Curious about the hype surrounding Noma Australia? Pat Nourse heads to lunch and delivers the first verdict...
Yep, it's good. In fact, it's very, very good indeed. If the Fat Duck rolled into Melbourne last year saddled with the weight of great expectations, it's nothing on the hype surrounding Noma's Sydney residency. The Copenhagen fine-diner, frequently described as the world's best restaurant, and unquestionably one of the culinary world's great game-changers of the last decade, has come to Australia not to recast the hits from its menu back in Denmark in antipodean drag, but rather to dig deep into the ingredients and culture of Australia and come up with something new. And it has succeeded.
One of the joys of dining at Noma in Copenhagen is coming to grips with an entirely new vocabulary of ingredients and flavours - a new lexicon of deliciousness. To be presented with that experience in the country of your birth, though, is something else again.
Sometimes it's the familiar made unfamiliar. You've eaten crab and you've eaten macadamias. (Perhaps you've even had them together at Sixpenny.) But to taste crisp slivers of the unripe nuts in a chilled spanner crab consommé is to taste them anew. And that's even before you get to a plate of savoury-sweet Albany snow crab meat with egg yolk cured in - wait for it - fermented kangaroo. Marron, meanwhile, appears grilled with magpie goose in a taco (they call it a dumpling) made of crisp milk skin, rich and remarkable, while wattleseed presents not as a coffee-like spice but rather the grain filling in a sort-of dolma made with saltbush and flavoured with finger lime.
Abalone, on the other hand, has never been so comforting or moreish than when it's breaded and fried and presented as a buttery schnitzel (albeit with a radical cast of supporting players dotted around the plate, including bunya nuts, finger lime, sea grape and mat rush). Crocodile fat mixed with the skin from chicken stock forms the remarkable complement to a platter of pristine chilled raw and cooked shellfish.
Desserts are no less impressive, whether it's the light and airy lamington conjured from aerated rum cake topped not with coconut but shavings of dried milk on a native tamarind sauce, or the house take on a Gaytime, the Baytime (more of a Magnum, really), a confection of frozen fresh peanut juice and caramel on a twig of lemon myrtle, enrobed not in chocolate but chocolatey freekeh.
The room walks the line between pop-up airiness and Scandic cool. It would be wrong to call it beautiful, but the Danish tables and chairs (some of them strewn with wallaby furs) offer comfort, the acoustics are fair, and the palette of purple, ochre and dun, with the flash of sunlight on Cockle Bay beyond the pale olive curtains, makes for a fitting backdrop to the wonders on the table. The bespoke cutlery, plates and bowls, meanwhile, much of them fashioned from timber and clay, plus the Zalto crystal stemware, bring a welcome touch of tactile luxury.
Every restaurant in town oughta take a close study of the service. Informed but relaxed, carefully paced without being stagy and unerringly engaged, it's a blueprint for how things ought to be in 2016. And that goes double for the drink pairings. They're ceaselessly inventive without being gratuitously showy. Every pour, nearly all of them Australian, and every one of them from a small, interesting producer, brings something to each dish, and to the table. There's flexibility here, too. As much consideration is given to the beer pairings and the selection of juices and coffee as the wine.
Given that tickets for the entire 10-week run of the restaurant sold out within five minutes of them going on sale late last year, the question of price may be academic. It's safe to say that $485 a head for food plus another $195 per person for the matched drinks is a lot of money in anyone's language. And the value? You can certainly see the labour and the quality of the product on every plate. More to the point, this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"IMAGINE" reads a large, not especially pretty artwork near the restaurant on the end of the Barangaroo wharf. Chef René Redzepi and his team have certainly done that. They've dreamed up a cuisine based on native Australian ingredients that is bolder, more creative and - most essentially - tastier than anything anyone has served in a restaurant in Australia before. Beg, borrow or steal: this is one party you'll want to join.