My last visit to Noma in September last year was really good – I mean, it was never going to be the case that I was going to have a bad meal as such at (what was still then) the #1 restaurant in the world. But in all honesty, I left there wondering what all the hyperbole was about, why did YKL keep going back there? If anything, I was much more excited by my meal at Relæ – Even from chatting to Renè Redzepi himself the day after our meal, he said that he thought Relæ was producing the most exciting cuisine in all of Scandinavia at the time and I completely agreed. But what was a mystery to me was why didn’t I think the same about Noma? In truth, YKL had said at the time that it was good, but she knew from experience that Noma was capable of much more and I only realised that when we were being shown around the kitchens after our meal and I got to taste the oyster emulsion they had ready for the evening service and it was truly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in my life. Like I said (and keep saying), the meal was good, but it didn’t wow me.
As a result, I wasn’t really going to write about my meal at Noma this time. Not because I was fearful that it wouldn’t wow me again, but rather I’m actually going back to Noma in October (!!). There are a few significant milestones for various members of my family so we’ve managed to book the private room and are having a bit of a mini family gathering (along with some close friends). It’ll be a bit different to eating in the main dining room, but I was going to save my blog posts until that visit as well, would it be a bit too much to write about the same place twice in 3 months?
However, that all changed after my most recent visit to Noma; It was truly one of the most spectacular meals I’ve ever eaten and for all the (slight) disappointment and well, bewilderment after my visit last September, I finally saw what all the talk about new Nordic Cuisine is finally about. More importantly, I saw why Noma was voted #1 restaurant in the world, although ironically, it was #2 in the world by the time of my 2nd visit. I actually understood why there has been – and still is – such chatter amongst foodies about how good and exciting Noma is. I saw the Noma Light, if you will. It may have something to do with the fabulous company I had in YKL, W and M. It may have something to do with the fact that (at least I like to think) the man himself Renè Redzepi recognised me and I got a hug from him upon arrival, but this last visit was such a step up on so many levels compared to the previous visit – I just needed to write about it.
So we got the (now familiar) greet from just outside the entrance, this time from James, the restaurant manager, and from Renè and the whole team just inside the door. We got there about 10mins before our booked time and this was going to be the last service before Noma closed for the summer (for all of July, if you will). What’s more, there was going to be a lot of renovation and work done over the summer so that new kitchens were being fitted and the introduction of a garden just outside the building to grow vegetables and herbs, so for all intents and purposes, this was going to be the last we’d see of “old” Noma. Amongst our group of YKL, W, M and myself, we had joked that given it was the last service before they closed for a month, it would be the kitchen’s chance to throw out whatever they had left in the larder or fridge and basically use up EVERYTHING. So after greeting us all at the door, Renè asks us if we’re hungry “because you’re gonna get a LOT of food tonight”. Oh dear god, is there any other sweeter-sounding sentence at the beginning of a meal? I think I may have already died and gone to heaven..
I’m not going to give a detailed account of what we ate – I’ll save that for next time – but suffice to say that there was a LOT of exceptional food eaten that night; Right from the very beginning when we were served kohlrabi, hollowed out and juiced (which you drunk through a fennel straw) and cheekily named “Nordic coconuts” to the ever-fantastic Pickled and Smoked Quail’s eggs (which were even better than when tasted in September). I mean, you really got the savoury egg, then a slight pickled sourness, then the subtle smokiness.. Such love was put into every bite we had, it was actually a joy to eat. Truly, there were dishes we ate that night that pretty much made me feel glad to be alive – It was *that* good.
Yes, there were some dishes which weren’t so successful in that they weren’t so much to all our tastes (whilst YKL and I loved the Pike perch head, W and M were slightly less enthusiastic about it) and one dish of potato and bleak fish roe should have rung all our bells but just didn’t.
There was also the fact that unlike last time where we ate away at our (usually slow) pace to the point where they threatened to delete dishes, the restaurant dictated the pace this time and there really was no time to dither as the food didn’t stop coming out from the kitchen. At one point, I think we had 3 snacks on the table to eat because we couldn’t keep up! But it’s a lot more fun when the restaurant dictated the pace because they know how much food is heading our way, all we had to do was eat (and enjoy the experience). Fortunately, we got to have a bit of a break between the mains and the desserts – By which time we had pretty much eaten for nearly 2 hours solidly so were crying for a break in the proceedings. It was a very welcome break where we got to admire seeing Copenhagen and the Noma building at sunset.
Service is always absolutely exemplary at Noma – I like to think that the staff enjoy our banter because we don’t have any pretensions and actually talk to the staff like they’re humans (plus we’re a bit cheeky with them). There’s something quite endearing to see a young chef enthusiastically explain how a beef rib that was cooked at 60c for 50 hours could differ so much in taste and texture compared to being cooked at 58c for 60 hours. Any other place, you’d think they’re a bit too serious or up their own arses but you can’t help be caught up in their excitement. Staff are friendly and chatty but they run a very slick service and the wine pairings are fantastic. If you view my photos from the night on Flickr, you will notice that not only do the photos towards the end of the night suffer from the low light, but I do think the amount I drunk was also a bit of a factor…
So what can I now say about Noma? Yes, I finally see why it has been voted as one of the best restaurants in the world: Yes, it’s a lot of money to pay. Yes, it’s a fair way to travel (especially from the UK). But if you’re going to splash out on a trip to Copenhagen (which is an expensive City, don’t forget), then why not splash out on a meal at Noma? I mean, you’ve already gone to the trouble of trying to get a reservation and have travelled all this way. Is it value for the money you pay? For the 1500Kr, I will say that you will be treated to food which is not only treated with respect and prepared with great love and attention, but there’s also a heck of a lot of technique and application going into the dishes here and you won’t find anything quite like it outside of Scandinavia. Yes, a lot of places are now foraging for herbs and other edible goodies, and whilst Noma (and Renè Redzepi) brought foraging into the greater consciousness of the dining public, his food here at Noma is still trailblazing. They may not be the #1 restaurant in the world according to San Pellegrino, but it’s not like being voted #2 in the world is anything to sneer at and whilst the press had a bit of a field day with it all when the results were published, I suspect that to Renè and his staff, it’s much more important that their guests return to eat there. Well, I say this a lot about places I like but seriously, I can’t wait to go back. I *get* Noma now – And it’s bleedin’ glorious.
You can view the full set of photos on my Flickr page