As the Fat Duck dust settles following Heston Blumenthal’s tenure at Melbourne’s Crown, René Redzepi and the team at Copenhagen’s world-famous Noma have announced they will open Noma Australia, a 10-week pop-up restaurant on the waterfront at Barangaroo in Sydney from January 2016, in collaboration with Tourism Australia and Lend Lease.
Redzepi and Noma barely need an introduction. Noma has been voted the number one restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino on four occasions in the past six years (the restaurant was awarded slot number three in 2015), and Redzepi is considered to be one of, if not the most influential chef of his generation. Burning with an unwavering curiosity about what the world has to offer in terms of edible bounty, both within the Scandinavian region and as far abroad as Tasmania and Japan, Redzepi has forged a new culture of food and eating entirely. His food speaks piercingly of place and time, uniqueness and context. He has visited Australia often, spotted foraging along the coast for seaweeds and local urchin, or diving for abalone in our southern waters while here. Indeed, it’s our waters, sea creatures and plants that have surprised him most, and they are what will form the centrepiece of the menu at Noma Australia.
“The Australian ocean is where there’s a strong sense of native ingredients,” commented Redzepi following the restaurant’s announcement this morning. “There's such a connection between the ocean and the land here. We'd like to explore it. That's where we feel we've found both [uniqueness and] a sense of belonging. It’s a spirit and lifestyle that we really love and that I find quintessentially Australian … a surfboard under your arm, the sand between your feet.”
After travelling around Australia extensively over the last month and on previous trips, Redzepi’s interactions with Indigenous Australians also influenced his plan for his restaurant in Sydney. “If you go to the communities in the bush, it doesn't take long before you're gathering around a fire,” says the chef. “It’s the same thing when you're with Aussies in an urban environment. Someone will [fire up] a barbeque quite quickly to cook lamb chops. So fire will be a way for us to cook these [ingredients]. We're going to work with how to tame it so it doesn't become rustic. We want to find ways to use it to cook things in a delicate way.”
The discovery and promotion of native ingredients has always been central to Redzepi and Noma’s ethos. One of the things he has found most exciting is the exoticism of Australian native produce, which continually inspires him. “All these bush foods are exactly how nature intended them to be,” he says. “There's never been any development, any refinement or any agriculture with them, so the potential is just monstrous. You feel like it's the dawn of agriculture in a strange way. We have found flavours that are just so exotic; it's like going to the moon. The first time you crack an emu egg and see this mango-looking egg yolk just pour out, or you taste a mountain pepper leaf from Tasmania, or you taste a ripe quandong straight from the tree, or lemon aspen. It's just mind-blowing, and you want to cook [with it all].” In an ambitious move, he will now be able to.
In terms of the Barangaroo space itself, Redzepi, “knew from the get-go that we wanted to be in an independent space. That was central to us,” he says, “that people could walk in and out straight from the street. We didn't want to be in a hotel or anything like that.” When the offer by Lend Lease, which is developing the Barangaroo site, came up, the restaurant team was interested straight away. “It’s perfect because it reminds me so much of the restaurant in Copenhagen,” says Redzepi. “It’s 10 metres to the water, we're right on the quay in Copenhagen. In many ways it is like home, but in the south of the world. We fell in love with that straight away.”
Redzepi and his team have not yet decided how bookings for Noma Australia will be taken, but they have assured us, “the system will be the fairest we can think of. We hope it will book out, but we don't know how that's going to happen yet. [Maybe] we'll just camp outside the restaurant and do only walk-ins!” he jokes. The price will also be determined by the cost of relocating more than 100 people (including the spouses and children of the Noma team) to Sydney. Word is that will be somewhere around the $400-$500 mark. Start counting your pennies.
Noma Australia will open for 10 weeks at Barangaroo at the end of January 2016.