Lunch 21 July, 2015
Noma, one of the most sacrosanct restaurants in the world is easy to fall for.
You might think the spell you are under stems from the most innovative and thoughtful food on the planet and the warmth of the friendly, knowledgeable staff from the happiest nation in the world. But think again, you have decided to make the journey half way across the world, this is not a last minute decision, you have thought about it, undoubtedly read about it and may even have dreamt about it. You already feel like you know this place.
Once you are there you will understand why Noma is so revered, you will realise it comes from within.
Noma knows who it is, knows where it is going and always stays true unto itself.
Chef: René Redzepi
Head chef: Daniel Giusti, Pastry chef Malcolm Livingstone II
1401 København K, Denmark
+45 3296 3297
Worlds best 50 restaurants: no 3 in 2015, no 1 in 2014
Michelin stars **
White guide: number 1, food rating 39/40 and service 24/25
Type of place: Seasonal terroir led, true Nordic cuisine
An open mind and a sense of adventure are the key attributes needed to appreciate Noma’s Nordic cuisine. It will push you out of your comfort zone. If you are the type of person who typically finds fault then you will be left crying in your proverbial cabbage soup.
Dinner at the Noma Japan was the very impetus I needed to transform shoeboxes filled with long forgotten menus of incredible meals into narratives thinly disguised as a humble food blog. In Japan, there were a few ah ha moments, often only realised days later. Will this be different from Japan? After all this is mother ship; you can expect to see Nordic versions of a few old friends from Japan.
You have arrived, your heart is pounding, it’s just as expected except you notice a new addition, a Nordic garden has been added to the perimeter to act as a buffer zone from the longing eyes of tourists. Noma resides in an old warehouse, the sea close to its doorstep, a short drive from the heart of Copenhagen in the maritime and now hip Christianshavn, a reclaimed island in Copenhagen. Exactly where it’s been for the last 12 years.
Noma’s trademark welcome makes you feel like you are the only guest to dine today, all available front of house and kitchen staff are there to greet you. Staff dressed in simple light and dark grey, the chefs dark grey aprons over their chef’s whites. There’s no dress code, you will feel as comfortable in thongs as the best brogues.
The interior of Noma is breath taking; you may have looked at countless photos. Its not until you walk into the dining room that you can fully appreciate the aesthetic simplicity. Exposed beams and floor to ceiling windows with views out to the sea. Tables perfectly placed, just the right size to allow plates to sit comfortably on the table, and still have an easy conversation with your fellow diners. Sufficiently distanced from the next table for privacy.
Danish designer chairs, with leather seats, the backs covered with a variety of animal furs. No fussy tablecloths, wooden tables adorned with simple vases of wild Danish flowers, large tubular candles, perfect grey linen napkins and large ceramic plates made by a local artisan that double as place mats.
Everyone who dines at Noma is made to feel special; you just have to let them cast their spell and perform their magic on you.
I travelled half way around the world, René was away, an elegant envelope containing a hand written note was there to greet me “Welcome to Copenhagen. I am out planning some major new things for Noma, you are in the best hands” It was just a few days before Noma Australia was announced. After an afternoon at Noma you will recognise that René it turns out, is the ultimate team player and has delegation down to a fine art. This is one of the key attributes of Noma’s success, the team and not just the man, is what defines Noma.
Lets walk you through lunch at Noma, no choice to confuse you, a seasonal set menu of 19 courses and after the build up, the wine pairing is a no brainer for a perfect day.
Turnip and unripe strawberry marinated in aquavit
Your heart will skip a beat when the first course arrives, if you eat with your eyes; this dish is your coup d’oeil. A slice of raw turnip marinated in aquavit, served on ice with a “fruit cocktail” of green unripe strawberries, unripe Mirabelle plums, and sea buckthorn berries; tart, soft and juicy, flavoured with chamomile. In one or two bites, the bitterness of the baby turnip will be forgiven as the flavour of aquavit flows through. The turnip a prefect vehicle for the complex matrix of flavours.
This dish epitomises the very essence of Noma, simplicity, natural beauty, seasonality, flavour and respect for the local environ.
Øland wheat and virgin butter
Sour dough bread and butter arrive next. The bread is baked in house, twice daily, delivered warm to the table and with a perfectly browned, crunchy, dark crust and served with a light, fluffy and as you will soon learn addictive virgin butter.
Virgin butter is made from heavy cultured cream, churned to the exact point, just before the first butter granules appear and are about to separate. The result is a slightly grainy, fresh acidic butter with a thick Chantilly cream texture.
The grain is from the Swedish island, Øland and made from rare, ancient wheat, not unlike spelt but with no outer husk. As there is no longer a mill on the island, the flour is milled in-house at Noma, the grains left slightly coarse in texture. Nestled in a dark grey, felt bread cover, it will be replaced, almost without noticing, 2-3 times during service, the crispness of the fresh crust will be enjoyed all the way through lunch. If one of your benchmarks for judging the quality of a restaurant is bread, then needless to say Noma has got this one in the bag.
Cabbage leaves and white currants
A photo cannot do justice to this dish; at first glance the fluorescent green circles will seem as if turned on the ceramicist’s wheel. As they slowly dissipate, it will become apparent they are perfectly brushed rings of parsley infused oil. Two layers of summer cabbage leaves, the upper leaf steamed and its top surface painted with jet-black blackcurrant wood oil, the lower leaf under surface chargrilled. The opposing sides are coated with white currant sauce, infused with lemon thyme and coriander seeds. The charred grilled flavour of the cabbage will permeate the dish, and despite a western palate’s misgivings your surprise will be that cabbage can be transformed into something so palatable.
The first shoots of the season with scallop marinade
A work of art, the scallop marinade glistens like gold on the plate, gracefully adorned with seasonal shoots of artichoke, crimson oxalis, nasturtium, green and bronze fennel fronds and coriander flowers, some raw, others grilled or steamed. The crispy shoots add crunch to the sweet, slightly salty scallop marinade and the crusty bread arrives in time to mop up the remaining creamy scallop marinade, you will find it too good to leave on the plate.
Sweet peas, milk curds and sliced kelp
You will be find this dish deceptive; precisely sliced homemade milk curd dome swaddled in kelp, cooked in mushroom broth for 2 days. The “new” Danish peas twice peeled; the shells then the peas husks meticulously removed. Once cooked the naked peas are combined with the shell and husk jus and adorned with lemon thyme flowers. Textures and flavour are the theme of this clever, fresh summer dish.
You may not be sure about eating mouthfuls of large flower petals. Trust me you will soon be saying yes please, another slice of flower tart. Concealed beneath the carpet of colourful, edible spring flower petals, a complex green gooseberry and pine paste spread over a perfectly cooked kelp based shortcrust pastry. You will know immediately that this is incredible; the moment that the soft, velvety petals dissolve in your mouth in harmony with the amazing texture and umami of the pastry and the tartness of the paste. The brightly coloured bouquet, are grown by a local farmer specifically for Noma.
New Danish potato wrapped in leaves
As Nordic as it gets, dainty cherry sized New Danish potatoes, seasoned with shredded wild garlic leaves, wrapped in lovage leaves, baked in the oven and served on a bed of hardened salt and yeast. You will be instructed to use the sharpened end of the lovage branch to pierce the potatoes, and dip in horseradish cream. We all know potato, eggs and tomatoes naturally pair with salt and once this was recruited it will work perfectly. The sweet new potatoes complement the mustiness of the leaves and will be served with the perfect companion, beer. The potatoes are a little less cooked than you may be used to, and on a brief review of other commentary this is a common theme, maybe the cooked to the point just before splitting is not Nordic. Is this a when in Rome moment?
Sweet shrimps wrapped in nasturtium leaves
You might have thought that these were ravioli, look again, they are Danish sweet raw, shrimp marinated in a pine vinegar, wrapped in nasturtium leaves and served in a broth made from roasted rhubarb root and yeast and topped with salted radish. Delish.
Cabbage and roses
You may find the cabbage encore a little confronting but a rethink is in order once you bite into this crispy, wafer thin cabbage leaf sandwich. Fried cabbage leaves filled with crispy samphire, an incredible samphire cream, water cress and wild beach roses will have you converted. The samphire stalks provide crunch and although it is a little chewy, all will be forgiven as the salty sea flavour ebbs and flows.
Mahogany clam and grains
You will feel it is sacrilege to eat this grand old lady of the sea. Unlike crow’s lines, the age of a mahogany clam can be estimated by the number of rings on her shell, some living up to 150 years. Your old girl will be probably close to 80 -90 years old, handpicked by a local fisherman off the west coast of Norway. Fittingly she will be served on high upon a plate of shiny, wet rocks, in a bowl rimmed with samphire salt on a bed of spiced and fermented grains with gooseberry sauce and topped with a slice of tender adductor muscle. Taken your breath away? You bet, enjoy.
An old friend from Tokyo, I still remember the shrieks of joy from my Japanese companions when the monkfish liver arrived at the table, they clearly had more sophisticated palates than me. But then again it is an adored Japanese delicacy. An ah-ha dish, you may struggle to start with, take your time, savour each morsel and rest assured you will fall in love.
Monkfish liver is cured and smoked, frozen and mandolin sliced into pink fleshy ribbons, and served on a slice of BBQ grilled sourdough sprayed with unami-enhancing barley Koji water.
There are many confronting ingredients that are worshipped by others and may not be in your repertoire. You are beholding to at least to try and understand what others acclaim before writing them off. Monkfish liver will be easier than imagined; you will be spurred on as the creamy richness of the foie gras of the sea grows on you with each mouthful. Call yourself a foodie, that’s what its all about, work your way through it.
White asparagus, goosefoot and caviar
You will be tantalised as the tinge of the golden summer light adds a regal feel to this delicate salad of perfectly cooked end-of-season, white asparagus, infused with white asparagus oil and combined with goose foot aka wild spinach leaves and dainty carrot flowers. Bathed in a buttery, barley flavoured sauce similar to sauce in the root vegetable dish in Tokyo. If that’s not exciting enough, it will be dolloped with a generous serve of glossy silver grey and black sturgeon roe from Jutland. The buttery sauce lifts and carries the caviar right through the salad, as close as you can get to heaven in a one little bowl.
Lobster and nasturtium
Finally some meat to sink your teeth into and just in case you thought you were off the hook combined with weeds in broth, what did you expect, this is Noma. You will be enchanted by the Danish lobster smaller than usual but with the same sweetness and meaty, crustacean texture. Pretty as a picture glazed with an intense lobster head and roe sauce and draped in compressed nasturtium leaves coated in dill oil. Served with a clear broth made from lobster claw and shell with some tangy, floating crimson oxalis leaves. Elegance.
Welcome back, what joy to see an adolescent friend from Tokyo, all grown up and sophisticated? I adored the flavour of the black garlic leaf in Tokyo, oh my, the adult version will knock your socks off.
Black garlic is fermented at 60 degrees for 40 days until all the sugars are broken down, pureed, spread thinly into a sophisticated fruit leather, dried, cut and shaped into a fanned leaf. Underneath it is painted with citrusy ant paste, then adorned with sloe berries, unripe blackcurrants and lemon thyme leaves. And there you have it, incredible.
The flavour and texture of this jet black, glossy, gooey, sweet yet acidic, licorice leaf will stay with you forever, you wont want it to end. Welcome back Ms Tokyo does Copenhagen.
Dare to ask for a second one? This is incredible food from the genius team at Noma.
Roasted Bone marrow
Noma has been looking after your inner health, not a skerrick of red meat in sight, the last but not least of the savoury courses, a crowd pleaser, man-size beef bones filled with spongy, gelatinous, buttery bone marrow roasted over charcoal and topped with shoots of leak pods and thinly sliced raw garlic. Got your salivary glands on red alert? Add nasturtium flowers and once again cabbage leaves, brushed with fermented beef and spotted with pickled fennel flowers and a sauce of green gooseberries and sea buck thorn and you know you are in for a treat. You will be instructed to eat the bone marrow, leak pods, garlic and flowers enveloped inside the cabbage leaves like tacos. Strangely, or should I say not surprisingly given this is Noma, it all works, the bitterness of the cabbage leaves marries perfectly with the fatty, sweetness of the bone marrow.
Berries and greens soaked in vinegar for one year
Pickles to cleanse the palate you will be told. Fresh beach roses in apple vinegar, fermented cherries, last year’s preserved elderflower and fermented red gooseberries. The rose petals astringent but soft and gentle will cleanse your mouth and the aromatic elderflower will elicit an involuntary WOW, and an OMG moment, tart yet sweet. The cherries, luscious and the gooseberries will beam you back to the days of gooseberry fool, your face wincing with the pleasurable, extreme tartness, and each fruit in harmony with the other. Palate cleansed and ready to go.
Rhubarb and sheep milk yoghurt
You would have been disappointed if rhubarb hadn’t made another appearance at the pointy end of lunch. A refreshing end of season rhubarb sorbet, combined with rhubarb compote infused with rose oil and silky, sheep milk yoghurt snuggled between tangy leaves of green oxalis or wood sorrel, one word, yum.
Ever eaten a cloud? This is about as close as it will get. Gammel Dansk, a festive bitters made from 29 different herbs, is striated across this seemingly simple yet elaborate milk parfait, made in a vacuum with air, then blast frozen, served on a base of cookie crumble. Like most dishes towards the end, you may forget the details but the memory of the luscious texture will stay with you forever. Frozen fluffiness, lighter than air but with the unexpected marshmallow loveliness.
Forest flavours, chocolate and egg liqueur
Nordic petit fours as only Noma can do, teamed with home made eggnog infused with elderflower from the summer of 2015. Up scaled Noma Japan Wild cinnamon and fermented mushroom, with a petit chocolate box of aquavit and koji, chocolate and crystallised red verbena, sep mushroom au chocolat and chocolate-coated oxalis leaf.
Add rolled chocolate and rose oil and deep fried chocolate moss rolled in pine salt. Chocolate treats from the forest floor.
Bistrøtage: Charles Dufour, Landreville – Champagne
2014 Daigo No Shizuku: Terada Honke, Chiba – Japan
2013 Weiss 6: Franz Strohmeier, St Stefan – Weststeiermark
2012 Coufe Chien: Domaine du Perron, Bugey – Savoie
2014 Cuvee Alexandria: Domaine Matassa, Calce – Cote Catalan
2013: “Aragonite”: Julien Guillot- Cruzille – Macon
2013: Chinuri: Iago’s Wine, Chardakhi – Georgia
2013: Vom beig: Rita and Rudolph Trossen, Kindheim-Kindl – Mosel
You will then be welcomed to the bar/ lounge area for coffee and a digestif of pear soaked in aquavit for 2 years, dried forever, lightly charred and filled with quince oil, no second best at Noma.
Then a customary tour through Enterprise Noma, provides a rare bird’s eye view of the inner sanctum, warts and all, main kitchen, bbq area, large containers housing preserved food so intrinsic to the Nordic way of life, the expansive prep area and research, herbarium and staff floor. Twenty four chefs, 30 interns and 20 front of house all play their part in making Noma the incredible experience it is.
Despite their amazing success and accolades too many to name, Noma remains true to itself, with the same friendly attitude and a purist Danish approach to food.
The newly weds and our server Sarah, all made lunch at Noma even more special, one of those once in a lifetime experiences that will be etched in my memory forever.
The wonderful account by the Food snob, written soon after he fallen under the spell of Noma, is as though penned it yesterday.
The Food snob: Noma Copenhagen 6 October 2009.