have something simpler, quieter and yes, maybe cheaper.
These people are wrong.
- Stylish environment
- Awesome fusion food with a bit of theatrics