Ever since I first heard about Noma a few years ago I was desperate to go. My biggest culinary regret is not getting the chance to eat at the legendary El Bulli in Spain before it closed down; Noma seemed to be approaching that level of specialness so I couldn’t risk it happening again.
I’d been trying to get a reservation for almost 18 months before finally succeeding. To say I was excited would be a massive understatement; obviously I’d wanted to go right from the start but the difficulty of getting the reservation made me want it even more. Deep down I think I’d almost given up and didn’t really believe I’d ever get there.
Reservations are made at least three months in advance! Those three months passed VERY slowly and of course the huge wait increased my expectations massively, could it possibly live up to them?
As we approached the old warehouse building on the Copenhagen waterfront the excitement was almost too much; I actually felt slightly nervous too which was a strange feeling I hadn’t experienced before. But the moment we walked through the door the whole experience changed to pure enjoyment.
Several members of staff where there to greet us, which they did by name, a small touch but one that makes a big first impression.
The decor and design is equally welcoming; industrial looking exposed brick and wooden beams are balanced with sheepskin draped chairs and Nordic flower arrangements.
An interesting aspect of the Noma service is that dishes are brought to the table by the chefs that prepared them. This makes perfect sense as they’re obviously more knowledgeable about the dish than front of house staff, I’m surprised more places haven’t adopted this approach.
The first dish didn’t need bringing to the table though as we were told it was already there; a ‘branch’ within the flower arrangement! Pulling it from the vase, it definitely looked like a branch but didn’t taste like one. It was in fact a sort of bread stick made with malt; crunchy and delicious.
From there we were brought a series of appetisers. The first (seen at the very top of the picture below) was the most amazingly light and crisp pork scratching topped with a thin layer of blackcurrant skin. The next introduced me to an ingredient I never thought I’d eat; moss!
Deep-fried reindeer moss to be precise, dusted with an earthy, mushroom cep powder. It’s difficult to describe how it tasted; sort of like how moss smells, reminding me of playing in forests as a child. There was a fascinating crunchy texture yet it was so brittle that biting caused it to shatter in the mouth.
‘Chicken & Potato’ consisted of a creamy chicken liver mousse inside a nest of incredibly thin ‘strings’ of potato, which had been fried so they were crisp and sprinkled with dried hay. Like nothing I’d ever tasted before, totally unbelievable flavours.
Followed by an intriguing looking thing, which turned out to be a leek with its roots still attached. The main green part of the leek had been boiled but the roots deep-fried to give a crisp texture.
A plate of mussels arrived next, although only two were for eating; the others – empty – for decorative purposes only. The bottom half of the shell was edible! Made from some sort of seaweed cracker but was almost impossible to tell apart from the real mussel shell on top. So clever but enjoyable to eat at the same time.
Next we were served a giant egg; opening it released a cloud of smoke and reveal two pickled quails eggs sitting on a bed of hay. The eggs were still warm and perfectly soft, the yolk and smoke combination was epic.
The next dish required a little gardening skill. One of Noma’s most famous dishes, a plant pot containing edible soil with buried vegetables. We dug up our carrots and radishes and ate them along with handfuls of the edible soil, which tasted far better than it looked and better than real soil too, I imagine.
The last appetiser was my favourite in terms of taste. Some sort of wafer topped with smoked cod roe, various herbs and flowers with a crisp on top. The chef who brought it explained that the crisp was actually a duck stock film made by drying the skin that forms on the top of a pot of duck stock. The intense meaty flavour worked wonderfully with the smoked cod roe.
At some point during these appetisers we were brought a felt parcel. Inside was a loaf of the most amazing smelling sourdough bread; so fresh it was still warm. It was fluffy, soft and light inside but with an incredible crust. Served with two of the best butters I’ve ever tasted; one made with buttermilk and the other topped with epic pork fat. I could feel the inches adding to my waistline but I didn’t care, this was the best bread and butter ever.
It was finally time for our actual menu to start! We were first served what appeared to be an apple in a bowl, but of course it wasn’t. The dish was called ‘Apple fallen from the tree’; a perfectly formed apple including edible stalk and leaf was actually made from Jerusalem artichokes, covered in powder made from apple skin. Sitting in a pool of sorrel and coriander oil it looked beautiful and tasted just as good.
Followed by another of Noma’s signature dishes, ‘Beef tartare’. The beef was the most amazing quality and in quite large chunks compared to most tartare’s I’ve had which are often finely chopped or minced. It was hidden under sorrel leaves, which were topped with tiny rings of onion. I remember on an episode of Masterchef at Noma that Rene told the contestant that the beef must be completely covered by the leaves, it was. The plate was dusted with juniper powder and served with a swipe of thick tarragon sauce. We were told to pick up some beef and sorrel by hand and drag it through the sauce and powder before eating. It was a little messy and not what you’d expect in a 2 star restaurant but totally delicious and loads of fun.
An Oyster arrived next. Now, although I like them fried and grilled, I’m not a huge fan of raw oysters. This had been very lightly steamed so was somewhere in-between. It tasted raw but had a slightly better texture for me. It wasn’t the most enjoyable dish of the night but it was definitely the best almost raw oyster I’ve ever had.
The fish dish was next and one of my favourites. A piece of Pike Perch – the chef proudly pointed out of the window to the lake it had been fished from earlier – wrapped in cabbage leaves topped with edible flowers, butter foam and served with a verbena sauce. The flavours of this dish were mind blowing. The cabbage had been charred whilst grilling which added a slight caramel taste; the fish soft and salty inside the cabbage, the butter foam beautifully light, and the Verbena sauce was stunning. The combination of unique flavours made it one of the most interesting dishes I’ve ever eaten.
From one truly great dish to another, and another Noma signature dish; ‘Picked vegetables with smoked bone marrow’. This was definitely my favourite dish of the night and one of my all time favourite dishes. It looked like a work of art and tasted even better. Tiny rings of various vegetables perfectly formed, all identically and beautifully plated. Each had been pickled in a different vinegar to match the individual vegetable. All tasted fantastic individually but the real joy came when eating them together as the marriage of flavours was absolutely incredible. The bone marrow and sauce added a rich and meaty edge, which complimented the vegetables and sharp vinegar. Stunning, world class flavours.
The meat course turned out to be my least favourite. Perhaps my expectations had just soared too high after the appetisers and particularly the last two main courses. We were first given ‘hunting knives’ in leather pouches to eat our venison. The meat itself was impeccably cooked and amazingly soft and tender. It was served with raw walnuts and bitter greens, the greens were a little too bitter for me and even more so given the ratio of them compared to the meat. Either less greens or more meat would have improved the balance.
Dessert saw my first ever cucumber-based dessert; a dollop of elderflower ice cream surrounded by frozen cucumber granite. It was light and refreshing and cucumber & elderflower is a tried and tested combination. The pickled elderflowers on top were intriguingly delicious. I think it could have done with being a touch sweeter though, Mrs FG found its savouriness quite challenging and I’m from having a very sweet tooth.
The final dessert looked beautiful and was more enjoyable that the last but was still quite savoury for a dessert. A carrot cake, topped with fresh liquorice and thin slices of carrot. The cake was soft and moist, the flavours worked well together but the only sweetness came naturally from the carrots. Again I would have liked a bit more sweetness for a dessert, especially the final course.
After finishing dessert we were taken to the comfortable lounge area and served fantastic coffee. There were still a few treats left too.
The first was one of the nicest petit fours I’ve ever had. Thin potato crisps coated in chocolate and fennel seeds, sounds odd? Perhaps, but tasted absolutely amazing.
There was also bite-sized ‘flødebøller’ in an old fashioned tin. I’d never heard of these, they’re apparently a traditional Danish treat. They looked a bit like a Cadbury’s Walnut Whip and are made of soft wafer and marshmallow coated in chocolate.
The final thing we ate at Noma was one of the most memorable. We received a package of wrapped brown paper tied up with a string and untied it to find two pieces of bone inside. They were genuine bone but the bone marrow had been replaced with a rich caramel, which was made with smoked bone marrow. The richest caramel imaginable with a slight saltiness and a lovely hint of smoke, a fitting end to a fine meal.
As well as the usual wine paring, Noma offers a juice-pairing menu. With individual juices to compliment each dish, all home made of course. They included: Carrot, Lingonberry, Pear & Verbena, Sea Buckthorn and Celery along with my three favourites: Elderflower, Apple & Pine and Sorrel. The Apple & Pine had an amazing tongue tingling flavour that tasted like Christmas trees smell. The sorrel looked so unappetising I almost didn’t try it, like a dark green sludge but it tasted so good.
I can’t honestly say that I loved every single thing I ate at Noma, there were some stunning dishes which I’ll remember for the rest of my life but a couple were more of a challenge, particularly the desserts. I absolutely loved the overall experience though. Every single dish was interesting and fascinating in it’s own way, the juices were amazing and a great alternative to wine. The dining room is lovely, the staff fantastic and it’s about so much more than just the food. It’s not hard to see why it has been voted ‘Best Restaurant In The World’ for the past two years and is a dead cert to take the title for a 3rd consecutive year in 2012.
Date of visit: 19.11.2011