We’ve been lucky enough to review some of Australia’s most pioneering new eateries — from Sydney’s best surf and turf to its first AI restaurant — but Nu’u by Nativo, a brand new Mexican restaurant and mezcal bar in Glebe, offered up my most surreal and supernatural dining experience yet.
After the runaway success of their previous establishment — Nativo Mexican, a cozy taqueria in Pyrmont — Chef Manuel Diaz and his partner, Diana Farrera, have embarked on their most ambitious project yet. The venue’s name originates from the Mixtec language, spoken by an indigenous group from Oaxaca.
Oaxaca holds a special place in Manuel and Diana’s hearts as it’s where they grew up. This region is renowned for being the birthplace of mezcal and is revered as a global food capital. Nu’u by Nativo pays homage to Oaxaca’s colourful and festive spirit while staying true to its strong indigenous roots.
WATCH: Here’s what we had…
Catching A Vibe
Situated in a charming Victorian terrace house on Glebe Point Road, Nu’u spans two floors. The first boasts views overlooking the bustling street, including a terrace for outdoor dining. Meanwhile, the ground floor houses an open kitchen with a captivating ‘chef’s table’ at its heart.
The restaurant’s design is a result of carefully curated collaboration with a design studio from Oaxaca, ensuring an authentic heritage atmosphere. The bohemian-style decor, terracotta palette, and artisan arts and crafts throughout the venue immerse you in the spirit of Oaxaca before the food and drink even hit your table.
From Land to Table
Manuel Diaz takes pride in crafting every dish from scratch, sourcing ingredients directly from the land, local farmers, and city markets. The menu is a culinary journey through Oaxacan and South Mexican gastronomy, offering 18 small dishes designed for sharing.
These dishes celebrate the rich tapestry of indigenous cultures from the Oaxaca region while infusing Australian native ingredients. Manuel employs traditional indigenous cooking methods, such as “metate” (grinding on traditional stone) and slow cooking in green clay pots from Oaxaca.
We tried a selection of dishes, including but not limited to: guacamole (avocado mash, mercado herbs, Oaxacan macha & tostadas), tetela (grilled maize triangle, filled with slow-cooked pork, salsa molcajete), tacos placeros, memela del mercado (grilled maize dough, bone marrow beans, pork shoulder Oaxacan Cecina & queso fresco), and the flat iron rubbed in Oaxacan chilli adobo.
The guacamole was, without exaggeration, life-changingly good. It’s one of those dishes that has become so commonplace on restaurant menus that it is all too easy to relegate it to the realm of unremarkability, an appetiser and nothing more. Here, this was not the case. The guac was so flavoursome, so creamy, and so spicy that I could have quite happily eaten a large bowl of this with their blackened tostadas and nothing else.
The remainder of the food was beautifully presented and strong across the board. While I cannot deny that a couple of the dishes could have been a tad warmer on arrival, I put their chilliness down to opening-night jitters rather than a lack of gastronomic skill; this is clearly a talented kitchen working with top-notch ingredients, and I have no doubt that anyone who has been back in the weeks since will have been blown away by their work.
Australia’s Only Mezcologist & The Man-Eating Femme Fatale
However, it was the drinks at Nu’u that really stole the limelight and, I must confess, opened my eyes to mezcal and Mexcian mixology more widely; I sincerely believe that mezcal could and will be the next big drink here in Australia — if not this summer then the one after — and will twin perfectly with the seemingly unstoppable rise of tequila, with both spirits set to strip whisky of its title as the sophisticated spirit.
Diana Farrera — the General Manager at Nu’u — holds the prestigious title of Australia’s only certified “Mezcologist.” This unique role involves not only understanding the history of Maguey & Agave but also safeguarding the tradition of mezcal production through sustainable and ethical practices.
Diana collaborated with top bartenders from Oaxaca to curate an exceptional drinks menu that offers an array of “small batch” artisanal mezcals, many of which are exclusive to the restaurant. Signature cocktails, known as “mezcalinas,” are a testament to Diana’s creativity and are what really stole my heart at Nu’u.
Not only are these mezcalinas beautifully presented and absolutely delicious — each one boasting a unique depth of flavour, ranging from the intensely sweet to the perfectly sour or heavenly herbaceous — they also draw from some of Oaxaca’s most famous women, both real and fictional.
The ‘Juana Cata’ takes its name from a philanthropist and revolutionary who was pivotal to the modernization of Mexico, while the ‘Maria Sabina’ is an aptly herby cocktail named after a well-known healer who believed in healing from nature and the earth itself.
However, it was the delightfully floral ‘Matalizhua‘ that took the biscuit for best backstory, taking its name from a femme fatale in Oaxacan folklore. Legend has it that the Matlazihua is the spirit of an evil woman, dressed in white, who appears late at night and into the early dawn, preying on intoxicated men… of which I was fast becoming one.
Some who encounter the Matalizhua have no memory of their abduction, and others are never seen again altogether; luckily, I remember my time at Nu’u perfectly, and my remaining days will be all the better for it.