Review: Nora, Carlton

Late last year, I received an email from Sarin Rojanametin and Jean Thamthanakorn of the fine dining restaurant Nora in Carlton. Shockingly and disappointingly, they were announcing the closure of Nora.

“It is with great excitement that we announce the closure of our restaurant Nora. 3 years ago we had a 1 year plan to create a space to explore creativity through hospitality. What a ride.

We’ve evolved over that time, understanding more, making decisions to reduce sittings and guests but expanding the menu and the journey; less is more. More room to create, more opportunity to dig deeper into our roots, cuisine and ideas.

We’ve loved every bit, but we’ve also realised that to fully reach our potential, we need to get back to our land, our home, our roots. To be surrounded by limitless inspirations that will challenge us to uncover new possibilities.”

Broadsheet Melbourne covered this news, and I think they were as disappointed as myself. In saying “But for all our multiculturalism, some things remain challenging for the majority”, Broadsheet were able to explain the reason for Nora’s closure. The food was simply too foreign, too challenging for many palates when the usual Australian exposure to Thai food barely extends past the $10 Pad Thai at the local takeaway. 

Let me tell you now – if you didn’t get a chance to experience Nora in the past three years, you missed out. K and I were lucky enough to dine at Nora in April 2017 on the occasion of his birthday, and walked away raving about our experience and rating it on par with some of the best meals that we’ve had – and we’ve had a few! 

The titles of many of the dishes were mysterious and only very barely gave a hint of what we were to expect – what after all, is Tom Yum Prawn, add extra egg for $2? With quirky titles that hark back to traditional Thai street food, the dishes that show up on your table are uniquely elegant, playing with textures, temperatures and tastes in a way that would challenge any palate.

Some of my highlights include the Daft Punk Is Playing In My Mouth dish of pickled fish, served with chilli ice and black sesame paste. The concept of chilli ice is as mind-blowing as it seems, offering both heat and chill in the one mouthful.

Another highlight, one which we’ve vowed to try to replicate at home, is that of a drink from the matching non-alcoholic drinks menu. Lychee and brie mocktail…yes, brie, as in brie cheese. The strong creamy ripeness of the brie was brilliantly offset by the sweet fresh fragrance of the lychee juice. I think if we were to attempt this at home, we would have to use fresh lychees – no canned lychee could possibly provide that freshness. 

With the closure of Nora, Melbourne has lost a young and innovative dining experience. It wasn’t just a restaurant. It was one of the most extraordinary culinary experiences around, embracing the intricacies of a cuisine that most people under-rate and under-value. Give me Nora’s modern exploration of Thai over traditional stuffy French or Italian fare any day.

Nora was located at 156 Elgin Street, Carlton.

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