Freyja is the Norse goddess responsible for a smorgasbord of exciting things: love, fertility, battle and – eek – death. Her dance card sounds full, but her list of responsibilities now extends to uniting Danish culinary traditions with Australian ingredients in the heart of the financial district.
Tucked inside Collins Street’s heritage listed Olderfleet building, the street visible through a trio of ecclesiastical windows, Freyja is a restaurant immune from any accusations of culinary copying.
Under the leadership of Jae Bang, formerly head chef at Norway’s two-Michelin-gonged Re- Naa, Freyja swings from daytime smørrebrød, the traditional Danish open sandwiches we prefer to think of as a full meal on rye, to a dinner menu packing cool Scandi sophistication. Anyone who frequents this part of Collins Street might already have become acquainted with Freyja’s dark and mysterious sibling bar Valhalla, cloistered a level underground, where furthering your Norse myth education comes in the form of ethereally arty cocktails. The drama continues at street level where the OTT gothic architecture, including three impressively ecclesiastical windows looking over Collins Street, dovetails with the moody fit out of timber, metal and raw brick, with bareback tables and modern artwork saving it from the realm of medieval cosplay.
There’s no need to worry the new Nordic tag means ingredients being air freighted across the world. Centred around ingredients from Victorian growers and suppliers, the menu also plays a strong suit in native ingredients. Further proving they’ve ticked off their checklist of cross-cultural competency, they’re aided by the Nordic hallmarks of smoking, fermenting and pickling that have become the mainstay of modern cooking.
Smoking, you say? The heady, pine forest aroma of Freyja’s smoked oysters turns the dining room into a Norsca Spa advertisement; each cloche is whisked away to reveal the bivalves sitting on a pine needle bed, dressed in warm buttermilk and lime leaf with the clean citrus zing of Geraldton waxflower adding its own freshness. File under “showstopper”. The excessively pretty dishes don’t stop there. Also preening for its close-up is the trout roe waffle, a happy marriage of golden crimped waffle with a herbalicious dip of smoked sour cream topped with Yarra Valley salmon roe. Expect it to be imitated across the Birdcage at this years’ Spring Racing Carnival.
That beef tartare manages to be attractive is another minor miracle. Hiding under a nasturtium leaf cloak, the full flavoured Gippsland beef is mollified with a wonderfully balanced tarragon cream, native quandong sweetness and intense Tasmanian mountain pepper.
There are riches in the side dishes too. Seasonal and preserved vegetables mixing the charry, smooshy beauty of a Sunday roast with sharp pickled notes for mix-and-match intrigue; or just the fermented potato chips, super crisp and doubly addictive. Ironically for a restaurant named after an over-worked Norse goddess, Freyja is trailblazing a work/life balance for its staff by opening only on weekdays. It’s another Scandinavian approach to life we’re happy to embrace. This goddess has earned her break, and our devotion.