Noma is coming to Australia. What started as a whisper among chefs here and in Denmark over the past several months started to seem a lot more real with each sighting of chef René Redzepi and other members of his team around the country. Now it's official, confirmed in an announcement in Sydney this morning: the Copenhagen restaurant, several times named the world's best, and unquestionably one of the globe's most influential eateries, is moving to Sydney for 10 weeks from the end of January.
Inspired by the excitement generated by Noma's cameo in Tokyo at the beginning of 2015, Redzepi says plans for a new overseas adventure were well under way before the team left Japan, and Australia was the first choice. A place that differed radically from both Denmark and Japan was essential, he says, but the key was finding a place where his staff would be happy. "I really like working with Aussies," he says. "And I hope to learn something new."
A collaboration between Tourism Australia, LendLease and Noma, Noma Australia will open on the ground floor of the Anadara building on Wulugul Walk at LendLease's Barangaroo development, on the Sydney CBD's western waterside fringe. The search for a location took the team everywhere from surf clubs and the outback, to Smiths Beach at Margaret River and Sydney's harbour islands, "but all of it was going to just be so damned expensive, we had to change up".
"The place right there on the edge of the water - that reminded me very much of Copenhagen," says Redzepi. "It was a feeling of, 'wow, this is Noma in the south'."
The restaurant will open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Many of the other practicalities are still being ironed out. When and how can reservations be made? "No clue." What will it cost per head? "That we don't know yet. Four or five hundred."
Redzepi says that while he's aware of the criticism The Fat Duck received for charging more at its Melbourne pop-up this year than at its British home base, he's also acutely aware of how much it costs to move an entire restaurant and its staff to the other side of the world.
"It's going to be crazy." Accommodation alone for the 100 or so staff coming to Sydney, he says, is going to run to somewhere between $500,000 and $800,000. "And we can only put that expense one place, and that's on the menu."
In the meantime, he and his fellows have been digging deep for Australian flavours. The menu will be drawn up from scratch, putting the spotlight on Australian ingredients, so Redzepi has been diving for seaweed in Tasmania, sprouting bunya nuts in South Australia, inspecting eel on the Hawkesbury and drinking flat whites in Darlinghurst, while his sommeliers have risked life and liver meeting with the wildest and woolliest local vintners, brewers and distillers. By the end of the year he'll have visited every state afresh. "We've seen great stuff everywhere," he says.
John O'Sullivan, managing director of Tourism Australia, says that Noma was a natural choice as an extension of the Restaurant Australia campaign. "They don't come any bigger than René in food and wine internationally. But more than the man and the brand, Rene has an approach to cooking and produce that is very special, but also very much in harmony with what we have to offer in Australia. He and the team are so inspired by Australia, and so keen to showcase our produce and create something special here with a lasting legacy. René is someone who is inspired by nature, and unique ingredients - something that Australia does very well."
For his part, Redzepi also wants the experience to be something with a legacy beyond the 10 weeks for himself and his team.
"I really hope that by going into a completely new landscape we will be able to see our own world in a different way and become better at what we do at home through the experiences we have in Australia. That would be an amazing thing."