If you know me on a personal level, or any level at all for that matter, you know that my world revolves around food. Any travel I undertake centres on food…my career is food-based…time spent at home is time spent in the kitchen…and if I’m not eating food, then I am probably reading about it [or, at the very least, thinking about it]. You get the idea! What [insert passion here] is to you, food is to me. I am a self-confessed, food-obsessed lunatic. And I am really being kind to myself here.
As much as I would enjoy saying ‘my love knows no limits’, it does. For one, I refuse to stand in line for any time that amounts to being greater than 15 minutes*. I also tend to draw the line at lengthy waiting lists. Complicated booking processes are another no. And you can pop trekking across town in the name of dinner on there too.
That said, there are [admittedly rare] occasions when all of these things come together to create a powerful force of their very own and the question ‘what are we eating?’ becomes something entirely different. Something to strive towards. Something…special. Suddenly, I am willing to undergo all of those hideous inconveniences.
Lengthy waiting list? ✔️
Complicated booking process? ✔️
Travelling large distances? ✔️
The TRIFECTA. It must be worth it. So very, very worth it.
So, yes. It is exactly how it sounds: I am a raging hypocrite. I will happily travel the length of the earth simply to eat. But an hour-long wait for a table anywhere [and I mean anywhere] in London? Outrageous.
That said, I just don’t care! I went out of my way for Fäviken, in the remote northern reaches of Sweden. I took on the journey to Central in Lima, Peru. I ventured to Eleven Madison Park in New York City. And, as of this month, noma in Copenhagen also came to feature on my growing list of Things That Lesley Does That Do Not Make Sense.
But let me reiterate: it is [and has been] worth it. So very, very worth it.
Having maintained a prominent position on my food-nerd bucket list for a number of years, when I heard noma was to shut its doors in early 2017, I knew I could be dismissive about my intentions no longer and finally decided to make the commitment to pop on over to Copenhagen [a worthy benefit of living in London] and see what all the fuss was about.
I logged into the online booking system at the precise time [or if I am really honest, quite a bit earlier] reservations opened for the upcoming season, joined the virtual queue and waited patiently for my turn to view availability. And then there I was, three months later, enthusiastically prancing through the front doors of noma for my lunch reservation.
We were greeted warmly by the kitchen and front of house staff immediately as we entered and were cheerfully guided to our table. This heart-warming welcome was a common theme throughout the afternoon and we were consistently made to feel as though we were at home and dining amongst friends.
A first round of drinks were offered and a friendly member of the kitchen team [many of which we ended up meeting throughout the course of our meal] came over to showcase the array of live seafood we would be enjoying for lunch that day.
…Then all of a sudden our dizzyingly delicious, impossibly fun lunch was underway! And now I shall drag you through my afternoon.
First up was simply titled ‘Apple of the Season’. Crisp pearls of the fruit were topped with oxalis leaves and served in their own juice with elderflower and fermented apple paste. Cleansing, fresh and bright, this was the perfect start to the meal.
Next was Fresh Sliced Norwegian Scallop. Shucked mere moments before being plated and served with its own roe, the translucent petals were smeared with a currant wood fudge and arrived bathing in mussel juice. The sweet, supple, silky slivers were laden with umami. Absolute perfection.
A reflection of the current season, an Autumn Platter arrived, hiding a selection of tasty bites: pickled pear topped with a birch leaf crisp, a blackcurrant leaf crafted from the piquant berry and black garlic ‘fruit leather’.
However, the most arresting item on the plate was the malt flat bread with nasturtium and creme fraiche seasoned with…ants! These brought a welcome citrus note to the bite and once I got over the squeamish feeling, I really rather liked this snack.
Then came ‘Radish Pie’. The crumbly roasted kelp seaweed crust was filled with coriander paste and reduced cucumber juice before being topped with delicate petals of beetroot-infused radish, glazed with horseradish oil. Every bit as delicious as it was beautiful!
A perfectly smooth Milk Curd served up with fresh walnuts and parsley followed suit. Reminding me of silken tofu, this was really very nice…but in the midst of all the other standouts, this was perhaps the least memorable dish for me on the day. Something I felt all the more guilty for when I later witnessed the unpaid interns dutifully shelling the creamy kernels painstakingly by hand in the upstairs kitchen.
Generous custard-like tongues of Faroese Sea Urchin arrived snugly encased in sweet, crisp cabbage leaves with hazelnut and pine salt. Positively bursting with briny oceanic flavour, this was an absolute favourite of mine. Hands down the best uni I have ever had.
Funnily enough, it was the sweetly-caramelised baby onion, with a kiss of bitter char from the grill, that threatened to steal the show when it came to Danish Lobster with Lavender and a touch of rose oil. No easy feat in the face of a pristine piece of perfectly cooked crustacean! Another hit.
Deeply savoury, rich and satisfying, a velvety barley butter broth carried an impeccable round of Butternut Squash. Slowly simmered and retaining a good amount of bite, it came topped with beech nuts and dried kelp. Delicious. [I got too excited by my new-found love for a succinctly vegetarian dish and forgot to take a photo 😓].
Following this was a generous mound of freshly picked Norwegian King Crab bathed in a full-flavoured egg yolk sauce cured with beef ‘garum’. Incredibly tasty.
A little different and completely unexpected, next came a selection of Charred Greens which had been grilled over charcoal with smoked butter and topped with an umami-rich scallop caramel. Complain as some might about undergoing the journey to noma, only to be served a plate of foraged leaves [with a steak knife, no less]…I found these to be extremely delicious and it proved to be one of the most memorable dishes of the meal for me.
Our final savoury course was a Whole Roasted Wild Duck, which was presented to us table-side before being taken back to the kitchen for carving.
It returned neatly plated, with each of us receiving various parts of the bird. A side of cabbage leaves, topped with more of that intensely flavoursome scallop paste and a sprinkling of elderflower, were provided to wrap slices of the breast meat in. A quick drizzle of pickled plum sauce and…Scandi duck pancakes!
To cut the richness of the game meat, a variety of pickles were offered on the side: wild roses in vinegar, salted chanterelles, lacto-fermented asparagus and gooseberries, elderflower in vinegar and salted blackcurrant leaves. Very punchy!
Onto the sweet side of things! And I must admit, these even had the dessert-despiser inside me swooning.
…But with weird and wonderful dishes such as this Dessert of Potatoes and Plums, how couldn’t it? Faultless quenelles of plum puree, potato mash and plum kernel cream came floating in an aquavit and berry sauce. Simply awesome.
Then came Black Currant Wood Ice Cream and Roasted Konini. Just like a fun-sized Magnum [if Magnums came topped with oxalis leaves and wild flowers]…only so much better. Crazy good.
Last lunch bites were to be downed with a rich egg yolk liqueur.
Our last sweet treat arrived: deep-fried Reindeer Moss (!!) sprayed with chocolate ganache. Nature’s Aero! A little pot of creme fraiche with a seaweed reduction was served on the side for dipping.
Coated in chocolate and carrying a pleasing liquorice-like quality, preserved, dried and re-hydrated Cep Mushrooms were also hidden amongst the greenery.
I will not bother re-hashing the principles and overall concept of noma…I can’t imagine I have anything to add that hasn’t already been said before by someone far more adequate to the task. Therefore, I will focus on my experience and the food that I ate.
Previously at the forefront of a movement to spread Nordic cuisine; having nabbed the number one position four times over on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List and currently holding two Michelin stars; it is all too easy to come into noma with a plethora of pre-conceived expectations. Embarking on the entire journey, my greatest concern was that the food would be interesting…as opposed to just being good.
However, to my surprise, I honestly felt that noma lived up to its hype. Simply put, it was one of those instances where I left thinking…I get it. I totally get it.
From the service, to the food, to the all-round experience, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent here. And to sit here writing about it now and vividly being able to recall every dish I ate, every flavour, every texture…well, that says it all really.
…And then it’s all over and you’re left wondering how dinner could possibly top the lunch you just had. [Although, to be fair, you are in Copenhagen and there is a wealth of other dining options that could easily give noma a run for its money]. Me? There was one answer and one answer only:
The Fine Print
Menu: DKK 1,900 [approximately £215], including 25% VAT
Paired Wine: DKK 1,100 [approximately £125], including 25% VAT
Paired Juices: DKK 700 [approximately £80], including 25% VAT
Noma is currently in its final season and is scheduled to close its doors for good at the end of February, 2017 [update: Noma 2.0 opened its doors at a new location in Copenhagen in February 2018]. Credit card details are currently required to secure all bookings, but no upfront payment is requested. [Update: booking procedures have now changed and full payment is required as a deposit to secure the booking].