Very few Western Australians are aware of our states strong connection to udon noodles which is a surprising fact when you take into consideration that our state is the only producer of udon wheat in the world except for a small volume produced in Japan. Not only do we export to the largest consumers Japan and Korea, we have boasting rights that our wheat varieties have unique quality attribute required to produce creamy bright noodles, with good elasticity and mochi mochi texture.
I have to admit, I myself am a little ignorant when it comes to udon. While times have definitely changed, a part of me still remembers the days of chewy, plasticky udon noodles at your local Japanese restaurant. So when I received an invitation to ‘Oodles of Noodles’, a dinner at Nobu hosted by WA Rural Woman of the Year, Tress Walmsley, I was excited to join and learn more.
As you can imagine, Nobu is a beautiful setting for an event like this that celebrates not just udon noodles themselves, but also the WA farmers who grow the wheat. And it feels a little bit fated that nobu against a mirror becomes udon…
During the night I had the opportunity to meet most of the growers there, and I loved hearing their stories and specialities. They all have a slightly different position within the grains industry, but the consensus that was clear, was that we need to generate greater awareness in rural and city areas of our states significant role in the udon noodle industry. By doing this, we can hope to see an increase in local consumption, which in turn will increase the demand.
Hidden away in a private dining room, we were treated to a six course meal with a specially crafted menu for the evening. What followed was not just a spectacular feast and educational dinner, but also the treat of having Head Chef Leif Huru present to talk to us about the inspiration behind each dish presented.
Our first course was one of my favourites for the evening – Inaniwa udon with spanner crab, yuzu, dry miso and fresh black truffle. The udon was thinner than you traditionally find but for me the texture and size was an absolute pleasure. It was cool, refreshing and the sweet crab shone with the enhancement of the Japanese flavours.
Our second course was the mizore jitate – a chilled fresh udon with ikura, caviar and junsai. This was again another light dish, with delicate flavours that were layered carefully. The roe on top played an important part, offering not just bursts of freshness, but seasoning with their salty centre.
What was really interesting about this dish was that they used fresh udon that the growers and udon ambassadors actually made that day! You could definitely see the wonderful quality in the dish, and it was lovely to see they’d used ‘Supreme’ udon wheat, which is a new variety in Western Australia.
Having a specific udon plant breeding program in our state has allowed the cultivation and extension of wheat varieties that have subtle differences in their produced udon noodles.
With the third course came a familiar dish that I’ve grown up on. While my mum is Taiwanese, there’s a great Japanese flavour influence and chawanmushi is something I’ve been raised on – and loved. Though of course Nobu brought this homely dish to a new level.
On the surface, their udon chawanmushi with mixed Japanese mushrooms and fresh black truffle looked really simple but it really is like digging through different layers of buried treasure. Slippery, al dente udon noodles. Pops of earthy flavour. And of course, that silky, silky egg custard.
There was a room-wide sigh of pleasure as the fourth course was placed in front of us. When you’re talking about WA marron, it’s definitely a crowd pleasing ingredient. And Nobu cleverly paired it with a sanuki udon seafood terrine, scallop jus and root vegetable salad.
Visually I thought this dish was the most beautiful, with it’s high levels and array of ingredients. At first I worried that there was too much on the plate but when I started making my way through every bite made sense. But while the udon was delicious here, the real start was that marron which was perfectly cooked and so lovely and sweet.
Our final savoury dish for the evening definitely proved one of the most popular amongst all 20 guests. The enticing aroma hit our table before I even processed what I was looking at. You’d think I’d be full already, but the smell was so intoxicating that I felt my mouth water in response.
Wagyu beef that’s been lightly seared is rolled around Inaniwa udon, then accompanied by asparagus, garlic chips and butter ponzu sauce. There’s so much to like here, especially when you’re talking about beef of this quality. It basically melted in my mouth (yes, quite literally) and the fat coated the thin udon noodles we saw in our first dish of the night.
I loved the richness of this dish, and the kick you get from the crispy garlic chips which just smash you in the face with flavour. The asparagus has been lightly cooked so still has a satisfying snap to it as I cut into it.
Now I have to say, when I heard there were six courses, I wondered just how on earth they would work in udon noodles beyond frying them into crispy garnishes. But that’s why I’m a diner, not a chef because the inventiveness the team at Nobu had for our final dish was really worth mentioning.
Seeing a lovely long plate of udon churros with white chocolate and ginger ice-cream, black sesame caramel and momoko peach salsa made me instantly excited to take my first bite. If I say the words, “crunch, crunch, crunch”, does that give you enough information? Because that’s literally what I heard as everyone descended on those golden twists on a classic Spanish doughnut. At no point did it get even slightly soggy, it stay crisped and satisfying all the way through.
The black sesame caramel was sticky and just sweet enough, thought it definitely bordered on the edge of savoury. But the real star for me was that incredible nashi pear and momoko peach salsa. Momoko peaches are a Japanese variety which I’ve only come across at Nobu – it’s this incredibly bright and unique flavour that is incredibly addictive. I’d happily chomp through a whole bag of them if I had the chance! They were just the thing to cleanse my palate and offer some necessary freshness after a generous (and relatively carb loaded) dinner.
And with that final spoonful of ice-cream, we all let out a big breath of pure satisfaction around the room. This is the kind of dinner that is memorable not just because of the food, but because of the role the evening served to fill, and because of the personal interaction we had with the growers. If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know I’m a huge advocate for supporting WA businesses and producers, so learning more about our grains industry provided me with greater insight and understanding. I definitely encourage you all to eat more udon, and to find out more on the Intergrain website.