. Restaurants .

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2011 at 9:04 PM
Location: Noma, Copenhagen
Dining companions: My sister and our men

Before I even get into the review of Noma, I thought it was worth trying to capture what my preconceptions were, so I could go back at the end and see how it matched up.  I confess Noma only really came on to my radar last year when they won the San Pellegrino award for best restaurant of the year.  Since then I’ve seen it featured on Masterchef and have also seen Rene Redzepi  (chef and co-owner) interviewed by the world and its wife.

From what I’d seen and heard the restaurant looked a little stark.  Open brick, very clean and uncluttered – it actually looked a bit cold.  The ethos of the restaurant very much revolves around foraged and locally produced ingredients.  Now, while I expected this to be interesting, would it really make for really tasty food?  I remember seeing a plate of pickled vegetables on Masterchef - would that really cut it?  Two Michelin stars would say yes, but I couldn’t wait to check it out for myself.

Getting the table for Noma was straightforward enough – if you set a reminder for the date that the next set of table reservations are released and you have a couple of hours free to sit with the phone on re-dial.  I had hoped to secure a table for a Saturday night dinner, by the time I got through two and a half hours after bookings opened, Friday lunch was all that was available! Amazing.  Just in case you’re in interested, Tuesday 1 March is the date that May and June reservations are opening.

Dried scallops

We had our table reserved for 12pm, and we prepared well.  No breakfast, just a coffee around 10.30am, then we walked over to the restaurant.  The setting for Noma is beautiful - it’s set in an old warehouse on the waterfront in the Christianshavn neighbourhood of central Copenhagen.  When we went the water was frozen and the sun was shining, it looked magnificent.  We arrived around ten minutes early and it was hilarious watching the soon to be patrons stalking around the building checking each other out.

On entry to the restaurant the good news is it absolutely not stark.  It was warm and welcoming, as were all of the staff.  Coats were taken, and we were bundled off to a round table right in the middle of the restaurant.  I have to say I loved the opening to the meal.  Our waiter let us know that he wouldn’t be providing us with a menu just yet, they were going to serve us a few ‘snacks’ before we had to worry about menus.  OK, bring it on!

We had five snacks before menus were discussed and I’m not going to run through them all – with eight snacks, twelve courses and three treats at the end I would be here all day, and you sure you’d be bored before the main course!

The snacks were phenomenal.  Each consisted of maybe two or three mouthfuls and each one was so imaginative.  Every time the waiters came to us, we were all looking at each other with excitement, what on earth could be next!  For example, the first snack we were told was actually already on our table, it turn out it was hidden in the table decoration and looked like a twig!  It was actually ‘moss and cep’.
The surprise factor of that first snack was the perfect setting for the rest of the meal.  Next up was some sea buckthorn leather with pickled hip roses – my mouth is watering recalling this one mouthful that sent my taste buds into orbit.  A few other items from the snacks that were really memorable were fried leek and garlic (you just took one large mouthful and bit the end off the leek), an open rye bread sandwich with a sliver of the thinnest chicken skin you’ve ever seen – so packed full of flavour it was wonderful.  Pickled and smoked quails eggs were in there, which just exploded in your mouth with a subtle smokey flavour, and there was also a plant pot filled with edible soil and radishes coming out of it.

After maybe half an hour and all the snacks, it was time for menus and again we were in for a bit of a surprise.  ‘For your menu today ladies and gentlemen, you can either have a seven or twelve course meal’.  That was it - hilarious!  We went with the twelve courses, which included some Noma classics as well as their newer creations.  The seven course meal, which is primarily made up of the newer dishes would be ideal for people who are lucky to go to Noma more than once, but even then I’d probably still go with the twelve.

While we were waiting the breads are worth mentioning, more for their accompaniments to be honest.  We had two small dishes, one with a pork fat mixture in and one with goat’s butter.  I’ve never had anything like it and the goat’s butter was a revelation – a subtle goat’s cheese taste running through it.

I must mention the fact that we elected to let our waiter cum sommelier pick our wines for us.  We didn’t have glasses to match, rather bottles to match and he really did fantastically well and should be commended.  He picked an elegant set of wines that developed in body gradually throughout the meal.  When we first arrived we did attempt a quick look at the wine list and I think ‘boutique’ is probably the best word to describe it – unheard of, would be another.  I’m not sure where we would have gone with it if we hadn’t had our lovely man picking for us.

Time for the menu proper now, and a few of my highlights.  The second dish consisted of dried scallops, served on grain with a squid ink and mussel sauce and watercress.  The dried scallops were basically wafer-thin scallop crisps!  So dark, and intense in flavour there was absolutely no doubt what they were once you tasted them.  For our third dish, we had a langoustine that arrived served on the most enormous individual stones which were sourced from a specific beach in Denmark.
The fifth dish was my man’s worst nightmare.  Cauliflower.  A large piece of cauliflower served with pine.  The cauliflower was caramelised on one side and served with a yoghurt whey, pine oil and horseradish crème fraiche.  Amazingly it was enough to win him over, no mean feat I tell you as I have tried!  On this course however, I must mention the fact that I nearly choked on the decorative pine needles! ;o)
The sixth dish was celeriac basted with goat’s butter, served with black truffle sauce and sorrel.  I would love to know how this man gets so much flavour into everything - the black truffle sauce was rich and glorious.
Up in eighth place were the pickled vegetables of Masterchef fame.  What a revelation, and quite reflective of the meal as a whole.  There was something so fresh and clean about those vegetables that was reflected throughout the whole menu.  Bone marrow was there to add an earthy, meaty tone and complimented the pickling wonderfully.  Could pickled vegetables cut it? Yes they could.

It was the ninth course which served up our only meat of the day!  Wild duck with apples pickled in apple juice, malt and smoked butter.  We were given enormous deer-antler daggers to eat it with which were great (think I’d like a set!).  On to dessert now, and there were three, including the lightest sponge I have ever tasted, it collapsed in your mouth to nothing.  It was a pine flavoured sponge, and the cooking process involved liquid nitrogen at least twice, so not one I’ll be recreating at home.  Another of the desserts really was a master of presentation, the Noma Snowman.  I wish I had a picture that did it justice, it was a perfectly formed mini snowman made from meringue and elderflower, sitting on a layer of ‘snow’, with a carrot stem nose!

There was a final flourish after our twelve courses, three presents for us to open – one with caramel made from bone marrow set into a piece of bone; something that I’m not 100% sure what it was but strongly resembled a walnut whip(!); and finally chocolate crisps with herbs on top.
Four hours later, a lot of food and wine consumed, we waddled off.   We dissected every piece of the meal for hours over plenty more vino.  The long and short of it was, we absolutely couldn’t fault anything, and my preconceptions were absolute rubbish!  There were a few ingredients along the way that weren’t to everyone’s taste e.g. oysters for me, urgh.  Instances were limited however, and barely a mouthful was sent back.  The food was highly focussed on fish and vegetarian fare, and while this would never be our typical choice we absolutely loved it for that.  It opened up our pallets to new and exciting flavours, to ingredients we may never taste again. The staff were also almost faultless and really help to generate the warm atmosphere.  They are so friendly, taking time to explain each dish and how you should eat it etc. No pretentiousness or airs and graces, and they really made us feel at home. Fabulous.

I’ve not mentioned price anywhere throughout this, and there’s no getting away from it - it was expensive.  I’ve not mentioned the price throughout purposefully, I went in with the attitude that money was no object on this occasion, a bold move I realise now as I’m analysing the bill!  I’d say that’s the attitude you have to have though, as I’m not sure it would be possible to do it on the cheap and if you over analysed it you could spoil the experience.  The twelve course meal was €190 per head (1,395DKK).  We also had four bottles of wine, three after dinner spirits and four bottles of water. Cost per head including tip was approximately €350 per head.  OMG.  Scary seeing that in writing!  Was it worth it? Hell yeah.