Noma Australia – 09 Feb 2016

Wow. Noma. The Noma. The Rene Redzepi. Rene. Where to start….


There’s once in a lifetime, then there’s once in a lifetime. I thought I’d experienced something extraordinary when I had my first fine dining experience at Tetsuya’s. Then it was Quay in its San Pellegrino Top 50 glory, then it all became so casual when I started “frequenting” the Rockpool Group chains, especially Rockpool Bar & Grill Sydney bar. It became so normal to continue visiting such amazing restaurants.

But this was something else. Having avoided as many spoilers as I could, I went in knowing, but not knowing. And here I had the most fantastic showcase of Australian produce. Real Australian produce. So much magic.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

The decor was amazing. So simple, but so much detail. The gorgeous Zalto glasses and their unbelievably slender stems, the banksia and eucalyptus, the candles, it was beautiful! Those Zalto stems….

Unripe macadamia and spanner crab

The staff were very welcoming and we were settled in very quickly, so much so that I didn’t realise just how soon the first course came! We were advised that any beverage pairing we chose would start on the third course, so we were given time to contemplate our choice, though for us it was quite simple – juice!

First course – and I immediately decided to test my own knowledge of food, what’d I’d seen from Rene’s and Noma’s posts. I guessed either macadamia (but for some reason it didn’t look like macadamia to me?) or bunya nut, and it turns out this was unripe macadamia. Go me! It was in a spanner crab broth with rose oil. A surprising combination, but it worked beautifully. The macadamias were crisp and slightly sweet, where the broth was salty and complemented the nuts well. The rose aroma wasn’t overpowering at all, and gave it an extra dimension.

As a side note, this was the only wooden spoon I received that had the noma brand inscribed at the back; every subsequent wooden utensil didn’t have the noma branding. Not sure why but I found that amusing.

Wild seasonal berries flavoured with gubinge

More excitement as this dish came out. I immediately recognised the distinctive colour and shape of riberries (lilly pillies), something I loved seeing during my time in Adelaide. I’m fairly certain the large bulbs were native apple, and there were also muntries, desert limes, and probably other berries that I don’t recall. All this was sitting in kelp oil and dusted over with kakadu plum powder (gubinge).

After dining here, I found a few reviews that described this dish as fairly tart, but either my palate has been so far shifted towards acidity that to me these were all rather sweet (except the desert lime which was undeniably sour but not astringent). Perhaps I just had a lucky plateful? The native apples gave off a slightly eucalyptus flavour for me.

As a side note on this particular dish – lately, I’ve been describing some everyday food as tasting “exactly like the sum of its ingredients”. In particular, a pizza that I had. My tone while describing this came across as disappointment. This surprised people, but for me (and especially after reading the description from a recent special edition blend from Mecca coffee roasters called the Black Forest, which cited that the meaning of “gestalt” should not be that the sum is greater than its parts, but rather, that the whole is other than the sum of its parts), something tasting exactly of its ingredients is ordinary. This dish proved my point exactly. After having tasted each of the individual ingredients, I began having mouthfuls of everything. And then this dish became something else. Something more. That kelp oil, those berries, the magic of the gubinge, gave it an extra dimension of sweetness and aroma that none had by themselves. Now that was one amazing gestalt experience! This is why I eat, this is what I chase, this is what gives my life meaning!

Okay, I got gushy. But it was just that good.

Bergamot kombucha/native mint

These are no ordinary juices. They’re amazing concoctions of juices, herbs, spices and oils. An amazing blend that gives so much depth of flavour, so much complexity that you can sniff and drink and sniff and drink forever. And look at those gorgeous Zalto stems. Seriously, they’re amazing. Everything’s amazing.

Porridge of golden & desert oak wattleseed with saltbush

Quite an interesting dish, I got really excited over the green finger lime on top. I felt really happy being able to identify these ingredients! I totally missed the fact that the leaves were saltbush though. Oops! While I’ve previously had wattleseed in the form of chocolate from Haigh’s and as part of a crumb from Restaurant Revolution, this was the first time I’ve had them whole. To be honest I couldn’t tell that there were two types of wattleseed, but still enjoyed this dish.

Rose/spruce wood oil

Wood oils are amazing. You could just smell these juices forever! I found the wood oil the dominant aroma here, with a very pleasant sweetness from the juice itself.

Seafood platter and crocodile fat

Ah, the jewels of the sea. An assortment of Australia’s finest shellfish. Pippy, mussel, strawberry clam, blood clam (I think? Can’t remember), oyster. The pippie and mussel were my favourites, though it could also be that I recognised the flavours the most compared to the other ones.

And those lovely melt in the mouth shards of fat. Ours was a combination of duck and crocodile fat, which went well with every piece! It just added another level of flavour to an already amazing dish.

It was a little awkward to eat this one though, both my brother and I dropped a shell and a rock. But it was all in good fun!

Yay, Rene himself! My camera’s autofocus is not so smart, so this was the best I could get.

W.A. deep sea snow crab with cured egg yolk

Peeling snow crab must be tough work. I had a few inedibles in mine, but my goodness that flesh was so sweet! And having the cured egg yolk was genius! It carried a lot of the flavour and the word “emulsion” ran through my head. The egg yolk was cured in the liquid of “aged kangaroos,” whatever that means. I found it amusing they didn’t specify what kind of liquid. I also didn’t ask though!

Green tomato/lemon myrtle

This was an amazing green tomato juice. I love green tomatoes, but this was unusually un-sour. It was quite savoury and immensely pleasant, and so I asked further about. It contained native basil and native thyme, which the waiter described as being distinctly different in flavour from the traditional herbs.

It actually kind of reminded me of a chilled tomato soup. Hey, I make chilled tomato soups! Perhaps I should go to the effort of making them again!

Those Zalto stems…

PIE: dried scallops and lantana flowers

By far the prettiest dish. Flowers make everything pretty! The contents of the tart was comprised of dried scallops, while the pastry was made with seaweed. Lantana flowers themselves are edible, however the rest of the plant is poisonous so we were instructed not to eat the stem.

The flower also came whole, and the chef said that we could pick off the flowers and sprinkle them onto the tart. Every picture I’ve seen so far of this has the flowers sprinkled randomly all over the tart. But me being me and my love for aesthetics and pretty things, went into design mode. I also began carefully pulling the flowers off one at a time, and I think the waiter thought I was either going to take too long or didn’t get it! He came to the table and said I could pull the entire bunch off at once – and my brother confirmed this as he mentioned they were easy to pull off.

Oh well, there goes my quest to become meticulous. I remained diligent in my flower arrangement on the pie though! I had to take advantage of the amazing colours on my stem! And so the end result was, in my opinion, a very pretty pie!

And it wasn’t just looks. Though the scallop flavour was too subtle for me, the seaweed base was absolutely delicious and kind of nostalgic – it reminded me of seaweed crackers that I ate as a kid, bought from random Asian grocers. The flowers had no taste, but me being me, I discovered that the pollen was sweet after eating a flower by itself.

BBQ’d milk “dumpling,” marron and magpie goose

Teehee, I get it. The previous dish was about construction, this one was about deconstruction. This came in a gorgeous hand woven basket, and inside contained a “dumpling” (though I thought it looked more like an omelette) made of milk skin, with a delectable marron snuggled inside.

This was a little fiddlesome but in a fun way, as we were advised to eat this one with our hands, and were provided towels for afterwards. After a single bite my brother and I both immediately agreed that this was infinitely better than the marron we had at Kensington Street Social (sorry Jason!). The magpie goose’s presence was super subtle, I was secretly hoping for a substantial chunk (like Orana), but that marron was so good I didn’t really mind. The milk skin was nice and sweet, though I found that the extra sprinkle of salt on it was a little overpowering and unneeded.

Smoked pepper/red pepper berry

This was by far the most interesting juice! It was quite a “challenging” flavour as it was very spicy, sweet and savoury at the same time. Also quite chunky! Plus the smoke aroma was quite heavy, but I think it worked given the nature of the juice.

THE ANGLES. THAT STEM.

Sea urchin & tomato dried with pepper berries

Okay, double that challenge. As soon as this dish came out, I immediately knew it was an umami bomb. How could you go wrong with tomato and sea urchin? That urchin was so creamy, it was amazing! The tomatoes were dried for 12 hours, and brushed with elderflower oil every hour, the chef informed us. That elderflower aroma really came through, and while it was great, it was something my brain hadn’t encountered before, hence, this was the most challenging dish to my palate.

I would even go so far as to say that it was the most unfamiliar and unexpected flavour combination I’ve had! Which was weird considering it was 1000% umami.

Abalone schnitzel and bush condiments

Ah yes. This is what dreams are made of. One massive, fat chunk of abalone. From Rene/Noma’s posts of dancing abalone, to this perfectly cooked, mindblowingly delicious, tender steak of luxury on this plate, surrounded by a showcase of some of Australia’s best native ingredients.

That crumb was perfect and crisp, and that abalone was just soooo tender! It was so good. SO GOOD.

Then came the ring of condiments. A bouquet of roadside greens including fennel, warrigal greens and other plants that I didn’t recognise, to ice plant, to Neptune’s pearls, to kakadu plum, to a crunchy thing I’d forgotten the name of, to bunya nut, to a weird woody thing I’d forgotten the name of, to seaweed. Then there was a side of fermented celery which tasted a little like tamari, a little like soy sauce, and was thoroughly delicious for dipping the abalone and its accompaniments in.

Some things of note – I totally didn’t recognise the ice plant because I’m so used to seeing the mature plant with massive water bulbs! This one was much more subtle and also mild in flavour – I like them salty-sour! I miss Adelaide Central Markets…. The bunya nut was the other standout, having heard about Ben Shewry raving about them, I finally managed to have one and it’s delicious! I want more!

Marinated fresh fruit

My dream come true. My reason for coming to Noma. Those ants. Those ants!!! Aren’t they adorable??? Zoom. ZOOM. Enhance! My goodness. They are cute. So cute! And they’re just sleeping there under the leaf blanket. I played with them a little too much, trying to pick them up and look at them, and rearrange them….

I didn’t manage to have ants at Orana, which is why I was so gushy when I saw this dish come out. Sure, watermelon marinated in davidson plum juice was a genius idea that made watermelon so much tastier than if it was just by itself, and sure the super sweet pineapple wrapped in dried hibiscus leaf was delicious, but those ants!

I tasted an ant by itself, and without any idea of what ant does and tastes like (okay so my grammar might be off, but so what), I was pleasantly surprised when it popped in my mouth and filled with a zingy, bitey sensation and then just the most incredible citrussy flavour of lemon/lime! Give me more! I could eat a whole handful! I love ants!

Oh yeah, that mango “ice cream sandwich” – mango sorbet between two slices of fresh mango, was pretty good too. Made awesome by ants!!!

After having gleefully consumed this, I told the waiter how amazing I thought the ants were, and that I’ve always wanted to eat ants. He laughed and said that only people who dine at places like that would say such things! I must have been quite entertaining to watch during all that….

Blood plum/lemon grass

Can you see how gorgeous that Zalto stem is? Okay, it’s the last of the juice pairing so there’s no more of me talking about just how beautiful these wine glasses are. My waiter had to put up with me talking about how Riedels were overpriced and that Zaltos were cheap and so much prettier, and how I owned some and love them. And how delicate those stems are!!!

Okay, let’s focus on the juice. Such tartness, sweetness and deliciousness! And what a great aroma. It actually came across as floral to me, rather than of lemongrass. But whatever it was, it was amazing. And totally fitting for our desserts.

Rum lamington

Genius, mind blowing, such an original take on the lamington! It was a rum ice cream… but can you see the texture? It’s fluffy! How do you make an ice cream fluffy like that??? And it just… disappeared in the mouth! Like a wispy, ethereal being that packs the full flavoured punch of rum. Wow. And that tamarind sauce. Just… excitement.

Peanut milk and freekah “Baytime”

Noma’s take on the Golden Gaytime. The last dessert. Totally not what I expected! It wasn’t sweet at all (much, especially with my shifted palate), in fact, the peanut ice cream was very savoury for me. I had failed to take a picture of another bite in, which would have shown an oozing caramel which did provide the ice cream with a much needed sweetness.

I totally loved this version!

I also couldn’t resist sampling the coffee both ways. Ethiopia Djimma, a region I’m quite familiar with in terms of coffee. The first was a pourover, the second as espresso. The coffee was great and so much better than what you get in even most fine dining restaurants, but whether it was just the beans, extraction, or the day, it didn’t quite meet my expectations of what the coffee could taste like.

I am a coffee snob, after all… except that I have no idea where these fell in relation to Barista Hustle’s coffee compasses for filter and espresso. I probably just need more practise!

And we ended on a sweet note, with some apple and desert lime candies. The sourness was actually quite refreshing!

What a fantastic experience. It was most definitely once in a lifetime, and a definite eye opener! I can’t imagine a single diner who wouldn’t be surprised by the menu.

The service was warm and impeccable, and the food was delicious, genius, and mind blowing. If I had to give a comparison point, I’d say that Orana would be the closest match. It’s a permanent restaurant that showcases native Australian fare – and I actually found a lot of common ingredients between here and there. Definitely worth a visit of you enjoyed this version of Noma!

I am so glad, and so proud, that Rene and his team set up the menu that they did, as it’s everything that defines Australian cuisine. What an incredible experience, and has made me really want to visit his Copenhagen restaurant! However, that’s probably for another lifetime….

Welcome to Australia.

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