I’ve been a little overwhelmed putting together this two-part post and I really can’t pinpoint the reason. Sam and I have done a fair few 3 Michelin starred restaurants now, but nothing really could have prepared us for Noma. Whilst we walked in with high expectations, there was a part of us that wanted the restaurant to flop. Looking at his background, I walked in thinking his food would be a mad mash-up of French, molecular and Scandinavian. It was none of the above.
Over the course of the actual meal, there was so much going on, so many new berries, flowers, herbs and techniques to digest that it felt as if we were rediscovering food again – I didn’t quite know how to respond to that. It wasn’t until a few days later, after looking at our photos and reading our Noma book that we could truly appreciate what Noma is doing for food.
The restaurant is so far ahead of its time, and I don’t mean this in a molecular gimmicky way. Rene has created a menu that truly highlights his ingredients by treating the produce with the respect that it deserves. His food is so fresh, so vibrant, so alive.
Please read Noma – Part I, the snacks before reading this post…
The home-baked bread actually is worth of the mention on its own. Arriving in a beautiful petal felt basket, apparently the sourdough bread is baked twice-daily right before service and is served alongside the most satisfying ‘pork scratching’ butter. Not for the faint hearted, this butter is truly as rich as it sounds. One look at Samson and I could tell he was re-living a Tetsuya moment (the Sydney restaurant serves butter with black truffle specks) as he frantically tried to pick all the tasty ‘scratching’ bits out.
The 12 course nassaqq menu
It was only now at this point that our waiter came over and asked which menu we were to eat. Noma is truly once in a lifetime, so for us, we were willing to eat as much as we could get. However our waiter seemed rather surprised when we opted for the full 12 courses over the smaller 7 course menu.
Course 1: Shaved hazelnuts and Puree of lettuce. Juiced lettuce was combined with spinach puree to surround a hazelnut jelly and shaved hazelnuts. The dish was rather interesting, in particular the hazelnut jelly, but I honestly wasn’t the biggest fan.
Course 2: Dried scallop slivers with watercress puree, grains, squid ink. This was a rather interesting dish to get your head around. The scallops were thin sliced and dried and had a very strong flavour not dissimilar to dried Chinese scallops. The grains were a little hard for my liking, but the watercress puree and squid ink were rather delicious. Honestly I really enjoyed each component of this dish individually but as the flavours of each component was rather strong I didn’t really feel like it worked when eaten together.
Course 3: Shaved chestnuts with buttered roe. This dish was a little more to our palette, and clearly due to the French butter influence. The roe was sweet and though I did find the rawness of the chestnuts a little hard on the jaw, it was nice to be served a warm course after already consuming 10 courses of raw cold/room temperature food.
Course 4: Langostine rock with oyster seaweed emulsion. Warm stones are ceremoniously brought to the table and atop each is a mouth-watering langostine tail with artistic dots of green. This ‘green’ is in fact an oyster emulsion which has been made combining oysters and parsley and is finger-licking good. In fact Noma encourages you to eat this entire dish with your hands suggesting that you grab the quickly sautéed langostine tail and ‘swipe’ it across the rock to pick up the oyster emulsion. Not one shy about getting dirty, I used my finger to literally scrape off drop of the rich, delicious ‘green’.
Heston’s ‘Sounds of the Sea’ beware. I didn’t need an iPod to help me picture the ocean. Rene took me there with this dish. An outstanding course.
Course 5: Pot cooked oyster is served in a pot filled with hot rocks. Jamming open the shell reveals a perfect, fresh oyster served with tapioca (love the play on pearls!), wild beach herbs and a touch of cream. An amazing, perfectly cooked course with clean, fresh flavours.
Course 6: Grilled cauliflower with fern oil. This dish was probably the least interesting of the evening. Lightly poached then grilled, the cauliflower was a little overcooked to my liking. I actually expected a lot more cauliflower flavour to come out of the dish, but unfortunately it was very bland. The fern oil was rather delicious however. After this course, our waiter asked what we felt, we told him exactly what I wrote here. I was actually rather surprised that he didn’t take criticism of this dish well.
Course 7: Perch-pike cross with root vegetables, celeriac puree. The fish was perfectly cooked with an amazing thin crispy crust. The sauce was herby and slightly tart, but perhaps the highlight was the celeriac puree which was simply outstanding. The flavours on this plate were fairly subtle and really showcased the produce.
Course 8: Cook your own egg. Apparently a classic dish at Noma, this course is just a little bit gimmicky and it honestly failed to deliver. First, a bowl with greens and herbs is brought to the table alongside a spoon of thyme butter. This is soon followed a hot cast iron skillet with a duck egg in shell to the side. Our waiter poured hay oil into our pan and instructed us to crack the egg into the side of the dish that the oil moved to. After the 2 minute timer sounds, the thyme butter is added as well as the greens and herbs. The dish is finished with fried potato chips, a touch of salt and a last sprinkling of fresh herbs. The result a perfectly cooked duck egg. That’s the problem though, it’s nothing more than a perfectly cooked duck egg with some tasty green herbs on the side.
Course 9: Wild duck breast with apple. An intriguing ancient dagger is brought to the table prior to this course, which gets us excited even before we what we are about to eat. Special cutlery surely means something special and we weren’t mistaken. A duck breast is cooked sous vide for 15 minutes at 63 degrees is then glazed and served with baby herbs. The meat itself is deliciously blue, perhaps the most raw I have ever eaten my duck but it was simply delicious. The duck is intelligently surrounded by all things apple – curls of pickled apple, smoked butter cooked apple wedges and apple seeds made from malt. Topped with an apple based sauce, this dish was outstanding and a true treat for my taste buds. The obvious presence of the herbs makes for a very bold dish, in particular as it is served so blue. Truly out of this world.
Course 10: Pear tree with thyme ‘sponge’. Noma has a rather unique approach to dessert. We were told that Rene has a preference to use natural sugars in his cooking rather than making things overly sweet. This is very much apparent in his Pear Tree and thyme sponge. The thyme sponge was very much reminiscent of the bread and butter ‘air’ pudding that we ate at La Alquiera, yet made completely savory with the use of Thyme. A slight sprinkling of salt on top of the foam made the thyme flavour even stronger. The pear portion of the plate is a half grilled pear with a thin slice of pickled (?) pear on top. Lemon thyme and flowers surround the pear and the dish is finished off with a vibrant sauce made from thyme oil.
Course 11: Jerusalem artichoke, apple, malt and merian. Again this course was rather savory, and it did take some time to appreciate. Thin apple, malt and merian ‘discs’ atop Jerusalem artichoke and puree apple. The discs were crunchy and sweet, the apple puree added a refreshing acid to the dish. I am not really used to eating this much malt, so it really was a dish that I had to grow used to.
Course 13: Brown cheese, blackcurrant and beetroot granita
Our ‘cheese’ course arrived last and again is totally unexpected. The course is essential a puree of light, slightly pungent cheese, surrounded but a frozen granite of red beetroot. We are instructed to take spoonfuls making sure to pick up all ingredients on the plate. The beetroot and cheese pairing with the sweetness of the blackcurrant makes for a great and cleansing end to the meal.
It’s nice to have chefs from the kitchen running most of the food as it allows them to express how passionate they are about what they do. Being Australian, of course we immediately got on fairly well with one Aussie chef who had previous stints in the kitchen of Ramsey’s flagship Royal Hospital Road.
It took our waiter/sommelier quite a bit of time to warm to us, only cracking a bit of a smile by the 6th course. Whilst polite and professional, he was fairly focused on what he needed to do rather than making us feel comfortable. In saying that, he was incredibly attentive topping up wines and water so really can’t fault him.
Wines and Water
I quite like the fact that still or sparkling water is charged at a flat rate of 50DKK per head (£6). Water can add up to be a fairly significant amount on your bill, so it was a really nice surprise that this was the way they charged.
Ordering matching wines with our 12 course menu, I had read of Noma’s preference for regional ‘themed’ tastings and was pleasantly surprised when we found out that we were to drink wines from the Alsace region for the evening. How perfect was it that Sam was being served a degustation from his favourite wine region to accompany his 30th Birthday meal at the best restaurant of 2010. Like any good restaurant the matching wines were ‘topped’ if you finished your wine prior to your course which in the case of the red, saw our waiter coming back to re-top a few times! At 1045 DKK the wines pairings don’t come cheap, but well worth ordering in order to live out the full Noma experience.
Wines listed below, all from Alsace.
2009 Riesling ‘Kritt’, Remy Gresser, Andlau
2009 Riesling ‘Zero Sulfites ajoutes’, Pierre Frick, Pfaffenheim
2009 Riesling Vieilles Vignes, Laurent Barth, Bennwhir
2009 Pinot Gris Grand Cru Altenbourg de Bergbietenm, Roland Schmit, Bergbieten
2008 Sylvaner ‘Zellberg-l’hernitage’, Julien Meyer, Nothalten
2003 Chateauneuf-du-Pape ‘Henri Bonneau’, Henri Bonneau, Vaucluse
2008 Pinot Blanc ‘Cuvee Vieilles Vignes’, Dirler-Cade, Bergholtz
2003 Pinot Gris ‘Vendange Tardives’, Marcel Deiss, Bergheim
Rene is doing something truly amazing by inspiring the young chefs that are lucky enough to work in his kitchen. His stripped back approach to food, appreciation of produce in its raw state and lack of barrier between the kitchen and his customers is inspiring.
But I have to ask myself whether I would go back again. To be honest I am not sure. The food was truly outstanding and Rene is producing a food concept well ahead of most chefs in this world – well ahead of his time. I don’t doubt that this was probably one of the best meals of my existence, even if I don’t know it yet. So my only hesitation to return is whilst I have consumed my fair share of fine food in my life, I don’t believe that my palate is sophisticated enough to truly appreciate the simultaneous simplicity/complexity of his food concept.
It does blow my mind how successful Noma and Rene is at such a young age. Being able to produce such amazing food at this point in his career brings me to wonder whether or not we are even near experiencing the peak of his creative abilities…
Lastly, the damage? Around £300 per head, 22 courses including wines and service.