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.
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.
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.
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…
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
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.
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.