The golden-teared Freyja is the most renowned of the Norse goddesses. Beyond mythology, it’s also the name of one of Melbourne’s most dramatically located restaurants.
It spans two levels of Collins Street’s towering 1880s Olderfleet building – with vast Gothic cathedral-style windows you can’t take your eyes off – joined by a dimly lit spiral staircase. Street level is all restored original brick, dusty blue leather banquettes and a curvaceous slatted timber ceiling that nods to the boats of Nordic maritime history. The fit-out is by interior designer Clark Bardsley, with creative direction by Soren Trampedach, founder of co-working space Work Club, which is upstairs.
At the helm of the kitchen is Jae Bang, who’s worked at the two-Michelin-starred Re-naa in Norway and Daniel in New York. At Freyja he’s applying a new Nordic lens to Australian cuisine. Which is to say: combining traditional preservation techniques such as pickling, smoking and fermenting with hyper-local, hyper-seasonal produce, as pioneered by Scandinavian chefs including René Redzepi of Noma and Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken in the early 2000s. The most comprehensive way to understand this mash-up is with the chef’s Taste of Freyja menu.
There’s something captivating about being led through a menu where simplicity tempers innovation. To start? A buttery waffle cooked on an old-fashioned cast-iron pan over the fire; it’s served with a golden tin of smoked sour cream and bejewelled with pale-orange trout roe (the lid is removed with a flourish as it arrives at the table). The beef tartare is made with salted quandong – instead of capers and cornichons – and dolloped with a green emulsion of tarragon and Tasmanian mountain pepper.
Bang favours the open fire, dishing up crisp-skinned but delicately flavoured Murray cod with roasted kale, a tiny turnip and a decadent sherry sauce. Great Ocean duck comes with roasted beetroot and is seasoned with toasted coriander seed and finger lime.
At lunchtime, the main event is smorrebrod, or Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches, which could be topped with anything from the above-mentioned beef tartare to school prawns, egg, mustard greens and cayenne, or eggplant with stracciatella.
But Bang’s Nordic approach goes beyond food. Although he is using traditional methods such as curing, pickling, smoking, preserving and lacto-fermenting, he’s also harnessing the Nordic approach to work-life balance. His vision is that no staff member will work more than nine hours a day, and the restaurant is only open Monday to Friday.
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