"nordisk" (Nordic) and "mad" (food).
Considered the pinnacle in the culinary world, Noma is one of the most influential restaurants in the world, headed by the charismatic chef and owner René Redzepi, who is widely know for pioneering 'New Nordic Cuisine' and delivering on his progressive visions of foraging produce, this combined with unique cooking techniques has impressed the culinary world year after year. The two-star Michelin establishment Noma in Copenhagen has consistently ranked number 1 in San Pellegrino's Worlds 50 Best Restaurants four times in the past six years; an unparalleled achievement realized by no other restaurant in the world.
The much anticipated Australian pop up resides in the new waterfront precinct of Barangaroo, Sydney and is open for 10 weeks only, Tickets for seat at Noma were sold out (5,500 seats) in a matter of minutes via an online booking system, now rumoured to have a waiting list of close to 30,000 people. I knew the experience was going to be something truly remarkable.
This is not the first time Redzepi has taken his restaurant on tour, back in early 2015 Noma opened up at the opulent five star Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo for an exclusive five week residency, showcasing Noma's distinctive spin on Japanese produce, this time the move to Australia was more ambitious. Redzepi bought his entire team more than 16,000 km’s from Copenhagen to Sydney for twice the length of stay.
The Noma entourage flew down in the later months of 2015 and some spent time foraging in outback Australia, even immersing themselves in the remote indigenous communities to better understand our native plants and 'bush tucker'. This gave the team the confidence to harvest the most interesting and beautiful ingredients to experiment with.
René Redzepi follows in the big footsteps of another well-known Dane, Jorn Utzon in leaving a lasting legacy in Sydney Australia.
Below is my personal experience of dining at Noma Australia on January 28th 2016.
With such attention to detail in their food philosophy, the team behind Noma understands the importance of space and the phenomenon of ‘genius loci’ being a critical ingredient to the overall quality of the dining experience. The creative team at Foolscap Studio from Melbourne are no strangers to the hospitality design niche. Adele Winteridge and her team have pulled off a well-curated pop up setting that is both understated and refined. The space is moody with strikingly Australian hues, the use of rammed earth is reminiscent of outback Australia, whilst the furniture pays homage to the travelling restaurants heritage with distinctly Scandinavian aesthetics. A palate of dark timbers and natural elements adorn the space, while supple leather seat pads add a subtle warmth to the dining seats. There are various other smaller scale details that you will notice whilst seated in the dining room that further draw the two cultures together in a harmonious and tasteful manner.
An expansive open kitchen is defined as a key element of the space; it is both the first and final destination you pass when you dine at the restaurant; reinforcing exactly what Noma stands for. The notion of theatre is further celebrated in the articulation of a linear bar that runs parallel to the kitchen. Furthermore the orchestrated procession to the restrooms was a thoughtfully deliberate design gesture.
If you have the opportunity to watch the symphony of Redzepi and his team of chefs at work, trust me it is a real delight; calm, collective, orchestrated and precise are adjectives that best describe the kitchen composition at Noma.
We were greeted like old friends by members of the floor & kitchen staff as we entered the forecourt of Noma Australia, the warm hospitality continues deep inside. The service was attentive and friendly, having visited on the third day of service, the floor team must be commended on performing an exceptional job, I appreciated the subtly 'refreshing' and unpretentious service offering, although I must admit it was not refined as I expected it to be. Great diligence to the finer details was practiced, as you would expect from a two Michelin star restaurant, incidentally I personally felt there were some minor gaps, I observed a notable inconsistency in the overall mannerism of the floor team which ever slightly impacted the dining experience as the style of service was a curated rotation of waiters. Nevertheless with more time spent in service together, these inconstancies will naturally dilute, I am confident that diners will not experience this if they have bookings in the later or coming weeks.
One of the highlights in between our courses was having conversations with individual members of the floor team and hearing about their part in the Noma story. Analogous to the kitchen team there was a mix of both floor staff from the Copenhagen helm and locally recruited members. You get a real sense that the Noma team is just one big family.
I have always been impressed by the food philosophy of head chef René Redzepi, as well as his tenacity and dedication to his craft. I have to admit I have followed his personal Instagram account well before his announcement of NOMA Australia. It gave me great insight to one of the world’s most talented chefs and his tenacity in always seeking perfection through challenging conventions in his cooking. Redzepi is real personal inspiration of mine.
The dining experience was a curated selection of 12 set courses, a creative menu featuring all Australian produce; there was a notable absence of red meat, instead a focus on crustaceans and native Australian plants.
Once seated, with our beverages requests attended to, we were each swiftly presented with a thick hand towel that were chilled and wet; now feeling freshen we began the Noma experience.
First: Unripe macadamia and spanner crab
Served on a bed of crushed ice, the first dish was a refreshing start to the degustation, the unripe macadamia nuts were thinly sliced and were rumoured to have taken a painstaking amount of time to remove from their hard shells, the macadamias were nutty in flavour and had a delightful bite to them. They reminded me of water chestnuts which are typically used in Chinese soups, medicines and desserts. The chilled snapper crab broth added a subtle sweetness to the dish, with ocean undertones. The chilled temperature of the soup heightened the perceived crunchiness of the macadamias, whilst the rose oil helped lubricate the slithers of the macadamia and complimented the sweet refreshing broth eloquently.
Second: Wild seasonal berries flavoured with gubinge
This dish was a pleasant surprise to me, a curated selection of native berries or colloquially known as ‘bush tucker’, this berry selection included muntries, lemon aspen riberries and desert lime finished off with a generous dusting of Kakadu Plum (Gubinge) powder which contains the highest levels of Vitamin C for any fruit, it is also rich in folic acid, iron and is full of antioxidants.
The flavour profiles of sweet, sour and bitter was raucously celebrated in this dish and there was plenty of acidity delivered by the Kakadu Plum powder. The berries were a diligent mix of textures, both soft and firm; adding another layer of complexity to the dish. As with the previous appetizer, there was a noticeable oil component to the dish, this time it was a kelp (seaweed) based oil, for me it added to a ‘natural’ sensory and physiological understanding of the dish, both elements of 'land' and 'sea' were represented and savoured. This dish surprised and delighted as every single mouthful tasted differently, due of the various combinations of the different berries. There was an oddly soothing sensation on the tongue after the final spoonful, likely to be from the Gubinge powder.
Third: Porridge of golden & desert oak wattle seed with saltbush
The third offering was a very signature Noma style dish, beautifully presented with three bite sized parcels of golden & desert oak wattle seed wrapped in saltbush with anise, cinnamon myrtle and finger lime.
I found this dish was to be very complex in both flavours and textures, it was a engaging on the flavour palate, many of the ingredients in this dish I actually tasted for the first time. The three individual servings was appreciated as I could better understand the complexity of the flavours after each sampling.
The golden & desert oak wattle seed was creamy and had a nice bite to them, whilst freshness was delivered through the tart saltbush leaves and the sour finger limes.
A thick oyster emulsion helped add richness to the dish and married together the creamy wattle seed filling with the herby saltbush leaf.
Forth: Seafood platter and crocodile fat
A seafood platter like no other. Served on a bed of wet pebbles, we were instructed by the waiter to consume the shellfish in a particular chronological order. There was a pipi, mussel, strawberry clam, flame cockle and an oyster. Each offering was topped with a semi-translucent shard of chicken broth brushed with crocodile fat.
I knew I was in for a real treat with this course, each piece of shellfish had a distinct and contrasting flavour with an undisputed ocean taste. Presented in it’s natural form there was nowhere for the flavours to hide, each piece delivered on their own merits.
If I had closed my eyes to eat this dish I would have thought the clams were still alive. The highlight for me was the mussel and the strawberry clam, I have never tasted anything quite like them two, the flavour of the muscle was concentrated and intense, whilst the strawberry clam had a beautiful delicate sweetness to it. There was a perfect amount of resistance in the flesh of all the offerings which reinforced their incredible freshness. This course was intelligently simple, sometimes ‘less is more’,
The secondary component on this dish was intriguing; chicken broth crisps brushed with crocodile fat The texture was unexpected, chewy and toffee like, I found it was difficult to eat in terms of it's texture (similar opinions were shared around the table) but we all agreed the flavour was on point, a slight level of 'gameyness' from the crocodile fat elevated the sophistication of these crisps.
It is also rumoured that the crocodile fat sourced from the reptiles are actually from the same farm that Louis Vuitton sources its leathers from for its premium handbags.
Fifth: W.A deep sea snow crab with cured egg yolk
When delivered to the table there was a bold pungent aroma that lingered about as our waiter took the time to introduce the dish infront of us. It was beautifully presented with the glowing coloured flesh of the crab contrasting with the dark speckled handmade ceramic bowl that it is presented in, however there was an almost offensive aroma that you could not ignore. It was the gamey smell of kangaroo; so pungent as the egg yolk had been fermented in a cocktail of kangaroo jus. Here we start to see Redzepi's signature cooking technique of fermentation.
Braving the aromas of the dish, I was quickly rewarded with a pleasant surprise, one mouthful of the warm delicate W.A snow crab flesh and the wet egg yolk together and I was in another place. There is absolutely no transfer of the pungent aromas onto your mouths palate; the gamey traits of the kangaroo is reduced and almost lost as the sweetness of the snow crab takes precedence.
Six: Pie: Dried scallops and lantana flowers
Australia’s love for pies was manifested into a savoury scallop tart. After introducing the dish our waiter enthusiastically invited us to prepare out our tarts by picking out the individual flowers of the semi poisonous stem of the lantana flower, which happens to actually be a weed.
The tart filling of pureed King Island scallop was gently melting as we decorated our tarts fastidiously, Once the tart was prepared, it was time to consume. I had little choice but to swiftly consume it in a single mouthful. It was pleasantly savoury, I was immediately propelled back by the level of umami. The addition of the lantana blossoms and the petals softened the richness of the scallop filling, whilst the tart shell made of seaweed was soft and complimented the intensely savoury flavour of the filling.
I thoroughly enjoyed the interactive and playful nature of this course, which also gestured the half waypoint of our meal.
Seventh: BBQ’d milk ‘dumpling’ with marron and magpie goose
I like to refer to this as the Bottega Veneta dish, because the palm leaf, which the ‘dumpling’ was carefully wrapped in, resembles the signiture hand woven Intrecciato pattern of the Italian fashion house. Food writers might draw similarities to ‘Ketupat’, which is a woven palm leaf pouch filled with rice commonly found in S.E Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and the Philippines).
Here instead of rice, the palm leaf housed a juicy piece of W.A marron wrapped in a crepe like milk skin. The milk skin is created by slowly cooking milk until it caramelises to resemble a crepe. It had a beautiful browned aroma and flavour. There was a bit of inconsistency with the caramelisation of the milk skins on our table, I was lucky to have a nicely textured one. The marron on the other hand was cooked to absolute perfection and complimented by all the guest at the table. It was cooked with great respect, lightly brushed with a tasty ragu made from magpie goose. The marron had a seamless amount of resistance in the flesh and was incredibly juicy and sweet, the most perfectly cooked marron I have tasted. The entire table was very quiet at this point.
Eight: Sea urchin & tomato dried with pepper berries
Sea urchin or Uni by nature is very decadent and creamy, it has a strong earthiness and ocean flavour, and when it is fresh it is undoubtedly sweet. this delicacy is an acquired taste and is not for everyone’s palate, I personally enjoy it, but mostly in moderation.
The sea urchin was sourced from coastal NSW although creamy, I found it lacked the depth of flavour and sweetness as some that I have had in places like Hokkaido in northern Japan. Therefore to my surprise the dried Tasmanian tomatoes actually took centre stage on this dish, the tomatoes were dehydrated for 8 hours in a specially made oven residing at the front of the restaurant, they simply melted in the mouth and when paired with the umami of the sea urchin, it was a delightful mouthful. The refreshing broth was made using celery juice and elderflower and helped to mellow out the richness of the Sea Urchin.
Ninth: Abalone schnitzel and bush condiments
Easily the highlight dish of the meal, a sentiment shared strongly among all my fellow dining companions and on social media too it seems. If you have the pleasure of tasting this dish you are in for a genuine treat. This would easily be Mr. Gumbatron's choice of a ‘last supper’.
Abalone is one of my favourite proteins and I have been lucky to grow up eating plenty of it, but honestly Redzepi has blown my mind with the way he has cooked this familiar sea snail.
First the black lip Abalone is braised for 8+ hrs and is then crumbed and pan-fried, only one of the worlds top chefs would ever think of pan-frying abalone, which demonstrates Redzepi’s progressive instincts of breaking the ‘rules’ inside the kitchen.
The abalone was cooked to absolute perfection, the flesh was effortless to cut into and literally melted inside my mouth; there was absolutely no resistance in the flesh and textually it tasted like it had been massaged by hand for 8+ hours before being crumbed and pan-fried attentively.
The condiments to the hero of the dish were a selection of handpicked sea greens, this included sea lettuce, sea grapes, sprouting kelp and neptune’s necklace. A few other foraged bush condiments completed the dish including a Kakadu plum, bulrush, bunya nut, basket grass and finger lime (citrus caviar).
There was also a mushroom dipping sauce rich in umami, which I had with some of the sea herbs. The Abalone did not require any additional seasoning.
My only negative of this dish was that we was only served half the abalone.
Tenth: Marinated fresh fruit
This was a highly anticipated dish at our table. In true Noma fashion, the inclusion of some native ants on the menu was a given. but to our surprise they were featured on a dessert course as opposed to a savoury one.
Presented before us was a vibrant fruit platter with a perfectly cubed piece of watermelon that was infused in tangy Davidson plum juice, a piece of pineapple infused in blackcurrant wood oil stuffed inside a hibiscus flower as well as a mango sorbet sandwich with the mentioned green ants as garnishes.
The native green ants were generously sprinkled on the outside faces of the petite mango sorbet sandwich. When eaten together the flavour and texture of the green ants i found was lost, the juicy flesh and sweetness of the mango was too overpowering. I picked out a few ants to taste separately, to my surprise there was a slight tanginess and almost bitter aftertaste from the little native creatures.
The compressed watermelon although mildly sour and tangy on the exterior due to the plum infusion was beautifully juicy and familiar on the inside, whist the pineapple was notably the most underwhelming of the three pieces of fruit.
This course served as a great palate cleanser and point of conversation as we neared the end of our meal.
Eleventh: Rum lamington
This was not your typical sponge lamington, It actually resembled an aerated rum cake with a milk crumb and a native tamarind sauce. The rum cake’s texture avery light and fluffy. Flavour wise I found the rum overpowering and the tamarind sauce was excessively tart. The milk crumb was pleasant and creamy yet added a crunchy texture which helped cut through the intensity of the rum. For me the balance of flavour fell short with this course, both the rum and tamarind were very bold flavours that competed with one another, perhaps there was just too much of the tamarind sauce.
The brightly coloured plate also didn’t help with the perceived intensity of the dish. This was notably one of the weaker dishes of the meal, an opinion shared amongst all my fellow dining companions.
Twelfth: Peanut milk and Freekeh ‘Baytime’
Noma’s version of the ‘Golden Gaytime’ was a hit. A peanut milk ice-cream creation presented on a lemon myrtle branch.
The fresh peanut milk ice-cream had a wonderful smooth texture and was rich in flavour, hidden inside the icecream was a pleasant sticky caramel toffee centre, all this was coated with a toasted freekeh glaze, which was a real highlight, it’s texture resembled that of Japanese mochi, it was chewy and had a nice smoky and nutty flavour to it which offset the sweetness of the caramel filling; What a great way to finish off the tasting, with something slightly whimsical.
Coffee: Bifdu Gudina, Ethopia
With such attention and thought going into every ingredient at Noma, the coffee program was no different. Noma went with TIm Varney (ex Small Batch) who batch roasts two Ethiopian varieties specifically for the restaurant, along with his business partner who is also named Tim (Williams) the two are progressive in their own rights as specialty coffee visionaries, later this year the two will be open up Melbourne's first shared coffee /collaborative coffee roastery, a community workspace and incubator serving emerging coffee brands. Serious coffee aficionados can take their coffee game to the next level by experimenting with roasting their own green beans. This could lead to lots of micro/craft roasters which is a great thing for the industry. Be sure to dial in with Bureaux Collective when they launch later this year.
Now back to the coffee at Noma; There was two offerings available, one was very Nordic while the other was typically Italian, I went with the filter offering, The coffee was an Ethiopian- Bifdu Gudina, and it was prepared using the v60 pour over method for a lighter and more delicate brew. The coffee was refreshing and fruity, Ethiopia is known for producing explosively floral and fruity coffees, which highlights the diversity of flavour that coffee can have. The coffee had an excellent sharp body to it, like most Ethiopian varieties the Bifdu Gudina was very complex and multi layered in flavour profiles. The coffee was light and refreshing, I tasted stone fruits and bergamot among other subtle notes.
Some bite sized apple and desert lime treats were served complimentary with our tea and coffee as we reflected on the memorable meal we had just shared together.
Having the pleasure to speak with Redzepi about his personal favourite restaurants in Melbourne, Sydney and Tokyo among many other topics post lunch service, he confirmed that some items on the restaurant menu would evolve and rotate. With about 24 dishes prepared for the all Australian menu. That had us curious about the other dishes we didn't have the opportunity to try, he did utter truffles during that conversation.
Noma Australia was a truly one-off experience, to emphasize this one must understand that after their Australian debut, Noma will return home to Copenhagen and operate until the end of 2016, the restaurant will then close it's beautifully glazed arched doors and reopen with an altered concept*. You will have to wait to find out what Redzepi has planned for 2017 onwards. Knowing this made our experience at Noma Australia all the more special.
The 2.5 hour seating was an incredible gastronomic journey and for me undeniably lived up to its elevated honours. If you are lucky enough to dine at this truly world-renowned two-Michelin star restaurant in Copenhagen, Tokyo or Sydney you can really understand and appreciate why Noma was awarded the Worlds number 1 restaurant for three consecutive years. Well done to René Redzepi and his team, for the personal sacrifices made to be here in Australia, allowing us the opportunity to experience Noma in our backyard.
Lastly did you notice the beautiful handmade ceramics that the food was presented on? They were arguably nearly as incredible as the food of which they were a vessel for serving on, chances are the many decor items at Noma Australia will be available for purchase at the end of their 10 week residency. Warning they won't come cheap and I have my eyes on a few items.
Although our meal would have easily paid for return flights to Copenhagen, It was well worth every Krone. I am by no means the type to get on a plane just for a meal, but on this occasion I did. I flew economy for the record.
Be sure to read their reviews.
Thank you for taking the time to read my in depth review of Noma Australia.
Price: $485 pp (Ex. Wine (+$215) & Beverages)
Address: 23 Barangaroo Rd, New South Wales 2146
This meal was not sponsored by third parties in any way. The above review is a personal account of my experience. I do not regard myself a food blogger; I do however have 10 years experience working in a wide range of roles in over 15 hospitality venues and I currently work as an Architect designing restaurants and cafes, I have a interest in food & gastronomy you could say.
dress well, drink well, live well.