It took a restaurant in Copenhagen to get me to the other side of the planet. I’d always wanted to go to Sydney anyway, so when I was fortunate enough to get a seat by the table at Noma Australia I knew the time had finally come to visit the land down under. This ten-week pop-up was probably the most popular food event in history. The 5.000 slots available were sold out in 90 seconds and almost 30.000 people were left on a waiting list. Noma Australia was also one of the best-documented restaurant experiences ever. So many foodies from around the world shared beautiful pictures of the food. I think I had read at least ten articles from Australian and foreign journalists about the meal in advance. I hadn’t seen a video, though, so I decided to make one.
I quickly discovered that a round trip to Sydney with Emirates would cost me roughly the same as a journey with a few extra stops. Australia is about as far from Norway as you can get, so I thought I might as well plan a longer holiday. The result was an epic foodcation that began with a week in Singapore, continued in Sydney with the highlight of Noma Australia on April 1st, and ended up in Melbourne. At some point, I will be sharing all my experiences from the trip, but you can sneak a peek on my Instagram profile if you scroll back to late March 2016.
If there’s a chef more dedicated to nature and all things living than René Redzepi I’d like to meet him. Every time he was at our table during the evening we could feel his passion. He was talking about the plants indigenous to Australia, telling stories of his meetings with the Aboriginals and describing how amazed he was with so many aspects of the Australian produce.
– This is a huge continent, he said when he presented the first court.
– There are more than 7000 edible species in the plant kingdom alone. Imagine that! Think about what you eat during the week. Every Monday. You often eat the same, but here there’s actually 7000 items to choose from.
Mads Kleppe is the head sommelier of Noma and the only Norwegian in the front of house. He is as passionate about drinking natural wines as René is about eating natural ingredients. To prepare for Noma Australia, he visited some of the best natural winemakers in Australia, but there were unfortunately not so many of them. Although this continent is one of the world’s largest wine exporters, the production is heavily dominated by industrially produced wines. Natural wines are often misunderstood. In fact, the idea is simply to go back in time to the traditional vineyard practices and winemaking techniques. Where no chemicals are added to the wine and you only get the honest flavor of the grapes and terroirs. Since Mads didn’t find large enough volumes of sparkling wines from a single producer, he had to make a substitute in cooperation with a local brewer. That’s how they came up with Snakebite, which is actually a cheap drink usually consisting of 50% lager and 50% cider. Noma made it their way, though, and it tasted insanely good.
Although I’ve only been to Noma in Copenhagen twice, it was like seeing old friends again when I entered Noma Australia before lunch. That’s how friendly and accommodating they are. Noma employees truly live by the words of managing director Peter Kreiner:
– We are in the business of making people happy and taking care of our guests.
I was just there to shoot some photos and video in daylight, but everyone stopped and said hello. It was a pleasure to see Kathrine Bont again, the front of house leader and one of my best sources for great eats on Instagram. Check her out. I chatted with Mads Kleppe, of course, and the restaurant manager James Spreadbury. Even René Redzepi remembered our few brief encounters from last year (once at Noma and once by chance when buying ice cream at Det Vide Hus).
We started our evening with a drink at a bar in the Barangaroo area, where we met up with a wonderful team of Japanese chefs. Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa of Tokyo restaurant Jimbocho Den and his team, as well as his good friend Susmu Shimizu of restaurant Anis. They had dined at Noma Australia a few days before us, and now they were going to check another great spot in town: Momofuku Seiōbo, where I went myself a few days later. Zaiyu was also doing a special charity dinner with chef Martin Benn of Sepia, where we ate on our first day in Sydney. Jimbocho Den as high on my wishlist already, but after meeting these humble and wonderful chefs I’d say it’s now my top priority to visit once I get myself to Tokyo. At my table this night, there were some good food friends of mine, among them Hungary’s most important food writer Andras Jokuti. Check out his site (it’s in Hungarian). If you watch the video closely you’ll also see chef Massimo Bottura from restaurant Osteria Francescana on our neighboring table.
Anyone who has been to Noma in Copenhagen would recognize the style of the presentations at Noma Australia. What really made it unique was the selection of Australian ingredients that René and his team had chosen to present. Stuff like the fascinating finger lime, a finger-shaped citrus fruit with small lime spheres inside, wasn’t used in any other restaurants as far as we experienced on our food journey. The preparation and presentation of the abalone in the form of a schnitzel is another choice which seemed to amaze the Australian couple at my table: Ian Westcott, a wine sourcer, and his wife Yvonne Wallis, Chairman of the International Wine & Food Society in the Asia Pacific. I think Noma Australia was an even more extraordinary experience for them, and it really made them want to visit the Nordic region.
Personally, I was very happy to see the milk skin pancake again, although it didn’t quite live up to the memories of the one I had last year. It reminded me more of the one we had at the pop-up 108 at Noma this winter. The desserts were among my favorites. The refreshing fruits serving was as delicious as it looks. You think fresh fruits are just fresh fruits until you experience the magic a Noma chef can do to them. The rum lamington at Noma was brilliant. This Australian classic didn’t have anywhere close to the perfect consistency in other Sydney restaurants where we tasted it. I also shared some of my thoughts on Noma Australia in the Norwegian magazine Chef and its online magazine Hegnar.no.
Our dinner was the last normal dinner service of Noma Australia. The next day they did a special auctioned dinner as a fundraiser for Redzepi’s MAD Symposium. After our meal, we had a drink outside and suddenly we were part of the staff meal serving from Belles Hot Chicken. I don’t think we were hungry, but who can resist a delicious piece of juicy chicken rubbed in mouth-blistering spices? This also made us discover this gem of a restaurant, which we would later check out in Melbourne. Their slogan: Hot Chicken and Natural Wine. Check back later for a full feature on that.
Were you among the lucky ones to attend Noma Australia? Feel free to share your experience in the comments.