“In an effort to shape our way of cooking, we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture, hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future.”
Chef Rene Redzepi is widely credited with reinventing Nordic cuisine, and at the age of 37, the affable, naturalist-meets-mad scientist epicurean is one of the most influential and celebrated chefs in the world. In 2003, Redzepi and co-founder Claus Meyer opened Noma in an eighteenth warehouse in the Christianshavn neighborhood of Copenhagen. Combining El Bulli’s democratic principles and molecular gastronomic style with Micheal Bras’s “one with nature” approach, Noma reinterprets classic Nordic food by emphasizing clean flavors and locally sourced ingredients. In fact, Redzepi takes the locally sourced philosophy to the next level by sending a skilled team of foragers to comb the Nordic countryside for fresh and seasonal ingredients.
According to Redzepi: “We (Denmark) have a landmass here with only about 25 million people living in it, so there’s a lot of wilderness and it’s virtually untouched. There are a lot of wild plants – 50 to 60 common wild herbs, flowers and leaves, and about 60 types of wild berries – so we try to experiment with using them.” Unique and inimitable, it’s a cutting edge model that’s paid off well. Since 2008, Noma has earned two Michelin Stars. It was voted the Best Restaurant in the World in 2010, 2011, and 2012 by Restaurant magazine before finally being usurped by El Celler de Can Roca (Girona, Spain) in 2013. Noma was highlighted in Anthony Bourdain’s CNN travel and food series Parts Unknown, and chef Rene Redzepi was featured on Time magazine’s cover abroad.
Visceral, creative, and with a craftsmanship reflecting Danish culture and Nordic terroir, Redzepi approaches modern cuisine like the Golden Age Dutch Masters approached painting. From foraging wood sorrel to sourcing horse-mussels from the Faroe Islands, the menu at Noma is seasonal and changes with the whims of the weather and availability of ingredients. Lunch and dinner at Noma consists of a 20-course menu of small plates.
Dining at Noma is an all-encompassing, five-senses experience. Actually, it’s more than that; eating at Noma is to savor a culinary philosophy –one that reflects intense seasonality and the raw beauty of nature. To evaluate the restaurant dish by dish is to detract from the experience, as chances are there will be some herb, grain or vegetable that’s being used in a way so far outside the culinary box that staring at the plate with mouth agape seems the only plausible response. Here are 10 highlights from Noma’s 20-course rotating menu.
Prix Fixe: 1.600 DDK ($300)
With wine pairing: DDK 1.000 ($185)
With juice pairing: DDK 600 ($110)
10. The Centerpiece
Trompe l’oeil (French for deceive the eye) is a style of painting that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that objects exist in three dimensions. A meal at Noma begins with a similar type of playful illusion. The table’s floral centerpiece is actually the first course. The centerpiece is crafted from juniper-dusted flatbread designed to look like twigs or small antlers, and the edible red flowers are stuffed with escargot.
The starter courses at Noma consist of what Redzepi refers to as “snacks.” These are small, almost micro-dishes and include inventions like Sea-buckthorn leather with pickled rose hip petals and Savoury cookies with speck and blackcurrants.
The dishes may be small, but they’re big in flavor. The tart buckthorn berries and blackcurrants are used to waken and prep the taste buds. The savoury cookies are presented in a biscuit tin, which gives the dish a warm, homespun feel. Moss and Cep is another popular seasonal snack and features crispy deer lichen dusted with Cep mushrooms –the dish rests on a bountiful bed of Nordic moss.
8. Pickled and Smoked Quail’s Egg
Even a cutting-edge restaurant needs a signature dish, and the Pickled and Smoked Quail’s Egg is a Noma classic. The presentation has the beauty of a rustic farmhouse: a large, porcelain, egg-shaped container opens to reveal a wisp of earthy aroma and two lightly smoked and picked quail eggs on a bed of straw. The yolk is warn, runny, sweet, and velvety smooth.
7. Tartare of Danish Beef, Wild Sorrel Leaves Tarragon Emuslion, and Juniper Berries
Another classic Noma dish, this culinary masterpiece used to be made with musk ox instead of beef, but a supply of musk ox wasn’t consistently available, so the dish was altered. With Noma’s technical wizardry on full display, the tartare of Danish beef is surprisingly light. The dish is best eaten with the hands. The idea is to scoop up the tartare with the lemony sorrel leaves, glide it through the tarragon emulsion and then dip it in the tart juniper berries.
6. Langoustine with Oyster, Parsley and Seawater Emulsion, and Rye Crumbs
Served on a warm stone and dotted with pearls of oyster emulsion, parsley, sprinkles of crushed rye bread and a purple powder of Icelandic seaweed, Noma’s langoustine has the Proustian power to transport even the pickiest (or snobbiest) foodie to a beautiful beach on a summer day.
Patrons are encouraged to “make art” by dragging the langoustine, which is rich, perfectly set and barely cooked, through its many colorful components.
5. Radishes, Soil, and Grass
Fresh, foraged produce is integral to Noma’s dishes, not to mention its culinary world domination, and many of its best offerings are vegetarian. From beetroot with sorrel sauce to white asparagus and pine shoots, this isn’t the type of vegetarian food most people are familiar with. There’s a restlessly innovative and playful approach to many of Noma’s plates, and Radishes, Soil and Grass typifies both the whimsical and the haute-technological. The radishes are served in a terracotta pot. The “soil” is made from crushed malt, hazelnuts and beer, with a creamy base comprised of sheep’s milk yogurt and tarragon. Pull out the fresh radishes, scoop up the soil, and it’s like a forager’s version of chips and artichoke dip. Everything in the terracotta pot is edible, including the peppery leaves on the radishes.
4. Turbot, Vegetable Stalks, and Parsnip Puree
Turbot is the Rolls Royce of fish. This plate ups the ante by showcasing a variety of fresh, high-quality Danish ingredients. The turbot is grilled and artfully served in a parsnip puree, elderflower, white wine, and caper sauce. The dish is then scattered with watercress stems, kale, and beach herbs. Despite the sheer number of ingredients, they compliment the flatfish and never overwhelm its delicate flavor.
3. Dried Scallops and Grain
Dried at 80 degrees to develop a caramelized texture, the scallops in this plate are thinly sliced and placed on a mound of biodynamic grains that have been melded together with watercress puree. The dish is topped with an inky black, squid and seaweed sauce. A dash of toasted hazelnuts provides additional texture and compliments the grains.
2. Strawberries and Straw
Boasting a 20-course menu (it was actually 26 at one time), don’t expect Noma to skimp on dessert. Strawberries and Straw is a relatively new dish. Simple and refreshing, it features elderflower, chamomile and small discs of hay parfait. After the dish is served, a waiter pours a cold rapeseed and chamomile oil over the strawberries and parfait, which melds the strawberries with the floral aromas, creating a perfect sweetness.
1. Jerusalem Artichoke Sorbet with Apple, Shortbread and Chocolate Discs, Apple Reduction and Marjoram
Earthy, sweet, and layered, the unusual combination of flavors in this dessert (typically the third and final) is explosive, yet challenging. To continue with the art analogy, the Jerusalem Artichoke Sorbet is like a Jackson Pollock action painting; there’s so much going on -earth and mint tones, sweet and crunchy discs, tart apple puree -that at first the taste buds experience a sort of short-circuit, flavor overload. All of which means that after a few bites, you’ll be declaring it the best dessert you’ve ever had.