This week's blog post is by Laura Tanner, our Wandering Wordsmith. Join her as she visits the world's #1 rated restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
As I love food, and eat it almost every day, I’ve wanted to go to Noma for a long time. I bought the cookbook for my sister, yet somehow she wasn’t able to procure the edible pine shoots and wild mushrooms required for some of the recipes. So, I had to go see for myself.
If you’re going to the best restaurant in the world, you generally need to be in the right city in order to get there. Drama ensued when our flight to Copenhagen was cancelled. Given that it was this was the day before our lunch, I started contemplating how to get to Denmark by car or by boat. Thankfully, we snagged two middle seats in the next flight. When we finally arrived, our friends told us about how Noma was not just a restaurant, but also a movement to highlight both Scandanavian cuisine, but also eating local. It has kickstarted a thriving local restaurant scene. I hadn’t realized the extent of the local focus. Since it was early spring, there would be few vegetables in season, and Noma doesn’t use, say, tomatoes from Italy or berries from Argentina. I worried that this could be bleak – would we be munching on acorns and twigs?
The challenge going to Noma, I think, is that after the fanfare, the reservation process, and reading about the “Best restaurant in the world”, your expectations rise to astronomical levels. Can it really be that good? It's not a simple route to get here. We had one day available on our visit with our friends in Copenhagen. Three months ahead of time, you have to sign onto the website. At the designated hour, your get your queue number. Then, at your designated time, you watch the numbers count up to yours, which means you can access the reservation system. Then, if you're nimble and lucky, you might be able to secure a lunch reservation, as we did. Our queue number was something like 1800. Moments later they went up to 20,000.
Copenhagen at the end of March is a cold mix of greys, straight lines, and Scandinavian egalitarianism. The restaurant is also these things, and it was unusually warm enough for my husband, Barry, to take off his North Face. There is no dress code, the menu comes after you eat, and the waiters explain the food and wine, cheerfully answering all of our questions.
Luckily we didn't have to make any decisions, because I was busy contemplating food. Since the food is all local, ingredients are more limited in the winter. I wonder if that makes it a better time to come since more creativity is required. Or if summer's bounty produces more interesting dishes. Let's not think about this too hard, or we'll have to come back. With the wine pairing, you can't go quite as local. So, the wines were unusual, sometimes unfiltered, wines from small wineries.
Now I'm going to try to describe the food at the best restaurant in the world. Whatever, no big deal, I'll just use some superlatives to demonstrate my awe and admiration, knowing that my words and pictures will pale in comparison to the actual experience. Ok, stay focused. More flowers. These ones are wild beach roses with fermented wild plums, which you eat like a cracker. If the question is, "Is it worth flying to Copenhagen for a restaurant?", or "Can the world's best restaurant really be that good?" then actually, it was answered here. During the second course of 17.
If you cook with foie gras, truffles, and cream sauce, then the ingredients do some of the cheffing for you. But how delicious, on the other hand, can you get a plain onion to be? This seems to be the type of question that Noma focuses on answering.
These are sweet shrimps in ramson leaves, formed like ravioli.
The next dish was the second of my overall favourites (i.e. the dishes that were super extra amazing, as opposed to just amazing). Raw squid comes with squid "ferment", i.e. sauce made with last year's squid guts that were fermented in the lab. Now I'm sure that this is nearly impossible to make taste so delicious, so I considered putting my head inside the ice bowl to lick it out.
And now we get to the ants, a signature at Noma. The first thing I noticed, having not intentionally eaten ants before, is that they taste refreshingly citrusy. The second is that it seems we're only eating torsos. This, I assume, means that someone has the job of de-legging and de-facing the fresh ants with tweezers. Tough gig. We were instructed to eat these with our hands, because it's casual like that. I did check to see if I had any ants in my teeth afterwards.
We called the next dish "fish tacos", while the menu called it "Male and female lumpfish with whole milk". The whole milk is the taco shell, which gave the dish a toasted cheese flavour. Then you get the crunchy shell, the bursty roe and the seasoned fish, making it some or our group's favourite dish.
This, finally, is my favourite. I call it "Garlic Fruit Roll-up", but they call it "Vegetable flower". I'm not selling this, but then again, how could I possibly make a sweet garlic leather sound good?
Until the last main course, the food has been fairly light and healthy, so here comes the richest dish. Roasted bone marrow comes with a herb sauce and leaf wraps, to counter the chubbiness of it.
Until dessert, Barry's nut allergy yielded only slight substitutions. Here, however, Barry got an entirely different dish, since the bitter sweet dessert, which melted in the mouth, was all about the toasty flavour of its hazelnut oil. It seems that the local focus is limited with dessert, since chocolate and hazelnuts simply don't grow in the Nordics. However, moss and mushrooms do, and are tasty with chocolate!
The finale to such an incredible experience is local Aquavit. It's hard to tell, but behind this glass I'm feeling very happy and comfortably full.
Thanks Laura for making us jealous. Stay tuned for more of her travel and food adventures.