As we entered Noma (Sydney) for lunch yesterday, there was a real sense of “showbiz”. As we were shown to our table, the four of us were greeted by probably twenty or thirty staff. “Hello, hello, welcome”. Having lived all my life in Australia, I often feel cynical about such displays of hospitality. Though such displays often feel contrived, this seemed to me very genuine. Over the next two and half to three hours, as we enjoyed our meals, and chatted with the staff, it became pretty obvious the staff were, too, lovers of fine food.
Though I’ve visited Copenhagen a few times, I’ve never been to Noma. Their seasons are always sold out weeks/months in advance. But I have read about Noma, and its reputation as a world class restaurant. In particular, I’ve been interested in the work done by the chef and co-owner, René Redzepi in re-inventing Nordic cuisine, and by his innovative use of unusual/interesting ingredients. When they announced a ten week season in Sydney, I was certainly interested, though not confident I’d be lucky enough to secure a seat/table. There are still 27,000 people (or something like that) on the waiting list. Thanks to the perseverance of Damien (running a couple of computers simultaneously) we were lucky enough to secure a table. And so yesterday, after months of anticipation, four of us sat down and enjoyed a remarkable lunch.
From the opener (macadamia in a spanner crab broth) to the closer (a fresh take on bon bons), everything was a surprise and a delight. There were many highlights. For me, they included the “dumpling” of marron and magpie goose (eat it like a taco), the sea urchin with tomatoes and berries, and the marinated fresh fruit (which included teaming up watermelon with a very bitter native plum). There were thirteen courses in all, and absolutely no sense of “I’m still hungry, let’s get some Maccas on the way home”.
Another particular highlight for me was the deep sea snow crab served in a sauce of egg yolk and fermented kangaroo. Though I’ve eaten crab all my life, I’ve never had crab like this before. The particular crab we were served lives in such deep waters that they’re actually white. There’s little/no lite where they live in waters off the continental shelf. We learned an awful lot about crab, actually, as we got chatting with a lovely family from Western Australia, who actually supplied the crab for the restaurant. “René came for dinner one night”, we were told, as we began to better understand how the team from Noma had spent several months/weeks/days traveling around Australia sourcing ingredients and then developing the uniquely Australian meals. “A world-class chef comes to your place for dinner. Pressure much? I joked.
That was one of the great things about the afternoon: the shared experience. After the meal, the opportunity to meet the family from WA made it all the more enjoyable, as they too share a love of food. Around the rest of the room, I noticed other people were similarly making friends.
I’ve been a little sick over the last week, and so chose not to have the matched wines (shock! horror!) but Damien, Kristen, and Glenn did, and they all said they were all very well-matched. They were also, I think, natural wines, meaning there were without preservatives. Though I do love wine, I equally enjoyed the meal, I think, without drinking.
As each meal was served the staff explained in detail (without too much detail) the meal, and seemed really happy to answer our many, many questions :) They definitely earned their keep :)
“I’ve tried to explain this to people at work, spending so much money on lunch but they just didn’t understand”, one of us said, “Noma”. For the last few months, I’ve been feeling lots of “Catholic Guilt” about this also. The “guilt” comes from the fact that I’m a working-class boy from a small country town in Australia. The money I spent on LUNCH would feed whole families in some parts of the world for weeks, if not months. In my own mind, I balanced it out because I do contribute a fair bit of money to a couple of charities that help people around the world.
But how do you explain spending so much money on lunch to your colleagues/ friends/ family who live equally “first world lifestyles”? According to my friend, you ask them how much money they’ve recently spent on a rock concert. Many people in Australia (and other “first world nations”) will routinely spend several hundred dollars on a ticket to a rock concert. Personally, I spent three or four hundred dollars to see Bette Midler and Liza Minelli. I know a few people who spent over seven hundred dollars to see Barbra Streisand. So my perspective on this is simple: it was like the greatest rock concert of all time (for food), and we got to meet and chat (at length) with the star.