The Nomads review: A Central Asian restaurant that reinvents flavours of the Silk Road
Along the Silk Road
For a tiny city like Singapore, there's no shortage of diversity when it comes to eating your way through the food scene. Local chefs have nailed the artisan of making fresh pasta, crossroads cuisine has made its mark, and let's just say heritage local eats can be sorted under five dollars. But if there's one thing that Singaporeans can't really sing about here, it would be Central Asian grub. Because well, most of us can't exactly pinpoint what it entails. For starters, it is a mouthful unless you're already well acquainted with the Silk Road trail.
It starts from Southern Italy all the way to Western China. Along the way, you'll drop in countries like Kazakhstan, Persia, Tibet, Iraq, Turkey, Greece, and many more. It's a long exhaustive journey but that also means a smorgasbord for flavours and pairings that we never knew existed. So leave it to The Nomads to fuel your curiosity — the intimate restaurant stands as our city's first to champion Central Asian cuisine, with founders Shawn Kishore of Five Ten Holdings and Olzhas Zhiyenkulov, a Kazakhstan native, alongside executive chef Dannel Krishnan (formerly at Kite and The Salted Plum) to set the benchmark. At least for our local palate to render the lesser-known foods and spices.
Instead of sticking to a extensive tasting menu (spanning from 11 to 22 courses), there are also à la carte options for those bred for a smaller appetite. Diving straight into the abyss, it's intriguing to taste without actually knowing what you're in for. Which works to the advantage and disadvantage of The Nomads. Its custom-made grill pit comes into play for almost every single dish here — no matter how little or important its role is — you'll find out through nuances of smoke, earth, and char, which stood to be a good thing here.
You begin every meal here with a ceremonial toast, not before picking out of the many handcrafted pottery cups here. Once that's been filled up with their in-house mocktail, glasses clink and it's go-time. Lamb samsa was one of the many worthy learnings here: A baked pastry topped with meat typically enjoyed in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. But at The Nomads, we bit into lamb tartare from fresh Mottainai lamb short loin, coned in an aegis of coffee sugar that levitated the savoury spiced chunks. An ode to Singapore came in the form of a pie tee shell, with the sweetness of housemade kaya gracing poached Argentinean prawns. Also a dollop of Kristal caviar to garnish. The unlikely union worked so well that we might consider adding a touch of green jam into our future kueh pie tees.
We broke bread next. Well, a traditional Kazakhstan-styled loaf to be exact. Unlike bread courses that we were used to, this wasn't fluffy and leaned towards a denser bite. Also slightly sour — resembling the taste of sourdough — stemming from the use of yoghurt within. It's accompanied with a bone, with a hollow surface holding up two dips: A seaweed butter and a foie gras parfait with spices and roasted pine nuts. The latter changes seasonally, but we assure you — it will always encompass animal fat.
The Nomads have also made noodles out of squid, that adopts its flavour profile from a native noodle dish in Uyghur, Xinjiang. The squid strips are lightly grilled then joined with cubes of bone marrow and tossed in a peppercorn sauce. While we wished for more intense heat to come through, try making a note to the servers prior to the dish if that's what you're game for. Our risotto dish (that was inspired by plov, an Uzbek staple) sat a little more on the saltier end, which some wouldn't mind, and some would, so make your requests known if you have specific preferences. The same goes when you're savouring a 17-course menu; if you're not feeling stuffed by the 16th, relay it to the folks here, and they'll make sure you won't leave hungry. After all, you'll be having constant interactions with the chefs and servers anyway — their seating is counter-top only, apart from a hidden private dining room.
Meat dishes like the beef cheek — a reimagination of beshbarmak, Kazakhstan's national dish — teased the palate with a tender slab, doused with a tea-infused spiced broth and joined by potato sheets, an onion medley, and pickled shallots. The bowl of comfort resulted in a light, fragrant iteration of a French onion soup, which we slurped down to the very last drop. Other punchy plates included a foie gras in ash, where chef Dannel dabbled goose liver with cherry gastrique and charred breadcrumbs in a single heady bite.
But even our fervent hunger for meats couldn't tear us away from the restaurant's house salad. Stemmed from Almaty, where the fruits are abundant and otherworldly, as to what we can ever find in our local grocery store. Their salat, the pretty plate of greens (sparking a piquant char) laid with a medley of chilled sliced fruits. Think juicy pears glazed with cherry vinaigrette, bursts of pomegranate, cherries, which meshed immaculately with an anchovy sauce. We might have just met the antithesis of the Caesar Salad here.
The engimatic cuisine is undoubtedly, a trail of unknown produce and senses, so to really get a good glimpse into it, come hungry with an open mind and go big on one of the tasting menus. Which is aligned with pockets of soundbites and stories from the chefs themselves, to complete the satisfying meal here.
70 Telok Ayer St, #01-01, Tel: 6977 7057
Opening hours: 11.30am-2.30pm, 6pm-9.30pm