The Nomads takes you on a winding, contemporary gastronomic exploration of the cuisines of Central Asia that will make you want to travel the world for food.
Caveat: we know little of Central Asia. All we know is that it includes part of the Middle East, Russia and its former Soviet republics, and stretches all the way to the western reaches of China. We certainly almost nothing about the cuisines of the historically nomadic people encompassed within that vast, inland region. And we’d daresay most Singaporeans are similarly unfamiliar.
But perhaps that’s the very reason why founders Shawn Kishore and Olzhas Zhiyenkulov set up newly-opened contemporary Central Asian restaurant The Nomads. Tucked within tiki bar Bee’s Island Drinkery, the cosy 30-seater – 20 in the main dining area and another 10 in a hidden private VIP space – offers a modern gastronomic trail through the ancient Silk Road.
“We wanted to showcase the region’s rich array of delicacies in a unique way. Everything from the ingredients used, cooking techniques, ambience, down to the last vessel that my team and I personally moulded and hand-painted, (aims to create) an unforgettable experience,” shares Kishore, whose Five Ten Holdings operates Bee’s Island Drinkery and casual Taiwanese eatery Salted Plum. Kishore and Executive Chef Dannel Krishnan recently traveled through Central Asia with Kazakhstan native Zhiyenkulov, and the dishes offered at The Nomads are inspired by their own gastronomic journey.
“Aside from paying homage to traditional dishes and ingredients found along the Silk Road, the menu also represents our sojourn in Kazakhstan, where we were fortunate enough to have tasted some incredible food and experienced wonderful hospitality,” explains Chef Dannel.
The Nomads offers three different omakase tasting menus – A Trail Ablaze ($98++) and The Odyssey of Fire ($148++) offers 11 and 17 different courses respectively, while the Nirvana ($188++) numbers a mind-numbing 22 courses.
We’re pretty sure the food isn’t wholly authentic – it’s certainly elevated – but we’re assured that the flavours will still be familiar to those from the region. For example one of the canapes here is inspired by the meat pastry that is the samsa, which can be found in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and even Xinjiang in China. Likewise the Turkic beshbarmak – a national dish commonly served to honoured guests – here is a modern version featuring wagyu cheek in a spiced broth, with potato sheets instead of the usual noodles.
Then there’s the plov, the version here done in the Samarkand style even if the rice used is carnaroli and comes chockful with wagyu striploin, bone marrow, heirloom carrots and raisins. It’s very rich – cooked as it is in beef fat – but the flavours are undeniably bold and expressive. Much lighter is the laghman; the classic Uyghur noodle dish eschews the usual handpulled flour noodles for strips of squid instead.
But we’re most impressed with the Hungarian sturgeon, the lightly grilled slabs of fish brushed with a soy butter emulsion and dill oil, and topped with crunchy grains. It’s a perfect combination of flavour and texture, and a plate that would astonish even at the best fine-dining establishments.
Be sure to save some of the Kazakh-style bread – and the accompanying butter – to mop up the juices, sauces and gravies that come with the various courses.
There’s a beverage pairing menu – comprising of a couple glasses of wine and some cocktails – but we don’t quite think it’s necessary for a complete experience. Stump up for a bottle of Chateau Musar White ($140++) instead; the robust white from the Lebanese producer hold ups very well to the plethora of flavours across the tasting menu.
As we alluded to earlier having never travelled to Central Asia we have no idea what the cuisines there are really like. But strip aside provenance and inspiration, and you’ll still find these elevated versions of traditional, homely Central Asian dishes at The Nomads sheer culinary artistry.
And it does make you think about wanting to go on a food pilgrimage to that part of the world that may never have been on your bucket list. In that sense, Kishore and Zhiyenkulov have achieved their purpose.
Address 70 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 048458 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 11.30am to 4pm and 6pm to 11pm on Mondays and Tuesdays; 6pm to 12am on Wednesdays to Saturdays; closed on Sundays
Tel (65) 6977 7057