Some reviews are harder, some are easier – after all the brilliant reports on noma by Trine, Laurent and many others what is left to be said? Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for one of the most remarkable and interesting culinary adventures available today… And don’t forget to clear your mind – it will be a quite different one not to be measured by usual standards…
noma stands for nordisk mad which basically means Nordic cuisine – that’s what noma is all about? The name already tells the story? As you will see it is more than that – more of a movement, a philosophy… All in all very thought-through but nevertheless very natural and not arranged…
Located in a renovated warehouse in the Chistianshavn part of Copenhagen the restaurant greats the diner with “the pass” where all the necessary and important last touches take place. The interior is quite surprising – the warehouse atmosphere is still preserved and some Nordic furniture has been added which is both modern in look and traditional in craftsmanship. The authentic trip begins here…
Much has been written about the “culinary wunderkind” René Redzepi – to add just my five cents some biographical and personal comments are in order: René began his career in 1993 in the Restaurant Pierre André where he was trained in rather classic French cooking. He then went on to work at Jardins des Sens in Montpellier where he learnt to respect the produce, at el bulli where he experienced basic research in cooking and at the French Laundry where Thomas Keller taught him to make the best out of a respected product. Quite a mix…
Redzepi returned to Copenhagen to work at the classic Kong Hans as a sous chef before he opened noma end of 2003 together with the gastronomic entrepreneur Claus Meyer and Mads Refslund who opened MR after a while. Many thought they were just crazy in totally abandoning with traditional French-centered fine dining in with respect to the style of cooking and the products – especially in Denmark where people are not said to be that food enthusiastic. But somehow it worked – I will come back to this…
Awards came quick – first star in 2005 and the second in 2007, first appearances in the Pelligrino list rising to number 10 last years. In short, noma these days is one of the top avantgarde restaurants in the World (among el bulli, Fat Duck, Alinea, Mugaritz and some others) and is ready for the third star…
Personally I got the impression that René is a visionary in paving the way for a unique Nordic cuisine and is full of so many ideas which he wants to put out. Interestingly, despite his huge success he is still humble, modest and somehow the curious “boy” who wants to explore nature and products to create something special. And yes, he can…
Sometimes it is great to part of a small niche of the food blogging community (I am not into cooking at home and showing you my disasters…): Laurent from Gastrosontour did eat about one week earlier at noma and somehow let slip that we would be coming. So, there was a warm welcome and René prepared a special menu which was a perfect journey to classic and modern noma dishes:
It began with the usual noma amuse, wait – less amuse but rather apero snacks – the smoked quail egg served, the ryebread (crispy and quite rustic / smoky), the ingeniously presented carrots and a cracker with cod fish roe and vinegar. The bread was simply outstanding and kept warm in a nice bag. An interesting but not overwhelming or even over-technical start. Pure, down-to-earth and serving the purpose of getting your palate awake…
Then it accelerated: Greenland shrimp, red currant, white currant créme and chlorophyll. That was a first big attention step and a wow but not with a big bang but rather with a small orchestrated “tata” of freshness and naturalness – quite impressive. The shrimp was simply amazing in texture, consistency and freshness and the interplay of white and red currant created a wonderful basis of a fantastic marriage of flavours, temperatures (slight differences) and textures. Outstanding. The accompanying Muscadet was a more than perfect match – subtle, fruity, refreshing.
2006 Muscadet ‘Expression de Granite’, Domaine de l´ Ecu (Guy Bossard), Loire
A visual stunner: squid and cucumber juice, kohlrabi and spinach. The squid was cooked at low temperature and served lukewarm cut in little cubes – in the first moment you think it is too chewy but then you combine it with the thinly sliced pickled kohlrabi and it turns into a great mouth-feel overall. Not deliberately yummy in the first place (but surely in a second) but interesting and thought-provoking. The cucumber provided some acidity which counterbalanced the slight sweetness of the kohlrabi and the slickness of the squid.
The only weak point was the potato chip which dominated the dish too much. After we ignored it the dish was very good. Maybe it would be a good idea to serve the potato (which makes a lot of sense due to its earthiness) in a less pronounced way as small chips or as a sphere (with some filling)… Hm, just guessing… The Muscadet still worked very well.
Chestnuts, rye bleak roe and walnut – what a combination! Again visually very appealing this is an idea I would have never dreamt of – subtle and a benchmark of harmony in flavours and a textural masterpiece. The sweetness of the raw and crispy chestnut shined brightly but did not dominate as the not overly salty roe brought the dish back in equilibrium. Some milk skin and cress added texture and nutty flavour together with the small walnut pieces. Excellent!
A noma classic was next: razor clam and parsley, dill and mussel juice. The razor clam was wrapped in a parsley jelly which underlined the fresh mussel like a gentle kiss – together with the horseradish “snow” it created a sweet, slightly spicy, earthy contrast paired with a textural twist. The mussel juice was the winner – an amazing intensity freshed-up by dill. I wondered what made this so special – it is in a sense a very natural and pure composition and preserves the spirit of the natural ingredients used. So, a really good example of René’s philosophy. Excellent+.
After the last two dishes where contrasts with sweetness played an important role René presented “his” dish: tartar and wood sorrel, aromatic juniper and tarrgon. For the first time in my life I did not get fork and knife in a Michelin-starred restaurant but was told to eat it with my hands. This adds an unusual haptic dimension to the dining experience, somehow ‘bonds’ you to the dish and brings you closer to the ingredients.
Eating is simple – one just takes some wood sorrel to grap tartar and then wipes the bit in juniper granulate and creamy tarragon. Then the firework starts – it is highly aromatic in a way that there are no words to describe it, an almost orgasmic experience. WOW – outstanding and easily in my personal hall of fame dishes.
The Breuer Riesling was spot-on with a clear minerality to counterbalance the intensity of the dish and fruitness to play with the herbal flavours… Bravo, Pontus!
2006 Berg Roseneck, Georg Breuer, Rheingau
Simplicity at its best: leeks and hazelnut, yoghurt and ashes – at least it seems unsophisticated when you see the plate. but the interplay of the al dente leek (of a never before experienced quality) with ash, hazelnut and yoghurt was simply delicious and served a certain purpose: when I started to eat this I still had the aromas of the tartar in my mouth and was a little worried how this would hamper further delights. But both hazelnut and especially the ashes were a very good contrast to the last dish and re-groundedy mpalate. I still think the composition was a bit ‘crazy’ but it worked. Excellent to outstanding!
Langoustine and søl, seawater – again to be enjoyed with the hands. Here, for the first time there was a real main ingredient which served as the protagonist. A superb langoustine incredibly tender, meaty and juicy, perfectly cooked was to be “dipped” into the small bushes of green seawater (oyster/parsley) emulsion topped with roasted søl (icelandic seaweed). That was the taste of the sea in perfection served on a heavy hot stone. Oustanding!
Radishes from Lammefjorden, seeweed and egg yolk – a more recent creation of René. Another prime example that a great dish does not need luxury products but a clever idea and a touch for flavours. At first the radishes turn out to be a bit bitter but both egg yolk and seeweed neutralize this by adding saltiness, freshness and some sweetness. The mushrooms added some earthiness and texture. For me, this was my first encounter with a vegetarian (not vegan) land-and-sea dish. Excellent+.
(NV) 1999 Champagne Brut Nature ‘Entre Ciel et Terre’, Francoise Bedel, Crouttes-sur-Marne
Onions from Lœsø, thyme and chick weed – it is amazing what can be done with simple onions: cooked, slightly caramelized, as a concentrated onion bouillon resembling the texture of fresh or melted cheese (but not the taste) accompanied by thyme oil, chick weed and some grains. Excellent – this had everything but was more on a subtle side…
Ashes and leeks, mussels and king crab – a bit repetitive but the leeks in ashes come in quite differently here. Another ‘product-is-king’ dish as the king crab was really good and the pairing with earthy leeks in ashes, mussel juice and dried bread crumbs worked quite well. Can’t reall say what bothered me but somehow I was not too impressed – maybe because it is more traditional in composition and there was a “normal” creamy jus. Very good to excellent.
2002 Saint Aubin Premier Cru `Fleur de Côteaux’, Domaine Matrat, Bourgogne
Most controversial: pickled vegetables and bone marrows, pork bouillon. I love vegetables but pickled ones are clearly not my favorite – maybe due to some childhood memories of being forced to eat mixed pickles (at aunt Waltraud’s birthday, hm). Here, the typical sour taste was strong but not too much and the meaty bone marrow and slightly roasted pork bouillon brought it somewhat back in equilibrium. However, the bone marrow was a bit too much and the texture is slightly odd. In the end a good dish but we would not order it again.
Then: burnt salsify and milk skin, truffles from Gotland and wild herbs – an interesting combination… However, the salsify was too fatty and dominated the dish such that the subtleness of the combination of earthy, slightly sweet salsify and the very good truffles did not come to shine and sing. The bread helped a lot to soak up the fat in a way but this was the weekest dish of our journey. Truffles from Gotland, yes, truffles from Gotland – very tasty, intense and earthy – very good I have to say…
2005 Riesling ‘Muenchberg’, Domaine Julien Meyer, Alsace
Skate wing and vegetable stems, pickled ramson onion – simply wonderful and delicious. The skate wing was incredibly tender and it was pure pleasure to eat – very “green”, fresh, herbal and different textures. Excellent.
Short rib of beef and roses, beets and malt – a real main course? Not in conventional thinking of being larger or more elaborate. It just followed the logical flow in terms of composition and was a step-up in intensity: braised for some hours the short rib was fantastic – tender, rich and meaty. But it didn’t play a solo with some interruptions but merely danced together with the slighty sweet beetroot (in different textures), an apple stick added a acidity and sursprising freshness. Last but not least the malt pieces contributed a rustic element and depth to the dish. Excellent to outstanding!
2003 Barolo ‘Arboria’, Mauro Veglio, Piemonte
Normally I do skip cheese but not if it is a composed and light version. And this one was one of the best ever: garden sorrel and glazed sheep milk yoghurt, anise and rapseed oil. Not a cheese course in a strict sense but the sheep milk yoghurt is very close to a cheese course in aroma. A stunning, elegant and yet intense dish. The contrast between the cheesy yoghurt, crispy anise and the fresh and wonderful garden sorrel made this dish truly outstanding. Bravo!
Then we finally got our snowman from the Lammefjorden – look at him: isn’t he cute? We named him Karl… That was the last greeting from winter and the hope to say goodby to a long and frosty season… An amazing dish both in flavour and technique: on the bottom we found a apple vinegar meringue, then a carrot sorbet dipped in yoghurt in the middle and a sea buckthorn puree on top accompanied by yoghurt snow and carrot coulis. Intense, playful and witty – excellent to outstanding!
2007 Riesling Spätlese ‘Von der Lay’, Rita & Rudolf Rossen, Mosel
Walnut powder and ice cream, dried cream and dried berries – the different textures and different temperatures worked very very well. Rich, creamy, decently fruity – simply outstanding! Nice pairing with the Huebuhl.
2001 Huebuhl, Domaine Marcel Deiss, Alsace
“Øllebrød” and frothed milk, skyr and toasted rye kernels – hm, no picture… Øllebrød is a dark bread marinated with beer which was a fantastic Scandinavian finale accompanied by Iceland skyr (a kind of curd). Excellent.
When René Redzepi opened noma five years ago people thought he was crazy – radically concentrating on only Scandinavian products in a modernized way was a big step especially in Denmark where people had not been into fine dining that much. Before noma fine dining (at Kong Hans for example) was a domaine of French haute cuisine in Copenhagen restricted to the wealthier.
So how did noma develop to its current state? Backed by Claus Meyer noma did have the patience and the endurance to steadily grow and advance towards a spearhead of the new Scandinavian cuisine. From the beginning René and Claus made use of their network to bring chefs to Copenhagen so that European chefs could experience their work. As part of the international avantgarde community they could create the necessary buzz to attract more and more advanced diners and chefs to noma.
Simultaneously, also the Danish discovered noma and got attracted to it – maybe it just appealed to the Scandinavian soul and pressed the right buttons with its unique mix of modern design and Scandinavian authenticity. Proud to be Scandinavian without showing off.
This brings me to my central point: noma is unique as it is an incorporation of the Scandinavian soul – it is modern where needed, natural and pure, rustic at times – everything with a very modest, relaxed and unpretentious undertone. To “judge” noma one cannot simply report on the individual dishes – to be fair not all of them are outstanding in the categories of the usual Guides. No, the food simply touches your soul and some dishes are just wonderful in both purity and taste. So, in the end one should not apply the usual categories when talking about the noma experience – the overall experience is so unique and trend-setting that one simply has to go and experience this.
As a natural complement to this almost the whole white brigade come out in the course of the dinner and serves their “babies” with pride, respect for the product and knowledge while explaining the dish in length if you want. This kind of completes the picture as you can see and feel the passion and seriousness about what they do. Moreover, the atmosphere in the front part of the kitchen you can see from the dining room is always relaxed and the cooks act like in an organised harmonious choreography. But it is still somehow vibrant and full of creative energy – amazing.
When we had a quick chat with René and Daniel Texter (in charge of the wonderful desserts) René said that this is a difficult time of year as most winter products are not available anymore and the spring products are not there yet – so we should come back soon to see the other seasons or faces of noma…
And, yes, we will be back for sure – thanks to René, Daniel, Pontus and the whole team for letting us “feel” noma!