Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark: Subtle, Complex and Balanced

You have probably heard of it and him, if not thats ok too. Simply put, Chef Rene Redzepi and his restaurant Noma has won best restaurant in the world 4 times in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014, with 2 michelin stars. Now, as Chef Rene says in the documentary Noma: My Perfect Storm, do they need these accolades? No. But has it been nice? Yes, because it has brought so many people to Noma and Copenhagen. Of course, some of those people are there just to tell the world they went to the best rather than learn and appreciate what Rene’s appreciation for seasons and resources and what he is doing with foods and ingredients, which is some amazing scientific stuff (literally saw the coolest scientific method in the fermentation room)!

I dont know if I should write an essay here or if I should really just keep things simple.

But since so much has been written, filmed, and talked about regarding one of the greatest restaurants and chefs today, I will keep it simple and just tell you that truly this was probably the most amazing meal I have ever had. As my gourmand uncle says, Noma achieves balance, complexity and subtlety, something few chefs in the world actually can do successfully in every dish (he says so far only David Bouley has consistently done it for 20+years). Truly, each dish was so balanced, complex, and subtle. Many dishes continued to evolve and expose its flavors, textures and combinations as you took each bite. The entire meal was over in just around 2.5 hours as Chef Rene believes a meal should not take longer than 3 hours at most. The only disappointment? Not enough courses, though we had 17 courses, we wanted more and wanted to see what else Chef Rene had up his sleeves! Also, despite talking to Chef Rene and having the honor of him serving a few dishes, we did not get a picture with or of him (minor problem obviously)!

So what exactly is it that he does? Again much has been written, and you can easily go online to read multiple versions. But here is what I learned straight from the chefs and front-of-house staff. The Nordic region really only has spring and summer where things grow and you get an abundance of ingredients and resources but even then with the northern environment it is still quite limited. Lemons and rice don’t grow here for example. So how do you get acidity and texture as well as rice based seasoning and ingredients? Well for acidity, Rene famously uses a variety of ants cooked, crushed, pureed…etc in many many ways in multiple dishes (they used to serve them raw and live, but apparently no more as people freaked out). There is a fermentation lab with a full-time chemist and she along with the dedicated fermentation chef team constantly experiment and play around with food, fermentation and combination of ingredients. Constantly asking how do we become self-sustainable? How do we create textures, flavors, seasoning, balance, aromas and experiences when we have such limited choices? It really is a zero waste process. For Chef Rene, the fermentation, the sauces, the side bits of each dish are all important and part of the process but its the core ingredient that makes everything perfect, for the Danish lobster its because the summer season offers fresh, sweet and succulent local lobster, so its all about the lobster; the lavender and onion is only there to add a floral and light combination to the natural summery taste and texture of the summer Danish Lobster. There is even a team of foragers who go out 1-2 times a day in the woods, forests and nearby beaches to “hunt” for ingredients, and its not always about “I’m in search of x particular item.” They go out, smell, taste, touch and see what can work and what cant, and bring things back for the service of the day. Seafood is also fresh, in the staff hall there is a big fish tank filled with langoustine, Nordic king crab and sea urchin. The goal is to become a fully self-sustained kitchen and environment.

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Herbs in the staff hall, many are from the forager team’s missions
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seafood tank
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white board in the fermentation lab.

 

The techniques, combinations, use of ingredients and and choices of juice or wine pairing are all amazing and most of which mind-blowing. Scallop fudge used to coat leaves and herbs, the most incredible leaves I’ve tasted. Scallop fudge is made with scallops that are pureed, then dried/dehydrated, then powdered, before finally adding oil to create a fudge like texture. Or egg yolk sauce that is seasoned with 6 month old fermented beef. Some of it sounds so weird and crazy, but it all works and tastes so good.

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Fermentation of miso

 

There are two full kitchens, one service, one prep, and a third staff kitchen in the staff and office area. Kitchen team of around 50, 25 or so are interns, with 20-25 front of house staff, for a total of around 75 staff from 25 different countries. Working 7am-11pm daily, with a short break at 5pm for family meal and a bit of a workout to keep up their momentum and health. There is also an outdoor grill hut with 5 grills including a yakitori grill, oak charcoal grill, large oven grill and American style pit grill. And of course the fermentation lab. Kitchen tours are offered to every party at the end of their meal, and its worth it, one of the most extensive kitchen tours ever, and everyone is passionate and knowledgable.

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The downstairs main service kitchen
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Oak charcoal grill, chef grilling some turbot
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oven grill
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upstairs prep kitchen
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upstairs staff kitchen in staff hall

 

Upon entering, the entire team of chefs and most of the front house staff stand at the entryway to welcome you, its quite the welcome and a bit intimidating but very warm and passionate. The dining room is Nordic minimalism which created an understated elegance. While no dress code, most people still came dressed very well, men in jackets or suits and women in dresses. There is a private dining room on the second floor that seats 8-16 people. I’d say that matches the environment and really, for most people, like me, this is a pilgrimage. Dinner is a 17 course tasting at DKK1900 (USD$283.33) with an option of wine pairing: DKK1100 (USD$164) or juice pairing (which I would recommend): DKK$700 (USD$104); they charge charge for water and tea/coffee so the total per person (we did two wine and two juice pairings among 4 people) with service: DKK$2906.25 (USD$433.38) per person.

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Seating area/ bar area
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Main dining hall
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Main dining hall at night
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Bar area

 

Reservations open at 10AM Copenhagen time on the first Monday of each month online, opening for the third month out. All I can say is good luck. Dinner service is only one sitting and earliest starts at 7PM.

 

Ok. I leave it to the photos again for the food.

I stopped taking pictures of the juice tasting, but here is what we had:

Rose/ redcurrant

Elderflower/ spearmint

Green gooseberries/ tarragon

Red gooseberries/ geranium

Cabbage/ lovage (a kind of celery)

Green pea husk

 

Food

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Rhubard and seaweed
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Vegetable platter: flatbread & ant paste; pickled quail egg; a black currant berry.
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Radish pie (soaked in beetroot)
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Grilled baby cucumber coated with fire ant paste, summer herbs and cream. The ant is to give it the acidity as lemons don’t grow in the Nordic region but there are ants!
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Bread with cow’s milk butter. They don’t use yeast to ferment the sourdough, they truly let the flour sit overnight to ferment and rise.
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Fresh milk curd, green strawberry, and goose tongue leaves
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Danish Lobster, lavender, and rose oil with onions. The best dish of the night. Incredible complexity yet subtle in each component’s taste, balanced flavors and textures and the onions cooked in lavender was beyond amazing.
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Crisp of wild roses and Danish peas, with a bit of a berry base.
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Butternut squash and fermented barley, with roasted seaweed, and a seaweed butter.
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Steamed king crab from Norway, egg yolk sauce (seasoned with fermented beef), rose miso made of barley not rice.
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Charred greens and scallop paste (mind blown over this scallop fudge: they puree the scallops, let it dry/ dehydrate, powder it, then add a bit of oil to give it a fudge texture).
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Turbot grilled on the bone over oak charcoal, with sweet shrimp ravioli and a hem of the woods mushroom sauce.
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Dessert of sheep’s milk and ant paste (ants and brown sugar)
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Grilled rose ice cream and elderflower
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Moss cooked in chocolate (amazing) served with crème freche and seaweed oil, cep mushroom
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Wild Berries
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Egg liquor (aka eggnog)
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Some King Crab and Langoustine
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Danish liquor

 

NOMA:

http://noma.dk/reservations/

Tuesday – Saturday

Lunch: 12.00 p.m. – 4.00 p.m.

Dinner: 7.00 p.m. – 00.30 a.m.

 

NOTE: Noma as we know it now will close at the end of this year. Chef Rene will move operations to a area further out of the city center where he plans to have a full garden and aims to create a fully self-sustained restaurant. Apparently Chef Rene has only been prepping and learning this last 10+ years, he has yet to fully unleash his full potential yet. The plan is to have full vegetarian menus to take full advantage of fresh greens in the Spring and Summer then in the winter the fresh Nordic seafood will also appear on the menu.

 

Bon Apetit,

Garythegastronomictraveler

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