Last week, three of us took advantage of being in Copenhagen and had a dinner at Noma, recently voted as the third best restaurant in the world only after Ferran Adria’s El Bulli (Spain) and Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck (England). Unlike the other two restaurants, Noma focuses less on using strange ingredients and cooking methods, instead focusing on the fresh and seasonal foods surrounding Copenhagen.
We sat down for our booking at 8pm, when most of the other tables had already been seated. It’s a short taxi ride over from the main island, as it’s located in a converted warehouse along the river in Christianhavn. The long sunlight hours helped turn the warehouse interior into a farmhouse-like appearance, complete with a rustic and warm family feeling.
From memory, there is a good reason they seem to have a three month waiting list with something like only 12 covers. I still count myself lucky for being able to find a booking in only a three week waiting period.
Shortly after we sat down, we were asked if we would like an aperitif, my fellow diners choosing a Gin and Tonic, and myself ending up with a glass of champange before dinner. They served a series of Amuse Bouches (that’s right, a series of them), all amazingly tasty.
Our first came in a playful container, a speckled egg shape with wafts of smoke coming out. Placing the egg on the table, the waiter opened the egg in half to unveil two smaller eggs, quails eggs in fact nestled in bed of slightly smoking dry grass. Each of the eggs had been perfectly poached and, as instructed, we took one each and placed it into our mouths to find an explosion of wonderfully soft yolk, with the slightly smoked egg white. Divine!
The waiter presented our second amuse bouche on a flat plate, this time, a play on the typical Danish smorrebrod (open sandwich). Using the very same dark rye bread-like seeds to form a crispier finger-sized portion that was filled with a mixture of roe, and a cream cheese-like filling. Each bite brought with it the amazing contrast of textures, the crispiness of the cracker, the softness of the creamy filling and the popping of the roe.
What arrived next looked like something straight out a garden – two small cermaic pot plants, complete with the plants they had been growing. The waiter presented this as a set of fresh radishes set into some green-coloured mousse (we never worked out what it was), and then topped a mix made with toasted hazelnuts that gave the appearance of dirt on top of the green.
Not only was this dish visually spectacular, but the crisp and fresh flavours of the radishes were a great contrast to the sweeter mousse, which naturally picked up the toasted hazelnut “dirt”. Had I had a spoon at the time, I would have been tempted to finish off what was left in each pot of mousse and hazelnuts – it was really that good!
Our final amuse bouche arrived – small wavy crisp breads this time dotted with freshly made mayonnaise and then covered in fresh herbs, as they put it, “Picked freshly by our foragers” and then dusted with a vinegar powder. Just like many of the other dishes, this was light and fresh and packed full of natural flavours. I’d never had anything with vinegar powder before, and the tart sourness it brought was the perfect complement to the sweeter mayonnaise and flowers.
Noma offers a choice of ala carte, a seven course or a twelve course tasting menu for dinner. We decided a good compromise was the seven course selection, a combination of a good variety yet not an excess of foods (all things considering). Almost all of the menu was an amazingly comprehensive wine list, almost rivalling what I remembered the tome of wines at the Fat Duck. We decided against the matching wine pairings and asked for a recommended bottle of wine. Tom described what we’d like in a bottle, as well as our budget and amazingly the sommelier immediately responded, “I think I have exactly the wine you would like.”
Bread and two butters arrived. These breads were much more memorable than the ones at the Fat Duck. Presented warmed and what seemed like freshly cooked, they had two different breads (a rye, and white bread), and two different “fats” for spreading on each of them. One of the fats had a creamier texture, apparently mixed with some light cheese, and then the other was a mix of nuts.
I can’t remember exactly what the next dish was, an appetiser I think as it wasn’t listed on the menu, and it was presented after all the amuse bouche dishes. You can see a beetroot-like sauce surrounding fresh flowers dotted with cubes of some sort of pink flavoured jelly, almost rhubarb like. I honestly can’t remember it as part of the blur of food yet I’m glad I took photos of it.
Our first official dish in the seven to follow was listed as Razor clams and parsley, dill and mussel juice. Cleverly, they had the razor clam wrapped in a jelly-like skin made with the parsley and on the side, a dusting of horseradish snow and then, poured at the table, the parsley dill and mussel juice. Just as you’d expect, the razor clam had been perfectly cooked, and soft enough to slice up. The snow had enough zing considering its cold temperature and went well complementing the rest of the dish.
As you can see from the interior picture here (a small break between all the food), it really conjures up images of a farmhouse despite being located in a warehouse by the river.
The next dish, Ashes and hazelnuts, caramelised chicken broth and leeks, was actually strips of slightly poaches leeks, and then covered in two different ways, one with ashes, and the other with toasted hazelnuts. The caramelised chicken broth I remember them describing as chicken skin actually reminded me of the texture you have in those melt-on-your-tounge breath mints. The ash and hazelnuts brought a different dimesion of flavour to the dish, a crispier and more subdued hazelnut with the fiery smoke from the ash.
Our next dish really amazed me, described as Asparagus and woodruff, salad root and shoots of hops and pine. They also had a perfectly cooked egg yolk, dotted with perfectly cooked egg white, and with only the skin barely holding back the tidal flow of yolk. Tom was describing how they could only do this if they were cooking it with a bain marie, a device that allows them to cook something at the perfect temperatures where egg white cook at one particular temperature, only 2 degrees Celsius away from the the cooking temperature of the white. Whatever it was, I really liked the crunchiness mixing in with two different textured liquids and flavours.
The next dish, Marrow and picked vegetables, herbs and bouillon really stood out as a great dish. Not only was it spectacular on the eyes with brightly picked flowers and herbs, but the pickled vegetables, still slightly firm in texture and circular discs of Marrow just had an amazing combination of flavours. The bouillon they poured on also added a deep flavour complemented by the other fresh flavours in the dish.
Before the next dish, the waiters placed what looked like a large leather-shielded dagger at the table. This was actually intended as the knife for Pork and wild ramson leaves, grilled cucumber dish. The grilled cucumber is that blackened item at the bottom of the plate. The pork was flecked with crispy onions. With so many dishes already, the two pieces of pork was actually a very generous serve.
The first of two desserts finally arrived after the many main courses, more local ingredients in play. The title on the menu was Birch juice and birch syrup, Spanish chervil and honey, instead actually better translated as they described it, “Birch sorbet and birch meringue, made out of soaking birch bark in water, and then served with honey jelly collected from a beehive just three miles from here”. Describing birch is quite difficult, maybe closer to herbs.
Finally came the last dish, on the menu described as “Beet and garden sorrel, Crème Fraiche and pickled rose hip”. Once again I defer to the way they described it in person, “Beetroot and picked rose hip granita, a tuile and a coriander ice cream). The coriander came through amazingly and although I would not order it again quickly, provided an interesting contrast to the sweeter beetroot granita.
We took a herbal tea in the lounge room after our massive meal, served with a raspberry mousse on a homemade biscuit and then covered in chocolate. Considering that it was about quarter to midnight by the time we sat down (and with the last vestiges of the sun glimmering in the distant horizon) I didn’t want to risk having a coffee that would only serve to keep me from any sleep.
Noma was an amazing dining experience with friendly hosts and everyone, including what looked like some of the chefs, coming out to present some of the dishes. I really appreciated the focus on fresh, regional and seasonal food, giving you great reason to want to come back, if only you could get a booking in the normal three-month waiting list. Service was the impeccable kind that you want, with water constantly being topped up and timely interruptions.
The insides have a wonderful warm feeling and hospitable to family and smaller groups alike. Given the strength of the Danish Kroner and the weakness of the British Pound, it’s not a meal that comes with a cheap price, but definitely worth the experience.