Finding my place. Dining at Noma.
There is a place in every chefs life that holds something dear, a fantasy, a dream. When I was first learning to be a chef I was obsessed with cookbooks. I would splurge my wage on books filled with dishes from wonderful chefs that I never thought I would see or taste. I idolised fine dining, from molecular gastronomy all the way through naturalism and down to the very depths of haute cuisine I was utterly addicted. Being a chef, for me, is about feeding my addiction. My name is Josh Gregory and I am a food addict.
When I was around nineteen I found a book, there was a chef in Copenhagen that was changing the way we view food. He was looking inwards to find something new, he was foraging, fermenting and most importantly creating. That mans name was René Redzepi. Today marks a special day for me, today I get to live my dreams, to visit a place that has become quite special to me though I have never been here. Today we dine at Noma.
We arrive at the restaurant and I can barely contain my excitement, hence the cheesey grin in the photo, James the restaurant manager, a fellow Aussie, greets us and snaps some rapid fire photos before we are whisked into fantasy land. First however the entire kitchen says hello! Jess and I felt like celebrities with all the handshakes and welcomes, an awesome beginning to what was yet to come. We sit and food arrives on mass. Canapés begin with a small bite of gooseberry and elderflower. The tart little berry loves the sprinkle of dried flowers on top and shook my palate into consciousness.
Next whole kohlrabi arrive on stone, unpeeled, raw and kind of strange looking. “Nordic Coconuts” they are explained by our wonderful waitress Katherine. Stuffed inside were straws, we drink the cool juice of the vegetable. It is both refreshing yet has a depth of flavour like I have never tasted before. It was absolutely moorish and before we knew it each of our coconuts were completely drained.
Hip berries and walnuts. I have never had hip berries so my interest was immediately piqued, almost tomato like in texture with a soft, floral sweetness that carried the walnut perfume wonderfully. This was finished in a few bites.
A single bite of black currant berry and rose arrives, upon putting the little dose into your mouth the outer shell liquifies into a dreamy purée of the tart little berry. The rose gave not just the floral note but an almost spiced taste to the berry itself. I loved this little treat, it was interesting and deliciously textural.
Moss and cep. Plain and simple. Having already tried the reindeer moss at Fäviken we were slightly less taken aback seeing it again. At Noma it arrives covered in dehydrated cep. Jess and I found the moss at Fäviken slightly tame, at Noma the cep powder exploded across the palate in a parade of earthy mushroom love. The crackling moss had great texture, delicate and delightful.
Our next course comes in a rather weathered looking box, a biscuit tin in fact. Cheese cookie, rocket and stems. A one bite treasure, the cracker was so frail I nearly crushed it in my eagerness to devour. The rocket is wild and peppery which seemed to make the cheese shine. But blink and it was gone. I really wanted a box of those.
A giant egg makes its way to our table, Jess and I stare as smoke begins to seep out of the edges, our chef lifts the lid and smoke whisps away leaving two pickled and smoked quail eggs. “Please eat all at once” chef says. As if I needed to be told twice. Rich creamy egg yolk is cuddled with smoke, the vinegar is a little cutaway from all that richness and the smoke is light and fragrant. Yum!
Chefs serving food is something we don’t see enough of in Australia, by the end of our time here we had met practically the entire kitchen! Our next chef brings with him Caramelised milk and cod liver. This was a bite of the ocean. Salty and slightly nutty. The ocean proved to be a little overwhelming for Jess, but for me I found it a taste so of the sea that I wanted to eat more. So I of course ate the remainder of hers. At the same time arrived a Danish treat of Æbleskiver and greens. Usually a sweet pastry here it was served savoury, a kind of doughnut dough filled with cooked greens and topped with flowers of all kinds. The cod was great but these little treats were insane!
Another treat from the sea, I must also mention we are still in canapé territory here and my belly is filling, Sea urchin toast. My first taste of Northern sea urchin, they prove to be much different to the ones we get at home, a little less mineral flavour and a little more richness, the addition of a duck skin cracker only added to this. The charred toast underneath also brought the humble urchin up to another level.
From the sea to the forest floor, Cep mushrooms. They arrive dotted with a fermented beef paste. After visiting the Nordic food lab yesterday we know of the umami explosions caused by fermentation. Here the delicate ceps rose up to the power of a beef main course. Great flavours with but two seemingly simple ingredients.
Burnt leek next. Yep looks like somebody forgot to take these ones off the BBQ. In fact what we eat is inside, the tiny leek hearts were soft and delicate. The addition of cod roe gave a lovely saltiness that sat just in front of sweet, smokey onion flavour. This was a great dish and really showcased the Nordic love of smoke and fire. Burn your leeks folks they are delicious.
The final canapé is presented. Pike head, roasted and skewered. No cutlery, no problem! I dive straight into the cheeks, the neck meat and of course the eye. Jess fiddles around a bit before finally ripping in like a Viking warrior princess. I feel like I am having quite a bad influence on her. Perhaps when we have a restaurant we won’t even own cutlery? As for the fish it is perfectly cooked, supple and sweet. Always eat the eye!
Bread in fine dining restaurants is a must but here, rather than the traditional little roll or slice of sourdough we are given an entire fresh loaf. Warm and toasty we can slather it with an acidulated butter or my favourite pork fat with crispy onions. At this point I am going to mention the service. I’m a chef so I’m constantly focused on the food, if you want details on service, ask Jess. Here service is something else, it is beyond friendly and professional by the end of our meal we felt like family. We chatted about out travels, learnt about our hosts lives, even exchanged contact details it was everything that is great about hospitality and beyond. No stuffy waiters with a gripe over wine pairing, no dress code, the service at Noma is utterly incredible. They make you feel so welcomed and so happy that you’re here, it was dare I say, perfect!
Now back to food, a relatively new dish arrives, squid and fennel. The squid is shaved thin and served in a fennel broth so light it is like a whisper on the tongue. Broccoli adds an almost horseradish like flavour boosting the squid into a refreshing hum of seafood and vegetable. A great dish to begin our next stage of dining. The ice bowl it was served in also kept everything almost at freezing point!
Ravioli looking shapes arrive next. They are in fact nasturtium leaves, filled with samphire and floating in an aromatic broth of rhubarb root. Again being at the Nordic food lab we could see a little fermentation happening here, the rhubarb root had a soy like depth with the nasturtium adding a creeping bitterness counteracting the saltiness of the samphire. The food at Noma is impeccably balanced, hand foraged ingredients are treated in a way that they truly shine.
Onion and fermented pears. Now this is what we came to see. The dish is finished with ants. No that’s not a typo the dish is finished with ants. The Noma kitchen look into ingredients that can give different notes of flavour. Here the ants bring little pops of acidity paired with the smokey onion and fruity pear. I didn’t quite catch the description the first time so I just dove in without thinking, when our waitress came over and asked “how were you’re ants” I was shaken into realisation. This was a great dish, intensely savoury with the fermented pear and ants bringing harmonic sour notes. The ants can march one by one into my stomach anytime.
Beets and aromatic herbs. Another wonderful savoury, the slow roasted beets were earthy and soft, the gaggle of herbs around the dish made every bite interesting. The dish was finished with rose oil, rose and beetroot being a combination I have never experienced paired together nicely with the rose bringing out some of the fruit notes within the beetroot.
The next course was probably Jessica’s favourite, cauliflower and pine, cream and horseradish. Presented covered in fragrant pine needles the cauliflower had been slow roasted and basted in a pine stock. Rich and very fragrant. A sauce made with refreshing yoghurt whey softened the tangy punch of horseradish. This was a fantastic dish and definitely a highlight.
We follow with some serious fermentation, a dish of potato and bleak fish roe. The potato is attacked with a mould which causes fermentation. This changes the flavour dramatically. They add some real earth notes combined with hop and barley aromatics, paired with soft, slightly salty fish roe this made for a seriously interesting course. A flavour that made us think as well as being pretty tasty!
Now we have has a load of veggies, I am ready for some meat. Bring me meat for I am man. Then it arrives, locally hunted wild duck, pear and kale. The duck is fantastically pink and tastes of the wild. This duck swam in streams, flew through scrub, this duck lived, and he was delicious! With pear in many textures and a sauce of kale this dish tasted of the wild. The sweet pear and the ground, earthy taste of kale made for a fantastically pretty piece of meat.
Thus finished our savoury courses. Dessert begins with blueberry and ants. An ice cream sandwich filled with green juniper and deliciously tart blueberry sorbet. Served alongside the sandwich are a few little nasturtium bites filled with a blueberry compote and an ant paste. The sweet blueberry, the vivid nasturtium and those wondrous little bites of sour that we now wonder how we lived without. It is a winning combination.
We are nearing the end of this incredible experience, it has been so great I don’t think I want to leave! Our final course is a dish of potato and plum, a dish so beautifully simple that it became our instant favourite. The plum compote is rich and soft, next to it is a creamy, sweet, potato purée and a cream made from the inner seeds of the plum. The seeds infuse an almond like flavour into the cream which ties the entire dish into something truly magical. I cannot believe that we are here, this is the stuff dreams are made of.
Now to see the team, Stuart one of the chefs brings us right into the kitchen where chefs are furiously peeling plums to make more of that amazing compote, they all pop up and say hello and we chat about the incredible lunch we’d just eaten. The development kitchen upstairs is filled with ideas for up and coming dishes, chefs dart in and out, always saying hi on the way past. This place is like Wonkaland! However we’re told Mr Wonka aka René is not in today so once again I am foiled in my attempt to meet my culinary hero. I guess I’ll just have to come back.
We’re taken back downstairs for coffee and petit four, even the petit four are special here! First we are served a traditional Danish pastry covered in fermented barley. The pastry is rich, sweet and flaky and the barley instantly took us home with a flavour reminiscent of vegemite. Oh how we miss vegemite. To follow was a piece of puffed pork skin dipped in milk chocolate and covered in berries. An almost American snack, bacon and chocolate. We sit and chat with the waiters and waitresses, feeling completely at home. Then we realise we’ve been here for nearly five hours! Dinner service looms and so with full bellies and a few more food friends we depart. Noma is an utterly magical place and if you haven’t realised how much we loved it by this point then get the next available booking and see for yourself. The service, the food, the wonderful people. See for yourself because this place is something very special.
Welcome to the family.
Josh and Jess
Dined 8th October 2013
Strandgade 93, Dk-1401, Copenhagen K, Denmark