This article first appeared in Cibus magazine / September 2012.
Read about my experience at the World’s best restaurant 2012: Noma – the delicious Nordic cuisine made of regional, seasonal and sustainable ingredients.
We walked for nearly thirty minutes until we got to the waterfront of Christianshavn. There I saw the name of the restaurant I read so much about. We arrived earlier than our booking time and stood outside waiting for the clock to strike noon so that I could venture into the renovated 18th century warehouse of Rene Redzepi and live my dream (or at least one of them): eating at the world’s best restaurant – NOMA.
We had planned to reserve a table at Noma immediately after we booked our flights to Copenhagen. However, this turned out to be mission impossible and with some psychological training I managed to dismiss my desire to eat at this two Michelin-star restaurant to the disappointments corner within me. Little did I know, that, my determined sister-in-law, was secretively calling Noma day in, day out, asking for a table whilst hoping for a possible last-minute cancellation. And on our last day in Copenhagen whilst we were walking languidly towards the centre she looked at her watch and said: ‘look we have thirty minutes to get to Christianshavn you are going to have lunch at Noma!’ I walked towards our destination flabbergasted. I could not believe that I was minutes away from attending to a culinary experience at the legendary Noma.
The restaurant opened its doors sharply at noon and a handsome maitre d’hotel lead us to our table. The decor is unrefined and minimalistic. The worn out, limed beams and unfinished brick walls, bare tables and chairs draped with sheepskins evoke an earthy look. There is no menu at Noma. Our lunch consisted of 24 innovative, delectable and aesthetically beautiful dishes served by an amazing number of enthusiastic young chefs who continuously walk in and out of the kitchen with their creations. The service is natural and unpretentious yet impeccable. Dishes arrive at the table with a detailed description of the ingredients used and the cooking method adopted to create the dish. By this time my excitement was sky high.
First a cold towel to clean our hands, then a train of 13 dishes with one-bite, finger food creations. A centrepiece was placed on our table; it was an edible flower arrangement with malt flatbread branches and juniper. There was fried reindeer moss served with powdered cep (mushroom), crispy pork skin draped with a black currant strap, cheese cookie with rocket and stems, a fried blue mussel served in an edible shell. What came next was challenging. A locked glass jar filled with ice cubes was placed on our table together with a tiny dish of creamy butter. As the chef opened the glass jar two tiny see-through creatures were looking at us, not sure if they were prepared to die under our teeth after being dipped in the butter. My first attempt to grab the live shrimp failed. It started to twist and turn between my fingers until I let it free and it fell into the butter splashing drops of it on our table. I was bewildered and must scandalously admit that I could not bring this fidgeting creature to my mouth but my husband did. Then I could understand the philosophy of serving live shrimps – they simply taste better in their natural state.
The food parade did not seize after the commotion created by the live Fjord shrimp. We ate chicken skin and lumpfish roe topped with rye bread, pickled and smoked quails’ eggs served in a ceramic egg on a bed of smoking hay, dried carrot with sorrel sauce, and ‘soil’. Soil is one of the signature dishes of Noma – a terracotta flower pot with carrots and radishes planted in a dark brown, crunchy edible mixture of malt and hazelnut flour which resembles soil and an underlying greenish yoghurt-based sauce. The taste is extraordinary fresh, crispy and unsophisticated. And on it goes until the 13 dishes are consumed and it’s time to savour the monumental main courses.
The warm and freshly baked sourdough bread with churned butter and pork fat introduced to us the main dishes. Fresh peas and fermented peas with aromatic tea, brown crab with egg yolk and herbs, a Limfjords oyster with sea weed oil, gooseberry and buttermilk served on a chilled rock plate, Danish beef tartar and sorrel leaves with juniper and tarragon, white asparagus and pine sauce, veal sweetbread and bitter greens with turnips and mushroom. Our penultimate course was another signature dish of Rene Redzepi – The hen and the egg. It was our turn to cook now. A timer, hay-infused rapeseed oil and a hot iron pan on a layer of hay was placed on our table. We were instructed to break the wild duck egg and let it sizzle for two minutes in the hay oil, then add a knob of thyme butter and cook the fresh spinach, basil leaves and courgette flowers. After some minutes the waiter poured some green ramson (wild garlic herb) sauce, added a crispy potato curl, and sprinkled some fresh wild flowers on top. It was the best fried egg I ever tasted.
We closed our four hour experimental eating experience with desserts and petit fours which included rhubarb and milk curd, walnut and berries, weird caramel served in bone marrows, fried potato crisps covered in chocolate and fennel seeds, and marshmallow trees.
Throughout this gastronomic phenomenon I felt like a six-year old opening 24 different Christmas gifts. I stared in admiration at each jaw-dropping serving, breathed in its aromas and clicked my camera. Each dish contained a natural sweetness or saltiness. Each bite was a sensual experience where you could smell and taste the original flavour of each distinct ingredient. Noma is not only an eating experience it is about restating your connection with food and its origin. As you eat the live shrimp or cook the wild duck egg you are smiling, laughing, sweating and talking about it. Eating at Noma is a challenging and interactive experience, where you feel out of the comfort zone but at the same time close to Mother Nature and the Nordic environment. Noma is a celebration of honest and generous, plain and simple, true and original dishes inspired by Nature. Once in a lifetime you have to eat at Noma!