Noma, Copenhagen

 As a child I  loved reading stories of Viking adventures, of Thor, Odin, Freya and Valkyries, each with awesome powers and prowess. Recently I learnt about the possibility that there might be a god previously unheard of, and naturally, this fuelled my curiosity with such intensity, I  had to travel to the land of the Vikings themselves to unearth and discover this for myself!

I can now confirm that there is indeed a god previously unknown and unheard of. The god of food, taste and culinary delights, the god Noma! Noma, an acronym of ‘Nordisk’ and ‘Mad’ (Nordic & Food) has been quietly seducing diners for years with its stripped down, minimalistic approach to food, but it’s only in the last few years (2 to be more specific) that it has acquired world domination! Best restaurant in the world! That hallowed title held by gastronomic juggernauts like El Bulli, Fat Duck and French Laundry.

But, but, but! Are the powers of this new god all that they seem to be or have we mortals falsely deified him? Having booked 3 months in advance and along with old faithful companions and the parents, it was to Noma that we pilgrimaged on a sunny August day.

Having sat us down, our waiter explained that we were encouraged to use our hands to eat for a few of the courses and that the first few nibbles would arrive at a quick pace, and we shouldn’t dawdle too much before eating. Now, at Noma one can not only have food with matching wines, but also matching juices. A juice menu? Really? How curiously curious we all were. And it just so happened that two of our group of devotees decided that they would go down the juice route.

SO, bring on the food, bring on the food, bring on the wine and, er, the juice as well, I guess. And on cue, a chef turns up at our table, handing us all a dish of creme fraiche, reiterating the hands-on advice and telling us that our first nibble was already on the table. Knife? nope, not edible. Side plate? maybe. Nope! definitely not! What on earth was he on about?

 You are kidding me right? Do I look like a cow? (ok, don’t answer that!) Flowers? Oh yes, Nasturtiums with snail remoulade and malt flat bread (that looks like twigs). Love the flat bread! And the flowers brought back a memory of the first time I tried nasturtiums a long long time ago. Slightly pungent, light, and ‘giggle-ish’ This was a surprise and a hint that perhaps we were going to have a different experience than expected!

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Reindeer moss, cep dust
Leek and seaweed butter
Seabuckthorn and roses

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The Reindeer moss with cep dust was light and playful, more style than substance but had a lovely crunch to it. Great little canape though!

The Leek and seaweed butter again playful as we only ate the deep fried crisp bit at the end that had the butter.

I loved the seabuckthorn leather with pickled hip roses. The delicate flavour of roses (pickled in cider vinegar for 1 year) coming through right at the end, dancing harmoniously with the tartness of the berries (that taste like guava, passion fruit and mango combined)

Cookies!
Cookie with speck and currant
Rye bread, chicken skin, lovage and peas

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.The cookies with speck and currant weren’t too bad – pretty, whilst the

Rye bread with chicken skin, lovage and peas was beautiful! So delicate, so crisp, so herbed up, so good!

Eggs?
Pickled and smoked quails eggs
Toasts, herbs, smoked cod roe, vinegar

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.I think we all laughed at the eggs. The slightly smoky smell of hay wafting across the table, making those of us who’d been on farms, reminisce fondly. Gently pickled, gently smoked, this was an egg I didn’t throw expletives or curses at (see other restaurant reviews!)

The toast with cods roe looked too pretty to eat! Seriously! And on top was sitting a crisp microfilm of duck sauce, yes! duck sauce, as a crisp. Ah…I’m happy.

Muddy pot on the table?
Muddy carrot
Danish 'brioche',micro fish

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So, time to be a kid again and eat things from the ground, mud and all! Why are we getting raw vegetables? Hmm.. A bite is all it took to start mumbling ‘mmmmmmm’. It’s a carrot, but what a carrot! Edible mud! Grass emulsion at the bottom for a dip. Crazy chef! Eat it all and you realise that the simplest of things like a carroty carrot and a crisp intense radish are so often overlooked and taken for granted! I miss vegetables that taste like vegetables. The mud was divine – a crunchy soil of hazelnuts, malt and beer, with a creamy grass dip that tasted of, well, um, grass! (think smells of freshly mown lawns!)

The warm dumpling was nice, but didn’t sing the high notes, possibly because the previous nibble was such a star!

All things start with bread...

A warm loaf of bread is a joy forever (sorry, Keats). A warm loaf of bread with goat’s butter and whipped lard topped with crackling is seriously naughty. A warm loaf of homemade sourdough bread with the naughty but oh so nice spreads is seriously heady stuff! I just wish you could smell your screen and the smells would waft out and make you swoon!

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Green strawberries, salad root, sorrel

Zing! This dish made me lose all powers of speech, comprehension and cognitive thought, instead whizzing me back to my childhood and being in the garden just after the grass has been cut and it’s rained. And that’s just the sorrel sauce in the dish. The green strawberry jelly was equally sharp, herbal and floral and the salad roots smoothed the dish over with a neutral crunch. All of us at the table were laughing and remembering the intense smell of grass that this dish exuded. Wow. And look at that gorgeous handmade bowl it’s in.

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Matching wine: 2010, Vin de France, “La Boheme” Marc Pesnot. St. Julien de Concelles, Nantes, Loire

Cucumber and dill, cream and elderflower
Raw razor clam and parsley, buttermilk and dill

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Mine was the Cucumber and dill. Simple, refreshing, and very green! As was the Razor clam everyone else had. A lot of our courses were green, but then I realised that in keeping with the theme of nature, this was apt. And whilst there were a lot of ingredients repeated across the menu, for the first time in my experience, everything tasted boldly individual and distinctly crafted.

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Scallops and beechnut, biodynamic grains and watercress
Beetroot and blackberries

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The next dish of Scallops and Beech Nuts generally met with everyone’s disapproval – this was the ‘could-have-done-without’ course as I was told the dried scallops didn’t really intensify any flavour and the grains with watercress wasn’t that nice and that the squid ink didn’t do anything for the dish.

Luckily for me, I  got to have Beetroot and blackberries which was right up my street – raw, pickled and cooked beetroot, blackberries, blackberry gazpacho and the tiniest but intense thyme leaves that gave the dish that hint of herbal bitterness it needed.

Matching wine: 2010, Riesling “Bruck” Peter Veyder-Malberg, Spitz-Wachau, Austria

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Noma’s classic signature dish of Ox Tartar, sorrel, juniper and tarragon was so simple, you’d be surprised at not having thought of it yourself, but what intense flavours! The ox meat was so tender – it hardly needed any effort to chew (and the meat was cut up fairly coarse), whilst the intense anise from tarragon along with juniper, sorrel and horseradish had this dish waltzing across every single taste bud in lyrical harmony. And we had to eat with our hands! Love it! Best way to eat food – I was tempted to lick the plate!

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Matching wine: 2010 Saint-Veran “Vin Naturel” Domaine des Cote de la Moliere (Isabelle & Bruno Perraud), Bauxrenard-Beajoulais-Bourgogne

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Who has the bollocks and audacity of serving a chunk of cauliflower  on its own?  Cauliflower, I ask you – I mean, I love the vegetable, but a chunk of it on its own? I’ll have more please! The Cauliflower with pine was caramelised and crisp on the top, and then the rest had been steamed, but not all the way so one got different degress of cooking all the way through. This was drizzled over with a pine dressing, and a spiky punchy horseradish cream. Oh, and you can’t eat the pine needles!

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Matching wine: Vin de France “Cotillon des Dames” Jean-Yves Peron Chealine (Albertville)-Savoie

 

We all agreed that this meal was changing the way we looked at food – even realising flavours and simplicity that we took for granted.

As with the last dish, the bare and stripped down dish of Onions, thyme and gooseberry sang high praises for the ingredients themselves. Charred onions that had then been taken apart and braised, drizzled with an onion broth and thyme oil.  Once again this got the hands-on treatment and this was such a revelation! All the juices got mopped up by the fantastic bread and we couldn’t stop talking about how the usual presence of meat or fish wasn’t at all necessary! Noma is truly nature on a plate. The others are all fakes.

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Pike perch and verbena, cabbage dill. We did a double take when this arrived. Could it be? Cabbage stem that we all normally throw away? Hahaha! I know I love that bit of the cabbage but to see it being served in a 2 star Michelin restaurant is definitely a change of perspective in the right direction! The fish had been wrapped in cabbage and then grilled. My favourite was the verbena sauce – nearly licked my plate clean again!

Matching wine: 2010 Nuturellement Petillant “Grains de Folie” Bruno Rochard Mirebeau, Rablay-sur-Layon-Anjou-Loire

 

Sigh….I’m just so happy. I don’t want this meal to end. Luckily, there’s more yet!

There are meals at restaurants such as this where one dish or one aspect is an all singing, all dancing whirlwind of laughter, intrigue, playfulness and fascination. The hen and the egg is exactly that! Our waiter told us that we had to listen to everything he said for this course and us chefs, especially, had to pay attention and that we shouldn’t try and touch the plates as they were really hot (he soon added that they were 280c in case we thought our asbestos hands could take the heat).

Hen and Egg
Hen and Egg

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First came a plate of herbs, flowers, butter and salad. Next came a sizzler platter on hay (fresh farm aromas) with an egg and a bit of salt on the side. Into the pan went hay oil, when we got told to crack the egg and fry it. He set the timer for 1 min 30 secs when he came back to our table and told us to add the herb butter and fry the lovage, then the courgette flower.

Hen and Egg
Hen and Egg

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Finally he allowed us to add the flowers and salad garnish on top and told us to crush the potato crisp spiral on top and the chefs came around and drizzled a peppery parsley sauce on top. What can I say? Simple dish, yummy egg (oh you know the difference between an egg and a YUMMY egg when you get it!) and incredibly fresh herbal, peppery tones across the pan. Perfectly cooked egg too!

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Sweetbreads, wild mushrooms, hedgerow

Our final savoury course was Caramelised sweetbreads, wild mushrooms and greens from the hedgerow. Now I love sweetbreads and enough restaurants make a dogs dinner of it – either giving me something I can bounce off the walls or that’s mushy and soggy. This had that much needed and all-time-favourite crispy layer with chanterelles and raw girolles on top. The wild herbs again sang high praises for their existence and their journey from hedgerow to hungry chef!

Matching wine: 2006 Saumur-champigny “Les Poyeux” Clos Rougeard, Chase-Anjou-Loire

 

Before starting us on our desserts, we were duly informed that at Noma, the use of sugar was kept to a minimum, with the desserts keeping in tune with the lightness of the meal up to this point. Mystery and intrigue…the plot thickens – what was going to shock or surprise die-hard sweet toothers?

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Gammel Dansk and sorrel

Gammel Dansk and sorrel, milk meringue divided the table. I loved it. Gammel Dansk is a bitter Danish liqueur made from 40 different herbs, which normally is rather vile, but here was transformed into an ice cream that still exhibited some bitterness, but more of the herbal overtones. This was balanced with sorrel, sweet caramelised oats and heavenly milk meringue (definitely going to try to make some of that!) I had about 2.5 portions of this! (thank you dining companions!)

 Matching wine: 2005 Riesling Auslese “Steinmassl”, Weingut, Fred Loimer, Langenlois-Kamptal, Austria

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Rhubarb and juniper

The next dish of Rhubarb and juniper also divided people as it was distinctly, not sweet – it wasn’t savoury, but was more refreshing and not a dessert as we’re accustomed to! Here again, I had about 2 portions.

Matching wine: 2010 Muscadelle, Domaine des Tres Cantous (R&B Piageoles) Cohuzac/Vere-Caillac-Languedoc, France

 

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Carrot and seabuckthorn

Carrot and sea buckthorn was…..well…wow! A semi-frozen sea buckthorn parfait-sponge topped with dehydrated and raw carrots, sheep’s milk mousse was incredibly clean, quite sharp and perfectly balanced.

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Mysterious package
Bone marrow caramel
Petit four containers
Yoghurt and chocolate snow bomb
Chocolate and potato crisps.

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Our petit fours brought us Noma’s version of snow bombs – light yoghurt mousse encased in chocolate and crispy biscuit (yum! Yum! And yum!) and potato crisps coated in chocolate and fennel (so very, very wrong! Please let this not stay on the menu. Really bitter and unpleasant in every way), but the thing that was really wrong but really really amazing was the smoked bone marrow caramels. It shouldn’t be what it was, but it was yum – and I love bone marrow! Makes sense, using it as a fat in the caramel. Clever!

And so it was over. 4 hours of such happy, joyous, feel-good food bursting with some of the most intense flavours, invoking nostalgia, changing perceptions, making us rethink about the beauty in simple ingredients, cooked in ways I can’t quite understand yet and, best of all, not feeling sick, stuffed, queasy or fat after it all! The healthiest, lightest and delightful meal yet, with some gorgeous organic or bio-dynamic wines. The juice tasting menu consisted of apple & pine, celery, sorrel, carrot, elderflower, lingonberry, pear & verbena and sea buckthorn. More and more restaurants should do something similar.

Everything about the place is happy – happy staff who have the utmost knowledge about everything (especially our sommelier, Mads) to do with the food and the origins. We found out that all the crockery is hand made by a local potter and that it took 50 chefs to prepare the wondrous delights we had. About 15 of them are paid, the rest are stagieres. I realised that Noma does food that is not only simple at times, but food that most of us would have considered, but have been too scared to keep it at the basic level, letting just two or three ingredients sing, rather than pile on a host of other components to overwhelm the tastebuds.

We finished our meal with a little of Noma’s own-made apple liqueur, a tour of the kitchen, a chat with Rene, the maestro behind this temple of gastronomy and left the restaurant surrounded by a happy, healthy glow. Does that not make a perfect afternoon?! Noma is a deity to whom I shall soon return to pay my respects.

Overall Experience:10
Recommend you to go? 10
Food: 10
Wine:10

Juices! 10
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