They're not garlic cloves. The glistening hillocks on our wagyu beef shortrib are melt-in-the-mouth dabs of bone marrow, splashed over with a richly sweet jus poured with ceremony at our table. It's a dish that exemplifies the approach at Mercado - simple and uncomplicated fare that doesn't rely on fancy garnishes or plating.
Mercado, which means market in Spanish, is the latest undertaking for head chef and co-owner Nathan Sasi. There's a strong continuation of the in-house food production he instilled at his last restaurant, Nomad. Here you can expect house-made cheeses, small goods, breads and preserves, as well as nose-to-tail use of its whole animals butchered in-house.
De Sol mocktail of house made rhubarb cordial, orange soda and grapefruit $9
and Custard & Co apple cider (Donnybrook, WA) $10
We find the place is full by 7pm on a Saturday night. A glass facade provides passersby on Ash Street a view into its subterranean dining room and the open kitchen. The dining room extends behind the bar into a cosy alcove filled with banquette seating and a stately wooden table for a group of eight.
Mercado's house-cured meats, pickles and bread $32
The menu is split into a large list of snacks, half a dozen mains cooked either in the rotisserie or wood oven, and a handful of sides. We start with Mercado's house-cured meats, pickles and bread. Sasi's passion runs from his father, himself a small goods maker when he emigrated from Hungary to Australia in the 1970s.
We flit between shavings of smoked culatello, fennel salami, smoked wagyu cecina and the perennial favourite, the truffle mortadella. The fattiness of each meat melts tantalisingly on our tongue. The little platter of pickled carrots, cauliflower, radishes and some fiery chillies offers acidic relief.
Foie gras parfait, cornichons and toast $29
The foie gras parfait is an unassuming slab on the plate, but seriously, if there's one dish you should order at Mercado, it's this one.
Foie gras parfait on toast
If creamy, silky, boozy richness is your idea of a good time, then hit speed dial on the parfait. It's even better on the hunk of sourdough, heavily charred on the grill so it's sweetly caramelised.
Buffalo milk haloumi, honey and za'atar $19
The buffalo milk haloumi is also made in-house, made by hand everyday in the kitchen.
Buffalo milk haloumi
There's a noticeably light milkiness to this, still squeaky but without the usual heavy saltiness you get from vacuum-sealed packets imported from overseas. The haloumi is sweetened with a drizzle of honey and tempered by savoury notes from the nutty za'atar, fresh oregano leaves and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon.
Smoked wagyu tongue in brioche, pickled green tomato $16
Are toasted sandwiches the new slider? We're not complaining if they include as much attention to detail as this one. Two fingers of toasted brioche hold thin shavings of smoked wagyu tongue and pickled green tomato. It's rich but good.
Spit roasted wagyu beef shortrib with bone marrow salsa $48
The spit roasted wagyu beef shortrib doesn't look insurmountable but wait until you see the fatty slices within.
Wagyu beef shortrib
The meat slides straight off the bone, each mouthful almost squelching with fatty lusciousness. The cleansing effect of the salsa verde is completely obliterated by the chunks of bone marrow. But we're not complaining. We're just rapidly reaching satiation.
Dripping roast potatoes with roasted garlic creme fraiche
How do you make roast potatoes even better? Cook them in dripping. And then serve with roasted garlic creme fraiche on the side. I don't know if Mercado has a defibrillator on site but they should invest in one. We demolish these nuggets of crunch with voracity.
Callos a la Madrilena - oven roasted tripe, espelette and migas
It's also worth ordering the callos a la Madrilena, one of my favourite dishes from Madrid. This dish will change your mind about tripe, transforming it into soft and melting ribbons.
Oven roasted tripe, espelette and migas
Here they've removed the chickpeas and blood sausage and covered the lot in breadcrumbs (migas) but there's still a satisfying sense of comfort with each spoonful.
The open kitchen
I always admire the unmitigated honesty of an open kitchen. The kitchen here runs the length of the front dining room allowing diners a no-holds-barred view into its inner workings.
Spit roasted chicken
Cooking Turkish ravioli
Calling dockets on the pass
Assembling the Ortiz anchovy tart with roasted bull horn peppers
Plating the Turkish ravioli
Chefs on the line
Pouring vanilla sauce on the Gateaux Basque at the table
I return to our table just in time for the arrival of our dessert. We only have room to share one dessert between the three of us, and have no regrets when the gateaux Basque lands before us. Again there's an impressive sense of showmanship when the vanilla sauce is poured across its surface.
Gateaux Basque, preserved cherries and vanilla sauce $17
Inside the Gateaux Basque
The almond-y cake soaks up the vanilla bean-flecked sauce greedily. We find little pockets of preserved cherries that add bursts of sweetness. So good it even comes with a cherry on top.
I'm still aghast I didn't have room for cheese, a process that involves the cheese trolley being wheeled over to your table for your browsing satisfaction. A small number of these are made inhouse.
Like all good markets, the choices on offer at Mercado change regularly according the season. Even more reason to go again soon.
4 Ash Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9221 6444
Monday to Friday 12pm-2.30pm and 5.30pm-11pm
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Nomad, Surry Hills
Spanish - Bodega Tapas Bar
Spanish - Encasa Deli
Madrid - Mercado de la Cebada
Madrid - La Perejila (callos a la madrilena)
Madrid - All the foods you need to eat
15 comments - Add some comment love
6/27/2016 01:38:00 am