Mercato is celebrating 50 years in 2022; it has become an institution for all things Italian, offering one of South Australia’s most unique food and wine experiences. Both the retail space and the bistro, Bar Mercato, offer an outstanding selection of unique and hard-to-find Italian, Australian and European food and wine options of true provenance. The lifestyle empire has just announced a second location as the flagship of Eighty Eight O’Connell in the prestigious North Adelaide. Mercato is a South Australian institution to say the least.
We sat down with Bar Mercato’s Head Chef Nick Bergin to find out what’s inspiring him at the moment, how he unwinds after service, and what chefs he’s personally following on Instagram.
On becoming a chef…
When I was 14, I started washing dishes at the local restaurant near my house. Just doing dishes I started to fall in love with food. I soon started to learn to make salads, pizzas and basic desserts. I was infatuated and just wanted to be at work. From there I started an apprenticeship and some 20 years later, here I am.
On life before Mercato…
Before starting at Mercato I had finished time at a small neighbourhood restaurant called Croydon Social. All we had to cook with was a wood oven, so we made simple small plates, pizzas and just a couple of desserts. This taught me to adapt and think. We used to roast Brussels sprouts, and roast fruits for desserts such as pavlova or bread and butter puddings. The food was simple and tasty – the same principle as my cooking at Mercato now. Croydon Social came under the same umbrella as Red Door Bakery, where I did a three year stint. This taught me to bake sourdough breads, croissants and danishes. It was here that I developed a passion for baked goods and learning about the way dough works and how you must adapt to a living organism and the attention you need to pay.
On what drives him each day…
I really enjoy the creative side and attention to detail of the industry. Right now, we are in the process of developing new menu offerings and retail lines and the continual push for improvement. I also have some great young staff that work for me, and I really get a lot of satisfaction from watching them learn, create and be inspired. I feel we have an obligation to hand our knowledge on and keep the industry growing and evolving. I really feel proud when I see staff coming together and supporting each other for the betterment and future of the kitchen.
On unwinding after service…
As I have two children (one 13 and one that’s two years old) there’s not much time to unwind, but rather finish work and do the school run for extracurricular activities or a childcare pickup. Usually, I get home and cook dinner… believe it or not I love cooking at home.
By the time we have dinner and the night-time routine is done I usually sit down, have a look at some cookbooks or flick through Instagram and maybe enjoy a cup of tea. On the weekends I like to try and play guitar when I get some spare time but sometimes my two-year-old has other ideas. Being an Adelaide Crows fan I try to fit in getting to a footy match or a watching it on TV.
On what he’s enjoying experimenting with…
Anything seasonal. I take great pride and get excited with things that are fresh and in season. Spring is just around the corner so I’m looking forward to getting the first lot of broad beans and globe artichokes. I think spring is the best season but then when autumn and winter roll around, we get all these lovely figs and citrus. I am in regular communication with my suppliers and enjoy the fact that they message me sometimes at 4or 5.00am with something that has just come in. I really love the challenge of how we are going to get that on the menu today.
Right now, we have also made the transition to making fresh pasta in the bar at Mercato. I’m loving the feel of fresh pasta and how people are enjoying it. Dried pasta is great, but nothing beats fresh! No two days are the same at Mercato, I am always inspired by something new. Much to the annoyance of my staff sometimes we could change menus three times a week… I believe it keeps people interested and inspired, but most of all it keeps me going.
On cooking at home…
At home I like to cook anything and everything. I will read about something and think I need to learn this and then that’s what we’re having for dinner. If there is one thing that is a go-to it would be a cheeseburger. I love the simplicity of a cheeseburger with sauce, mustard, onion, pickles, and good grass-fed beef mince. It has all the right levels of sweet, salty, and sour… it certainly is my guilty pleasure.
On what he’s most excited about at the moment…
I think the constant evolution and change. Over my five and a half years at Mercato we have made some big changes and still making more. Mercato’s Managing Director, John Caporaso, is always changing the goal posts and setting new challenges. It’s great as I am a person who loves a challenge and always needs something more to keep me going. I take a lot of pride in the food we serve in the bar and think we are striving for new heights and raising our standard. I feel so proud with the team that has formed and they all want to achieve the same thing; it’s what keeps me going to help inspire them.
On the chefs who inspire him…
Not that I get out much with a two-year-old, but my favourite restaurant now would have to be Arkhe. I’ve only been there once, but the food Jake Kellie is putting out is just amazing; it’s the whole package. You go there and have a great time – the food, wine, and service is exceptional. I’m also wanting to get down to Anchovy Bandit to see what Shane Wilson is doing. From what I see on socials it just looks unreal.
I’ve also been a big fan of the boys at the Three Blue Ducks. Everything they do looks delicious and makes you want to get on a plane and go there. Danielle Alvarez is another chef that excites me; I had an exceptional meal at Freds in Sydney when she was there and really loved everything she does. I also want to get on a plane and go to S’more in Sydney; the food just looks killer. Sam Young and Grace Chen look like they are cooking food they love to eat but making something different and unique. I think what all these chefs do is outstanding, and they just treat the produce with respect.
The list could go on, but I’d be here forever.
Nick Bergin’s Roasted Southern Rock Lobster with Vermouth Cream
1 Southern Rock Lobster, spilt in half and cleaned
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
500ml fish Stock
½ bunch finely chopped chives
30gm cold butter
Extra virgin olive oil (Bergin loves Elisi Grove’s)
In a small pan combine the shallots, peppercorns, bay leaf and vermouth. Reduce by half until you achieve a syrupy consistency. Now add the fish stock and reduce by half again. Now add the cream and reduce until thickened and set aside (make sure it isn’t reduced too much at this point; you don’t want the sauce to split).
For the lobster, preheat an oven to 220C. Place the lobster on a tray and give a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Place the lobster in the preheated oven and cook until the lobster is still slightly opaque in the middle – approximately 5-10 minutes depending on the size. Remove from the oven and allow to rest. Meanwhile, place the sauce back over the heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cold butter. Now add the chopped chives to the sauce.
Place the lobster on the plate and top with the vermouth cream. Finish with another sprinkle of sea salt a good drizzle of olive oil.