You know I have to say, I love my job. Not only is my office situated right above the train station at which I get off, but I’ve got decent hours, and most importantly – the people I work with are nothing short of fantastic.
But you know what? Food’s always been a bit of an issue. Sure, you do have the recently revamped MLC which is probably the classiest food court around, and a smattering of mainly Italian-based joints dotting the place, but no restaurant in particular I would write home about or – as it turns out – on which I’d write a blog post. Enter Mercado, the next “big thing” in Martin Place.
Date Last Visited: 13/5/2016
Address: 4 Ash St, Sydney 2000
Recommended Dish(es): truffle mortadella, wagyu tongue brioche, roasted octopus
Situated in the upscale, avant-garde Ash Street (more like an alley, really), Mercado takes things one step further – further down – that is. It’s an underground restaurant, bringing with it the usual sense of hush-hush, only-if-you’re-in-the-know feel. That said, there’s still a fair bit of natural light from above, thanks to ground-level windows.
The fitout doesn’t try too hard to be anything in particular, with mostly modernistic design cues of blacks and neutrals; clean lines and a monotone colour scheme, only harking to something a bit more traditional with the orange-brown palette chosen for the tables. It’s not actually fully consistent – our table, for example, is more of a bronze/brass finish which uh…don’t make for great photography, but I guess it’s great for its antimicrobial properties? Hah!
Anywho, let’s take a step back and focus on the important stuff – to be precise, a man by the name of Nathan Sasi. You may have heard of him as the pioneering head behind Nomad, a restaurant that pretty much set Sydney’s food scene on fire back when it opened in 2013. It was an expression of excellent food and excellent wine, by which its introduction made the rest of Sydney wake up and mutter “wait, what just happened?”
I may be overplaying it a bit, however it’s something I can, for the most part, verify – Nomad was a remarkable experience, even without wine (back when I was a teetotaler), and it was a real shame to see Nathan Sasi take his leave of the place.
At least, until the announcement of Mercado. Boom, he’s back in business!
The menu is simple – there’s a sizable list of starters to share, followed by a short and sweet catalogue of bigger eats from the rotisserie/wood oven (think big, meaty mains), and then a selection of sides and accompaniments. For myself and my dining partner, 4 starters, 1 share main and 1 side was a decent amount of food to go on. Total spend including 3 glasses of wine? Just a hair over $200. You won’t go broke, but it won’t be your everyday meal either.
You know what else is cool? Mercado bakes their own bread in house, produces their own pickles and cures their own meat. I really do appreciate restaurants that try and do as much in house as possible. As Apple has proven, the more of the supply chain you control, the better your product(s) will be.
First up, ortiz anchovy tart w/roasted bull horn peppers. Bloody hell, trust Sasi to source the best, right? Ortiz anchovies are widely regarded as top tier fish, with an intense, briny and even parmesan-like flavour coupled with a surprisingly slick, meaty texture. The tart pastry itself is akin to a very crispy biscuit, and that combination with the flavourful anchovies, as well as the soft and sweet bull horn peppers pretty much make this a contender for an incredible bar snack. It won’t win over those who are averse to anchovies in the first place, but if you’re not one of them, be sure to try these babies out.
Every time you don’t, an anchovy weeps.
With our appetites perked up, the next snack of truffle mortadella could hardly be surpassed as far as an appropriate order goes.
Oh. My. Goodness. Boy are we glad we ordered this. Quite possibly the highlight of our lunch, this is tender, tender meat, with tons of flavour but never gets too salty (which generally is what “too much flavour” means). Truffle is evident in the dish, but not overly so – as a truffle fan, I wouldn’t have minded a stronger hit of the good stuff. That said, not a major complaint, either.
The best part though, is when all of this goes on top of Mercado’s house-baked sourdough:
Top it up with a sweet, spicy and surprisingly juicy guindillas pepper, and this is something I could live off. The smooth, soft and fatty mortadella is offset perfectly with the heat and acidity of the peppers; the crusty and chewy bread below proving to be more than a solid enough foundation.
Shared snack? Nah man, how about entree for one?
The starters are constantly scrambling over each other to take out the “best snack at Mercado” award, but while the mortadella truly wins that one, the consolation prize surely must go to the smoked wagyu tongue in brioche. I mean, do I really need to describe it further? It already has
- Wagyu tongue
- Brioche – toasted brioche
I’m so done.
Okay that’s doing a disservice – suffice it to say, this is one heck of a toastie! I’ll start with the brioche. While I was thinking it could potentially end up being similar to the 5-cheese toastie at Bennelong, I’m actually quite glad it’s not as fragile as Peter Gilmore’s version. At Mercado, the brioche has a lot more textural integrity, and still crumbly, buttery and burnt-sweet (basically everything attractive about the stuff) – it never crumbles apart too quickly. This is all well and good, for it needs to be that way to hold the much more chewy wagyu tongue within. The meat also carries a subtle hint of mustard and along with its firm texture.
Once again, something that’s supposedly for sharing, but really ought to be the instigator of many broken friendships over who should get the second piece 😛
The final snack in our lunch order is a refreshing roasted octopus salad. As expected, the star of this dish is without a tentacle of doubt, the octopus. It must have been slow-cooked and/or massaged, for its soft, chewy texture has only ever been replicated in Japanese cooking, as far as I’ve experienced. It’s nothing like the tough, stiff jaw exercise that octopus can so easily be. This octopus is so tender, it could easily pass for a poached prawn. It’s also seasoned appropriately, such that there’s a bit of brininess but keeps the natural flavour of the octopus itself.
As for the rest of the dish, I’m ever so slightly less impressed, mainly because the octopus has set a high bar. While the kipflers are delicious, they are not the best examples I’ve eaten, lacking some of the butteriness and sweetness I’ve had elsewhere.
Still, definitely worth ordering for the octopus alone!
With our appetites well and truly whetted, the main is just around the corner. But this is a heavy main we’re talking about, so a side order of salad is – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – recommended.
Of course, when I order salad at a restaurant, it’s never just a salad, ya know? At Mercado, the dish of choice is a shaved cabbage & fennel w/roasted almonds & house ricotta. Crunch, crunch, crunch! It’s a good salad primarily due to the freshness of its ingredients, the interplay of all the textures in the bowl, with sharp bursts of briny flavour being brought about by the ricotta. The musk of fennel pervades throughout the dish, and this becomes important when it’s eaten to combat the beast below:
Oh lord. Hold me, for I find it hard to remain standing. Say hi to the spit-roasted wagyu beef shortrib w/bone marrow salsa. Rich is perhaps the starting point of how to describe this dish. But then again, I don’t need to say all that much, for the picture captures all of its glory in vivid, decadent detail.
For example, the heart attack-inducing globules of fatty bone marrow, the pitcher of luscious gravy, the fatty end bits of the rib, or the meat, juicy to a point where it could not be more obvious.
A piece this magnificent has to be paired with a variety of condiments – lemon salsa, house made aioli, and simply plain salt. For me, the lemon salsa, made with EVOO and lemon rind is my pick. The aioli adds richness to an otherwise more than rich enough dish, while the salt is perhaps a little too simplistic for my tastes.
So here’s the verdict: you have to truly be a fan of the unctuous, the greasy, the stodgy. For this group of people, the short rib has all of that in spades. For me, it is a bit too much. I’m glad it’s a share main – I had trouble polishing my half (well, more like 3/5 given my dining partner tapped out early), let alone the whole thing – it would be nearly fatuous to do so.
The flavour is however, incredible. It’s just so meaty in its beefiness, the meat sweats were never closer to being real than at that moment. Textures were amazingly fatty, buttery, tender, and slick with juices. It’s that kind of a cut.
Um…maybe next time, Mr Porky. I’m still digesting that beef short rib to this day.
Yeah, the food at Mercado is “pretty” good. Surprise!
Mercado is definitely the coolest new kid on the Martin Place block. You’d better book an extra long “lunch meeting”, as you’re not going to be able to get in and out within the hour. But then, with an experience this nice, would you want to?
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Mercado Sydney
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- Rock solid European/Spanish-influenced menu that doesn’t hold back
- Attentive service for the most part, despite an absolutely packed service
- Food can get really rich at times
- You can’t make this place your regular lunch haunt
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F7.5 | S3 | A2