Noma cabbage

Cabbage leaves and white currants

I thought a lot about shoes when I was packing to go to Noma. I wanted to wear the right shoes.

We were flying to Copenhagen for two nights. Arrive late Friday, eat lunch at Noma on Saturday, go home Sunday. Nothing else booked. Nothing else planned. It was going to be cold and there would be some walking about, but mostly we’d be indoors. So it ought to be possible to just take one pair of shoes to cover all that.

Every bit of footwear I owned was spread across my bedroom floor. The knee-high brown leather boots that would be great for walking in, but which were coming apart at the seams. The black high heels that go with my smart dress but which wouldn’t get me more than half a mile across town. The trainers with the stuffing falling out of them. The flip flops. The sandals. The slippers (I packed the slippers).

I didn’t have the right shoes. I didn’t have the right clothes.

So I panic bought a pair of patent leather Calvin Klein wedges and a cashmere cardigan with no buttons in TK Maxx. Both utterly useless when we got to Copenhagen. But what can you do when you’re going to the best restaurant in the world and your shoes will give you away?

Noma barley

Pumpkin, caviar and barley

Our table was booked for 12pm. We thought we’d pose for a thumbs aloft photo outside the restaurant, but the maître d’ and two chefs in Noma’s chic grey uniforms were stood in the wind welcoming diners, so we slunk straight in. The entire front of house staff were stood in front of us, wearing their best have-you-ever-eaten-at-a-Harvester-before smiles and calling out “hello! and “come in!”

I am not red carpet material. My immediate reaction to that much attention is to hide.

But I had new shoes on. So I smiled, handed over my coat and wandered across the restaurant floor to our table with the air of someone who’s just popped into Fortnum & Mason’s for a few bits.

Noma squid

Raw sliced squid and kelp

At Noma the food is served by the chefs, and it’s important that you know they are all unbelievably attractive. It’s like eating in a seaweed obsessed Abercrombie & Fitch. Every time someone brought over a dish, they would explain it and we would ask a few questions. Then they’d go and we’d ask each other: “What is this? What did he say?”

“I don’t know, but is it just me or was he incredibly hot?”

“Yes. Yes, he is. They all are.”

“This has got lovage in it. They’re all hot and everything has lovage in it.”

“Or seaweed.”

Noma pickles

Berries and greens soaked in vinegar for a year

There are 20 dishes in the menu, and we rattled through them in 21/2 hours. Not only are the staff hot, they’re efficient too.

We started with a crisp, saucer-sized disc of fermented plums and wild beach roses. The plums had been finely sliced into petals and pressed with the rose into a round of edible glass. Vinegar sour and bubble bath floral, it was topped with coriander seeds, sweet clusters of fennel seeds and drops of almond. I loved it.

A slice of apple marinated in aquavit was starchy in texture, and topped with pine and a blob of something umami-ish. A mix of cold, fresh sweetness, miso earthiness and green, this was a walk in a wood. Served alongside it was beet tartare, the loamiest of all the vegetables, roasted and peeled into layers of leather, then reassembled and scattered with ants (dead, thank god) and bitter herbs. A scrabble in the soil.

A loaf of sourdough bread came tucked up in a felt pouch with a dish of fresh butter on the side. It was gorgeous and we asked for another round. We tore the bread apart with hungry fingers – skipping breakfast had not been wise.

Noma duck

Roasted wild duck

A bowl that had been painted green with parsley contained two cabbage leaves. One had been steamed and one toasted, and there was a little pool of white currant scented broth. The sourness of the white currant played against the warmth of the brassica and ash, like a cold hand pressed against the back of your neck.

The next dish was one of my favourites: seasonal greens on a plate brushed with scallop fudge. Imagine the golden crust of a fat scallop that has been fried in a hot pan till it caramelises. Glaze a plate with that, then top it with a fistful of weeds. I recognised a couple – nasturtium leaves, fennel fronds – but most were a mystery. A tangle of bitterness and mustard heat.

A grilled onion had been charred all over, with a few thyme leaves tucked inside its layers. It tasted like Paxo stuffing, like Sunday roasts and Christmas.

Noma pancakes

Truffled æbleskiver

You get a mix of chefs serving you, although a few become regulars. A wildly handsome American had brought most of the dishes over, although there had also been a cute Australian and even Rene Redzepi himself. But mostly it was the American and we’d got used to chatting, joking and flirting (desperately, desperately flirting).

So I didn’t look up when the next dish came and the chef stood next to me. “These are sea urchins from the Faroe Islands with the last of this year’s walnuts.”

“Sorry, what was that?” my friend asked while I snapped a couple of pics (one of the first things they said when we arrived was ‘it’s fine to take photos of everything!’).

“The Faroe Islands, near Norway,” said the chef.

“Sorry, I meant what is it?” asked my friend.

“Yes, we’ve got the geography down!” I said with a wise guy chortle and an extravagant hand gesture. I turned to look up into the startled face of Rene Redzepi.

He explained that it was sea urchins and they were paired with walnuts, both of them being creamy and rich in contrasting, complimentary ways.

He didn’t come back to the table again. The sea urchins were nice.

Noma egg

Egg yolk cured in fermented beef juices, potatoes and nasturtium

A bowl of raw squid and kelp was a wobbly mix of textures. The mucousy squares of cephalopod and strands of seaweed were tumbled with shards of dried kelp. Oddly, it tasted a lot like a Caramac.

More textural seafood followed. Mahogany clam, which lives for hundreds of years, lay in meaty, venerable slices in a shell dusted with chlorophyllic samphire powder. A slice of toast came topped with shavings of frozen monkfish liver. Rich, fat and melting, it was a mouthful of feather light fish ice cream.

Pumpkin, caviar and barley was a disc of squash floating in a pool of barley cream, the saltiness of the caviar just about stopping it from being a dessert.

An egg yolk cured in fermented beef juices (I didn’t ask what that involved) wobbled on a ring of barely cooked potatoes, all waxy and biteable, with a splash of nasturtium glossing everything in its sweet mustard flavour.

A leaf made from black garlic and topped with herbs and unripe berries was described as a vegetable flower. Curiously candy-like, there was a kind of allium liquoriceness to it, while the pucks of sour berry kept it from being cloying.

Noma pudding 2

Roasted kelp ice cream and lemon thyme (I smashed up the disc of lemon thyme before taking this pic)

Roasted wild duck was a little bit of carnivore theatrics. The duck was brought to the table whole, sat in a nest, with is head and feet lolling off the plate. The breasts had been sliced and then slotted back in, so we could pick them out of the rib cage with our fingers and roll them in steamed sprout tops.

Then the carcass was taken away, dismembered and brought back with bowls of pickled plum sauce so we could dip the head, neck, and other gristly bits into the sauce and suck the cartilage dry.

While the duck was worked over we ate æbleskiver, round puffs of pancake batter filled with lovage and topped with slices of truffle. And there were pickled cherries and elderflower sprigs; sour, sharp and biting cold as the wind.

Dessert. A bowl of roasted kelp ice cream, oceanic and savoury, topped with a disc of lemon thyme, lovage and fennel. This was followed by a white rectangle that was exactly the texture of snow. Eating it was like falling face first into a snow drift. It was flavoured with Gammel Dansk, a bitter herbal Danish drink, and traced with lines of hazelnut oil.

At the end was ‘forest flavours’ – chocolates flavoured with mosses, mushrooms and something shocking that tasted like the liquid you’d expect to find in a blister on a tree.

Noma Gammel Dansk

A dessert of Gammel Dansk and hazelnut oil

We drank schnapps and Danish whisky, then trailed after the hot American around the kitchens, trying to focus our eyes and minds on what he was saying.

In a test kitchen we found Rene, who fetched us a map of Copenhagen and drew on the bars and restaurants we should go to, then took us to the fermenting kitchen and let us try slices of glossy pickled plums.

The maître d’ took our photo by the Noma sign, grinning in the first flurries of snow. We made him sit down with us in the bar and tell us about Noma, while we told him about the food we’d just eaten.

It wasn’t lunch, that Saturday at Noma. Not quite a meal at all. More of a story. And they really don’t give a fuck what shoes you wear.

For those interested in costs, lunch with matching wines and service came in at approximately £300. Out of the four of us, I loved it, one hated it and two thought it was OK running to good. For a different view of exactly the same meal, go to Cheese and Biscuits’ post here or Hollow Leg’s write-up here.

 

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