30th of October 2015. This date is significant to me because at exactly 10am, the online reservations for Noma Australia is officially open. Unfortunately all the tables were booked out in under five minutes and I missed out.
Those who wonder what’s the fuss about Noma, well in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 it was ranked number one restaurant in the world and they currently hold two Michelin stars. (Michelin stars is a fine dining rating system and the maximum number of stars obtainable is three). They are originally from Copenhagen but in the recent years they have been setting up pop-ups around the world. In 2015 they went to Tokyo, Japan and created a degustation menu from locally sourced/harvested ingredients. You can view a review of Noma Japan here. After their Japan pop-up, it was Australia’s turn. For ten weeks Noma will be serving up a menu created with native Australian produce for 5500 lucky guests.
As all the tables were booked out, I was going to miss out on an experience of a lifetime. One month later on the 16th November, I received a message from Tales of a Confectionist asking if I was wether I was still interested in going to Noma because she had vacant spots on her table. Without even considering the cost of the meal, I immediately responded with a YES!!! You can view her review here and here. She was very lucky to be able to attend both lunch and dinner sessions.
Prior to dining at Noma Australia, I did do copious research on Instagram and also read the occasional online reviews, so I already knew what the degustation menu would look like. All the excitement was spoiled but I did have trouble sleeping the night before my lunch at Noma Australia.
The reservation for lunch was at midday, 15th March 2015. We got there 30 minutes early as the restaurant is located in Barangaroo, a recently redeveloped precinct minutes from the CBD. When everyone arrived, we all entered into the restaurant and at the entrance we were greeted by all the staff and Rene Redzepi (who was eating on an apple at the time). We were guided to our table and within minutes our lunch degustation began…
We started off with a bowl of sliced unripe macadamia in a spanner crab broth infused with rose oil, served on crushed ice. The macadamia slices were really crisp and the rose oil complimented the spanner crab broth. We were told by the waiters that the macadamia nut is near impossible to extract when unripe.
The next dish is a bowl of native Australian berries. From memory there was a mixture of lilly pilly, muntries (I went to a foodie trivia night the week before and one of the question was ‘what are muntries?’ and no one on my table knew the answer. So I was pretty excited seeing them in the bowl), lemon aspen, desert lime in a kelp oil dusted with powered gubinge(Kakadu plum). Each berry had their own distinctive flavour, some were really sour, some bitter and some really sweet. The gubinge was tart in flavour kinda similar to the Chinese dried plum powder, which is sprinkled onto watermelon to intensify the sweetness.
We were told by the waiters that the wattleseed in the porridge underwent extensive cooking in the pressure cooker because wattleseeds by nature are extremely hard but the ones wrapped in the saltbush was tender enough to be eaten. The texture is similar to buckwheat. The porridge and saltbush is paired with a green anise myrtle oil and finger limes.
From all the extensive research I did prior to dining at Noma Australia, I knew there was not much meat present on the menu. It was more seafood based. So when I saw the next dish my mouth was salivating nonstop. This dish was Noma’s take on a seafood platter, served on chilled rocks are pipi, blue mussel, strawberry clam, flame cockle and rock oyster, all raw. The shellfish are dressed in a bush tomato vinaigrette and topped with a thin wafer made from crocodile fat and chicken skin. We were told to start at the pipi and work clockwise and also to eat the shellfish and wafer together. The wafer instantly melted in your mouth and left a pleasant savouriness but it still allowed you to taste the natural flavours of the different shellfish. The flavours of the shellfish intensified as you ate your way around.
I like how at Noma, the bowls are either heated or chilled depending on the dish. Like the next dish, deep sea snow crab with cured egg yolk. It may look really simple but there’s always a twist at Noma. The egg yolk is cured in a fermented kangaroo sauce hence the dark amber colour. This was one of my favourite dish from the entire degustation. There is a lot of umami present in the cured egg yolk sauce, paired with the sweet flesh of the snow crab was a match made in heaven. I was wondering if they would give me seconds because I really enjoyed this dish.
The presentation of the next dish was although looked simple but was packed with strong flavour. This was a dried scallop fudge inside a kelp pastry shell. In between the two layers are diced nasturtium stems. We were instructed to take a bite of the nasturtium flower followed by a bite of the pie. I personally found the tart really rich and a bit too strong for my liking. It instantly reminded me of the dried scallops I have at home.
No trip to Australia would be complete without a barbecue and since Australia is currently still going cray cray for dumplings. This is Rene’s rendition of both the barbecue and the dumpling. The ‘dumpling’ skin is made by caramelising milk slowly, I have tried to recreate this at home and ended up with burnt milk stuck on the bottom of the saucepan and milk all over the stovetop. Inside the dumpling is a rather large piece of marron (large freshwater crayfish) covered in a ragu made from Magpie Goose. Magpie goose are considered a pest in Northen Territory because they love to pick the mangoes off the trees.
Served on a red clay plate is half an avocado covered with a kelp and truffle paste. The avocado has been cooked in crocodile fat. I am a big lover of avocado and truffles but I’ve never had them both together. The aroma of the truffle and the creaminess of the avocado had me craving for more!!
I was shocked when nearly half the table requested an alternative dish when the waiter notified there will be sea urchin in the next dish. In the bowl are whole bush tomatoes which have been dried with pepper berries paired with sea urchin. The bush tomatoes are really sweet with a hint of sourness. I would had preferred a bit more sea urchin.
Next comes the main course, the most anticipated dish of the entire degustation menu. Abalone schnitzel. If you have had abalone you will probably know it gets quite chewy at times and for Noma to prepare a schnitzel with it, a lot of preparation is required. The abalone is first confit in koji oil, tenderised then crumbed and fried. The abalone schnitzel came with several different condiments. A beach floral bouquet, some beach succulent, neptunes necklace, sea pearls, finger lime, Kakadu plum, bunya nut, Atherton oak nut and mattrush. We were instructed to squeeze the finger lime on top of the abalone and chew on the end of the mattrush before digging into the schnitzel. Not pictured was a dipping sauce made of celery and yeast. It may sound like a strange combination but it really works with the abalone schnitzel.
As the abalone schnitzel was the final savoury dish on the degustation menu. The next dish was a palette cleanser. Marinated fresh fruit. Consists of pineapple in kaffir lime oil, sprayed with whiskey, compressed watermelon in Davidson plum juice, mango sandwich with mango sorbet and green ants. I found this dish really pretty, the different colours on the bed of crushed ice. I ate the mango first because I didn’t want the sorbet to melt. This mango sandwich is Noma’s version of a mango weis bar. At first I was a bit sceptical eating ants but the green ants released a sour citrusy flavour which cuts through the sweetness of the mango. The first bite of the compressed watermelon released a tangy flavour of the Davidson plum. This reminds me of the dried plum powder that people sprinkle onto fruit especially watermelon to intensify the sweetness. The pineapple had a subtle whiskey flavour.
The next dish was shared between two people, so everyone got two whole pieces of the Mirrabelle plum. The only utensil available to use to eat the Mirrabelle plums are the twigs from the pepper berry tree. Although the plums look big, it’s actually a thin layer of fruit around a large seed. When you bite into the pepper berry twig, it instantly releases a spicy pepper flavour, similar to when you eat black pepper.
This is the next desser is a lamington. Well Noma’s version of a lamington. There is no sponge cake in their version but instead uses aerated rum ice cream sprinkled with grated milk and a native tamarind sauce. There is something magically when I ate this dessert. It instantly disappeared when you eat it. It reminds me of the YouTube video of a raccoon and the fairy floss. I’ve included it below so you can check it out as well.å
The final dessert is Noma’s version of the famous Australia ice cream ‘Golden Gaytime’, here it’s called ‘Baytime’. The ice cream component is made from peanut milk. The coating may look like chocolate but it is actually a glaze made from freekah, a type of young green wheat. A twig from the lemon myrtle tree is used as the paddle pop stick for the Baytime. Inside the middle of the ice cream is a strip of caramel. I found the texture of the freekah glaze a bit strange, it felt like eating tahini from the jar.
At the end of the degustation menu, we were asked wether we would like to order some coffee or tea and at the same time we were offered these Desert lime lollies as petit fours. These are like fruit leather or roll ups made from desert limes. Inside the fruit leather is a purée of the desert lime. As soon as you hit the purée all your senses are woken up because of the sharp sourness.
It may sound crazy spending $493 ($485 + 1.65% credit card surcharge) for a lunch degustation. But this is Noma, I’ve heard the waiting lists for the Copenhagen restaurant are pretty long. In my opinion I think the money well spent because it’s rare to see native Australian ingredients appear in a dish, let along an entire menu. If Noma was to open another popup in the near future I define would love to go again.
Address: 23 Barangaroo Avenue, Sydney, New South Wales 2146 (no longer present as this was a temporary popup)