18.5/20

Noma Australia

23 Barangaroo Avenue, Sydney, New South Wales

Abalone is given the schnitzel treatment.
Abalone is given the schnitzel treatment. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Terry Durack

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.

Unripe macadamia and spanner crab.
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.
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.
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.
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.

Not bad for a pop-up restaurant.
Noma Australia: Not bad for a pop-up. Photo: Edwina Pickles

THE LOWDOWN

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.
Dried scallop pie with lantana flowers. Photo: Jill Dupleix

Go-to dish: Seafood platter and crocodile fat.

THE MENU

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

Rum lamington

Peanut milk and freekeh "Baytime"

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23 Barangaroo Avenue, Sydney, New South Wales

  • 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
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9 comments so far

  • this makes me laugh and the food and presentation looks patently absurd. It's either a Danish guy who knows nothing about Australia/ns or Australians eating it who nothing about Australians. When are Australians going to develop our own cuisine, this guys had a shot but I remain convinced we can do a better job ourselves.

    Commenter
    bootz
    Location
    Date and time
    February 04, 2016, 11:57AM
  • After dropping $500 I think I would leave there hungry. I prefer less dainty and experimental food myself.

    Commenter
    Davey D
    Location
    Date and time
    February 04, 2016, 12:29PM
  • The writer appears to be mesmerised by celebrity and misunderstanding what a meal ought to be - an occasion to eat satisfying food, of any variety, and enjoy a view, or the company...
    There must be cheaper ways to experience a bizarrely eclectic collation of ingredients.
    The lamington looks pretty good!

    Commenter
    TM
    Location
    Date and time
    February 04, 2016, 1:35PM
    • terry Durak? misunderstanding of what a meal is supposed to be? That's a laugh. Maybe a meal isn't supposed to be an all you can eat buffet at the local RSL.

      Commenter
      perplexed
      Location
      nsw
      Date and time
      February 05, 2016, 9:35AM
  • The usual batch of egocentric comments from the Macca's trolls - "I've never tried this, but I don't like it, so it has no merit."

    Luckily, lots of people disagree with you. I, for one, love this sort of cuisine and, having missed out on a table, am lapping up the various commentaries and review.

    Thank you.

    Commenter
    Slayne
    Location
    Utopia
    Date and time
    February 04, 2016, 4:54PM
  • Big plates with miniscule servings of pretentious food decorated with flowers and foliage at huge cost.
    And some people get sucked in.
    Laughable.

    Commenter
    Nick
    Location
    Date and time
    February 05, 2016, 6:59AM
  • "Much of the food isn't immediately recognisable. Some of it isn't even strictly enjoyable"... if food is not to be enjoyed, what is the point? Flavour is important, and even the highest of the haute cuisine needs to have a "yum" factor. So yeah, thanks but no thanks: 500 bucks can buy a LOT of amazing and tasty food, if which this city is full. This goes to show people will buy anything if it costs enough and is made to seem "desirable".

    Commenter
    monicalups
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 05, 2016, 8:30AM
  • Lantana is a introduced plant species that has been declared a noxious weed, so why is it being represented in his take on 'Australian food' - whatever that means?

    Commenter
    wax your back
    Location
    Date and time
    February 05, 2016, 4:25PM
  • Jean-Paul Bruneteau (Rowntrees. Riberries, and Bennelong in Paris) did this years ago but with a superior understanding of the ingredients.

    Commenter
    pauljames63
    Location
    Date and time
    February 06, 2016, 4:26PM

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