Evolution

It’s pretty much impossible for me to watch the above video without feeling some sort of emotion. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a video taken when the last dish was about to leave the kitchen of Noma in its Strandgade location. There is such a sense of not only sadness and emotion from ppl, but excitement as everyone – everyone – in the Noma family knew the significance of this serving of 6 chocolate for table 8 and wanted to mark the occasion. Forgive me, I hardly ever post on here anymore.. But it would be extremely remiss of me to not post about Noma and their plans.

Now I don’t think it would be a surprise to anyone to learn that I love Noma; I am very fortunate in that YKL has been going to Noma for a LONG time and she has let me tag along for the past few years to the point where I too, have been bitten by the CPH Bug. I love the way Noma nurture chefs and encourage them to think outside the box (see their Saturday Projects), I love how they don’t take themselves *too* seriously to the point where they’re up their own arses – Even though they have been one of (if not the) biggest influence on restaurants and gastronomy in recent times. I love how every time we go there we’re made to feel like old friends, I love the food there – It’s not always the most amazing and delicious food I’ve ever eaten, but the overall experience of having a meal at Noma makes me want to keep going back again and again. Then there is the building itself – The building at Strandgade is as recognisable as the sign on the wall by the entrance with its very distinctive font in saying “this is Noma”.

So when it was announced that they were going to close Noma in its current location and set up in nearby Christiania where they can re-open with an urban farm attached to it, it shocked a few people (Presumably because they only saw the headlines that Noma was closing.. Not reading further to discover that they were moving premises to something bigger and more exciting). And that is exactly what Noma 2.0 is: Bigger, bolder, challenging, exciting. But that’s still to come, this is all about Noma 1.0, Noma at Strandgade 93.

YKL and I had hoped to be able to make it to the last service at Strandgade, but were acutely aware that there would likely be a LONG list of people thinking the same and well, we didn’t get our hopes up too much as a result. Through great providence and well, fluke, we didn’t just manage to get a table for what we thought would be the last weekend of service, we ended up getting a table for the very last service itself on the Friday. On the Saturday, there was going to be an invitation-only event “Goodbye to Strandgade” where the invite stated that: “Saturday 25th February was going to be their last day on Strandgade before moving locations and instead of regular service, they were going to throw a party to share that day with all of the people who really made Noma.” And how do I know this? Continuing with the amazing/unbelievable/still-not-too-sure-how-it-happened theme, YKL and I were invited to this event. Not many details were revealed about the Saturday, but we were intriguingly told to dress warmly and wear practical shoes as we will be both inside and out for the party, and to arrive with a large appetite. Excitement (and intrigue) levels were impossibly high by the time we arrived in Copenhagen (added to the fact we went on a little pre-Noma stop at Slurp Ramen where they had guest chef over from Tokyo), but never mind the Saturday party and possibilities there, we had the small matter of actually going for dinner at Noma first;

Right from the off, the levels of emotion were heightened as soon as we entered the restaurant and whilst we had the (now familiar) sight of being greeted by all the kitchen staff upon entering, it was lovely to see sights such as the Redzepi children, all dressed in a Noma FOH uniform, as part of the brigade for the night. Make no mistake, the levels of emotion were running high, but there was still the sense of family running strongly (and as we would later discover, would continue throughout the weekend). Anders Selmer, now better known as the owner of Fiskebaren, was the original Restaurant Manager at Noma and had returned for the final week at Strandgade. All the staff were their usual incredibly attentive and helpful selves and as the night went on, there was a sense that something very incredible and special was about to draw to an end. The food was no less superb than ever and it was seemingly being served at breakneck speed as we were all trying to take in that we’re eating dinner at Noma anyway, never mind the fact that it was a very special night.

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Throughout the meal, there were reminders that this wasn’t a normal service such as 2 of the staff challenging each other playing rock, paper, scissors to see who would introduce the dish we had just been presented with, building to a crescendo when there was a massive cheer and applause from the kitchen brigade. Some of the other diners (who had mostly finished their meals, unlike our table who were beginning to struggle to keep up with food to be eaten as we were constantly being distracted) went to the kitchen to watch (and film) and soon after, the chocolate for our table for our table was brought out. We had staff members coming over to our table after the chocolate was presented to us – Which wasn’t that unusual – But what was unusual was that they started asking if they could take a picture of the dish. It wasn’t until James, the restaurant manager came over and chatted to us, asking how the meal was, etc. that he said “That *IS* the last dish to be served from the kitchen” that we let our emotions get the better of us. I couldn’t even look at YKL at this point as we both realised that not only were we incredibly fortunate to be part of the final service at Strandgade and be invited to the party the following night, but in terms of the history and evolution of Noma, we were served the final ever dish from the kitchen at Strandgade. And that commotion from the kitchen? That would be the video at the top of this post – We were part of Table 8 who got that “6 chocolate for table 8”. Even now, it still blows my mind that happened to us.

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Saturday’s fun started in the afternoon, gathering on a rainy, grey day at Strandgade for drinks, some nibbles and some group photos where they revealed a bit more of what the plan for the rest of the day/night was. YKL and I were still pinching ourselves at how we were there, surrounded not only by faces old and new we had seen and got to know through the years, but also but by some of the biggest and most influential people in the industry in recent years. Again, how and why were WE there?!! At one point, there was an attempt to get everyone acquainted with each other by introducing themselves and what their relationship to Noma was. YKL and I weren’t there because we had eaten at Noma the most times, we weren’t one of their suppliers, we were – as we said on the day – Just 2 very greedy people who have loved going back to Noma over the years. Once time was up, we were all furnished with warm cider and (as YKL and I suspected) we headed to the new site (We were told to “follow the unicorn balloons”). Now, I don’t like walking at the best of times, but walking in the cold and rain for about 20 minutes and not knowing what to expect when we got there didn’t really appeal to me. However, we arrived at the new site to be greeted by a few canopies set up for mobile catering – Some of the Noma staff were there manning a BBQ of sorts grilling what looked like some meat and veg kebabs and there was a setup from The Butcher at Kultorvet with not 1, but 3 whole hog roasts.

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OK, so this was pretty much what I expected. However, YKL and I were keen to get some shelter and heading to a marquee which had been set up especially for the event. Expecting it to pretty much be an empty marquee with a bar set up along one side, I was a bit surprised upon entering the marquee to discover that it wasn’t a marquee, but more a covered entrance to the main room with people telling us that “we could sit anywhere we wanted to” and that there was a cloakroom to the right. We enter the room and were greeted by a setup that was completely unexpected – In a large empty hall where the bare walls were covered in graffiti, there were soft lights and furnishings inside, there were rows of tables set up, complete with linen and cutlery with glasses – Proper cutlery and glasses that is, nothing disposable. There were balloons everywhere, large flatscreen TVs set up all along the venue with the Noma logo on them, there was a live band down one end of the building and towards the back, a bar area, there was a bucking bronco area, a photo booth set up, table football, some stalls from a well known local sweets and ice cream place… Oh, and there were bottles of wine on all of the tables for people to help themselves. This is when YKL and I got the sense that something really special was going to happen. Finding ourselves a couple of seats, we sat down and settled in for what was to come…

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Over the course of the next few hours, we were all treated to a feast like nothing before: After some quick speeches welcoming everyone, a brigade of staff all entered the room, all carrying food not only including some of the biggest and freshest seafood I’ve ever seen or eaten (which we saw a sneak peek of the night before in the tanks back at Strandgade), but food from the whole Noma Family – Bread from Mirabelle, beef tartare from Manfreds, Octopus Al Pastor tostadas from Hija de Sanchez, dishes from Bror (including bags of crisps dicks which were handed out to everyone)… The food just kept coming and it was clear that when the invitation stated “Bring a big appetite” – they meant it! Technically speaking, given we were in the main room at the new site, we were the first people to be eating at the new Noma site – Which again, blew my mind a little bit knowing that I didn’t just get to eat at the last service for Noma 1.0, I was there for the first meal to be served at the new site for Noma

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In the speeches that followed, plans for Noma 2.0 were revealed – We were all sworn to secrecy in regards to exact details, but I think it’s safe to say that Noma has consistently amazed me with their philosophy and innovation – And I saw nothing to suggest that will stop. By now, you will have learned at how some new partners were unveiled that night: Lau Richter – Service Manager, James Spreadbury – Restaurant Manager and Ali Sonko – Kitchen Porter. The loudest cheer of the night was when the TV screens changed to a picture of James, Lau and Ali and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the announcement was made and Rene was visibly emotional and struggled to hold back the tears in revealing that this was one of the happiest moments of his time at Noma and that he was so proud of being able to do such a thing. It was an amazing act of generosity and it couldn’t happen to 3 nicer men on the planet.

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I mentioned earlier how the sense of the Noma Family was prevalent from the night before and it very much was continued that rainy Saturday night in Christiania. This was a celebration of Noma – And Noma is so much more than just a physical location or one man. Noma is more than the trailblazing restaurant that changed and influenced the culinary landscape and how we think about or eat our food, it’s about continually evolving and discovering new flavours, ingredients and/or techniques. Noma helped put Copenhagen and the whole Nordic region on the culinary map and evolved by the Noma Family spreading out (see Christian Puglisi’s small empire, Amass, Bror, Hija de Sanchez to name a few) to make Copenhagen (for YKL and myself at least) become one of the most exciting cities to dine out in. In keeping with not being stuck in the past for too long, that weekend was about how although we’re sad to say goodbye to Strandgade and especially now from seeing the incredible dishes that are currently being served in Noma Mexico, along with being able to see how much fun and inspiration the whole team are having, I for one am incredibly excited to see how Noma will further evolve and continue to wow us all.

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500 days of Summer

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Well, perhaps not quite 500.

This weekend promises something quite rare for myself – I will not only be able to spend the whole weekend waking up in my own bed, but I don’t have anything planned for the first time in ages. Yes, I’ve deliberately turned down some things to make it so, but it was from looking at my diary that I came to the realisation that since Mid-June, I’ve only had 3 weekends where I didn’t have something planned or more specifically, meant I had to go away. Yes, I know this is very much a First World Problem, but I was thinking that being so busy should also mean that there *must* be something I could post about, right?

In the space of 3 months, a lot has happened – I had a bit of a scare regarding a lump discovered in one breast which turned out to have been lumps (plural) and affecting both breasts (!!). After a tense few weeks of being prodded and poked for investigation and seeing sights which no woman should ever see, I am relieved to say that I’m OK and have been discharged from the hospital. Being discharged meant that I could commit to a change in job roles and start on a 2 year project which will hopefully result in even bigger and better things for me. Obviously during those weeks, I couldn’t really consider if I had a future, let alone what I should/want to be doing in it, but once I knew it was OK to do so, I started planning my future with a new invigorated sense of trying to achieve more.

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There have been trips to Copenhagen – Two in fact, but the second one was very much a last-minute thing and I’ll write about that in another post. The first trip included a meal at the always-brilliant Relæ, loving Mirabelle so much that we went back the following day for (what turned out to be) the same dishes – Which we didn’t mind one bit, a great experience at Ante (RIP) and most of all, a trip to The Amazing Pig Out at Amass (oh, and going there for Amass Fried Chicken in the garden of Amass the day before). Again, more about this another time…

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A fair amount of beer was consumed – Not only from a trip to the magnificent Birmingham Beer Bash which has established itself as a firm annual favourite in my calendar, but with the opening and discovery of some new tap rooms and bars, especially the (IMO) very brilliant Clink Beer in the Custard Factory. What impresses me the most about Clink Beer is that it was borne out of the desire to have somewhere reasonably central (especially in the Digbeth area) where you can get some really decent and interesting craft beers without having to pay inflated prices as you may for something in the City Centre or travel across the other side of the City (If like me, you don’t live that side of Brum). I’m very biased in that the location of Clink Beer is on my bus route home, therefore making it VERY easy for me to go for a few drinks and still be able to stagger to the bus home, but I genuinely love this place and hope they do really well (I know I will do my bit).

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Founders released their KBS 2016 and expectations were almost impossibly high given how KBS 2015 was one of my favourite beers EVER. Yet Founders managed to pull it out of the bag again – KBS 2016 was somehow even better than 2015 with deeper coffee and vanilla notes. The bar was already set sky-high, but it could well be stratospheric for KBS 2017. Other highlights included being able to finally try Founders’ Mango Magnifico (at the Birmingham Beer Bash), and it was delicious – Even with the poke at the end! Another beer highlight was the latest BQE offering from the always reliably brilliant Brooklyn Brewery which could well be my favourite EVER. Named The Discreet Charm of the Framboise, it’s based on their very delicious Bel-Air Sour beer (which I got to gorge on during the London Beer Mansion earlier in the year), aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels with a whole load of raspberries chucked in – All elements which individually I love so it was bound to be a winner in my books when you combined them all (and it’s every bit as delicious as I thought/hoped it would be).

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Food-wise, there were some highly enjoyable visits to Aulis at at Claridges and The Sportsman and I also got the chance to sample the talents and deliciousness from Alex Nietosvuori during his stint at Carousel before he moved on to Santiago, Chile on his next food adventures. Whatever Alex does next, I’m sure he’ll be a great success and I greatly look forward to tasting his food again. There was also a whirlwind visit to Silo in Brighton, but that visit is very much worthy of its own post.

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From my own part, there was a rediscovery of my own love of cooking when I got to cook for a load of friends (and family) in M & B’s new kitchen (photos) which also meant I not only got to play with, but covet various bits of kitchen equipment and design in their lovely home. There was (as you would expect in cooking meal for 14 people) a fair bit of work to be done, but M&B were such fantastic hosts and so generous in letting me wreck and mess up their sumptuous kitchen (I mean, they actually made us breakfast pastries and personalised fortune cookies). But there was a moment at the beginning of the meal when the entire table were drinking their soup (pork fillet, mustard greens and salted duck eggs) and other than the odd guttural murmur, the only sound you could hear was of everyone happily slurping their soup. I was busy preparing the duck at the time to take a picture or video at the time, but I paused to take in that moment and a massive smile appeared on my face. So whilst I got a lot of thank you’s for cooking the small feast, I have to say a massive THANK YOU to M & B for not only letting me play in their kitchen, but also to everyone else that came along that day for helping me to rediscover the joy I get from not only cooking, but seeing people enjoying the food I’ve cooked.

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There has been a lot of reflection over the summer – My health scare at the beginning of the summer made me a lot more contemplative than usual, but the Olympics also made me think of the last Olympics in London – And how I can finally look back at that time more objectively. I mean, I remember posting about the Olympics on here and how I kept bursting into tears – During the National Anthem, whenever some athlete was crying.. I can look back on it all now and realise that at that time 4 years ago, I was deep in the throes of grief, but it hasn’t diminished my appetite for watching the Olympics. I mean, after being able to gorge myself in sport around the clock, I felt a bit bereft when the Olympics ended. (Although, as a side note, YAY for the Paralympics coverage!).

However, the main event was for me, the wedding of M & G. It may have been towards the end of the summer and in the middle of a *really* hectic few weeks, but more than anything, it reinforced how close my family all are – And how fortunate I am to have such a loving and utterly brilliant family. Whilst there were no tears from watching the Olympics, there was much laughter, some tears and some moments of tension between and from each of us at some point over the weekend. Naturally, all of us at some point turned our thoughts to our late parents and how they would have both *loved* to have been there. However, I know that I’m not alone in thinking that seeing the beaming smiles and howls of laughter across everyone’s faces – Along with the very evident joy and happiness on M and G’s faces as they got married – made us all feel fortunate to be able to share and join in these new happy memories for all. And whilst it’s a very old cliché, we all know that our parents were with us in spirit.

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So what now? I’ve already mentioned how I should (need) post about a few places, but after such a hectic summer, I think it’s time to step back a little and take things slightly easier – Not only will my body thank me for it, my bank balance will too! After all, I need to save up for bigger adventures 😉

The 40 Project part 5 – Fin

Well, this is it. It’s taken a few posts (and even longer for me to write up about it!), but what started off as something to keep me amused and occupied in the year I turned 40, I ended up doing much more than the requisite 40 and I’ve only written about those I have fairly decent pictures of. I’ve managed to travel a fair bit in my 40th year – 3 trips to Copenhagen, 1 trip to Whitstable and Seasalter, a trip to Lyon, numerous trips to London, an Alaskan Cruise, a trip to Washington State, a trip to San Francisco and also San Jose, a few trips to Manchester.. The list went on. However, there was a notable omission – I hadn’t done anything in my home town of Birmingham.

I’d spent quite some time wandering what I could do for my 40 list for Birmingham; There was one occasion I went to have a few drinks (and food) at the Two Towers Brewery which much to my amusement, really was a piss up in a brewery. However, I completely forgot to take any pictures so given I don’t have any pictorial evidence of said piss up in a brewery, I couldn’t really post about it. Then I wondered what other food specialties I could try from Birmingham – I had already come close with proper Black Country Butcher’s home made faggots, but the likes of HP Sauce, Bird’s Custard and even Typhoo Tea even though they all originated from Birmingham and you can still see remnants of the old Bird’s Custard Factory and HP Factory today, they are no longer produced in Birmingham which deemed them ineligible. I liked the idea of a pint of Mild with some pork scratchings and I know I have done both, but it didn’t feel right for my 40 list – Even though it’s probably the one closest to my heart.

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It was all coming down to one, inevitable choice really – The Balti. There’s a lot of snobbery when it comes to Baltis and let’s face it, it’s not exactly the most glamorous thing on the list, is it? I mean, this is my hometown – And the best I could come up with is a Balti? Never mind the fact that it’s not exactly a new thing for me to try. That said (and in the face of no real alternative), I slowly came round to the idea and eventually decided that I would go for a Balti in one of the original Balti restaurants in the Balti Triangle [40] (That’s a lot of “Balti”‘s there) on New Year’s Eve – What better way to see out the year in which I turned 40 than doing the final item on the list?

The choice of restaurant was quite important too – Looking at the Balti Birmingham site, it gives you a shortlist of “Authentic Balti” restaurants and a bit of research here and there led me to choose Al-Frash as my restaurant of choice. I’m not sure exactly how and why I chose that restaurant, but I was happy to be going there anyway.

Looking at the menu, I noticed they offered what they termed “world’s first sweet potato pakora” Well, I *had* to go for one of those. Similarly, I avoided ordering my usual curry and went for one of the House Specials when this caught my eye:

“Butterfly Special – Our signature dish, fusing all the delicious flavours of King Prawn, Chicken Tikka, Mushroom & Special Kashmiri Spices, cooked to perfection. Served with rice or nan”

Yep, SOLD! I’ll have that with rice and sadly, they didn’t offer a Family nan – One where it’s pretty much the size of the table – so I got a large nan to share with my fellow diners P and M whom joined me in this celebration.

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To be perfectly honest, the food itself was fine – It wasn’t anything standout, but I had a great time with 2 great friends to mark the end of the year I turned 40 and with that, the end of my 40 Project. I was really happy to end it on such a high note, eating nice food and with great company.

And that’s been the recurring theme throughout the whole year; Not only did I have great fun thinking of and doing this project, I got to do it accompanied with/surrounded by people I know and love. As previously mentioned in another post, I’ve been really fortunate in that I got to travel even more than usual but the whole spirit of which the project was taken – To mark the year when I turned 40 – Was done so in a celebratory fashion and I loved every single part of it. In contrast, this year (where I turned 41) seems dull in comparison and who knows – Perhaps I’ll think of something similar for my next significant Birthday. But for now, I know that I hit my 40s eating and drinking some fantastic food, surrounded by my brilliant family and fabulous friends – For which I am very grateful for.

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