Review: Noma, Copenhagen

Noma is all about ideas, playing with convention, with ingredients, with presentation. With an objective eye I would have to say that the results are not always conventionally delicious. Those more challenging dishes become delicious through the medium of a palate that is hungry for new experiences, possibly even slightly jaded by a thousand prior fine dining experiences that have all started to feel a bit similar. If you don’t like your food to challenge you, you may not like Noma. Luckily, I do. Doubly luckily, so does Maureen. I don’t think we’ve ever oo-ed and wow-ed and giggled so much at a meal. The giggling reached a crescendo when we tried to keep hold of madly twitching live shrimps in order to dip them in butter and pop them in our mouths. Slightly nervous giggling, I’d say.

I definitely came away from Noma with a refreshed palate. Along with that I came away with a whole bunch of new ideas, some general and some specific, for things I’d like to try out myself. Of course this happens now and again at various restaurants – Madeira jelly from The Crown at Whitebrook, for instance – but I don’t think I’ve ever left a meal with a whole easter basket full of them. Partly it’s the sheer originality at Noma, often combined with apparent simplicity. Partly it’s the charming way in which every dish is presented and explained in detail by the staff, a wonderfully multi-national team of highly engaging young people.

So, what ideas? How about fudge made with smoked bacon fat. I’ve been keeping my bacon fat for a while, but seldom using it. One of the petit fours at Noma was fudge made with smoked bone marrow instead of butter, served pressed into hollow pieces of bone. Funky, and damnably tasty if you like sweet things and meaty things. I really, really, REALLY wished they sold boxes of the stuff. Nevermind, I’ll do it myself. But rather than faff around with bone marrow I’m gonna see if smoky bacon fudge also rocks. Watch this space!

On a related note: smoking. No, I’m not going to start buying cancer sticks. But as one of the chefs explained, you just need to burn some hay in the bottom of a pan, put in a little steamer or some other basket to keep the food off the hay, add your foodstuff of choice and pop the lid on. Ten to twenty minutes, it’ll take some experimenting because things take on flavour at different rates. We were served a deliciously soft and wobbly smoked quail egg with the gently smoking hay still beneath it adding a gently pungent fug to the air. Time I smoked some fish… meat… cheese… fruit? I’m feeling in an experimental frame of mind after Noma. Watch this space.

Berry leather. One of the first amuse bouches was a piece of blackcurrant leather laid over a scrunchy, salty piece of extra-bubbly pork crackling and the combination was a real pleasure. Blackcurrant leather? Apparently you just take some strained juice, pour it into a shallow container as a thin layer and leave it to dry at room temperature. Whether it takes overnight or a little longer, you’ll end up with a thin piece of dark, powerfully tasting fruit leather that you could use to wrap all kinds of treats. Watch this space. Did I say that already?

Foraging! I’m definitely going to do some more. There’s a good bit of foraged produce appearing on British menus these days (and don’t tell anyone, but I have a sneaky suspicion that some of it is actually being cultivated to order which kinda makes a mockery but there you go) but it still tends to be odds and ends, usually of stuff like sea buckthorn that I’ve never knowingly found on a country ramble. Noma gave us dandelion and ground elder leaves, both things that I’ve got growing, entirely unintentionally, in the garden. There was foraged vegetation of some kind with almost every course, although I’ll probably struggle to find reindeer moss in the English countryside. It was a deliciously scrunchy snack though, deep fried with a sprinkle of cep powder. I’ll have to wait and see what I can forage up. Watch this space, again.

And despite my aversion to kitchen gadgets (I hand-whisked marshmallows – my arm looked like Popeye’s by the end of it) I’m almost definitely going to buy a juicer. We opted for the selection of fresh juices with our meal, rather than wine. It seemed in keeping with the innovative nature of the meal; we’d come all this way for

Rene’s wizardry, why accompany it with a load of French plonk that we’d pay a lot less for at a less lauded restaurant back home? And as we imagined all twenty courses could be challenging, it’d be a shame to have reached the happy-but-not-really-concentrating-anymore state that a wine pairing can induce in the later stages of a big meal.

As a result we were treated to the following combinations: cucumber and dill; apple and pine; celery and celeriac; carrot and juniper; beetroot and lingonberry; pear and verbena; elderflower. All were delicious, the pear and verbena stunningly so, and all demonstrated that you can match good food with something other than wine. Must I get started on fine restaurants with a fifty page wine list who can’t be buggered to offer any soft drinks beyond coke, lemonade and orange juice? Grrr. Rant for another day. Anyway, I’m definitely in the mood for juicing things and adding unexpected flavours. Watch this space for the results.

Look, I know none of these ideas are new and of course I’ve bumped into them before. Heck, I’ve got a copy of Richard Mabey’s “Food for Free” right here. But that was the real brilliance of our meal at Noma. It refreshed my culinary palate and got me all excited about discovering new tastes and the joy of experimentation. At Noma over twenty fascinating courses I may not have eaten any single dish to match the lazily obvious base pleasure of the pan-fried foie gras with cognac sauce I ate the previous night, but then again a ten-day trek in the Himalayas is hardly a walk in the park either. Which experience stays with you, though?

At £170 for the menu and £60 for the juices we’re definitely in Fat Duck territory, although bear in mind that any eating experience in Denmark is 20-30% more expensive than the equivalent back in Blighty.

For those who want a visual taste of our twenty course lunch, with notes, just click on the first photo of this gallery and stroll through…

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