Posted on Friday, 2nd October 2009
If you read my Søllerød Kro write-up you would have been aware that I was in Copenhagen. Now you didn’t think I would go to the Danish capital and not go to Noma did you? In fact, it was the only reason I went to Copenhagen.
Noma is hot right now. A two star Michelin restaurant that’s famous for its innovative cooking, use of unique Nordic ingredients and foraging forays, it’s all the buzz, especially after catapulting from number 10 last year to number 3 in this year’s San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Add the fact that Chef René Redzepi was selected by a group of his peers as the winner of the Chef’s Choice Award in this year’s ’50 Best’ and you can probably understand why Noma is all the craze at the moment.
So I decided to save this write-up for last, as my final curtain call on a trip that spanned two months; 12 countries (some of which I went to just for a meal); approximately 18,600 kilometres and a million, gazillion calories. There were some hair-raising moments, but these have all faded into oblivion against the backdrop of many happy days, countless delightful memories and some fantastic meals.
But before I close the chapter on this two month period of my life, a word of thanks to all the fantastic chefs who helped to tantalise my taste buds and to make my belly so happy. And to everyone who’s taken the time to visit my blog, I hope you enjoyed reading about all the food that I have eaten on my travels as much as I enjoyed eating it.
And so ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I present to you Noma.
Located in the Christiania district of Copenhagen, Noma is housed in a 300 year old building that was once a salt warehouse. A light and airy space, the restaurant has maintained many of the building’s original features with its distressed white wood beams and walls. There is also a grey wood floor, and sheep skins have been placed over the back of all the chairs to complete the look. As I was seated, I was greeted with an edible Jerusalem artichoke flower which you pulled off the plant to eat, some very sweet and robust grapes from a local vineyard, and unroasted hazelnuts which had been picked that morning.
To kick off the amuse bouches was a crunchy speck cookie topped with a blackcurrant jelly. This was followed by a smoked cheese and fava bean concoction, sandwiched between a piece of crispy chicken skin on the bottom and a slice of crunchy rye bread on top. This was delicious. The flavours worked well together and there was a nice contrast in textures – crispy, smooth and crunchy all at the same time.
A quail’s egg which had been smoked, pickled and boiled was served in a large egg shell, which when opened, gave off a fantastic smoky aroma. There were subtle hints of smokiness and sourness to the egg, and with its soft and gooey centre was a pure joy to eat.
This was followed by a ‘pot plant’ of raw carrots and radishes with an edible soil made from a lovely, creamy herb emulsion that included dill and tarragon. To create the brown effect of the soil the emulsion was topped with a mixture of molten hazelnuts and beer which provided a powdery crunchiness to it.
Crispy toast with a mixture of herbs and powdered vinegar was light and aromatic. Finished with a brown butter emulsion, it tasted similar to a crunchy ‘herb garden’.
A basket of sourdough bread was the next item to be brought out. Crunchy on the outside and soft and warm in the middle, it was served with a sheep’s milk butter which was milder in flavour than cow’s milk butter, and a pork fat spread which had been topped with a mixture of ground pork scratchings and acquavit for extra kick.
I opted for the 12 course tasting menu (DK1,295 (about £158)), although during my visit a couple of extra courses were thrown in. First was shrimp, served raw and topped with a mixture of herbs, rhubarb, portulak, and samphire, and finished with a sharp rhubarb jus. The shrimp was sweet and delectable and the vegetables had a lovely crunchiness to them.
A squid dish was also served raw, and accompanied by a cold and refreshing white currant sorbet. Finished with fresh dill and dill oil, it was incredibly aromatic. The presentation of the squid was also deceptive. Presented as one whole piece, it cleverly belied the fact that it had been finely diced.
Next was a sliced beetroot dish with coriander and various seeds and berries. The beetroot was quite crunchy to the bite, and with the fruity sweetness of the berries and the wholesomeness of the seeds, one was left with the sensation of eating a fresh flower garden. This was not a dish rich in heavy flavours, but there was harmony in how the various berries and seeds worked together.
At this juncture I would like to point out that Noma has a very unique approach to its excellent service. Along with the waiting staff, the chefs all take turns serving the food as well. There is therefore a rotational system that operates between the various chefs and waiters. I would later ask René about this after the meal, and he explained that he wanted his chefs to interact with the restaurant’s patrons, ‘to remove barriers’, a concept which I found very appealing.
And the reason I wanted to mention the service at this juncture was because René himself brought out the next dish, a stone crab dish with beach mustard (the flowers in the photo), portulak jelly and mussel bouillon. René made a point of telling me that the crab was female, to which I responded not as a question but as a statement, “because it’s extra sweet” (it’s true), to which he nodded in agreement. The crab was indeed very sweet, and there was a nice balance to the dish with the earthy flavour of the jelly and the richness of the bouillon. There was also some crab coral which further enhanced this very tasty dish.
The next course is one of Noma’s signature dishes, a beef tartare with horseradish and wood sorrel, a sprinkling of juniper berries and a tarragon emulsion. Eaten with your fingers, this was also lovely. The beef, accentuated by the slight sharpness of the horseradish was velvety smooth and flavoursome. The beautifully presented wood sorrel was crispy and sweet, and the tarragon emulsion set the dish alight.
A plump piece of firm langoustine was juicy and flavoursome, but interestingly it was only half cooked. I enjoyed the effect of the cooked with the raw, that is the firm with the soft, but I could see how this might not appeal to some. It was served with a creamy oyster emulsion with savoury oyster overtones and sprinklings of red seaweed.
A steamed spinach dish was accompanied by apple, dill, celery, lovage and a västerbotten (a Swedish cheese) foam. This dish was bland, but the various herbs gave it a nice aroma and the addition of croutons provided crunchiness.
To more crab, and this time it was a mixture of king crab with leeks which had been rolled in ash. Made from hay, the ash tasted like a smoky powder. It was texturally interesting for it was quite fine, and consequently it added another level of dimension to the sweetness of the crab. There was also an accompaniment of mussel foam, so light that it tasted like air, and a sprinkling of fine crunchy breadcrumbs for added texture.
A variation of onions included onions pickled in beer, onion compote, spring onions and onion bouillon; served with chickweed, tapioca, and leek and chive flowers. The pickled onions were slightly sour, but were not overly acidic, and the bouillon, a combination of only water and onions which had been cooked for 36 hours, was very sweet. It was similar to caramelised onions, only without the ‘fattiness’ of added butter. Overall, this dish was very complex with an interesting combination of flavours and textures. The tapioca also added bite to it and the flowers enhanced its aroma.
A superb piece of sauteed lobster was accompanied by a foam of red currant, a lovely cream of lobster coral, wood sorrel and coriander. There was also some pickled hip roses which tasted like candied roses, and were both a little sweet and acidic at the same time.
The next dish of pickled vegetables was also very complex. The vegetables, which included carrots, apples, beetroot and cauliflower, had been pickled in different types of liquid, selected according to what worked best with that particular vegetable. It was accompanied by various herbs, some rich and creamy bone marrow, a luscious brown butter sauce, and a delicious, rich bouillon made from veal bones. The dish was beautifully presented, and there was a nice contrast of textures and flavours.
To the final savoury course which a musk ox from Greenland. Although there was no sinew in the meat, there was a slight chewiness to it. The ox tasted similar to beef, but was not as deep in flavour as a steak, and personally I would have preferred something with a bolder taste for the meat course. Nevertheless, it was interesting to try, and it was served with a deliciously creamy garlic puree wrapped in milk skin, the combination of which worked excellently together. There was also some char-grilled baby cucumber which was surprisingly a little burnt, watercress, a brown butter sauce and a creamy watercress vinaigrette. This was a pleasant, but not a stunning dish.
The pre-dessert was a cucumber sorbet, with a roll of cucumber and sheep’s yoghurt, verbena meringue and cucumber balls. Tasting of cold, icy cucumber, this dish was bland and not very appealing, although the meringue was lovely and crunchy.
The first dessert was a combination of freeze dried berries, walnut ice cream, walnut dust and milk powder. The acidity of the berries worked well with the sweetness of the ice cream, and the walnut dust gave the dessert a lovely light fluffiness.
The final dessert was a ‘summer forest’ which was a mixture of blueberries, pine granite, berry ice cream, fresh sorrel leaves, crunchy breadcrumbs, thyme flowers and creamy soft meringue. This dish was refreshing and fragrant. Coffee in the sitting room was served afterwards with a chocolate coated berry meringue.
A meal at Noma is a truly unique experience. The restaurant offered up an extraordinary array of superlative ingredients, some of which are not commonly seen. Much is made of Michel Bras’ gargouillou dish which combines some 40-50 different ingredients, and while no one dish at Noma matched the gargouillou, the number and variety of ingredients over the entire meal could easily have given Bras a run for his money. There was a complexity in the construction of the beautifully presented dishes which was astounding for its originality, balance and harmony. And with the exception of the slightly burnt cucumber, the cooking was also flawless.
I did find a couple of the dishes rather bland (the spinach and the cucumber pre-dessert), and furthermore, I would have preferred a stronger statement in the meat course, but overall there were some fantastic and unusual flavours. But what you will not necessarily get at Noma are the bold taste sensations that you might find at other Michelin restaurants that adopt more conventional cooking techniques. There are none of the well reduced sauces that might appeal to traditionalists – instead you are provided with emulsions and ingredients in their purest and most natural form. Certain ingredients were left raw which may not be to everyone’s liking.
In some respects, Noma may not provide the most satisfying meal that you will ever have. But what I loved most about the restaurant was its original, interesting and creative approach to food, for it was truly unique. This meal was an experience like no other for it delivered flavours and sensations that you are unlikely to be able to try elsewhere. So if it is an experience you seek, than Noma is definitely a place to go. And for hardcore foodies, it sits in that league of very special restaurants that you should undoubtedly try at least once in your life.