noma – Northern Light

noma
Strandgade 93
1401 Copenhagen
Denmark
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • The 7-course menu is 1,095 Danish kroner, while the wine pairing is 895 kroner & the juice pairing 395 krone
  • If you ask for more than the 7 courses on the menu (and have time for it), they will charge you a little bit extra – as guidance, my meal with wine pairing and a glass of Champagne came to 2,350 kroner (roughly $430 or £270)
  • You can see many more photos and some videos in the kitchen on my flickr page

In short (because this review is so long), my favourite meal at a restaurant thus far. Exquisite, astonishing, inspiring. And all carried out with no big fuss. Find an(y) excuse to go.

In the end, I had my beginning

It wasn’t going to be easy. Living up to my expectations. Two years, maybe more. That’s how long I had been pining to eat at noma – hardly thinking that when this dream transmuted into reality, I would in fact be eating pine, and lots of it.

It took a little lot of planning, especially now that I live in the US, but eventually I made it there. And, for those who don’t have the patience to read the rest of this post, not only did noma meet my hyper-inflated aspirations; it exceeded them…in every sense. That’s all you really need to know.

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I began to see blog posts about noma a few years ago. The photos I saw and descriptions I read immediately struck a chord. The food was beautiful to look at, forthright, and truly of its own “time and place.”[1]

So what was noma? To render it down, like one of their duck fat crisps I was lucky enough to sample: a perfectionist chef with a noteworthy pedigree goes back to the roots – literally – of his homeland’s cuisine and reinvents it, simply but boldly. Out with the so-called ‘luxury’ ingredients that it seemed necessary for chefs with stars in their eyes to proffer. Forget the foie gras, say sayonara to soupy sauces: René Redzepi wanted noma to begin with the naturally abundant produce on Scandinavia’s doorstep and to represent each ingredient – and the ecosystem that it lived within – on the plate, honestly but with flair, artfulness and precision.

Of course, it didn’t open in 2004 and immediately achieve all of this, but that is what transpired in the end…though there doesn’t appear to be an end in store for noma. As T.S. Eliot said, “…to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” And with the creativity of chef Redzepi and forty or so ever-changing and talented chefs, who knows what directions and heights noma will strive for and reach next.

But here is where it stands now. After garnering two Michelin stars in 2008, the restaurant went on to attain the accolade of “Best Restaurant in the World” from the increasingly influential San Pellegrino / Restaurant Magazine annual awards in 2010, essentially catapulting it to be the new elBulli in terms of global profile.

Already difficult enough to book, immediately after receiving the top honor at the aforementioned awards, the restaurant’s reservation system crashed with the sudden spike in demand. How then would the kitchen and the front of house deal with this increased notoriety – would they live long and prosper, or stumble temporarily under such scrutiny?

I was more than eager to find out, and was elated that I would be able to share the meal with two friends who I knew would appreciate the experience just as much as I would. Mathilde (@mathildecuisine) and David (@dewilded) actually flew in for a 24-hour period solely to eat at noma, while I was already there on a business trip and couldn’t make such bold claims. I only wish Mrs. LF could have been with us to experience noma as well. :(

Warm pastries, frozen canals

Let me tell you, Copenhagen in the dead of January ain’t warm. Nevertheless, we ventured from our cosy hotel at a spritely hour, and I led the group to one of the Danish bakeries that I had discovered on recon during the previous days (Lagkagehuset if you care to know) after a tip-off from a friend (who coincidentally has recently written a much more concise review on the subject of noma, which includes a cool video).

Tebirkes: a traditional danish pastry from Lagkagehuset

How cold was it? Well let me give you an example. It had been suggested to us by a number of people that we should take advantage of the canal tours in order to see some parts of the city that you can only see by water. Slight problem: the canals were frozen.

Bright but d*mn cold

Just in case you don’t believe me, here’s a more expansive view. Yup, frozen my friends, frozen.

Somebody got sick of sitting on water

After visiting the Lego shop, warming ourselves in a store selling various epicurean delights, realizing that the canal tour just wasn’t going to happen, and generally being cold to our cores, I had the bright idea of taking a water taxi.

I’m not a geek, really

We were here (blue pin), and noma was there (red pin). Sure, we had a few hours to kill (or die), but maybe one of these taxis could drop us off on the other side in Chirsitanshavn? So we went down to the nearest stop and waited. Eventually, one came along that we could take back and forth and get to see some more of the city.

Trifecta: Mathilde, water taxi, noma

Besides looking pretty in pink, Mathilde was mighty happy to get in that boat as (1) it was warm and (2) she really wanted to sit down. Sure, they didn’t serve hot chocolate on-board – a central obsession of hers which we shall revisit later – but as Meatloaf once sang, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.

In any case, I had espied noma in the distance, and was already quite excited, but this chilly weather and nonstop walking was making me hungry and I was sick of waiting!

The pink and turquoise banners beckoned…

After a warm and pleasant boat ride, we arrived on the other side, stopped off in a design museum to look at some rather fetching art/design books, looked through a bridge’s peep-hole and…

Things were looking up…this water wasn’t completely frozen

…we were there. After two years, a lot of planning, a steady build-up, and way too long of an intro, I was knock, knock, knockin’…

Let’s get this party started already

…but enough with the rock n’ roll allusions, and on with the meal!

Nordic, naturally

When you walk into the restaurant, you almost literally step into the kitchen, or at least the part of it that is semi-open behind glass. We were welcomed by a few people at the entrance who seemed all too happy to see us and seat us straight away, even though we had arrived half an hour early.

The décor is immediately Scandinavian – clean, mostly minimal lines yet with a subtle and carefully thought-out design ethos. There are wooden tables (no tablecloths) with spindly legs and similarly designed chairs, some of which are covered with small fur blankets, some not. Exposed wooden beams hang like they’ve been there forever, worn by the winds of time…even though they’re inside, and not out. The walls are a mix of rough stone and plaster, neutral in color, with very little artwork adorning them. There are some modern yet non-invasive serving stations attached to the wooden posts, and lots of uniform windows, letting in whatever natural light there may be and concentrating it around the edges of the room.

The staff, however, is immediately international. Out of about 40 people total in the kitchen brigade, just under 20 of these (17 when we visited) hail from outside of Denmark. It is very common for young and ambitious chefs – as well as old hands – to come to noma for anywhere from 2 weeks to a few months to do a stage in the kitchen. Everyone from David Chang to lucky young things who are just starting out have been fortunate enough to work in the quiet, collaborative space that is possibly the most exciting kitchen in the world to be working in right now.

We were taken to our table by the affable yet somewhat intense Australian gentleman that, as far as I could tell, was in charge of the dining room. By ‘intense’ I mean that he has the eyes of a hawk and is acutely aware of everything that is transpiring around him…and I wouldn’t want to be the waiter that he saw doing something wrong, however trifling.

Then, the young gentleman who seemed to be in charge of our table came to ask if we cared for an aperitif, maybe a glass of Champagne. If you are a reader of this blog, you will know that I rarely turn down an offer of Champagne, especially in this case as it was from a small grower-producer and was both biodynamic and without dosage (added sugar). The N.V. Jacques Lassaigne, Champagne Les Vignes de Montgueux, Blanc de Blancs (Montgueux) was exceptional – dry, refreshing, persistent, lingering – and was what we would be sipping in the calm but swift procession that was about to commence.

Let me just say this: when you eat a meal at noma, things begin quickly.

The intriguing creations they casually call ‘snacks’ start arriving in succession. There is no silverware. You use your hands. You pick up the last filaments of food with your fingers. You lick them. You lick the plate. (At least I did). All of this is not frowned upon, but is instead encouraged. They love to see your enjoyment. There is no pretence. It is about doing the best they can with what nature affords them, starting from the most selective produce, the most perfect rendering, the most beautiful visual and artful presentation – a presentation of ‘what it is’ [2] on the plate.

As we settled in, I took out my camera and began photographing the pretty floral arrangement on the table. Little did I know that this vase would indeed contain our first snack!

Snack 1: Malt ‘Branches’ with Juniper Berry Powder

Three ligaments of a ‘branch’ had been molded from malt and finished off with a powder of juniper berries, then placed atop the floral arrangement, right above the real branches they mimicked so well. There was an undertone of woodiness (or was it merely suggestion?) and the juniper flavor was subtle and elegant. It was wonderful when dipped in the little dish of crème fraiche which had been provided. We had not even half begun and we were eating branches!

Shortly thereafter, a round bowl of luminescent green moss was brought to the table.

Snack 2: Silver Moss from Finland with Cep Powder

On top of it lay three morsels of silver Reindeer moss from Finland, which had been coated with a deep-fried cep powder. The flavors of the forest were reiterated. The branches had fallen to the ground and landed in moss and mushrooms. As with the branches, the moss was also dipped into the crème fraiche. It really did taste of moss (I had some when I was a kid – don’t ask), and we were smiling and giggling already. These two dishes perfectly illustrated Redzepi’s concept of representing the ecosystem that the main ingredient for a dish comes from, both on the plate and on the palate.

Finger-licking good: the last filaments of moss suspended in crème fraiche

From the branches of the tree, the moss that grows on its trunk, and the mushrooms that take nourishment from it below ground, we were next presented with the berries of a native Nordic bush, sea-buckthorn (or havtorn in Danish).

Snack 3: Sea-buckthorn Leather with Pickled Rose Hips

The berries themselves had been peddled into a rough leather and ever so lightly salted. The floral, bright and supremely tart essence of the berry shone through precisely and, for the first time, we had to purposefully use our jaw muscles to chew. The bright fortune-cookie shaped fruit roll-up was appointed with pickled rose hips at each corner, and this would be the first of many pickled sensations in the meal. In this case, it brought out the singularly magical expression of rose aroma, and also a sweet tanginess, to bear on the acerbic berries.

Next, an antique-looking biscuit tin arrived and was opened in front of us.

Only three?!

Inside, there was a little biscuit for each of us. Upon the base layer of a savory cookie, speck (or lardo) had been thinly shaved, on top of which a powder of blackcurrant had been sprinkled. The dainty orts had each been crowned with a single spruce shoot.

Snack 4: Savory Cookie, Speck, Blackcurrant Powder & Spruce Shoot

This was richer than the preceding snacks, but still delicate and perfectly balanced between richness and acidity.

At the same time, a large plate with a thin layer of gray felt (which would be the serving vessel for many things) arrived, adorned with three low-profile rectangular creations.

Snack 5: Rye Bread, Chicken Skin, Lovage & Smoked Cheese

One side of the sandwich consisted of seeded rye toast, while the other was formed from crispy chicken skin. Sandwiched in-between (literally) was a mixture of smoked cheese and an emulsion of lovage (and possibly peas). This was, for me, Denmark on a plate. Seamless but not seedless, dancing around all corners of the mouth, and then washed down with a refreshing elixir from the North…of France albeit.

Next, one of the noma signature dishes arrived.

Snack 6: Brined, Blanched & Smoked Quail's Egg

Two large speckled eggs shells appeared. Before even opening them, you could smell the smoke pent up inside, folding back into itself. Upon lifting the lid, the smoke rose up into the air – the scent of a winter campfire, a suggestion of flames in the cold. The dainty eggs themselves, in addition to being smoked, had been pickled and lightly poached. The central chamber tasted of rich, liquid, smoky yogurt and was effortless in its purity and simplicity. A perfect bite.

After the golden egg had been laid, eaten and taken away, a terracotta pot arrived.

Snack 7: Radishes in a Pot (Radishes, Herb Cream & Malt Soil)

Inside, radishes were growing in soil. We were invited to pluck them out of the pot and eat them. But the trick here was that the soil was of course edible too. Everything in the pot was edible. The soil was made from malt and hazelnut flour, beer and butter, while the green cream at the bottom of the pot was an emulsion of fresh herbs and sheep’s milk.

I was excited, but didn’t soil myself

This was really the only course so far that reminded me of molecular gastronomy, maybe only because its playfulness reminded me of Heston Blumenthal and our meal at the Fat Duck.

This was followed by another trio of thin and impossibly delicate finger sandwiches.

Snack 8: Toast, Rendered Wild Duck Fat, Herbs, Smoked Cod Roe Emulsion, Vinegar & Herbs

This time sandwich contained micro herbs in the middle, which commingled with an emulsion of smoked cod roe and vinegar powder. I believe the top of the sandwich was made from the fat rendered off a wild Danish duck, whose flesh we were to consume at a later stage. This was definitely our favorite bite so far in terms of taste alone – translucent ‘bread’ made of rendered wild duck fat…’nuff said.

Finally, our flurry of snacks came to a close when three spheres of Æbleskiver arrived.

Snack 9: Æbleskiver, Cucumber & Moiko

Only these weren’t the traditional sweets served at Christmas time in Denmark; they had been lightened and made more savory than sweet by replacing the traditional apple filling with pickled cucumber and a little moiko (a freshwater fish from Finland resembling herring) piercing through the middle of each brown ball. The batter, which Mathilde insisted tasted like a beignet, had been lightened into more of a pancake texture using clarified butter and the combination of pickled cucumber and salted fish was (unsurprisingly) surprisingly a miniature revelation. Whodathunk it? Cucumber and fish. Brilliant.

But before the meal proper was to begin, a fabric parcel was placed in the center of the table.

Loaf of Sourdough Bread

Unwrapped, it looked like a joker’s hat. It was a round loaf of sourdough bread. On the side resided two stone pots, one containing pork fat, and the other goat’s milk butter.

Pork Fat & Scratchings and Goat’s Milk Butter with Salt

The fat was expectedly very rich and it was better once you allowed it to warm up, when it melted and seeped into the pores of the bread. It was topped with pork scratchings, but it was the goat’s milk butter that won our hearts, and taste buds.

Thus far, there had been no silverware, no discussion of wines or pairings and no ordering. The restaurant had been presenting their country and region to us on the plate in the most elegant and refined way possible. We had been barraged with Danish produce. Nine snacks, a loaf of bread, plus pork fat and goat’s milk butter were residing in our stomachs. During this first succession of surprises, things were clear, resolute, unfussy, confident and on-the-mark consistently throughout – both in terms of food and service.

The single glass of crisp Champagne had been the perfect foil for the snacks, cutting through the richness present in a few of the snacks and complementing the acidity of other elements within the food. The snacks had been delicious and more original than anything I think I’ve had before (the only other thing that comes close in my own dining experience is the Fat Duck) and I was already in love. But could the relationship continue to flourish, as things got heavier?

Another nine? Hope we have time…

Another thing about noma is that the food is brought out to you by a wide array of staff members – anyone from René himself, to his senior and junior chefs, to the restaurant’s waiters could be serving your food and explaining what it is. This adds considerably to the enjoyment of the meal (at least it did to ours) as, for example, a Swedish person might come to explain why the Gotland truffle you are eating is so special, or a Dane as to why the Æbleskiver is an interesting and innovative play on the traditional way the dish is served.

As I mentioned, throughout the snacks, while various people had served us, we did have one main waiter who seemed to be assigned to our table. A young man from the region, he struck a deft balance between giving us as much food as they could within our allotted time and getting the pacing right. They close the kitchen at 4pm sharp, and there is no budging on that – and I mean no budging (an attitude I find fondly Scandinavian). So far, we had sampled so many things, but hadn’t felt rushed. This was to continue throughout the main part of the meal.

After the snacks, he explained to us that the normal menu is normally a 7-course affair, but that if we wanted, they would just try to serve us as many courses as we had time for – i.e. before the bell tolled 4pm and the kitchen shut down for the staff meal and evening prep. I got the feeling that if President Obama was eating there, they would not serve him past 4pm either. Needless to say, we went for the latter option. David and I opted for the wine pairing while Mathilde decided to try the juice pairing – a great option for those who don’t feel like consuming so much wine for whatever reason, and one which worked surprisingly well given both the quality of the juices themselves and the way they complemented the flavors of the food.

First up of the main dishes was a beautifully presented and fresh-looking plate of food.

Course 1: Apples, Leeks & Seaweed Gel

The catch here was that the leeks and apples had been painstakingly prepared to look identical, so you didn’t know whether you would be getting a sweet or savory sensation if you only ate one at a time. The two flavors married together beautifully when eaten in concert, with the pang of seaweed adding a welcome though unfamiliar sensation on the palate. The dish was fresh and light, with a touch of richness from the seaweed. It was an excellent beginning in the middle of the meal.

Course 2: Sea Urchins and Frozen Milk, Cucumber & Dill

The Australian chap I mentioned earlier introduced the second course. He didn’t start by saying anything about the dish, but just began telling a story. The central character was a (some would say mad) Scotsman who had relocated to 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Norway to hand dive for sea urchins. He supplies these exclusively to noma, and these were the central component of the plates in front of us.

What I loved about the dish was the way that the frozen landscape in which this urchin-man lives had been translated onto the plate, both in terms of the serving temperature of the ingredients and the visual aspect of the plating. I thought it was one of the more beautiful things placed before us that day, and it was also one of my favorites. The overwhelming sensation was that of clean flavors from the sea. The sea urchin was extremely delicate and surprisingly sweet in flavor, while the frozen milk and dill granita served to accentuate the cleanness of its flavor, at the same time balancing its slight richness. The small spheres of cucumber had been seasoned with dill oil and also powder from the cucumber peels themselves, which had been cooked under a hot grill until completely carbonized. The dark orbs brought a welcome textural relief while at the same time reiterating a fresh, green, watery vegetal flavor to the dish. This was a miniature masterpiece.

Course 3: Langoustine, Oyster Emuslion, Söl (Dried Dulse) & Rye Bread Crumble

Continuing the oceanic theme, we were next each served a sparse scene upon a large, slightly warm basalt stone. Atop the stone was perched a rather robust Danish langoustine (it sort of looks like a caterpillar, no?), with eight Hershey’s kisses of a pale green emulsion concocted from oysters, parsley, grape seed oil and lemon juice. These little and seemingly randomly placed globules were topped with rye bread crumbs (which had been fried with butter) and a powder of deep purple dried dulse (a red algae, in this case from Iceland, where it is called söl ). The langoustine itself was soft, a little chewy and exceedingly sweet, with undertones of the butter in which it had been sautéed. When you picked it up with your fingers (there was no need for silverware in this course) and dipped it in the oyster emulsion, it added a pleasing acidity and delicate sourness, but for me it was the pristine and sweet langoustine itself that was the star of this dish. This visual impact is an important part of this course, but most importantly, we loved the taste of it too.

Course 4: Oyster & The Ocean

While the previous two courses had showcased various elements of Scandinavia’s coastline, for me the next dish most clearly evoked the rawness of the sea. A large blue pot was placed on top of our plates, and when the lid was removed, a single large oyster shell was revealed; underneath laid stones from the sea as well as some seaweed and other seashells. A big gust of steam immediately carried the smell of the sea to your nose as the oysters had been steamed with seawater that was placed at the bottom of the pot.

Open sea-same!

When we lifted the top of the oyster shell off, a beautiful scene was revealed. There was the oyster itself, which had been sliced into three sizable pieces and steamed for four minutes, leaving it just between the raw and cooked state. Scattered on top and around the oyster were pickled capers of elderberries, tapioca pearls, beach cabbage (I think) and some green herbs.

Getting up close & personal with my oyster

It was the best oyster I’ve ever had, and I loved the meaty texture of it. I don’t know if I was supposed to or not, but I chewed each of the three pieces slowly and tried to get some of the other components of the dish in each bite. I thought it was a marvellous reproduction of the coastline and the flavors melded together seamlessly: it was fresh, sharp, saline and clean, just what I imagine the beach to be. It was one of my favorite courses, and I am not even normally a lover of oysters.

Ready to go down the hatch

From the rawness of the sea, we were next brought back to the forest. Pine was making a comeback, and in a big way.

Course 5: Cauliflower & Pine

Not immediately the most arousing description of a dish is it: cauliflower and pine? But what it lacked in descriptors, it certainly made up for in visual curiosity and in taste. A charred piece of caramelized white cauliflower was residing in the middle of the rather sparse plate, on top of which were two strands of spruce, needles and all.

Sprucing up the plate

Next, our server spooned a circular pond of green sauce composed of spruce oil and whey around the cauliflower and then placed a dab of cream (inside of which was hidden some horseradish) in the middle, where it slowly melted into the sauce.

Your plate is now pine to eat, Sir

When you ate it, all of the flavors came together in unison, without one dominating the other. I loved the taste that the char brought to the cauliflower, and the aroma of the pine persisted in my mouth but didn’t overtake the simply prepared vegetable. The horseradish was there too, but lingering in the background at the top of my mouth and back of my throat. I was blown away by how much I liked this dish, as I am not really a fan of cauliflower – I think a lot of it had to do with the brilliant sauce. I was going to try to eat some of the pine needles too, but Mathilde scolded me for being silly (she was drinking juice, not wine, remember).

Course 6: Celeriac, Black Gotland Truffle & Garden Sorrel

We officially coined this the most ordinary looking dish of our meal so far. But for whatever it may have lacked in ophthalmic impact, we shortly forgave it. The golden brown piece of celeriac itself looked quite odd, almost like a rock or seashell of some sort, and it was juxtaposed against a nearly jet black paste of black truffles from the island of Gotland (a favourite summer vacationing spot for south-eastern Swedes – the human kind – in the middle of the Baltic sea). On top were strewn a few strands of garden sorrel.

The celeriac itself, which had been cooking in butter and sorrel for quite a while by the time we saw it on our plate, tasted about as good as celeriac can all by its lonesome, and had an interesting texture that I would describe as firm mushiness. However, I felt like I had been slapped across the face when I tried some of that thick truffle purée. I remember being surprised at Matthias Dahlgren’s Matbaren a few months ago by the pungency and deep flavor of autumn Gotland truffles (after being somewhat underwhelmed by the summer truffles a few years back at another fine Stockholm restaurant, although they worked well in the dish they made an appearance), but this was taking it to yet another level. It was the essence of truffle to me, and it paired perfectly with the root flavors of the gnarly looking celeriac. The garden sorrel added a pleasing citric note (it tasted like lemon) and it was strangely one of the more memorable dishes of the lunch, especially given that its appearance was decidedly modest amongst the company it was keeping. Genius.

Course 7: Pickled Winter Vegetables & Bone Marrow, Flowers & Herbs

If the kitchen had temporarily forgotten to add color and geometry to the celeriac dish, these pickled winter vegetables certainly made up for the lapse in spades. Our server explained that it is was longstanding tradition in Scandinavia to pickle things – mostly vegetables – in order to survive the bitterly cold winters. Pickled vegetables were often eaten with salted meat in olden times. In this case, we were presented with a number of seasonal vegetables (I counted about six), each of which had been pickled in its own liquid. For example, the yellow beetroot had been soaked in elderflower vinegar, while for the red beetroot rose hip vinegar had been used. Interspersed throughout the colorful cylindrical vegetable ringlets were little discs off creamy bone marrow, which had been salted and lightly poached.

Getting saucy

Next, a sauce, which I think was made from roasted pork bones and brown butter, was spooned on top so that it seeped out to one side. It was a striking presentation, and was a wonderful sensation of flavors converging in your mouth, from astringent to sweet to rich. I truly loved this dish.

Things were becoming serious

After our empty freckled gray plates had been taken away, a beautiful handmade knife was laid down on the side of each of our place settings. We were told that René had convinced a craftsman from the region to make some knives for the restaurant, and that the man got quite a shock when he realized he was being asked to make 100 of them – by far the biggest order he had ever received. In any case, the actual blade was much smaller than we imagined it would be given the disproportionately large handle. However small the blade, we knew something meaty and substantial must have been arriving soon…

Course 8: Wild Duck & Apple, Malt & Brown Butter

Just like the pine, which appeared first in the snacks and later in the mains, the wild duck – which we thought had been used to make one half of a sandwich in our snacks – now appeared in fuller form for our final savory course. Surrounding the sous-vide cooked duck was apple…in a startling array of guises. A perfect disc of pink apple and rose powder (which was also sprinkled on top of the dish), rigatoni-like pipes of apples, cooked slices of apples, and apple ‘seeds’ which were in fact made from malt – just like the branches with which we began the meal. Possibly for the sake of diversity, some green herbs had been thrown in too.

What would we do without brown butter?

But there was more apple to come. A sauce of brown butter, which contained an apple base, was poured over the center. The duck itself was beautifully rare, and the reverberation of apple throughout each element of the dish complemented the fowl perfectly, adding sweetness and an acidic tang. It was delicious, and well worth savoring. Yet, for some reason – possibly because it was really the only substantial/filling portion we had been served – it didn’t seem as exciting as what had preceded it. Don’t get me wrong, we all loved the dish, but I suppose this was the most ‘main course’ dish of the main courses…this, of course, was a good problem to have!

Dessert 1: Pear Tree (Frozen & Aerated Pine, Poached Pear, Raw Pear with Herbs & Flowers)

After nine snacks, one loaf of bread and eight savory courses, the first of the sweet(er) dishes was here. I personally thought this was the most beautiful plate of the afternoon – I mean, just look at it….

So pretty I didn’t want to eat it (well, not really)

Now those of you who know a bit about noma will already know that Redzepi is not a big fan of overly sweet and heavy desserts – he prefers rather to use the sugars that dwell naturally within certain ingredients to present a fresh and light close to the meal.

In this case, the a pear had been beautifully poached and hidden beneath a thin slice of a raw pear, which was decorated with all manner of things green and pink…from what I can remember, lemon thyme and some local flowers. An artful golden swirl across the plate contained a pear sauce with thyme (i.e. the green shards you can see scattered throughout it). Flanking the delicately balanced pear was a light green sponge of frozen and aerated pine (or was it thyme?). The block of porous pine began to melt when it was touched by your spoon, and even more rapidly so when it got inside your mouth. The overriding sensation from this course was a refreshing sweetness – raw and cooked pear, melting frozen pine and a lovely syrup of similar flavors overlapping in your mouth. A wonderful first dessert.

Dessert 2: Snowman (Yogurt Snow, Yogurt Glace, Meringue & Lingonberry)

Our second dessert continued the frozen theme…to an extreme. It was the classic noma snowman, and I was so happy to have gotten the chance to see it in person. My three-sphered creation had a particularly long nose and I wondered if he had lied once too often and was getting sent out to the dining room to be executed by my cutlery.

Split decision

Not usually such a nasty fellow – though Mrs. LF might disagree :) – I nevertheless executed his sentence and split him in two, straight down the middle. Then I got down to business. It turned out to be a concoction of meringue, yogurt glace (made of yogurt, buttermilk and gelatin) and yogurt snow (containing both sheep’s and cow’s yogurt). I thought I also tasted carrot near the base, but maybe I was going crazy at this point? Underneath the snowman there was a biting crimson sauce made from lingonberries.

Murdered in cold blood

It gave you the sensation of taking a brisk walk through the snow, and the lingonberry in particular provided a very sharp flavour against the cool, crunchy and fairly neutral tasting ‘snow’ and meringue. Taste-wise, it wasn’t the most awe-inspiring dessert, but you have to give them marks for playfulness and artistry…and I thought it actually tasted pretty good too. I was about to eat the wooden nose and arms of the snowman – in the spirit of eating everything on the plate, as I had done thus far – but I was informed that these unfortunately were not really edible. :(

Dessert 3: Øllebrød & Skyr

The final dessert was definitely the simplest of the three sweet courses, and one of the most straightforward of the meal.  Øllebrød, it was explained to us, is a traditional Danish breakfast porridge made from beer ‘bread’. While I have never had the original, we were of course given the noma version of this simple dish. Besides the rye bread flakes that I believe had been soaked in beer and provided some crunch, it also included some frozen skyr, which is a soft cheese from Iceland that is quite yogurt-like. Taste-wise, I found the dish to be divine, and I liked the gooey texture of the bready substance at the bottom. David and I were both almost simultaneously reminded of a lemon tart in terms of its flavor profile. This was comfort food, and there was quite a bit of the delicious pudding for us to savor as we contemplated all that we had just consumed. It was the perfect ending to an inspired, and inspiring, meal.

A marrowing finale

As it was now a little past 4pm, we were escorted to the private lounge to have hot drinks and a few petit fours.

In good spirits

There was quite an array of spirits on hand, but I had swallowed enough fermented grape juice by this point and was content enough with coffee.

There are some things you can’t change about people, even when they’re in the best restaurant in the world!

But Mathilde had to ask for her hot chocolate. We were informed that coffee and chocolate were two of the few things served in the restaurant that are not from Scandinavia. And, to be honest, I was glad they hadn’t taken the local thing to such extremes as to offer us some malted hot water with goat’s milk curd and pickled elderberry foam – though maybe that wouldn’t have been so bad…. They didn’t seem overly confident about being able to make hot chocolate in the first place, but endeavored to do their best. Big surprise (not): Mathilde simply loved their 72% Valrhona version of the drink. I had a sip and agreed it was pretty d*mn good.

Petit Fours 1: Potato Chips with Anise & Chocolate in a Biscuit Tin

These were pretty much like they sounded, and I could have easily eaten a few more. Salty, crispy, chocolately and liquoricey. All things I like, and I liked them all together.

Petit Fours 2: Petit Fours: Sea-buckthorn (Havtorn) & Beetroot Flødeboller in a Metal Bucket

I know, it sounds complicated, but it wasn’t really.

No edible branches on top of this plant, alas :(

It was basically chocolate covered marshmallows, except the mushy meringue was made of sea-buckthorn and beetroot with a beetroot gel and a malt base to boot. Sweet and sour. Divine.

Petit Fours 3: Smoked Bone Marrow Caramels

Last up was possibly the most challenging combination of flavors and textures of the afternoon. After unwrapping the parcel of butcher’s paper, which was tied shut with string, we found three marrow bones, each with a caramel-like center.

Things were becoming blurry

There really was bone smoked marrow inside them, as well as caramel, and I couldn’t decide whether or not I liked it or not – it was pretty weird. But I’m all for trying new things.

Tranquility

It was nearly 5pm and our meal had finally come to an end. There had been an astonishing array of food, and I was pleasantly full, but nowhere near bilious. This reminded me of my meal at The Loft Project, where Samuel Miller (the sous-chef at noma) had cooked some of his own food for the table that night; we had eaten a lot on that occasion too, but hadn’t felt full at all – instead, energized.

It turned out that the master of the house was not there on our visit. Apparently for the first time since the restaurant opened, René and his family had taken some time off for a real holiday in January. As disappointed as I was not to be able to meet the creative force behind the food we had eaten, I was very glad to see Sam and accepted his gracious offer to give us a tour of the kitchens and private areas of the restaurant.

We got to see all of the various cooking stations, as well as the fairly new private dining room and enlarged staff canteen.

You can find a few photos and videos below, and there are loads more on my flickr set for the meal.

Placing malt branches at the snack station

Egad, there’s a Viking in the pastry station

The newly enlarged staff canteen

Private dining room

Sam demonstrating the outdoor grill (in the January cold)

Reflections on a perfect meal

I already commented on the décor of the restaurant at the beginning of the piece. In terms of the overall ambience, I think the restaurant has gotten it just right. Nothing is overly formal: there is no dress code, and there is no fancy napery. More importantly, everyone just really cares about their guests – from the senior members of the kitchen all the way to the waiters. They really want to make sure you have an amazing time, whether that means staying with the ‘normal’ set menu or being more adventurous and going for whatever the kitchen can throw at you. As Danes generally prefer to go out at dinnertime, lunch tends to be a particularly international crowd, with many people flying in and out the same day just for their meal. The weight of these peoples’ expectations could understandably put a strain on the front of house.

We got to know our young waiter pretty well over the course of the afternoon, and he was very forthright about the experience of the meal from his point of view. Toward the end service, he even asked us if, at one point, we had felt a tiny bit rushed when one of the courses was served. He explained that he had been extremely nervous about that particular dish as it was probably served 30 seconds or a minute too early. Of course, we hadn’t noticed and he remained outwardly calm throughout. The thing is, I just can’t imagine this conversation taking place at another restaurant of a similar ilk, and I found his honesty and genuine care for his guests to be touching…and I don’t think that ‘touching’ is too strong or silly of a word in this case. He really wanted to make sure that our meal at noma would be an experience we would treasure for years to come, and he felt a real responsibility to ensure the part of the meal he could control would be as close to perfect as possible. That, for me, is what true service is about, not folding my napkin perfectly and placing it in the center of my chair each time I get up from the table.

In terms of the food, I suppose I am a novice as far as Danish cuisine goes, and I tasted many new flavors and combinations of tastes and textures in this meal. I absolutely loved it all, and thought it was the most exciting meal I have had so far in a restaurant – specifically because so many of the flavors and ingredients themselves were new to me. I don’t know whether a native would take some of this for granted and therefore not share my excitement over a few (or more) of the dishes, but I thought everything was perfectly conceived and painstakingly executed to great effect. Sure, there were a few things that didn’t get our juices flowing as much as others did, but that is almost bound to happen when you are sampling so many things, especially as each person has his or her own personal likes and dislikes.

I really do think that some of the main elements of Nordic cuisine – such as their pickling, their refreshing desserts, and their sauces (which generally lack the heaviness of wine and flour, for example) – will have a significant impact on food worldwide in the next decade. I’m not saying it will become as developed as Asian (and specifically Japanese) food has become within this timeframe – i.e. I don’t see something like the now ubiquitous fusion of French and Japanese cuisine happening with Danish and French (or Italian) cuisine – but I just can’t imagine food this interesting, good and generally healthy (or at least healthier) not being ‘discovered’ by restaurants, markets and cooks very soon. Many already have.

Goodbye noma, I hope to see you again before another two years passes

I, for one, think noma deserves the praise it has garnered from the international press, its peers and the majority of diners who have had the pleasure of eating there. I know I am only chiming in to the growing chorus of goodwill, but based on my experience, there is nothing else I could or should do…and I am glad to be publishing my own little love-fest.

I wish the young team at noma all the luck in the world, and hope that they can continue to evolve and improve. I just pray I can find an excuse to go back for dinner, and that there will be a table for me!

Rating

Ambience: 10/10

Service: 10/10

Food: 10/10

Wine: I know, I didn’t comment on the wine pairing in the review, but hey, it was getting a little long already wasn’t it? In any case, you can find the wines we had below. All of them went well with their chosen partners and I particularly liked the Champagne, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape (which was very fruity) and the Chardonnay vendage botrytisée. I also loved Mathilde’s sea-buckthorn juice…how I will miss that orange berry!

Champagne + Wine Pairing

  1. N.V. Jacques Lassaigne Champagne Les Vignes de Montgueux Blanc de Blancs (Montgueux)
  2. 2008 Bourgogne Aligoté, Guilhem & Jean-Hugues (Cotes d’Auxerrois)
  3. 2007 L’Or de Vix Pinot Noir, Vin de Table Blanc, Elodie Beaufort (Bourgogne)
  4. 2009 Pouilly-Fumé “Mademoiselle M”, Domaine Alexandre Bain (intentionally oxidized)
  5. 2009 J’en Veux !!! – J-F Ganevat (Jura)
  6. 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ‘Les Vieilles Vignes’, Domaine de Villeneuve (Rhône-Sud)
  7. 2009 Pinot Blanc ‘Vielles Vignes’, Domaine Dirler Cadé (Alsace)
  8. N.V. Chardonnay Vendange Botrytisée, Josette et Jean-Noel Chaland (Vire)

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have (sadly only) dined at noma once, and it was for lunch*

Noma


[1] René Redzepi’s first cookbook is entitled Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, indicating that his food is rooted in the marriage of both seasonal and local ingredients, forming a partnership that can lead to great and groundbreaking things.

[2] Curnonsky once said: “La cuisine, c’est quand les choses ont le goût de ce qu’elles sont,” or “Good cooking is when things taste of what they are.”