It takes a lot to get a Melbourne food writer to a restaurant booking on a rainy Monday night—and, truth be told, I was half in the mindset to call and cancel my booking at Nora. The once-café, now-dining restaurant on Carlton’s Elgin Street was, at this point, no match to binging on GoT reruns and choc-fudge brownies from the comfort of my own doona. However, in the spirit of all things good and list-worthy, guilt and the promise of a meal that contained more food groups than my at-home sugar-fat combo convinced me otherwise. It took only 10 seconds after entering the cute Carlton venue to realise that I had, without a doubt, made the right decision.
The name Nora might ring a bell or two, especially if you’ve been keeping an eye on Melbourne’s breakfast scene. Having popped up in 2014 to serve Thai-inspired breakfast fare and incredibly tasty coffee to locals, the venue has since transformed itself into a degustation-only dining destination. Thankfully, head chef Sarin Rojanametin (who runs Nora with his better half) has decided to hold onto the eatery’s Thai roots—but gone are the espressos and brunch boards. This time, visitors will be served a whopping ELEVEN courses of mouth-watering morsels, based on the weirdest of foodie tales, from midnight snacking to asking, ‘What would a Daft Punk song taste like?’
As you can imagine, it’s hardly an orthodox experience. There is absolutely no divide between the open kitchen and the minimal dining area, and if you’ve booked the chef’s table, you’re quite literally sitting at the polished steel work surface they prepare and plate up on (wannabe Masterchefs, this is the only seat in the house for you). As well as hand-crafting each and every dish—including edible oyster shells, smoked breads and green papaya masquerading as tagliatelle—the team ferment a handful of their own drink infusions and craft pastries from scratch, making for a degustation that is uniquely inspired by the people who make it happen.
But back to that edible oyster shell. Nora’s attitude to food is refreshingly light-hearted: Yes, the food uses precise techniques, top-notch ingredients and comes paired with a dizzying array of drinks, but it’s served with a wink and a smile as the chef himself tells you that you can chomp down on an entire seafood shell without breaking a tooth. Likewise, when you're presented with a dish that looks like tadpoles in a algae-covered pond, and when the sommelier sets a glass of fiery scotch next to a course of bread and butter.
The stand-out dish of the evening followed suit. Titled Daft Punk Is Playing In My Mouth, I was presented with a serving of lightly pickled mackerel, covered entirely in some sort of ice. At first I wasn’t really sure if I should eat the ice or not—I once put a small block of wood used to smoke a cocktail in my mouth at Eau de Vie, thinking it was chocolate, and have been inherently suspicious of protocol ever since—so I tried a tiny mouthful as an experiment. Was it spicy? Was my fork spicy? Had my tastebuds finally gone haywire? Giving up trying to work it out, and biting into a sliver of fish, it all made sense. Yes, the ice was hot, but cold at the same time, just like a traditional wasabi-sashimi pairing. I later found out it was green chilli ice, and I’m currently making up a batch in my freezer as I speak because goddamn it, that’s the most incredible flavour combo I’ve tasted all year.
I’ll admit that Nora might not be for everyone—there’s not a parma or freakshake in sight—but if you’re looking for something to shake up the norm while still bringing a smile to your face, and you’re done with white tablecloth degustations where to chortle into your Chianti is a sin, then this Carlton gem is definitely work a sitting. Just grab me the recipe for that chilli-infused ice while you're there, yeah?
Nora’s seasonal degustation costs $95 per person. For more info, check out their business listing.