Hot Plate: Nora, Melbourne
Author: MICHAEL HARDEN
Nora's menu reads like the set list of a slam poet: Daft Punk is Playing in My Mouth, 12am In the Fridge, Sorry I'm Crabby Today, Too Many Italians and Only One Asian, Tagliatelle of Oyster Not Oyster.
You don't actually get a printed menu until after you've
finished your $95 dégustation either. So when one of the 12 or so
dishes lands and your waiter announces: "Slowly But Surely", how
are you supposed to know that the beautiful looking emerald green
granita is made from a couple of different types of coriander, that
the black discs are radish that's been pickled for more than a
year, and that the tiny crumbs are fried garlic?
By the time Slowly But Surely rolls around, a palate-cleanser marking the border between sweet and savoury dishes, you'll already understand that Nora has its own set of rules. You'll have eaten green papaya cut to look like pasta that's tossed with a "pesto" of roasted cashew nuts and sator (aka stinky beans) and school prawns (Too Many Italians and Only One Asian), or a marinated chicken heart sitting in a pastry oyster shell topped with a sweet fish sauce and frozen pomelo (Oyster Not Oyster).
Those who ate at Nora when it was a café, or who attended one of their Friday night Small Dinner Club events will already have an idea about how owners Sarin Rojanametin and Jean Thamthanakorn roll. But this permanent dinner incarnation should surprise even the forewarned. Rojanametin, a self-taught cook, offers flavours that are original and experimental, with humour and creativity front and centre. But despite a million warning bells signalling overreach and pretentiousness, the quality of the food is never sacrificed in the name of simply being "out there".
The dishes eat like discovery. Service is charming and efficient. The drinks list, from sommelier Kentaro Emoto, takes its cues from the food, not surprisingly favouring the natural end of the spectrum. There's also a juice matching that's revelatory in its ability to balance the savoury with the sweet.
Not everybody will love Nora, especially those who crave volume, but those that love it will love it a lot.
Nora, 156 Elgin St, Carlton, Vic, (03) 9041 8644, noramelbourne.com; open Thu-Mon for two sittings at 6.15pm and 8.45pm.