Abalone is given the schnitzel treatment. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Forget the fact that you can't get a table, that the entire 10-week pop-up booked out in seconds, and that you mightn't be able to afford a table even if you could get one. Forget the hype about the restaurant your annoying friends brag about dining at in Copenhagen, the restaurant that was four times named number one in the world.
Even so, Rene Redzepi's Noma Australia pop-up is one of the most notable events to have popped up in the 50,000-odd years of eating in this great southern land. Given the focus on native Australian ingredients, much of the food isn't immediately recognisable. Some of it isn't even strictly enjoyable. These are demanding flavours, not comfortable, not cushy, but unapologetically in-your-face. Totemic.
As well as bringing a team of 85 from Denmark, Noma has brought its own atmosphere. The vast dining space right on Barangaroo, the new western fringe of the city, is just metres from the water. It colonises the corner with a broad curving sweep of glass, the harsh sunlight tamed with sheers. Mid-century Danish dining tables and chairs, wallaby pelts, an ochre floor and giant WA grass plants outside make it Danish, but not. Australian, but not.
The degustation kicks off with 'unripe macadamia and spanner crab'. Photo: Jason Loucas
The degustation menu looks at Australian food through an explorer's eyes.
Kicking off with crisp petals of green macadamia nuts in a chilled broth that tastes of spanner crab, it segues to hauntingly bittersweet wild native berries with a dusting of Kakadu plum. So this is what Australia tastes like to the world's most celebrated chef – astringent, green, sour, nutty, aggressive, deep, intense, demanding, tart, ancient.
It's a contrary offering, concentrating on shellfish, fruit and greens, although meat is often only one step removed.
Go-to dish: Seafood platter with crocodile fat. Photo: Supplied
An almost cloud-like formation of the brilliant Albany snow crab comes funked-up with salted egg yolk cured in fermented kangaroo juices.
Crocodile fat mixed with chicken stock forms a tooth-sticky lid over an impeccable handful of shellfish – mussel, pipi, clam, oyster – served on the (real) rocks.
Dishes come in a constant Instafeed of snap, bite, move on. One minute, it's an intense pairing of cushiony tongues of sea urchin with spritzy dried cherry tomatoes and native pepperberries; next, it's a tenderised, schnitzelised half abalone dandied up with bush condiments like some deranged outback pub counter lunch.
Noma's spin on the lamington: aerated rum cake with grated milk and tamarind sauce.
There are layers of thought, and much work, behind a crisp, charry parcel of barbecued milk skin that combines the richness of magpie goose with the freshwater sweetness of marron flesh.
Or a lamington, with more Nordic milk-skin counterfeiting for coconut on a sensational sauce of native tamarind.
Or a little sandwich of mango and mango ice-cream topped with limey green tree ants; like an abandoned Weis bar on the footpath crawling with fruit-loving insects.
Mango and green ants feature in the 'marinated fresh fruit' dish. Photo: Jill Dupleix
The watchful staff – informed but informal – almost welcome you to death, and the matching drinks program from sommelier Mads Kleppe is as considered as the food, kicking off with a Tasmanian sparkling beer/cider that's like an adult shandy, and focusing on (extremely) natural wines from the Adelaide Hills.
We already have brilliant and inspirational chefs in Australia working with indigenous produce, such as Ben Shewry of Melbourne's Attica and Jock Zonfrillo of Adelaide's Orana, but Noma Australia will have its own far-reaching effect; giving us the confidence to make our own, our own.
So yes, we have some truly great restaurants in Australia. And this is one of them.
Noma Australia: Not bad for a pop-up. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Best bit: Seeing Australia through another's eyes, on the plate.
Worst bit: No bread, no meat, no red wine.
Dried scallop pie with lantana flowers. Photo: Jill Dupleix
Go-to dish: Seafood platter and crocodile fat.
Unripe macadamia and spanner crab
Wild seasonal berries flavoured with gubinge
Porridge of golden and desert oak wattleseed with saltbush
Seafood platter and crocodile fat
WA deep-sea snow crab with cured egg yolk
Pie: dried scallops and lantana flowers
Barbecued milk "dumpling"; marron and magpie goose
Sea urchin and tomato dried with pepperberries
Abalone schnitzel and bush condiments
Marinated fresh fruit
Peanut milk and freekeh "Baytime"
- Cuisine - Modern Australian
- Prices - $485 a head; matched wine pairing $215
- Features - Licensed
- Opening Hours - Lunch and dinner Tue-Sat until April 2 (fully booked)
- Author - Terry Durack