April 22, 2021

These days, dining out has become a transportive affair. An opportunity to be whisked away by our taste buds. The Nomads along Telok Ayer Street is a first-class ticket to the underrated pleasures of central Asian cuisine. Founded by Olzhas Zhiyenkulov, a Kazakh native, and Singaporean restaurateur Shawn Kishore, the duo draws inspiration from their travels to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, family recipes, and pretty much whatever strikes their fancy to showcase the spectrum of cultures that have influenced the cuisine of the nomadic people. 

A quick Google search about Central Asian food would surface a diet that features horse meat, yoghurt, manty (dumplings filled with onion and fatty mutton), lagman (soggy, starchy noodles) and dense potato-filled buns. For the modern, sophisticated palate, such victuals may not be the most tantalising nosh. But I went in with an open mind. 

Upon entering the private dining room hidden behind a wall that opens at a touch of a button, a medley of nuts, fruit and plump olivesa typical pre-meal tradition common in Central Asia—welcomes you. The nuts are conspiratorially addictive, seasoned in house with one of the restaurant’s signature spice mixes; khmeli suneli, a blend made with coriander, celery and other earthy greens. 

Kishore makes a toast to kick off the feast, and the breaking of bread begins. Typically, bread or naan is the cornerstone of every meal in Central Asia. And the restaurant doesn’t hold back. The flatbread accompanied by butter infused with unctuous animal fat and a luscious, salty meld of seaweed is immensely satisfying.   

A well-composed bowl of greens follows. Vegetables and fruit are considered a mark of affluence in Central Asia, only to be served to the most esteemed guests, since nomads did not have easy access to these perishables. The salat is an exceptionally vernal one, comprising a generous melange of fruit and vegetables like strawberry and beet. It is a perfectly balanced dream; savoury, flecked with bits of pomegranate lending it a burst of sweetness. What makes it really sing is the creamy anchovy cream dressing. It’s salty and sweet, delicate and complex without aggressively overpowering the salad. 

Portions are extremely generous here. The Margaret River tomahawk and adjika chicken skewers, among other glorious offerings are meant for communal dining. The Tomahawk is a knockout, which threatens to steal the show. Cooked with mere smoke and fire, the full-bred beef is flavoursome and moreish. The sweet, salty juices of the meat, grilled and sliced thin, drip seductively onto your plate, forming glorious, shimmering pools of liquid. Have it as a standalone, or with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt to accentuate the sapidity. 

The adjika, the Georgian-Abkhazian equivalent of Italian red pesto, is a spicy concoction made of chilli peppers, capsicum, tomato, and garlic that leaves a faint kiss of heat on the lips. The chicken skewers are slathered with the mixture and grilled over binchotan fire before topped with crunchy pickled onion, for added texture.

No nomad feast is complete without plov; rice with huge chunks of meat, fried carrots, peppers and caraway seeds, cooked in mutton fat. This dish, which originates from Uzbekistan is ubiquitous throughout the region and remains a perennial favourite among locals. The Nomads’ rendition is sophisticated and nuanced: an intensely flavourful risotto with raisin bits, elevated with wagyu striploin and crowned with delicately smoked quail eggs.

Sweet tooths will be pleased to know that the restaurant makes an excellent dessert. An imperial-era Russian honey cake (medovik) is paired with yoghurt sorbet to add some heft and tang. The dessert, based on a family recipe from Zhiyenkulov, comes with lashings of sour cream ganache and blood orange that plays foil to the buttery richness of the cake.

Central Asian gastronomy is anything but inferior—and a trip to The Nomads will convince you to ditch any preconceived notions.