Noma Part II

Sorry about that. Let's see if I can upload the rest of those Noma photos…

So, 'Previously on hasty, smudgy phone photos from a glorious, gut busting, multi-course meal at the "World's Best restaurant"'…

Where were we?

Here's an oyster.


Steamed on a bed of seaweed, with wild flowers, tapioca and elderberry capers (made by pickling elderberries). It's a Danish oyster, natch. 

As I usually do with oysters, I gobbled the thing down whole, belatedly realising that the kitchen had actually served it in savour-slowly slices. Oops. Still, it was fabulous, albeit, fleetingly so. If I am really, really honest, I still prefer my oysters raw and not-messed-about-with, and, frankly, the oysters I had in Cancale the other week, were superior. 

This raises the interesting point about whether Noma's self-imposed Nordic-only rule sometimes comes at the cost of not serving superior ingredients from other countries. The North excels in many kinds of indigenous produce – game, forest stuff, root vegetables, berries, some dairy (though not cheeses) certain wild herbs – but there are still some things that France, say, or Italy, simply does better. And I am not just talking about foie gras or truffles (Sweden produces wonderful truffles, as we will see in a mo), but things that do sometimes appear on Noma's menu, like cheeses, strawberries (which the French grow better than anyone) or tomatoes. That said, even René has admitted defeat on the tomato front. He doesn't cook with them. Danish tomatoes just don't get enough sun apparently.

I guess this is an issue point for food nerds to chew on. Other than that, the Nordic-only restriction can hardly be said to have limited or hindered Redzepi's cooking. Strict frameworks can often be liberating for an artist – as the Danish Dogme film movement showed – and this seems to have been the case at Noma. Talking to René, I know he might wish for the odd squeeze of lemon juice here or there, as the vinegars Noma uses to cut the fatty or cloying character of some ingredients can be a little heavy handed, but I don't think anyone is bemoaning the lack of foie gras, sun-dried tomatoes or olive oil.

Incidentally, there are three non-Nordic items which Noma does, ever-so-slightly grudgingly, serve its customers. See if you can guess what they are. Answer at the bottom of the page (Isn't this great? A Noma post AND a patronising quiz!)

Here's what the oyster looked like inside. Quite Japanese, really.


Next up is probably the world's most expensive carrot. It's an ancient, purple variety (did you know, incidentally, carrots were deliberately bred to be orange by patriotic Dutch farmers in the 17th century, prior to that they were all this colour – although, I might have made that up and forgotten, not sure anymore), grows far longer (was it two years, or did I dream that bit too?) in the Jutland soil in Lammefjord, and is slow-braised in butter for aeons, then served in a sublime-tasting sauce made from mushroom stock and truffles from Gotland. 

I'd heard about these truffles from René years ago, but had never tasted them and, frankly, didn't really believe they could taste as good as the ones I've had in, say, Provence. But, you know what? They bloody did. The aroma engulfed our table as the plates arrived, and the sauce tasted properly of truffle, not summer truffle mind you, but real, winter, black truffle, and it was cut with a wonderful, moreish acidity.  


Next was my least favourite dish – though still admirable in its own, slightly icky way – milk skin and tiny wee new potatoes. The potatoes were alarmingly crunchy, which René tells me is deliberate – he likes them that way. But if I didn't know that, I might think something had gone wrong in the kitchen. I fear that Giles Coren, who I know is about to share his thoughts on Noma to his half dozen Times subscribers having dined there last week, will likely have some characteristically scatological things to say about this dish and its resemblance to various bodily excretions.

Back on track with the next dish, a wonderfully cheeky, DIY, fried duck egg. Great idea – comes with a pre-set timer and some herbs, the rest you do yourself. The egg was extraordinarily rich.

Below is a dish which I suspect will come to define Noma, at least this period of its evolution. It is venison cooked sous vide, and cosseted by the herbs and plants on which the deer fed in the wild, along with the snails with which it shared the forest floor. A perfectly symbiotic dish, if you like, and illustrative of the subtitle of the new book, 'Time and Place in the Nordic Kitchen'. 

Shitty pic, I know, but that merely reflects my quivering excitement at meeting this old friend again – sheep's milk mousse with sorrel granita. A classic Noma dessert. Num num. 


There was more sorrel in the next dessert (perhaps, if I had one crit of the meal in terms of ingredient balance, it was the slight over-abundance of this, admittedly, refreshing wild herb), with some kind of freeze-dried milky biscuit thing. Not sure why the photo's gone all 'Joan Collins soft focus'…

Another gorgeous, Japanese-ish bowl, this time filled with an astonishing dessert featuring Jerusalem artichokes, apple, marjoram and malt. Against apparently insurmountable odds it worked, the flavours were a perfect match for each other, bringing out the sweetness of the artichokes.

Next up, what is in my view Denmark's single greatest contribution to the dessert larder of the world (perhaps its greatest single food item – after all, there isn't a great deal of competition): the flødeboller, a kind of chocolate-coated Italian meringue, with a wafer base. Or, if you like, a really delicate Walnut Whip, without the walnut, or the horrid grainy fake-chocolate.
 And, finally, a parting gift.


Marrow bones. Viking snack style, filled with the most extraordinary, meaty toffee – made, as I understand it, with marrow bone instead of butter. Mind blowing. But not one for Stella McCartney I fear.

I also really enjoy the well-established Noma practise of the kitchen brigade bringing the dishes out to diners. It breaks down that wall between the dining room and kitchen and, I think the chefs enjoy looking their customers in the eye, as well as explaining all the effort they have gone to. Chefs can get a bit nerdy and isolated out back in their kitchens, and sometimes you suspect they are working to please themselves rather than the diners. This is not the case at Noma.

This meal was a quantum leap in creativity and flavour since my first meal at Noma in 2005. Aside from the musk ox tartar and the sheep's milk dessert, all was new, and the improvements were dramatic and thoroughly thought through. I have moaned a bit about the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants in the World List in the past, and, though I enjoy it as a talking point and appreciate it is 'just a bit of fun', as the chairman Jay Rayner points out, I still have major doubts about comparing restaurants and, of course, their kind of unforgivable blind spot to Chinese, South American, Korean, South African, Middle-Eastern, Indian, Thai and Japanese restaurants (they do seem to have all the white guys' places covered really well though!). 

That said, if any restaurant deserves the title, it is Noma, and if any chef deserves to be considered the most progressive, inventive, audacious, thought-provoking, honourable and talented in the world right now, it is René Redzepi.

As for the future, if I were a betting man, I would bet on René and his team making a move within the next two to three years. I happen to know that the restaurant's rent is four times what he ought to be paying but, for reasons I probably ought not to go into, his hands are rather tied on the matter, for now.

But, here is my prediction on how things are going to unfold next: 

1) Finally, in its 2011 guide, Michelin stops playing silly buggers and gives Noma the third star every other right-thinking diner believes it should have had last year. (If it doesn't the whole system really ought to be discredited forever).

2) Next, René announces he is leaving to set up something on a much more ambitious scale, perhaps still in Copenhagen, perhaps elsewhere, telling everyone the – as far as I am concerned, entirely justifiable – reasons behind his move. 

3) His new restaurant/hotel/shop/radical-new-style-of-foraging-cooking-school redefines contemporary cooking, wins the three stars back, and makes René millions (you would be stunned if you knew how little he earns from Noma, by the way – actually, it was reported in the press in Denmark, so I guess it is in the public domain: €70,000).

Or perhaps I'm wrong. Usually am.

Oh, nearly forgot. Quiz answers. Drumroll: the three non-Nordic consumables served at Noma are, of course, coffee (René likes his coffee), chocolate (used to cover the flydeboller), and wine, although, actually, you can drink Danish wines: Arven, named after René's daughter, is a fantastic Riesling-style white from Lilleø. I guess they must use sugar, too, in some of the desserts, but no-one's owning up to that yet…

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