Aug 24 2012

Noma

Tags: 

THE STORY

I loved Noma and there are so many reasons why and even though I had very high expectations before I went, Noma exceeded them and not just because of the food mainly because of the whole Noma concept and thought behind what the restaurant is. Noma is located in Copenhagen, and the name comes from two Danish words "nordisk" (Nordic) and "mad" (food) and as the name suggests, serves Scandinavian/ Nordic food with a big emphasis of using local produce and creative ingredients and using the Scandinavian techniques of pickling, smoking and salting and taking them to another level. Noma has been named the world’s best restaurant for 3 consecutive years, although this year Noma has dropped to the 2nd best restaurant in the world (also note the Michelin guide only gives Noma 2 stars) and getting a table there is virtually impossible as they get 30,000 requests a month for only 1,500 sittings. It had taken me 4 months to get into Noma, I tried everything from applying to be an AMEX platinum member to get their concierge service benefits, to calling non stop on the day when they release their reservations, but nothing had worked until one of my friends helped me get a reservation for Friday lunchtime for 4 people and my boyfriend, my 2 Latvian girlfriends Baiba and Lasma and I flew to Copenhagen for this amazing meal. Because of this struggle to get into Noma, I was super nervous the night before, which in a way is quite funny to be nervous before a meal, and the night before I had nightmares I would be turned down away at the door. 

 

Noma is located in a remote warehouse on one side of the Copenhagen and because we were all so nervous about the meal we arrived there 15 minutes early before our 12.30 reservation. The outside of the building where Noma is located is very simple and on the stone wall you could see a small sign “noma”. When we were approaching the restaurant we were immediately greeted by one of Noma’s personnel and he saw how excited we all were and took a picture of us in front of the sign “noma”. What surprised me instantly was how warm and welcoming everyone was, and it was not the sort of nice attitude you get in expensive restaurants where they keep asking you if you are fine and don’t mean it, in Noma you could feel how genuine people were, how happy they were to be working there and that they genuinely wanted you to enjoy the time in their restaurant. We were seated at the table in the middle of the room, and another thing that struck us was that there were only 11 tables there, which explains why it is so hard to get a table at Noma because the place is tiny, the room is small, the size of a big living room, and they physically don’t have the space to accommodate all the people that want to go there. 

 

As we were eating our meal over 3.5 hours, which is what it took to eat the 23 course menu, we were also chatting to the waiters and cooks a lot, and asking them questions about Noma, and I was genuinely surprised how funny and cool everyone was. All the main cooks in Noma (which is around 15 of them) not only have to cook the food but they also need to come out and meet the guests, serve the food and explain the food, which is another thing only Noma does. There were quite a few waiters and chefs that had been in Noma for a long time, around 5/6 years (Noma will soon celebrate their 9th birthday) and all of them were proud to see how popular and famous it had become over the years, and I got an impression that at the beginning they struggled to fill all the tables. It also took them a while to fully develop the concept of Noma and understand what they wanted to be. Also they said they don’t really make a lot of money as they use top quality ingredients, the wages in Copenhagen are so high, and they have 75 staff (vs 11 tables!!!!) and even though some of the cooks work for free as they want to get experience at Noma which is priceless they do seem to have a huge number of employed staff vs people they can serve ratio. 

 

After the meal the head chef Matthew Orlando who is from California (Rene Redzepi is nowhere to be seen near the kitchen) did a little tour for us around the kitchen as we had told him earlier how excited we were to be there and how it had taken us a long time to decide what to wear for this occasion and that we could not sleep the night before. He showed us the original kitchen which now is too small for Noma where around 15 of the cooks still work and where all the actual cooking and finishing touches are made and also the kitchen where most of the preparation is done, like getting the leaves ready, where most of the chefs that work in Noma for free are. Noma also has a little creative lab room in the dining area where the staff eat (we asked and they eat simple meals for dinner and lunch) where all the chefs get together and try to create the next new exciting dish (which is why the menu changes so frequently and you always get new dishes). Matthew said he himself is obsessed with roasting vegetables (so my boyfriend thinks the cauliflower dish we had was his invention). 

 

Before the meal I thought Noma would be amazing, but this visit totally beat my expectations and not only because of the top class, creative and delicious food that was full of interesting ingredients I had never had before and combinations of food I had never thought of before, but mainly because of the attitude of people there and the genuine imaginative and fun spirit you could feel. I loved how creative everyone was, the fact you could tell they loved to be there and work on their food and create new dishes and how friendly and funny everyone was, it was like a big happy family, something I have not seen in any other expensive Michelin star restaurant so far, and because of all these other things that make the perfect addition to the amazing food, I think Noma can well be the worlds best restaurant. 

 

THE FOOD

The waiters told us we would be getting around 22 courses (I later understood what they meant by “around”, but I will get to that) and from those 12 would be smaller snacks that they would bring to us quite fast one after the other, and then they would move on to the more substantial dishes, 8 of them which would be followed by 2 deserts. Noma is famous for taking the amuse bouche  (the snacks you get in good restaurants before your meal that are also called “compliments from the chef”) and creating a meal out of them, and these 12 “snacks” we had were extremely creative and highly developed amuse bouche and some people say these are on their own worth the flight to Copenhagen. There is no menu in Noma, just a tasting menu and they don’t give it to you until the end when you have finished your meal. With the 8 substantial dishes you could have the option of having wine paired with them, and we decided to go for this, as my friend Baiba said “this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we just have to have this”. To go with our 12 snacks/ amuse bouche and to celebrate us finally making it to Noma we ordered some pink champagne. 

 

The first snack was hidden in our flowerpot that was located in the middle of our table. We had these nice flowers on our table and the waiter explained that the top dark bit was actually “malt flatbread and juniper” and was edible and we should dip it in the sour cream that he had brought us. The second snack brought to us was reindeer moss sprinkled with some mushrooms (ceps) and looked like something you would find when you went on a long walk in the Scandinavian forest. One of the things I so liked about Noma was how creative all the dishes were, like this reindeer moss, you are certain to have ingredients you have not had before even if you are from Scandinavia. The third snack we had was the crispy pork skin covered in blackcurrant, which I thought was very interesting as the blackcurrant had this very strange taste and it tasted so interesting with the pork skin. It also looked amazing and puzzled me how you could get the blackcurrant into that format. As for our forth snack the waiter brought us a plate full of what looked like empty mussel shells, and he told us we had to find the ones that had things inside of them, and after looking at the plate we did notice 4 edible mussels in a celery sauce one for each of us, but the funny thing that my friend Lasma discovered was that the shell where the particular edible mussel was put in was edible as well, although it looked almost identical to the empty real mussel shells that you can’t eat. Another example how creative and interesting Noma makes their dishes. The fifth snack was brought to us in a large cookie jar that was put in front of Lasma who was told to open the jar and share what was inside with us, which turned out to be cheese cookies with rocket and stems, and that Lasma said was her favourite snack so far. The sixth snack was a crispy and shredded potato served with duck liver in the middle, and this was very crunchy and felt like a more healthy and interesting version of a crisp. The seventh snack was dried carrot served with a sorrel sauce and the carrot had been dried overnight and did have this really nice aftertaste of smoke and the sorrel sauce had been painted on the plate so at first it looked like a very pretty plate with green on the top, but turned out to be sauce. The next snack we got was the caramelised milk and cod liver and I would never have told that the crispy bit under the cod liver was caramelised milk, and also even though I am not a huge fan of any type of liver I really enjoyed this snack. The ninth snack was a pickled and smoked quails egg that was nicely presented in some hay and served in a decorative egg shell. I loved this quail egg, and once again just like with the carrot the aftertaste of the smoky flavour was very slight but so delicious. The tenth snack was radish, soil and grass, and this was one of the things I had already had when Noma was in Claridges a few weeks ago, so I knew that the interesting thing about this snack was that you could eat the dirt and the grass and that it was extremely delicious. The almost last snack was called “ebleskiver and muikku” and ebleskiver is Danish traditional round and sweet pancake that you apparently have over Christmas and that are usually filled with sweet things like apple and raspberry, but Noma had made their own twist and filled these batter balls with a typical small Scandinavian fish “muikku” which was sticking out from the “ebleskiver” and they also had a pickled cucumber in the middle. It was a very pretty dish to look at, and something that brought together Danish typical food and Noma’s creativity. The last snack we had was sorrel leaves filled with cricket paste. Here you could not realty taste the crickets, and I am a big fan of sorrel leaves as we eat them in Latvia, so I did like this. 

 

Next came the first main course and probably my favourite dish of the whole meal, new potatoes in a lovely buttery sauce that were decorated with a piece of burnt wood also in the butter and you had no cutlery so you had to use these spears the cooks had created with different leaves at the end of them to pick the potatoes and dip them into butter and eat them, and you could also eat the leaves at the end of the spears and could dip them into the butter. The season for new potatoes had just started so Noma was using them in this dish and the buttery sauce was the nicest buttery sauce I have ever had (butter always tastes nice but here it was on another level), I very much enjoyed dipping the potatoes and the leaves in the sauce and eating them. An addition to this dish was some fermented snails that were served later on the plate without their shells and you could use the same spear and eat them. I was less keen on them; probably because I am not the biggest fan of snails but I did prefer how they tasted fermented which was nicer than just eating plain snails. The second main course we got was a razor clam made in a tube and covered with parsley so it looked a bit like one of the things you can pick up in the pick and mix counter, and it was served with some dill sauce and some frozen (and texture changed) horseradish. Aesthetically this dish was amazing, beautiful matching colours and beautiful combination. It did also taste better than what I would have expected, I am not a huge fan of razor clams but here all the extra bits made it so delicious, I could have had more.  The third dish we had was the dried scallops and beechnuts served with biodynamic grains and watercress. The dried scallops were so cool and did not look like dried scallops at all; I actually had to ask the waiter twice just to make sure they were scallops. Another dish beautifully presented and totally creative as you would never think scallops could be dried like this. The forth dish was probably my least favourite and memorable one of the whole lot as this was vegetables differently cooked and nicely presented on the plate. The vegetables were not the most delicious ones I have had and it did look a bit plain, but I may not have fully understood all the things on the plate, but then again they are always changing their menu so maybe they were just trying this dish out and out of 23 dishes you are bound to get something you are less keen on. The fifth dish was a fried cauliflower with pine (the pine had been steamed with the cauliflower in the same pot to give it a nice flavour) and was served with cream and horseradish. It was a nice piece of cauliflower but not sure I could fully taste the pine flavour. The head chef Matthew at this point came to us and told us we were the only table that would be having this dish. And we had noticed that other people that had arrived at a similar time with us were getting different dishes, so the menu at Noma is quite a fluid thing and even on the same day different tables would get different things, and how the chefs chose what to serve to each table is still a puzzle to me. At this point we did tell the waiters that we would love to have this egg dish that we saw other tables eating, where you would cook your own egg, and they did later tell us because we insisted on having this egg dish (which I later googled is one of the signature dishes at Noma called “the hen and the egg”) they had to readjust our menu to incorporate this, and because of this in the end we got 23 courses and not 22 like you usually would. The sixth main course was “celeriac and truffle” and 2 pieces of celeriac arrived covered in a layer of burnt milk with a truffle sauce on the side. I had had this truffle sauce, which I absolutely love, in Noma pop-up in Claridges but I must admit I liked that version of the celeriac better than this one, and I also was not a huge fan of the burnt milk layer, and as a kid I always tried to avoid it and throw it out. Also at this point I was quite drunk from all the wine Noma was giving me so all the delicate flavours were a bit wasted on me. The next dish was the famous egg dish we had requested, “the hen and the egg”. The waiter brought us a frying pan with an uncooked egg in the shell on the side and a plate of butter and some herbs, and told us to fry the egg and after 1 minute to add the butter and left a timer next to us. After 1 minute we all were so excited and were adding the butter and at this point the waiter instructed us to put one batch of herbs inside the frying pan and he came around with a special sauce to pour over our egg as it was cooking. The last thing we were told to do was decorate the egg with the other bunch of herbs that turned out to be wild flowers. The dish looked superb in the end, and you felt quite proud for creating it, and even though this was just a very nice egg with nice additions, the whole process of cooking it like we did in front of us was amazing, and so was a very memorable dish. The last one of the main courses was the only meat dish and the only dish where we had red wine served with our food, and it was beef served with bitter stems, chanterelle mushrooms and a soft cheese. The beef was extremely nice and tender, so nice my boyfriend and Lasma complained there was not enough of it. Note the only thing I would say is that by this time I felt like I had eaten enough different leaves so I was not overly keen to see even more on my plate, but they were nice. 

 

At this point we had had 21 courses and we were feeling full and we were happy to find out the next 2 courses would be deserts. The first desert was a carrot and seabuckthorn cake and it had little pieces of carrot on the top, some infused with liquorices which I usually hate but here the taste with the carrot was actually quite nice and the carrot cake was cold and had a tiny bit of a similar texture to ice cream and sorbet. It was a very refreshing and light desert, which I liked, but Lasma and my boyfriend had expected something sweeter. The last course we had in Noma was hay and elderflower mixture once again decorated with some green leaves. Once again the texture was something like ice cream/ sorbert, but different to the carrot cake and I really enjoyed it, as I thought you could taste the elderflower and it was very sweet and refreshing at the same time, but once again boyfriend and Lasma were a bit let down due to lack of chocolate. 

 

I felt extremely full and happy after my meal at Noma and have been thinking about this meal for several days afterwards. 

 

Date: 24/08/12

Price for 4 people with the set menu and accompanying wine and a bottle of champagne, no service charge: DKK 11313.84 (around 1,206.311 GBP) 

Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

Maija rated: 

5.00

Location: 

Noma
Strandgade 93, DK-1401
Copenhagen
Denmark
DK
Noma Reviewed by Hungry Bee Maija on . Rating: 5