Moreish Moorish morsels

Moor, in Newcastle East. Picture: Simone De Peak

Moor, in Newcastle East. Picture: Simone De Peak

What: Moor, Newcastle East; 33 Hunter Street, Newcastle; 40237096.

Chefs: Shane Brunt and Graham Sincock.

Wines: Small list of Hunter and Spanish wines.

Hours: Tuesday to Wednesday, 7am to 4.30pm; Thursday to Saturday, 7am to 11pm; Sunday, 7am to 4.30pm

Vegetarian: Six small plates.

Bottom line: Three small plates, one large plate, two desserts shared between two, about $98 without drinks.

Wheelchair access: Limited.

Do try: Seared cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, smoked garlic salt and baby coriander.

Falafel and green tahini sauce. Picture: Simone De Peak

Falafel and green tahini sauce. Picture: Simone De Peak

IF you'd been around the western end of the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages, say in the region of present-day Morocco, Mauretania, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sicily, Malta and southern Spain and Portugal, you would probably have met a few Moors. Muslims of mixed Arab, Spanish, and Berber origins, the Moors successfully created the Arab-Andalusian civilisation in southern Spain, after jumping the Strait of Gibraltar in 711. They subsequently settled as refugees in North Africa between the 11th and 17th centuries and also contributed to introducing the rich melting pot of cuisines these regions enjoy today.

Which makes the name of this new kid on the block so apt. Turkish and Greek, Spanish and North African; chefs, Shane Brunt and Graham Sincock take a bit from here, a bit from there and create a small but intriguing menu that offers a harmonious mix of aromatic and flavourful dishes.

This is food made for sharing; three small, or mezze plates then one large plate is suggested by the charming Argentinian waitress. And you might even have room for dessert. Check them out; they're all on the blackboard.

Ground lamb, creamy hummus, sumac, pine nuts and olive oil. Picture: Simone De Peak

Ground lamb, creamy hummus, sumac, pine nuts and olive oil. Picture: Simone De Peak

Falafel balls, green tahini sauce ($12); it's so Middle Eastern you can almost expect a belly dancer to appear. Ground chickpeas, well flavoured with coriander, cumin, onion and garlic, formed into four generous balls, are deep fried and crunchy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside. And there's plenty of herb flecked sauce to go with every last crumb.

Who says cauliflower has to be boiled within an inch of its life? Here golden edged, just tender, grilled florets are tumbled with currants, crisp pine nuts and smoked garlic salt to create a dish with a Sicilian heart, pepped up with sprigs of baby coriander ($14).

The wood-roasted New Zealand salmon ($16) is all down to the chef's creativity. Two strips of supple salmon are all but buried in a shower of quinoa and baby green pea salad spiced with chilli and mustard leaf.

Braised lamb shoulder and red lentil stew ($32) is a hefty dose of fall-apart, slow-cooked lamb infused with the rich, sweet flavour of Pedro Ximenez sherry; can you hear the castanets? All you need are the red lentils and tangy labna, to help soak up every last bit of sauce.

Who can resist a dessert which has "carajillo" (pronounced cara hi yo) in its title. This is another example of the influence of invasion and occupation. The name is believed to have its origins in the Spanish occupation of Cuba, when the troops combined coffee and rum to give them courage (coraje in Spanish) and called the drink corajillo (later carajillo). Here it's used to flavour ice-cream, which combined with a chocolate arabesque tuile and pistachio fairy floss adds another layer of influence. You may need courage to finish it all, or a little help from a mate.

TRY: A warm beetroot salad with avocado and green peas. Picture: Simone De Peak

TRY: A warm beetroot salad with avocado and green peas. Picture: Simone De Peak

One last dessert needs no historic elaboration; it's simply delicious and an example of a classic food combination. Rich chocolate pot de creme is sprinkled with crumbled honeycomb, ready to spoon on to the red wine-soaked pear cosying up to the side.

We do love our shared plates. And we love spicy, interestingly seasoned, beautifully cooked food. I think the Moorish invasion has been successful in Newcastle. Will it last as long and be as successful as the one that happened over 1000 years ago in another part of the world?

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