There have been a few milestones for different members of my family this year; W reached her 60th Bday and as a result, retired from her first and only job as a teacher since graduating from University. Q reached her 50th Bday milestone and M reached the grand old age of 30. To help celebrate all these events, we all wanted to have a big family gathering and given any family gathering would be something special these days, we wanted to mark the occasion by doing something *really* grand – And what could be grander than booking the private dining room at one of the best restaurants in the world?. As luck would have it, we actually got the room confirmed by the time we visited last in June, but it was then a matter of whom we invited; Was it too far for my Sisters over in the US? There was a momentary panic that we wouldn’t be able to fill all the spaces and so speculative invites were sent out to friends but in the end, we had more than enough people (We decided that W and Q should be allowed to invite extra friends given their milestones were partly the reason we were doing it), and before long, I found myself at London Heathrow Terminal 5 waiting to board a plan bound for Copenhagen..
In my last post about Noma, I posted about how I finally got Noma and what it was all about – And how I was incredibly excited by it all. Added to this, Anthony Bourdain’s new show “Parts Unknown” aired the previous Sunday about René Redzepi and Noma, so it was good show to watch for those in our party whom had never been to Noma before to help them understand Noma and René. (There was a little drama in that I left my iPad on the plane, but I believe there was something watching over us and I managed to get it back within an hour of discovering I’d left it on the plane). But there was the usual excitement and nervous anticipation amongst everyone – For YKL because she was the key factor in getting the private dining room given her reputation with the staff and management at Noma, but also because you want to make sure that everyone has a good time (and I suspect that there was a slight worry that this may finally be the time where we behave so appallingly that we actually get barred..). I was interested in seeing what the refurb over the summer looked like but in any case, YKL and I decided that we should be the ones to get to the restaurant first, not only to be able to greet our family and guests as they arrived, but also to check with the staff that everything was OK and to answer any last-minute queries they may have had. Leaving our hotel early, we aimed to get to the restaurant by 18:45 but we had some mad taxi driver who obviously thought he was still a rally driver and what we thought would be a 10-15mins journey ended up taking 5mins (!), so we got there about 18:25 at which point YKL mentions that the restaurant doesn’t actually open until 18:30. Brilliant. Undeterred, we wait outside and take a few snaps – The garden outside is more of a rock garden and obviously there’s nothing growing at the moment so that took all of 30 seconds when we needed to kill time..
Eventually, more family members start to arrive and I don’t know if staff took pity on us or something, but they started to come outside to greet us, led by the man himself, René. Hugs and introductions done, he’s joined by his eldest daughter who very shyly says hello after coercion by her Father, but doesn’t hesitate at all when asked to give her Daddy a big hug. René then explains how there are about 4 nights in the whole year which (in his own words) are sacrosanct and are dedicated to him spending time with his family and kids, so rather than being there to serve us, he was about to go home and watch DVDs with his kids. He was genuinely sorry that he couldn’t stay – Especially given the occasion and he said on the last time we saw him that he would love to cook for all us sisters if we got together at Noma, but we really need to stop booking on the rare dates he needs to be away from the restaurant!. Still, it was lovely of him to come out to greet us anyway and it’s a measure of how much a class act he is in that he wanted to tell us personally rather than passing a message through his brigade. And it’s very much cascaded throughout the entire brigade – As we walked through the finishing kitchen downstairs (which is indeed a lot bigger after the refurb and I only wish I got to spend a bit more time taking a look) en route to the Private Dining room upstairs, not just one, but *every* single chef said hello to us with a large smile on their faces. I got a bit overwhelmed by the cacophony of “helloes” that I had to pause and turn to them all and said “Hello EVERYBODY!” to which G asked me: “Do you know EVERYBODY here?” (as I had been chatting to Bo, one of the sous chefs outside) and I offered the reason that it was only because all the staff were being polite that they were all saying hello in such a friendly manner, only for me to bump into another sous chef I knew when upstairs and immediately got a hug from him which I had to explain to G that despite what I had just said about not knowing everyone, I did genuinely know Tom…
The Private Room upstairs is only something we’d seen in passing on a kitchen tour previously and if we’re to be brutally honest, it’s used more as a storeroom than anything else. It’s a long room covering the whole width of the building with a specially constructed long table in the centre of the room and a lovely bench seating at one end of the room. You could seat a whole lot more, but the table looked fantastic set up for the 14 of us. We were all offered our Champagne and waited for everyone to arrive. As more of our party arrived, there was a greater sense of anticipation – Not only because we were all finally together in Noma, but that we’d all managed to travel from the UK (and in G’s case, from Hong Kong) to Copenhagen separately, get settled down in our respective hotels and stuff, then managed to make it to Noma in time. With all of us there, we were asked to take our seats. Slyly, YKL, M and myself managed to bag the 3 seats facing the kitchen because we wanted to see what was coming out next and given how it was us 3 who had been the most out of the whole group, we could then build up the excitement a bit more as we could see what was coming next and then watch everybody’s reactions..
I’m not really going to give a course-by-course detailed description of all the dishes, but I will say there was some really outstanding dishes; the langoustine tail with oyster and parsley emulsion had the entire table in silence because they were too busy eating, quickly followed by guttural noises along with oohs and aahs as everyone admired the sheer quality of the langoustine and the cleverness of the oyster and parsley emulsion served to us. The pickled and smoked quail’s egg was stunning as ever and the Wild Duck dish served to us with Nashi Pear was sublime – For me, it’s one of the best dishes I’ve eaten all year and I could eat the dish every night for a month and not get sick of it.
In all the times that YKL has been going to Noma, she’s constantly mentioned how much she loves the bread baskets – And more to the point, she has been coveting one of the bread baskets all this time (and has never half inched one!). Unbeknownst to her, W had been in contact with the restaurant and offered to pay for a bread basket for her. However, being the brilliant, brilliant people that the staff are at Noma, they ordered one in especially for YKL knowing it was for her – And gave her some Noma sourdough to take home too. There was a look of special happiness and joy in YKL’s face as she unwrapped the present, and yes, she was very touched when we told her that it was ordered in especially – When a used one would have been perfectly acceptable! I don’t think she stopped cradling or stroking it for about a week..
I’ve said it before, but I think that the staff like us because we’re not your stuffy rich types whom would probably hire the private room or at least, eat at Noma. We’re a bunch of ordinary, hard-working people whom appreciate good food (and wine) and know how hard it can be for people working in the service and catering industry, so we like to have a bit of a laugh with them – Which puts the staff at ease, I think. Cat, our main server was utterly fantastic and so down to earth that she took everything in her stride – including when she asked us to guess the special ingredient in a dish, there was cries of “crickets!” or “ants!” or whatever insects which Noma are known to serve. I loved how for one dish, Sam (the chef who had been in charge of taking care of us all night) offered us a choice of getting the next dish presented to us either in Japanese or in English which was met with a rapturous symphony of “Japanese!” and suddenly, the young Japanese chef was thrust into the spotlight and made to present the dish to all of us – And we’d had a few bottles of wine by that point. But the fact that the staff can have a joke and a laugh with us all (at least I like to think) helps make their night enjoyable too.
That said, I think we may have inadvertently terrorised some of the chefs during our kitchen tour; One of the things featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on René Redzepi was the Saturday Night Project they have at Noma, where chefs work on a dish and it’s presented to the whole brigade to taste and critique. It’s not about getting a dish so good that René feels compelled to put it on the menu (and from that take all the plaudits from diners), but rather it’s about the enlightenment and development of the chef in creating that dish. If it’s not quite right, there are suggestions as to what they could try next time to improve it. If it’s good/great, then you have that feeling associated with creating and producing a dish which is loved and admired by your peers and mentors. On the Saturday night we were there, the chefs were busy (and nervously) preparing their dishes and I’m guessing the last thing they needed was a large bunch of rowdy diners (semi) drunkenly approach you asking all sorts about the dish you’ve been working so hard on creating, much less get a drunken interrogation and find yourself trying to justify your masterpiece! So to the chefs preparing their dishes for the Saturday Night Project whilst we were there: I can only apologise profusely for our drunken behaviour and hope that we didn’t dent your confidence in presenting your dishes to your peers that night. (That said, there were some *really* delicious food being created and offered that night and I would have loved to have been able to taste the finished dishes).
It’s no secret that I love it at Noma – I love the food, the staff, the building, the atmosphere.. I love the City it’s located in! And well, there’s no secret either how much I love my family and every time we get together, I’m reminded of just *how* awesome my family are. Genuinely, I haven’t laughed so much and so hard all night in a while but there are many, many stories from the night which will stay with me for a long time to come. My favourite part of the night was when R, my brother-in-law who is normally quite mild-mannered and reserved, came to sit next to me after a few drinks and asked if I was going to write about the night in my blog, to which he offered his opinion of the night: “Tell them, that the wine is very good.. And the food goes nicely with it too..” It was the quote of the night and for me, serves as a reminder of how awesome my family are and how much I loved that night. But the main thing I will take away the most from that night was the fact that most of my family got together for a special meal and everyone at Noma made it a very special occasion – And that’s why I keep going back. (Also because they haven’t barred us… yet).
You can view all my pictures from the night on my Flickr page