Tag Archives: Copenhagen

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 4 – CPH (AKA: I *heart* CPH)

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Given how often I go to Copenhagen, I couldn’t really have a 40 list without including something from CPH really. The thing with CPH was that because I had been so many times before, there were a lot of things which could qualify for the list which I had already done (if at all possible, I tried to do new things for the 40 list). That said, some things are too good to miss out so that’s where I started to change (bend) the rules somewhat in my approach to the whole 40 Project.

First up will be the Danish hot dogs (and Frikkadeller) [33]. I mean, even if you ignore the stand in the hall on your way to baggage reclaim at Kastrup Airport, there’s another kiosk right by the baggage carousels. What’s more, they’re both packed most of the time with Danes wanting a quick hot dog fix or presumably, a taste of home after some time abroad. In my case, it’s partly a reminder of my childhood when one of my cousins used travel to Denmark quite often as the guy she was dating lived in Denmark and she would subsequently bring over boxes of “Danish Sausages” (as we called them in my house), much to all my family’s delight. But it’s also a reminder of how much nicer hot dogs are than what we’d get over here. There is the important “snap” of the casing and the contents of the sausage may well be meat of indeterminate origin, but they’re damn tasty – Especially if like me, you got for the whole gamut of finely diced raw and deep fried onions, ketchup, remoulade and pickles all delicately encased within a hot dog roll lightly toasted and not big enough to encase the whole sausage resulting in both ends protruding out. I completely understand why the returning Danes make it one of their first stops upon landing back in CPH – I often make sure it’s one of the first things I eat upon landing at Kastrup and I look forward to it every time. I love the fact that your choice of drinks range from bottled water to soda fountains, or why not have a beer, Gammel Dansk or (my fave) a Jägermeister. So, whilst it’s not something new I did for the 40 Project, I couldn’t really have a CPH post and *not* include hotdogs in some way.

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Smørrebrød, or (Danish) Open Faced Sandwiches were the first thing I remember making in Home Economics class in school (many aeons ago). Being a Brit, I just thought it was curious why you wouldn’t have the 2nd slice of bread on top – That’s the whole point of a sandwich, isn’t it?!. That said, my trips to CPH have since taught me that the singular, solitary slice of bread on the base of a smørrebrød isn’t just any bread, it’s a slice of deliciously rugged and wholesome Danish rye bread – The sort where you believe that it’s actually doing you good by the act of eating it alone and well, you don’t need a 2nd slice to top the sandwich. Furthermore, the toppings are not of the ham and cheese (or coleslaw) variety my classmates and I had to eat in Home Economics all those years back. Rather, it’s some of the most delicately smoked eel either with scrambled eggs or some other accoutrements, it could be topped with another Scandinavian favourite – Pickled Herring, or you could top it with some organic local Danish roast pork… The variations are both broad and all very tasty. So it came to be that on one occasion in my 40th year, I didn’t just manage to eat Smørrebrød at Slotskælderen hos Gitte Kik in CPH, but I also managed to drink some Danish snaps and a local CPH beer [34] whilst there. This wasn’t the first time I had smørrebrød in CPH and I thought the first occasion was OK, but this visit to Slotskælderen hos Gitte Kik was brilliant – From the friendly service, to the guy with the red face at the front finishing most of the plates in front of you and I suspect that the snaps and beer may have added to the whole experience, but whilst the roast pork may not have looked like much, it was some of the best roast pork (and crackling) I’ve ever eaten and was worth the food coma it sent us into afterwards.

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An unexpected treat was a trip to the oldest bakery in Central CPH, Conditori La Glace. I loved how the window display of all the cakes drew you in and it’s very old Copenhagen inside, but the cakes are fantastic – They even had a sugar-free cake which I loved. However, I did manage to eat a Sportskage [35] which is the cake that La Glace is best known for and added another tick to the 40 list.

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With my growing interest in (Craft) Beer, it would be remiss of me to travel to CPH and NOT at least drink something local and well, the Daddy of CPH brewers is Mikkeller with their collaborations and experimental beers. So it was on the way to Relæ for another brilliant dinner that I got to drink a (Mikkeller) beer at Mikkeller and Friends [36]. It has quickly established itself as one of my favourite places to drink in CPH – With its minimalist look of walls painted in a soft, light blue (Turks and Caicos blue, I believe it is) combined with fixtures, fittings and furniture in a bare wood (lightly coloured) – The kind of Scandinavian minimalist design that you (well I) covet over for your own home until you realise that you’re too much of a hoarder to even begin to contemplate the ideal of minimalism. It’s the kind of bar design that is quite common in CPH and much as places in the UK imitate or offer something similar in design and setup, there is a certain (minimalist) swagger and well, vibe that makes it work so well in CPH which is missing in other places. Actually, whilst I’m here, I should really mention how CPH (despite the high price for alcohol) is a great place for craft beer – There are some really great tap rooms throughout the city with really varied and interesting selections. I mean, even the local corner shop near a hotel I was staying at had an entire aisle of bottled craft beers (which meant I could cheekily have one of my favourites, Brooklyn Brown Ale, with a snackette back in the hotel room). It was also in CPH that I discovered Christmas Ale (Beer) or Julebryg – And truly, my life has never been the same since..

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Relæ has an extra special place in my heart because it was my first experience of New Nordic Cuisine 4 years ago and I was completely blown away by it all – The cooking, the room, the soundtrack, how you got your cutlery from a drawer in the table. Added to this how Christian Puglisi and Kim Rosen are 2 of the nicest (and coolest) guys around, it pleases me to see how their little empire has expanded and transformed Nørrebro. So it was with complete surprise when YKL phoned me letting me know of an email that she had received from Christian saying that he knew it was short notice (4 weeks) and well, YKL and I had only literally just returned from a weekend in CPH, but that it was the 5th anniversary of Relæ opening and to celebrate it, they were having a bit of a party in the local park. Sounds good, right? Then we read this:

“The plan is that our amazing friends Rosio Sanchez and Renè Redzepi will be dishing out tacos, Magnus Nilsson cooks up hotdogs, Matt Orlando fries chicken, Mehmet Guhrs braises lamb, Kobe Desmeraults makes us Croquettes-de-crevettes and Chad Robertson will spread butter on delicious bread – all for you, friends and family to taste.”

Literally, my jaw dropped. Had we really been invited to this? Even though we had just got back from CPH, we were scrambling our diaries looking at plane tickets and accommodation. To cut a *very* long story short: It was every bit as brilliant as I hoped. There was a laid back feeling of joy in the air and it very much felt like a coming together of like-minded people in celebration of how Relæ has evolved in 5 years and with it, helped to make Nørrebro a go to destination within CPH. In fact, the whole weekend was centred on the (aforementioned) empire of restaurants and bars that Christian and Kim have built up: Bæst, Manfreds, Mirabelle and of course, Relæ. But what could I add from this for the 40 list? I could have added eating the beef tartare at Manfreds (Truly, if you’re ever in CPH and go to Manfreds, have the beef tartare – It’s one of the best you’ll ever eat). However, I wanted to convey how it felt extra special that in the year I turned 40, it was also the year that Relæ turned 5 and they put on such a massive spectacle which YKL and I were so very lucky to experience. So whilst I have eaten at Relæ many times and will continue going back as much as I can. For me, being able to eat a reinterpretation of the original menu at Relæ [37] made it onto the list. However, I do need to mention the generosity of Kim and Christian because when the bill arrived for that meal which was one of the best we’d ever had there, it appeared to be wrong (and any subsequent demands to speak to Kim and Christian were laughed at by the staff..

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Similarly, I have another special place in my heart for Bror; quite often our meal at Bror will contain the best tasting dishes of the whole CPH trip which is saying something how we generally go for the Big Hitters. Sam Nutter was still at Noma the first time I ate there and he was the one whom gave us our kitchen tour afterwards. When he and Victor Wagman left Noma to open Bror, I remember Rene Redzèpi saying how they both may not have any investors backing, but they had “huge talent and balls”. That only added to the amusement of how a signature dish at Bror became the Bull’s balls – They even have T-shirts saying “Poached, Sliced, Breaded, Fried” (how it’s cooked). So whilst I could say that eating Bulls balls at Bror[38] is on the list, I should also mention how during one of my trips to CPH in my 40th year, I also got to eat at Café LilleBror (RIP) where not content with feeding me balls at Bror, I also got to eat crispy dicks at Café LilleBror. [added to 38] As a side note, I can’t believe I’ve just made that public and now worry how this post is going to come up for certain internet searches…

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I started this post by saying how I couldn’t really leave out writing about Copenhagen given how often I have been there. Therefore I can’t leave out one of (if not) the main reasons for going to Copenhagen in first place – To eat at Noma. Yes, I am very biased when it comes to Noma – But that’s because I’ve never had a bad experience when at Noma. Sure, there have been some dishes where they didn’t *quite* hit the mark, but when you talk about an overall dining experience to encompass the setting, service, wine pairing and food – The whole shebang – you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere better in the world than Noma. Every time I’ve been to Noma, it’s been special and for different reasons every time.  I always spend hours recollecting various parts of the meal with YKL with a permagrin on my face – be it certain dishes, interaction with the staff, recounting conversations… The fact that I got to eat at Noma not just once, but twice to mark my 40th year with friends [39] added to the how special my 40th year was.

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I know this won’t be my last post about CPH, but it very much was part of my 40 Project and whilst some things weren’t within the original remit of eating something local to that region or a speciality of a restaurant/bar for the first time, it felt right that I tweaked some of the qualifying criteria just so I could share some of the happy memories I have from my trips to CPH.

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You don’t have to be lacto-fermented to work here, but it helps…

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The main purpose of our CPH trip this time, if you will, was our Saturday night meal at Noma. It’s Noma, the biggie, voted the world’s best restaurant again after slipping (if you can call it that) to 2nd place. René Redzepi is credited with changing the way the WORLD’s restaurants approach food – You can’t get any restaurant menu these days without some sort of reference to foraging, local or seasonal produce.. But for YKL, it’s much simpler than that: I remember her first going to Noma not long after they opened (and way before they started making waves on the San Pellegrino’s World’s Best restaurants list) and when she first got back, I remember her saying that it was the “Best meal of her life”. Pretty bold statement, but she constantly went back and never once did she have a bad time. Then I started going a couple of years ago; And whilst my first visit was good, I’ve since seen different sides of Noma and absolutely see why YKL made such a statement originally. Noma is the original and still very much setting the standard – Whilst you have restaurants out there which are similar in concept and some similar in style of food, I can guarantee that Noma is not only unlike every other restaurant, it’s still head and shoulders above them all too. It was with this in mind that it was entirely appropriate that we should go to Noma for YKL’s Birthday weekend.

Actually, I was a bit snidey too; Knowing it was YKL’s Birthday, I cheekily emailed one of the directors if they could arrange a little something – They very generously ordered a brand new bread basket especially for her last year when our whole family went, so I thought I would ask if they would mind doing a little something for her this time. I had no idea what they could have done – Far be it for me to suggest anything – But I knew it wouldn’t involve her having to stand on a chair whilst all the staff sung Happy Birthday to her. Very generously, they agreed to do something but I didn’t hear from them in a while and it wasn’t until I was about to fly out that I checked again if they had managed to think of anything, just so I could think of something else incase they were too busy to do so. I got an email reply saying they had sorted something out and well, it would be a surprise for me too.. Unfortunately, YKL happened to look over my shoulder and saw whom had emailed me and so, the cat was kind of out of the bag. I admitted that I had been in contact with the restaurant for her Birthday was but it wasn’t until later that I revealed that I too, had no idea what was going to happen. The combination of nervous excitement had been building for 24 hours by the time we got to the restaurant. It may have been the day after YKL’s Birthday, but we were pretty sure that we were going to experience something awesome..

Getting there was no different to any other time, we speculated if we would be greeted outside, but we had a slightly later booking which would have meant that everyone would be in the throes of the organised chaotic symphony that is a restaurant in service. M, YKL and myself lurked outside the restaurant on the harbour for a brief spell – Mainly to compose ourselves – But it was there that I spotted movement inside from one of the chefs I knew and admitted to the others that I think we’d been spotted. James, the Restaurant Manager suitably came out to greet us and during the conversation to YKL dropped “It’s your Birthday, isn’t it?!”. Yep, they ALL knew it was her Bday so it was time to head out of the cold outside and hand ourselves over to the whole brigade at Noma..

Stepping inside and down the few steps into the restaurant, it’s quite normal for a few of the chefs to greet you – Not just the front of house staff. But what greeted us this time was the ENTIRE kitchen brigade – I honestly think they all stopped cooking for a brief moment and waited to say hello to YKL like she was royalty or something. Seriously, I’m not kidding, I stepped in and down the steps and was quite taken aback by a wall of chefs greeting us all. Very charmingly, some of them (the ones whom have been there longer so knew us a bit better) said Happy Birthday to YKL but to be greeted immediately by such a sight was quite overwhelming. Then we were led to our table;

YKL of course, led our party and she was led to her seat. Normally, they wait for us to choose where to sit, but YKL was definitely led to her seat this time. How did we know this was her seat? Because on the table in her place seating was an old large Danish cookies tin. Yunno, the kind your mother or Grandparents would get in the 70s – I certainly remember them from when I was younger. I did momentarily wonder if there was a cake in there – I know they use the tins as part of their petit fours, but the look on YKL’s face when she opened the time was an absolute picture – A combination of shock, delight and OMFG!- Inside were a selection of kilner jars, each containing different fermented or pickled ingredients to cook with. It was, for all intents and purposes, a tin of Noma. For a Birthday present that was unique and very Noma-esque? I could not have dared to ask for anything more. It was perfect – And this was the beginning of the meal!

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The meal itself was the best I’ve had at Noma yet – There seems to be a bit more of a swagger and assurance in their cooking now and some of the results are spectacular. I’m not going to give a taste-by-taste detailed account, but as much as I joke about it, I really didn’t think I would be saying phrases like “They were some TASTY ants!” when I woke up that morning. Nor did I think that I would need some implement that looked like it was Tarzan’s weapon of choice for my main course of roasted mallard and Widgeon. This was food that was not only very delicious, but also got you really excited to see how innovative and creative people are in making things taste so damn good.

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In the bar area afterwards, we settled down with our teas/coffees and some really fantastic petit fours – Best I’ve had there yet and reflected on what had been another intense, but very triumphant meal. Very sweetly, 2 of the waitresses came by with a small Birthday cake for YKL to cut. In a stroke of genius, M asked if the girls would sing Happy Birthday to which the response was “I will if you will”. Well, it may have been 3 people whom started singing Happy Birthday, but it ended with EVERYONE – staff and guests alike – singing Happy Birthday. It was awesome.

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However, that wasn’t the highlight of the night for me. Yes, it was fantastic for YKL and I was so happy to be part of such a special Bday for her – But the highlight of the night was what came afterwards. I have previously mentioned on this blog about the Saturday Night Project where selected chefs get to present their dishes for the rest of the team, it could be that they’ve been given a project to work on and the end result is presented during the Saturday Night Project. My last and only evidence of this was after my family terrorised some of the chefs as they were preparing their dishes and we were all given a tour of the kitchens whilst a bit drunk.. I honestly thought that we would be banned from it as a result, but they offered us a chance to go see the Saturday Night Project to which we leapt at the chance.

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It was interesting for a whole host of reasons: I’ve obviously met René every time I’ve been to Noma and have seen him in the Test Kitchen upstairs, but I’ve never really seen him working in the kitchen. I’ve seen him on television leading the kitchen brigade, but have never seen the man in action, so to speak. We entered the finishing kitchen quietly and there was a bit of a murmur of chatter in the back of the kitchen and immediately René asked for silence from the back so that the chef speaking to present his dish could be heard by all. This was completely Rene’s domain and in there, you play by HIS rules. But it wasn’t a case that he was a totalitarian in there, he asked for silence so as to respect the fact that one of the chefs – a colleague – was trying to speak and what they had to say demanded to be heard and René was giving them his full attention as a result. What’s more, the Saturday Project was a chance for the chefs to learn – René asked questions to the whole brigade like a good teacher does: “What was your project?” “I had to test different lacto-fermentations” “OK, who here doesn’t know what lacto-fermentation is?”. Anyone who raised their hand had a definition of lacto-fermentation by the senior sous chef. I just loved the whole feeling of nurturing talent – So inspiring to see first hand.

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As you can imagine, the Saturday Night Project is a good chance for young chefs to really make their mark – As was the case we saw that night where a young chef had interned with Noma for 6 month and his internship had actually ended, but he stayed in CPH for a few more weeks knowing that he had a chance to present at the SNP. His eel dish was a great hit and interesting for René because he’d tried to make use of the abundance of eels from the harbour but had never managed anything near as good as what he was tasting that night. Added to this, Noma are going to Japan for a few months early next year and the way the Japanese prepare eel is very different, but it would be an ingredient that is available to them when they go over, so you could see how he wasn’t only impressed with the dish and the young chef for sticking around, but that they could perhaps do something with eel in a Nordic way when in the Far East. The camaraderie I witnessed afterwards when some of the other chefs went up and hugged and congratulated him after he had presented was sheer joy. I honestly felt privileged to have witnessed that. Furthermore, the last presentation of the night was dried scallop baked into a brioche and served with a sea urchin butter. Now, our meal earlier had a scallop fudge and there was a dried scallop element to one of the snacks which reminded me very much of the dried conpoy that we use a great deal in Chinese cookery, but you could see all the chefs devouring into this bread and butter and the questions being asked repeatedly afterwards in slightly different ways – “You put the scallop INTO the brioche?” “So you dried the scallop and put it INTO the bread?” “The scallop in IN the brioche?” amused me greatly – It was like they couldn’t fathom how someone thought of doing something so simple – But genius at the same time. Although, there was a bit of a wince when René asked how many of HIS sea urchins were used in the butter! And the verdict? There were no words, René just started clapping and everyone – EVERYONE – in the room joined in and applauded this young chef for not only being innovative and simple at the same time whilst meeting his brief, but in also producing what was a complete knockout dish. The must be little else more gratifying than getting the warm applause and raptures not only of your peers, but of your boss and someone you gently admire. Genuinely, I had to hold back the tears a bit because I could imagine the pride that young chef was feeling right then. Yeah yeah, call me soppy or sentimental, but I wasn’t even drunk.. Genuinely, it was a fantastic experience and so interesting to see how the chefs are not only nurtured, but helped to develop not only their culinary skills, but also their creative talents.

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I said before that there is nowhere else like Noma in the world – There are many restaurants that may be similar in some aspects – How they forage for food, only using seasonal and local produce, nurturing their staff. But combined? Noma is light years ahead of them all. It’s not just the food that is sensational, the front of house operation is effortless in making you feel completely at ease and as if you’re the most important people in their world right now – Be you a lead actor in one of the best new TV shows in recent years (turns out Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was sat on the table next to us), someone who’s saved up for years to be able to eat at Noma and meet René Redzepi, a Foreign Dignitary or just someone with a good appetite and keeps coming back for more. But now that I’ve seen how they develop their staff, Noma really is unique and I love being able to go back time and time again. Each time has been special for different reasons, but there is also the assurance that I will be treated to the same friendliness, professionalism and deliciousness that makes every visit so very special – Just look at how well they’ve treated YKL at short notice for her Bday – And that’s why I keep going back.

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Brotherly Love. Bror, Copenhagen

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Out of the very long list of things I like and admire about Noma, the one thing which really impresses me is how Renè Redzepi not only nurtures and harnesses the very obvious talent from his brigade, but that kinship follows the staff even after they leave Noma. I love seeing just how supportive René is of Noma alumni in whatever pursuits they may find themselves in after wearing the chocolate-brown aprons of Noma. There’s even an alumni section on the Noma website like a proud Father showing off what his children are up to now. This is in complete contrast to any kitchens I’ve ever worked in where any mention of leaving is met with the kind of contempt as if you’ve stabbed your Head Chef and/or manager in the back and effectively vomited over them or something. To see such support from a boss to his former employees is both heartwarming and encouraging. I first met Sam after he was chosen to show us around Noma after our meal there last September (where we felt terrible that we were keeping him from his staff meal because some members of our party were chatting to Renè for so long!). So when I heard that he and Victor, another sous chef at Noma, had left to set up their own place, we simply had to go. What’s more, it’s one of the few places which are open on Sundays in Copenhagen and not only did that give us a perfect reason to stay an extra night in Copenhagen, we couldn’t think of anywhere better to spend our last night in Copenhagen, so YKL and I were really excited as we walked down the street towards the restaurant.

Bror (I’m reliably told) means Brother in Danish. Perhaps it’s because Sam and Victor are like Brothers and have set up this joint venture, perhaps it’s to show what camaraderie there is not only from the kitchen brigade, but also with front of house staff too. But I like to think it’s to show the love like that of a family everyone has not only from working there, but from the love they put into their food and in sharing that love with you when you eat there. As we stopped outside briefly so that I could take a picture of the exterior and sign, Sam and Victor come tearing out of the restaurant and run up to YKL for a massive group hug. Now I can’t guarantee that you will get the same kind of response should you go to Bror, but it was plain to see that they were obviously really excited and happy that YKL was there and it was really good to see such enthusiasm (and love). It was a lovely (if unexpected) beginning to our visit;

Looking at the menu beforehand, YKL and I thought that we’d go for a few snacks (as they’re called on the menu) and then 2 larger dishes so that we get to try a bit of everything and get a general sense of what the food there was like. But as we sat down at our designated table, I noticed there wasn’t a menu for us – When every other table in the room had a menu. Checking with the waitress, her words were “Sam just told me to charge you xx for the meal” and that “there’s a lot of food coming your way tonight”. It was the second night in succession I’d heard that phrase from the Chef Patron of the restaurant I was in, and if it was going to be anything like the previous night’s meal at Noma, I knew we were in for a treat. Besides, not knowing what we were going to get kind of added to the excitement of the whole occasion. Little did we know that in a couple of hour’s time, we would be begging for mercy at the notion of more food heading our way…

So to start, we were given Deep Fried Bull’s Balls. Yes, Rocky Mountain Oysters.. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too fussed about whether we ordered them or not, but Sam came out later to tell us that he had deliberately saved these last 2 especially for us. Whilst I can’t (and don’t) proclaim myself to be an expert in any way shape or form in how different animal testicles taste, I can honestly say that these particular ones had a lovely and crunchy coating and were good fodder for the tangy tartare sauce which accompanied them. I daresay that a few of those would go really well with an ice-cold beer on a hot day.

Snack: Deep fried bull's balls, tartare sauce Snack detail: Deep fried bull's balls Snack detail: tartare sauce

Next up were raw oysters, frozen kohlrabi where 2 oysters with the top shell loosened were presented in a tub to us. Lifting the loose shell revealed the raw oyster inside, wrapped in a thin sheath of kohlrabi and some other frozen bits (think there was apple?) The contrast of the ozone-flavour of the raw oyster and the ice-cold frozen kohlrabi was sensational. I was already really enjoying this meal..

Snack: raw oysters, frozen kohlrabi Snack detail: raw oysters, frozen kohlrabi Snack detail: raw oysters, frozen kohlrabi

Victor then came to our table with Onion glazed garfish with tomato ice; where small chunks of garfish were speared onto the open mouth of a garfish head upon a bed of frozen tomato juice, but the head was placed in a way to make it seem like it was joined to the fish tail handle for the bowl – As if it was a whole fish. I liked the playfulness of the food here and how they weren’t afraid to be so playful. As for the dish itself, the fish was cooked perfectly and the contrast to the tomato ice was fantastic. It was probably the first time I’d eaten tomatoes all weekend but because it was the juice which was frozen without any of the flesh or skin, the lack of red of the tomato ice somehow didn’t make me think it was going to be so tomato-ey.

Onion glazed garfish, tomato ice Detail: Onion glazed garfish, tomato ice Onion glazed garfish, tomato ice

What followed were Steamed chicken wings, roasted seaweed which were incredibly hot and if I’m to be completely honest, I was expecting something with a bit more of a punch. The chicken wings were incredibly juicy and moist, but I was expecting a big seaweed hit but it never really transpired. Shame really as this dish certainly had the potential to be awesome.

Steamed chicken wings, roasted seaweed Steamed chicken wings, roasted seaweed

Next up was pork shoulder rillettes, pickled apple which was served with some of the crispest and flavoursome Melba toast I’d eaten in a long time and some pickled baby caper berries. THIS. DISH. WAS. SENSATIONAL. As YKL sunk the knife to the bottom and lifted up to reveal the meaty goodness under the layer of lard, the smell was both meaty and enticing. Smothered on the delicious Melba toast and topped with a bit of the pickled apple sauce which lifted the whole thing with its contrasting sourness. I could have polished the whole thing off by myself and it was by far one of my favourite things I’d eaten that night.

Pork shoulder rillettes, pickled apple detail: Pork shoulder rillettes, pickled apple melba toast digging into the pork rillette.. First exposure Full mouthful

Our final snack was peas, verbena, frozen nasturtium which was a lovely dish highlighting the contrast of sweet peas, to the sour verbena and nasturtium – which was also really cold. I very green (coloured) dish but with really clean flavours and the frozen nasturtium almost acting like a palette cleanser given we were about to start the larger plates..

Peas, verbena, frozen nasturtium detail: Peas, verbena, frozen nasturtium

Liking the snacks which had been served to us, the arrival of bread and butter signalled the beginning of the meal for real. The bread – As was the case in all the restaurants we ate at in Copenhagen that weekend – was utterly delicious and well, my jaw dropped when they told me that the butter was whipped with some marrowbone. Oh dear God, why must they torture us so?! That said, I knew that my downfall has been eating too much bread (think Relæ), so whilst I could have polished off the whole small loaf by myself with that divine whipped butter with bone marrow (just saying it makes me smile.. Along with clogging up my arteries a bit more), I had to severely restrict myself because I had no idea how many starters would be heading my way;

Soudough bread, whipped bone marrow butter Whipped bone marrow butter

Kicking the starters off was Mullet in pine vinegar, cucumber and grilled juice, slithers of mullet with peeled cucumber and some herbs with the freshest pine vinegar and juice which added a real piquancy to the dish and lifted all the ingredients. Bold, fresh and very tasty.

Mullet in pine vinegar, cucumber, grilled juice detail: Mullet in pine vinegar, cucumber, grilled juice

It was obviously Asparagus season in Copenhagen when we visited as we’d eaten a pretty stellar asparagus dish the previous night in Noma and were now presented with Cooked and raw asparagus, crème fraîche, unripe strawberries where a grilled (!) spear of white asparagus was topped with the thinnest slithers of raw asparagus and green strawberries, served with a dollop of crème fraîche and the subtle grating of some cheese. I mentioned that we’d eaten asparagus at Noma the night before, but for YKL, this dish here at Bror was better than Noma’s version – The cooked element of the dish was cooked perfectly and the balance of flavours with the subtle char on the cooked asparagus with the tart green strawberries, the textural crunch of the raw asparagus brought together with the creamy crème fraîche and slight tang of the cheese.. It was one of those dishes which was an absolute delight to eat – And we could have eaten several portions of that alone all night and be perfectly content in doing so.

Cooked and raw asparagus, crème fraîche, unripe strawberries detail: Cooked and raw asparagus, crème fraîche, unripe strawberries

How do you follow such an amazing dish? Well at Bror, the next 2 dishes were related (although we didn’t realise it at the time). Firstly, we were served Wolf fish, beach plants, butter which was as the title suggests, cooked wolf fish with some beach plants (and peas) not only cooked in, but with some melted butter drizzled over. It was one of them deceptively simple, yet incredibly flavoursome and tasty dishes which you only realise afterwards when you think about it time and time again, just *how* great it was.

Roasted wolf fish, beach plants, butter detail: Roasted wolf fish, beach plants, butter

But what followed was nothing short of spectacular; If Sam and Victor were looking to impress YKL and myself, they already had with the food we’d eaten, but the next dish of Stuffed Cheek was the dish which not only sealed the deal on whether our meal at Bror was spectacular or not, but actually elevated it to possibly one of the best meals we’d eaten on the whole trip (which is no small feat considering where we’d eaten). Both YKL and I honestly felt as if we had truly saved the best meal for last with this dish. A whole wolf fish head (roasted?) was presented to us with the cheek carved out and stuffed with smaller morsels of fish (think it was the cheek cut up with some other bits of fish) and some bread in a rich, buttery sauce. It could be from our upbringing in that neither YKL and I worry when a fish head is presented to us because our parents taught us how to strip the meat from a fish head so we eagerly tucked in and extracted all the flesh we could, whilst happily turned feral in sucking the bones. I understand that some of you may be turned off at that last sentence, but truly, we couldn’t have been happier. Seriously, you need to eat this dish at Bror (not so) secretly, I hope they never remove this dish from the menu because it’s truly a fantastic dish. Clever, tasty, flavoursome and a chance for punters to turn feral – What’s not to like?

Stuffed cheek detail: stuffed cheek P6305553 plateful

By now, YKL and I were actually really stuffed – We were actually full around the asparagus dish but we noticed that the portion sizes had gotten bigger and bigger, so we were thinking that was our mains for the night was the stuffed cheeks (and *how* spectacular it was!). But when we asked, well pleaded, that there wasn’t another dish to come and that we were going to be served desserts now, yes? She kind of paused apologetically and said “Well, you DO have your mains to come..” Mains?! You mean to tell me that the stuffed cheeks WASN’T our main?! I’ve already mentioned how we noticed that the portion sizes were getting larger and larger, so given the size of the stuffed cheek – HOW big was our actual main going to be?! We had to ask for a break just so we got a chance to digest the food we’d already eaten and give ourselves a fighting chance in what was about to be served to us. Of course, we had *no* idea what was to be served to us and it was with genuine terror that we looked towards the direction of the kitchen to see what was about to be served, terrified that it would be for us. At one point, we saw a whole roast chicken ready to be served with a load of veg and genuinely, YKL and I were terrified that it was for us.. We’ve never breathed such a huge sigh of relief when we saw the waiter carrying the chicken walk past our table..

What actually followed was a light dish of Whipped lambs brain, seed flatbread, apple and mustard seed chutney. I’ve eaten lambs brain previously in a curry, but here it was served almost list a pâté and with the seed flatbread with the tart apple and mustard seed chutney lifting the whole dish. YKL and I may have been stuffed to the gills, but this dish was too good to not eat and we ended polishing the whole lot off, then immediately began to worry about as we were both too full to really eat a main course..

Whipped lambs brain, seed flatbread, apple and mustard seed chutney A little bit of everything...

So then, this was it. We were about to eat our main – Would it be a roast chicken (or 2?), whatever it was going to be, it was going to be pretty epic and no doubt, the portion size would be rather substantial – which was a problem given both YKL and I were really quite full by now (though we had eaten some pretty stellar food). With trepidation, we both looked in the kitchen’s direction to see what was coming out. Then we saw Sam look over with a rather large pot headed our way. Without a word, (although I swear there was a semi-evil smirk), he placed the pot on our table and walked away..

Oh shit! That pot isn't for us, is it?! Busted!

.. YKL lifted the lid to reveal:

What's in the pot?!

Lamb’s head, steamed spring greens, ramson sauce. Now, I know that this is another dish which may send people running away in the opposite direction, but in a weird way, YKL and I were slightly relieved that it was a relatively light dish. We divvied up the meat and with the steamed greens and ransom sauce, it was utterly delicious. I think I would have cried if we were given a whole roast chicken because we were so full, but with the steamed greens, I could just about manage this dish. As with all the dishes we’d eaten that night at Bror, even something like lamb’s head which isn’t something you’d see on many restaurant menus, all the ingredients were cooked perfectly and treated with the utmost respect and transformed into something special.

Lamb's head, steamed spring greens, ramson sauce detail: Lamb's head, steamed spring greens, ramson sauce

By now, YKL and I were practically bursting and asked if we could skip dessert – Only to see the dessert chef go to a table next to us to remonstrate with them after they too, asked if they could skip dessert.. Amongst all this, Sam kept coming out to chat with us and pretty much insisted that we join them at “Harry’s Bar” which is basically one of the few late night karaoke bars in CPH which all of the staff there frequent. I’m sure that my younger self would have loved that idea, but the thought of flying out the following day with a monster hangover wasn’t really appealing. Besides, we still had dessert to eat;

First up was rhubarb, pine and moss which was tart and tasty. It featured the famed reindeer moss which Noma serve in very tasty form so it was going to be hard for Bror to top that. However, the second dessert of strawberries and elderflower was utterly delicious – How could you go wrong with 2 of my favourite ingredients? It pretty much killed us, but we ate it all..

dessert: rhubarb, pine and moss dessert: Strawberries and elderflower

So that was our completely brilliant meal at Bror. I know that we had a bit of a special menu constructed for us by Sam and Victor, designed I suspect to not only highlight their best dishes (along with their philosophy behind the restaurant and highlighting their very obvious skill, passion and technique), but also to impress YKL and myself. And my, how they did just that! What we ate that night covered the whole spectrum of dishes available at Bror and it make me very envious that we don’t have anything like Bror in the UK, especially when I think about just *how* great some of the dishes we ate that night were. I’ve mentioned it already, but we really couldn’t have picked a better restaurant to spend our last night in Copenhagen – Not only for the food, but the friendly laid-back atmosphere. We loved it so much that at the asparagus dish, we had decided that we would *have* to come back in October. Sam and Victor may have tried to kill YKL and myself with food that night, but I can think of fewer places where there is such (Brotherly) love – From the group hug at the beginning of the night to trying to get us to stay out late and go to a karaoke bar with them after service.   And to top it all off, brilliant food, drink and service. I felt the love at Bror that night and if you ever go to Copenhagen, you should head there to experience it for yourself.

Outside

The full set of photos can be viewed on my Flickr page.

I see the light! Noma, Copenhagen

P6295316

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.

Crayfish

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?

Malt flatbread and juniper

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.

Moss and cep

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..

Greetings

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.

Nordic coconut Pickled and smoked quail's egg - smoke action!

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.

detail: Pike perch head

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.

Such a gorgeous building

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…

detail: Beef rib and lingon berries P6294993

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.

Peas, pine and chamomile detail: Skagen shrimps and ramsons, rhubarb root and flowers detail: Dried scallops and beech nuts, Biodynamic grains and watercress inside: Leek and cod roe hanging out to dry... P6295311

You can view the full set of photos on my Flickr page

Noma, Copenhagen

Entrance

The main purpose of my trip to Copenhagen was to go to Noma for lunch on the Saturday. I mean, this was The Biggie. There’s a lot that’s already been said and known about Noma because of its status of the best restaurant in the world. These days, when so many restaurants talk about using local ingredients and foraging for ingredients locally, I did wonder how Noma would compare. As YKL pointed out, these days you can get horseradish snow or malt soil in plenty of restaurants, but how would Noma – as originators – cope? Actually, YKL has been going to Noma for about 6 or 7 years now – Before the restaurant broke into the Top 10, then to the very top of the San Pellegrino awards, anyway. So she’s well known to the restaurant and staff (more of that later), and whilst I wanted to go sooner with her, it just wasn’t possible with everything that’s gone on in the past couple of years with The Mothership. It was a couple of months after The Mothership passed that we started to tentatively make plans to go to Noma in the Autumn (it’s been a couple of years since YKL last went), and given how the reservations line pretty much implode when new reservations are available (think it’s something stupid like tens of thousands of people trying to get through for a restaurant which has about 40 covers). You can imagine, it’s pretty difficult to get a reservation and not wanting to take the michael, we went for a date 6 months later (given they’re fully booked 3 months in advance). Fortunately for us, they had a table so it then became a countdown to September..

Well, those 6 months crept up on us and before we knew it, it was time to go to Copenhagen. I’d had a brilliant meal the night before at Relæ, which was a fantastic introduction to new Nordic Cuisine but let’s face it, Noma is the Daddy when it comes to new Nordic Cuisine. Knowing that the table was booked for 12:30pm, YKL and I had a nice gentle morning walking around the streets of Copenhagen near our hotel (buying more Sarah Bernhardt cakes in the process) before we returned to the room to get ready. Choosing to get a taxi there, I think we must have got the only taxi driver in Copenhagen who didn’t have a clue who or what Noma was – It took YKL 5 minutes to find the address for him!

The building itself isn’t really one that stands out and there aren’t any signposts indicating where Noma was. In fact, I didn’t actually realise we had got there until I started taking pictures and realised that next to one of the doors was the Noma sign. Again, I’m not too sure if I was expecting some sort of fanfare (there certainly was one going off in my head), but it was quite refreshing to see that for all the grandiose statements and pronouncements of how important Noma and René Redzepi have been to our Culinary Worlds, it’s still in a very unassuming building in Copenhagen and doesn’t demand that you respect it. Yunno, it’s not housed in a posh hotel or have gold-plated windows. We actually arrive a bit early so whilst I’m taking pictures and we’re both trying to compose ourselves, I spot René at the door and he comes out to greet us. I say us, but it’s more to greet YKL as he gives her a warm hug like you would for an old friend and immediately says to her that it’s been too long since she was last there and checked that she was OK. I had always known that YKL knew René but I didn’t realise that she was *such* good friends with him. And when you’ve been going for as long as she has – Right from the beginning before Noma became “The Best Restaurant in the World”, why wouldn’t he consider her to be a good friend? It was only when we went inside and there seemed to be a Guard of Honour from all the kitchen and FOH staff that I realised just *how* highly they regarded YKL. My sister is pretty much like royalty in Noma – Who’d have thunk it?! Seriously, René – The man who was on the cover of Time magazine recently – introduced everyone to her and whilst you could dismiss it as something they did for every customer. René came out to meet a few guests (but not all) at the door, and nobody else got the Staff Guard of Honour 😉

We were shown to our table – right in the middle of the room, no less – And looking around, there were a lot of neutral colours to give a very natural look. Certainly, there was nothing too garish or out-of-place. Waiting for the rest of the party to arrive, we were offered some Bubbly – And I’m never going to turn down Bubbly! Once the party had all arrived, we were told of the menu for the day: Basically, they start off with a series of what they call “snacks” where you get one or two-bite appetisers. Once they’re all gone, then they launch into the 8 course tasting menu. Now, a lot of other blogs tell you a bit about Noma, its history, about René, the room itself and how the menu is constructed, but nobody really tells you what the food tastes like – Despite the many, many pictures of the food circulated on the Net. So I’m going to summarise everything we ate:

Malt Flatbread and juniper (with crème fraîche) – Cunningly disguised in the flower arrangement, but very tasty and the overtones of cumin tempered by the crème fraîche. However, I was slightly disappointed that the candle wasn’t made of white chocolate a là Heston. I mean, if you’re going to disguise the food as table decorations…

Table decoration Malt Flatbread and Juniper

Moss and cep – Whoever’s pissed René off has to clean the Reindeer Moss. It was more about textures I think and not a great deal of flavour.

Reindeer moss

Blue mussel and celery – We were told to eat the whole thing, which we did after a moment’s hesitation. Of course, they recreated the bottom mussel shell and it was fantastic – A nice plump, juicy mussel bursting with flavour and I don’t know how they recreated the mussel shell, but that was also very nice. I could have eaten a whole bowl of them by myself..

Detail: Blue mussel and celery Detail: Blue mussel and celery

Cheese cookie, rocket and stems was a nice idea and I liked the tin it came in, but it didn’t really set my world on fire
Inside the tin.. Detail: Cheese cookie, rocket and stems

The potato and duck liver was an interesting play on textures with the crisp potato and you got the creamy taste of the duck liver but without texture. That said, put the words “duck” and “livers” together and I’m already a fan.

Potato and duck liver

The dried carrot with sorrel was one of my favourite dishes: carrot was dehydrated and slightly smoked so that you not only got the intense sweetness of the carrot, but there was a hint of smoke, too. That, with the sorrel sauce which was smothered over a the accompanying plate was a great contrast in flavours and actually complimented the carrot. I *loved* this, amazing how the humble carrot could be so flavoursome and delicious

Dried carrot and sorrel Dried carrot and sorrel

The caramelised milk with cod liver wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved it – The cod liver was thinly shaved whilst frozen so so they were still very cold, but the little smattering of salt really lifted it again the sweet, textural crunch of the caramelised milk disc it sat upon.

Caramelised milk and cod liver Caramelised milk and cod liver

Next up was a few signature dishes for Noma; The pickled and smoked quail’s egg was every bit as tasty as it was theatrical. I mean, you lifted the lid and immediately see some of the smoke escaping from the eggs. Plop the whole thing into your mouth and firstly you noticed how the egg is perfectly soft-boiled so as the sweet yolk bursts in your mouth, you get a pickled taste followed by a slight smokiness. I’m sure this dish wows diners like us just as much now as it did when first introduced however many years back – And rightly so, this was a great example of what Noma is in terms of great cooking technique combined with theatrics to get the diner involved with their food.

Opening the shell... Pickled and smoked quails egg

The radish, soil and grass was another signature dish from Noma – But you get so many places offering malt soil these days. However, there was no denying the slight thrill you got when the dish arrived on the table, knowing that the fresh baby vegetables in the malt soil were first done this way at this restaurant, and you know what? They were pretty damn good – A perfect dish to highlight the superior quality of ingredients.

Radish, soil and grass Detail: radish, soil and grass

The Æbleskiver and muikku – or fish doughnuts – were ridiculously good. I mean, anything deep fried with the head and tail sticking out like that should not be allowed to taste that good. There was a ball of cooked cucumber in the centre of the doughnut but I could have happily eaten a whole plate of these by myself.

Detail: Æbleskiver and muikku Detail: Æbleskiver and muikku

The herb toast and smoked cod roe looked amazing, but didn’t really deliver as much when it came to taste, but another of my highlights of the snacks was the grilled corn; baby corn with the outer husks removed, before one single layer was wrapped around the corn again and the whole thing simply chargrilled. It may not look like very much but the sweetness of the corn was somehow enhanced by the chargrilling process, and the sweetness was in complete contrast to the char.. It was almost Hedone-esque in how very fine ingredients are treating very simply to bring out the very best they have to offer. I later told one of the chefs how this was one of the standout dishes for me and he was really happy to hear that, I like to think that it’s because it was good for him to hear high praise for a simple dish like the grilled corn.

Detail: Herb toast and smoked cod roe Grilled corn

The next 2 snacks of smoked veal (brisket) and seaweed, then the sorrel leaf and cricket paste didn’t work too well for me. Although we joked and said that whoever has pissed off René will get the shit job of shredding the brisket fibre by fibre, it was a bit of style over substance for me. I got a faint whiff of smoked brisket, but it was all about texture and it didn’t melt in my mouth like I had hoped it would. As for the sorrel leaf and cricket paste, it wasn’t really that bad – Nice lemony flavour from the sorrel and the crickets. But you would never have guessed it was crickets from the blind tasting.

Veal fibres and seaweed Detail: Sorrel leaf and cricket paste

The next snack of Crayfish was just sublime. Cooked crayfish all lined up neatly on a platter for us to help ourselves, with the shells removed from the tails so all we had to do was smear the tails in the sauce accompanying it (can’t remember exactly what was in it, but it was DELICIOUS), and we were told that they had split the heads of each Crayfish so that people could suck the heads if they wanted to. That’s right, it was our feral-moment – in the World’s best restaurant.

Crayfish Sauce to go with the Crayfish Detail: Crayfish Detail: Crayfish

Our final snack was of potatoes and snails. A hot earthenware bowl with some potatoes in a sauce and bit of burnt wood were placed in front of us and in the middle, a few long twigs with one end cut to a point like a spear and at the opposite end, a bunch of fresh herbs and leaves tied to the end. We were told that the wood in the potato dish was to give a bit of smoke and we were to spear the potatoes and brush the herbs and leaves into the sauce and then eat. The potatoes were al dente and so proved a bit difficult to spear, but the sauce was deliciously buttery, whilst somehow being savoury and sweet. The herbs and leaves dipped into the sauce not only cooled it down, but added a lovely contrast to everything. If I had any bread, I would have mopped up every last drop of that sauce. But that wasn’t it – Using the same spears, we were encouraged to spear the snails and again, rub it all over the plate as what were thought was the plate design, was actually the accompanying sauce to go with the snails. Again, sensational.

Potato and snails Cutlery for Potato and snails Spearing the potatoes

So that was all the snacks done – And how many there were! It was now time to launch into the main meal (!!). We were all feeling a bit full as bread was laid on the table and some home-churned butter, but the other thing they had was: Pork fat with Aquavit, topped with crispy onions. To be honest, they had me at Pork fat, but it would have been rude to not try, eh? The pork fat was delicious smoked and reminded me of bacon fat – Was this bacon fat I’ve just been duped into eating?! Don’t really care – It was delicious!

Bread and butter Accompaniments for the bread

Kicking things off were some cooked fava beans and beach herbs; in the bottom of deep white bowls were a pretty arrangement of fava beans – all green and inviting – with a few beach herbs dotted up in and around. It did strike me how it’s only in high-end restaurants that they would take the time, care and attention to arrange the beans in a neat fashion – Personally, I would dollop them in a whole pile, but it is somewhat gratifying to see how Noma take the time to arrange the beans in the bowl. The dish was finished with a buttermilk sauce which was poured onto the beans at the table. My only gripe with this dish was that it required a lot of jaw power and I actually got jaw ache from the amount of time I had to chew everything to break it down. But the taste of the dish was lovely – Perhaps even worth the jaw ache..

Detail: Cooked fava beans and beach herbs Detail: Cooked fava beans and beach herbs Finished dish: Cooked fava beans and beach herbs

The next dish of berries and cucumber exemplifies what Noma are famous for in a bowl. A mixture of seasonal berries – including one which is only available 3 weeks a year with some charred cucumber and foraged herbs (which a chef had been out for 2 hours this morning foraging for). The dish is finished with a light broth added to the berries, cucumber and herbs. This dish was light and delicate, but every ingredient was packed full of flavour.

Berries and cucumber Berries and cucumber Pouring the broth: Berries and cucumber Finished dish: Berries and cucumber

I think it was at this point that James, the Restaurant Manager, came out to see how we were all doing. Of course, we were all loving every moment of it all and then James remarked how “the kitchen were getting a bit worried at the slow pace which we were all eating.” We had heard how YKL had dishes deleted from previous visits because she’d taken so long and we were determined that it wouldn’t happen to us, so we picked up the pace for the remaining dishes.

The next dish of Brown crab, egg yolk and herbs reminded me of the “Rockpool” dish I’d previously eaten at The Sportsman; fresh brown crab with herbs and a smoked egg yolk in the bottom of a deep bowl before a light broth was added to the dish at the table. Whereas I thought that the Rockpool dish at The Sportsman was a bit too delicate in flavour, there were no such problems with this dish. You almost felt cleansed just looking at the dish with the bright green of the herbs and the pure white of the crabmeat, the broth was flavourful without being overpowering. But the highlight of the entire dish was the smoked egg yolk, it not only added to the dish with its deep yellow, but the almost gummy texture and smokiness lifted the whole dish for me.

Brown crab, egg yolk and herbs Deatil: Brown crab, egg yolk and herbs Pouring the broth: Brown crab, egg yolk and herbs Detail: Brown crab, egg yolk and herbs

I was greatly amused when, after describing the dish of Cauliflower and Pine: Cream and horseradish, the chef said to us: “So, if you want to move the Christmas Tree bits, you can eat the cauliflower”. I didn’t catch what had been done the cauliflower (other than it was pan-fried), but it was genuinely delicious – And I never thought I would be eulogising about a cauliflower!

Cauliflower and pine. Cream and horseradish Detail: Cauliflower and pine. Cream and horseradish

We’d seen other tables around us have the next dish of The Hen and The Egg and were greatly intrigued by it all, so by the time we got to having this dish ourselves, we were almost giddy with excitement. I think this is another dish which sums up Noma: A combination of theatre, interaction, great ingredients and still tasting great. The table was laid with napkins upon which were some bundles of herbs, vegetables and a flavoured butter on a spoon. Whilst in front of us was a VERY hot cast iron skillet upon a bed of hay, with a perfect fried potato curl at the side, a half egg-shell with some salt and a whole egg. As it was explained to us, some hot oil was squirted into our pans and the idea was that we crack the egg into the pan to cook, then add the butter into the pan (not onto the egg!) so that it melts, then you can add the herbs and vegetables to cook for a bit, crush the potato curl and season to taste. The whole dish should take 1 min 40 seconds to cook so a timer was placed so that we knew when time was up. I loved the sense of fun and interactive element of this dish and whilst the egg was REALLY hot, you couldn’t help but enjoy this dish.

The hen and the egg The hen and the egg The hen and the egg The hen and the egg - My version

Because I was too busy enjoying my dish of The Hen and The Egg, I missed how the chefs came out to show us the prime piece of turbot which they were cooking for us – It may only have been a small section of the whole fish, but you could see how it was a THICK beast which could only mean that it had some tasty meat on it!

Check out my turbot!

When the dish was actually served to us, the turbot was served with bitter greens, celeriac and mushroom which included some of the smallest chanterelle mushrooms I have ever seen. The flesh of the cooked turbot was pearly white and I remarked how it was a shame that we didn’t have the bones as I would dearly loved to have been able to and immediately, the chef finishing the dish at our table with a drizzle of sauce stopped what he was doing and said: “Oh you should have asked!” before immediately calling over the James, the Restaurant Manager to go back to the kitchen to see if the bones were still available. Sadly they weren’t, but I joked that it was going to be given to the staff for their lunch.. However, it didn’t detract from the wonder of a dish that was presented to us. I had some steamed turbot before I flew out to Copenhagen and jokingly asked if I would get any Turbot as nice as what I ate then. Well, the answer is a resounding YES! This piece of turbot we were given was sweet, juicy and everything and more you’d want when eating turbot.

Turbot and bitter greens, celeriac and mushroom Deatil: Turbot and bitter greens, celeriac and mushroom Finishing the dish: Turbot and bitter greens, celeriac and mushroom Detail of finished dish: Turbot and bitter greens, celeriac and mushroom

The blueberries and ants didn’t really set my tastebuds going (!!) – The ants were there for texture I think, but it was a bit lost in the crispbread really. But still, I can say that the blueberry part of the dish was very nice.

Blueberries and ants

However, the Gammel Dansk was a perfect way to round off the meal – Light and refreshing with really clean flavours, it actually pepped me up a fair bit (I was suffering a bit from too much free-flowing booze towards the end!). I loved it.

Gammel Dansk Gammel Dansk

We took our teas and coffees in the bar with our petits fours – Something they called “Yeast” with elderflower seasoning and a spread of sea buckthorn and lard (Yep, there is was again!) which was pretty tasty to the wonderful Flødeboller which looked a bit rude, but tasted delicious, to the chocolate covered crisps which is every bit as weird as you think chocolate and fried potato would be

Yeast (and elderflower seasoning_ Sea buckthorn (to go with the yeast) Detail: Flødeboller Chocolate crisps

We were then offered a tour of the kitchens which all the men in the party quite literally leapt up onto their feet when called. In the finishing kitchen, I was amused at the booking clipboard which had YKL (and us as her party) listed in the “VIP/Regular” section. But I loved being able to chat to the staff there and it’s really clear that every single one of them love working at Noma – One of our party remarked how he had never seen so many people so happy to be working in a restaurant before. I wonder how much of it is because they can say “I work at Noma”, but I suspect it’s because it looks like an environment where you not only learn to embrace and love new techniques and ideas, but are encouraged to think differently too. As we were chatting to Tom (whom René had previously said to YKL that she probably didn’t know him as he was in jail the last time she was there, given the amount of tattoos he had all up his arms), he was working on a green emulsion of some sort and explained to us that it was an oyster and parsley emulsion which they serve with a large crayfish/langoustine tail. YKL had (obviously) eaten the dish before so knew what to expect, but the rest of us were not going to turn down the opportunity to try it, and how glad we were to try it. The emulsion was impossibly packed with the flavour of oysters, with a cleansing note of parsley at the end. I would happily get some bread and eat this stuff by the truckload if given an opportunity – I was a bit sad we didn’t get it during our own meal but hopefully I’ll be able to do so another time.

Finishing kitchen VIP... P9152578 Oyster and parsley emulsion

We were then taken to the rest of the kitchen downstairs with the trolleys upon trolleys of mis en place, ready for the dishes to be finished in the Finishing Kitchen, then took pity on the Pastry Chef whose job also included having to make up the butter portions of the lard with Aquavit, then top with fried onions and cleaning every single butter dish so that it’s clean and presentable (and uniform).

Shelves P9152593
The lonely pastry chef prepping the butter dishes.. Yep, he has to clean each one individually..

We were then taken upstairs to view what used to be the function room which houses a beautiful single wood table which they don’t use so much these days, but I could see it being a really fantastic place to have a big gathering for dinner. Across the hallway was the main kitchen where we could see all the staff busy getting their staff lunch before disappearing through some double doors the other side of the kitchen. To my surprise, we were taken through the double doors and were privy to the creative hub of Noma. To our left, all the staff were busy tucking into their lunch and to our right, was a smaller kitchen where the man himself, René Redzepi was tucking into his lunch. There was a whiteboard jotting down ideas for dishes/menus for autumn behind him and various ideas/drawings from magazines all dotted around like a cluster of creativeness. By the office, I had a look at the bookshelves to discover there weren’t just books kept on the shelves, but this is where they keep all their awards – They’re not blasé about the awards they’ve won but recognise that a lot of hard work and effort from everyone in the Restaurant has gone into winning these awards, so it’s right that people should be able to see the awards from day to day.

Function room Main kitchen (across the hallway from Function Room) Getting staff lunch.. Staff tucking in to lunch.. ideas... Bookshelf

We then had a bit of a chat with René and again, you’re struck by how this man had not only a great vision, but a great philosophy of what Noma should represent. I’m sure he was initially taken back by how far the world has embraced his philosophy and ideology, but in chatting to him, he seems very much like a man who is content. Sure, he has ambitions and great dreams still, but he’s still got that fire and love for what he does – And it willing to share this enthusiasm with anyone and everyone who is game enough to talk to him about it. We were mindful of keeping Sam from being able to get any staff lunch – This was meant to be a 10 mins tour, but we’d so far spent a good 20mins chatting to René alone. In fact, even the fact that our taxis had arrived didn’t stop us from staying longer to chat. I mean, it’s not very often you get to chat for so long to the chef/proprietor of the best restaurant in the world, is it? René even joked that we should let the taxis start charging us for waiting because “This is Denmark – EVERYTHING is cheap!” (Yes, he was being very sarcastic). By the time we finally got into our taxis, the driver was really apologetic about having charged us for waiting and whilst YKL and I thought it was going to be another £40 – £50 for waiting, the fact it was £20 – £25 was nowhere near as painful and was actually worth it for the amount of time we got to have a chat with René. I only hope that Sam managed to get some lunch..

The man himself P9152631

So that was it; my meal at what’s been voted as the Best Restaurant in The World. And what did I think of it? I absolutely LOVED it! I had so many high expectations going in to this place yet they actually managed to EXCEED some of my expectations. Every single dish looked pretty as a picture and generally were delicious tasting. But that’s not to say that EVERYTHING we had was awesome – Some things were had were more style over substance and were lost on my as a result. But in tasting that Oyster and Parsley Emulsion during our kitchen tour, it showed how there were some dishes at Noma which have the potential to blow my mind completely – And when you consider the high standard of food we did eat, that’s pretty extraordinary. Our trip was obviously made all the better in chatting to René afterwards and that would have been a pretty awesome way to end the day, but the final touch to seal how impressive our meal was there wasn’t a culinary one: We were all offered copies of the menu and being the slick operation that they are, they were printed on thick paper with the Noma logo and we were all given individual copies. All very well and normal, yes? Until I happened to glance over the should and took a peek at another member of our party’s copy of the menu who had a juice pairing with his meal and it listed all the different juices he had drunk. Again, all very normal, yes? Then I opened my copy of the menu and saw that my copy of the menu didn’t list what juices B had drunk – But rather what wines on my reduced pairing were drunk. Yes, not only didn’t the remember who had taken what menu, but they printed out individual menus for us and made sure we were given the correct menu – *THAT’S* good service! Truly Noma, you showed your class and why you’re such pioneers. I may try to go more often with YKL now..

View from the bar...

You can view the full set of photos from my visit at Flickr