You may have heard of Noma, the restaurant in Copenhagen named the world’s number one restaurant 3 of the last 4 years (it ranked 2 the other year). You can see the full list here – quite a bucket list! We had dinner at Noma recently, and deserves a full recap of the whole adventure.
It all started late last year, when we flew to Chicago to join some friends at a dinner we believed was being cooked by Noma’s famed chef, René Redzepi. He was on a book tour, releasing his latest cookbook, but also his journal, which he wrote the year he first received the number one restaurant ranking at the young age of 32. We went to a reading he did from that journal (which was mesmerizing…he is an amazing storyteller), and had a chance to talk with him afterward as he signed our books. My husband and I shared that we met in Copenhagen (true story…we met at a gay wedding in Denmark), and Chef René was quite interested in the details. When asked how long ago it was that we met, we said 10 years this coming summer (which was July of 2014). He responded by sharing that Noma was also having its 10th birthday that same summer, and that we should celebrate ours at Noma. And so it became our plan to do just that…to return to the place we met to celebrate our 10-year anniversary at Noma.
I’m not sure where to begin to describe the experience…Chef René focuses on using local ingredients, often hand gathered, in very inventive ways. And the ingredients he uses are by no means ordinary. It’s not just the sea grass that is hand picked or the use of pickled turnip flowers that added such a zing to a few of our dishes, but the truly crazy things you’ll see in some of the courses below. The food is only part of it. The chefs and the waitstaff are incredibly friendly and interactive. We had a chance to meet many of them as they served our meal throughout the night (including Chef René, who stopped by our table and remembered our meeting from the prior year) and as we later got a private tour of the kitchens. As each guest arrives, the vast majority of the kitchen greets you in unison with a friendly loud hello – imagine about 20 chefs and waitstaff all welcoming you at once with bright smiles and friendly faces. It’s astonishing how well that sets the mood. Their friendliness, curiosity and knowledge of the food made the experience that much more special.
But on to the good stuff — the food. We had a total of about 20 courses, but each was small and light, surprisingly not filling. Mostly vegetables and plants, with a bit of meat and fish. Each course we had is pictured below (but for one…I sadly forgot to take a picture of our 4th course which was mulberries with turbot roe). While I don’t know all the ingredients of each, I did my best to describe what I did learn and how it tasted.
Course #1: Fresh berries on ice. There were number of berries in here, all local and fresh, including currants, lingonberries and raspberries. They were all a bit on the sour side, so it wasn’t a sweet dish at all. Delicious palate starter to kick off the meal.
Course #2: “Surf and turf”. This was amazingly fresh and surprising. The bottom is a flatbread made from seaweed, topped with edible flowers. The flowers were a bit sweet and the flatbread was savory, with tastes of grass.
Course #3: Fresh peas with chamomile and radish. The peas were the absolute star. They were as fresh as can be, sweet, and very flavorful. You could definitely taste the chamomile…just like the flavors in the tea of the same herb. It lent a bit of a sour note to the light sauce that bound the dish together. And it was topped with two paper-thin slices of fresh radish.
Course #5: Smoked and pickled quails eggs. (You’ll recall I forgot to take a photo of course #4). This was a beautifully presented dish, coming out in a large egg made of wood. When opened, smoke poured out of the egg, revealing the quail eggs, which were cooked to leave them with a runny yolk. The whole thing popped in your mouth with light flavors of smoke and pickling. Just enough to complement the flavor of the egg yolk.
Course #6: Steak tartar with pickled turnip flowers and celery oil. The only other ingredient used was salt, on top of the very thin slices of gorgeous beef. The celery oil lent a nice tartness, as did the flowers, which were a great complement to the sweetness of the meat.
Course #7: Grilled cucumber with ants and pickled turnip flowers. Yes…ants. The mini cucumber was grilled whole, dead ants were laid on top and the pickled flowers were the accent. I got a little eager, and started eating before I remembered to take the photo, so evidence I really did eat the ants! They were actually delicious…a little sweet and a bit tangy. In the dish was a paste for dipping that was savory and rich, but I don’t know, unfortunately, what it was made of.
Course #8: A blend of roses, sea grass and seaweed, serveed between two crisp cabbage leaves. It was salty and definitely tasted of seaweed, in a good way.
Course #9: Shaved cod liver on caramelized milk wafers. This was one of my favorites. The cod liver tasted very much like foie gras, and the thin slices melted in my mouth with delicious sweetness. The caramelized milk wafer was also great – sweet and definitely tasting of milk. The creaminess of both components worked very well together.
Course #10: Aebleskivers (a pancake ball) made with a grasshopper condiment (yes, grasshopper!) and filled with wilted greens, then glazed with fennel pollen and topped with pickled turnip flowers. It was delicious, and was my husband’s favorite course.
Course #11: Slow barbecued whole spring onion. It was cooked in a very cool charcoal oven until charred on the outside, and beautifully soft and tender on the inside. We ate just the interior part of the onion but the smells of the charred skin were great.
Course #12: Fresh raw local squid in fennel vinegar. The squid was very flavorful and fresh, with just the right chewiness, and the fennel vinegar was simply awesome.
Course #13: Tender pumpkin with a butter sauce made from toasted barley. The sauce was incredibly tasty, with a creaminess you’d expect from a butter sauce, but a tang from the barley that was surprising and added the right balance.
Course #14: Romaine root, grilled with fresh greens, edible flowers and parsley sauce. This was so delicious, I wanted another plate of it. The parsley sauce had some sort of vinegar or citrus in it that made it almost a vinaigrette. A truly great salad.
Course #15: Coddled egg yolk with new potatoes and elderflower sauce made with bee larvae. Another incredibly surprising ingredient – who knew you could cook with bee larvae? The sauce was really good, and the yolk was so perfectly coddled it had the consistency of a just barely hard boiled egg…dark orange throughout and a wonderfully creamy texture.
Course #16: Grilled bone marrow with lettuce leaves, edible flowers and an herb sauce with a bit of vinegar. The bones were fast-grilled in that same charcoal oven, and was that delicious melty goodness of rich bone marrow. We put the marrow in the lettuce leaves with the sauce, added the edible flowers and ate it like a small lettuce wrap. Amazing.
Course #17: Pickles, to finish the savory coursses. In this case, the pickles were of squash with pickled flowers dotting the top. Quite acidic and a real palate cleanser following the richness of the marrow.
Course #18: A rose made of rhubarb with herb sauce. This was dessert #1, although not at all sweet. The rhubarb is quite tart, and the herb sauce brought out its earthy qualities.
Course #18 – Ripe raspberries with nasturtium petals and cream. The final course was overripe raspberries mixed with the flower petals and served in a cream flavored with something I couldn’t identify — flowers perhaps. Lovely finish…not too sweet, not to heavy, and just right.
All in all, a very impressive, delectable and intellectually interesting meal. We are both so glad that we flew to Denmark for the experience…it was a perfect way for us to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. If you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it.