“Noma”; we said to the taxi driver, assuming it to be notorious to all who dwelled in proximity to the number one restaurant in the world. “Address?”, was his response.
And indeed, the experience as a whole did seem absolved from its association with pretention and celebrity. The building was difficult to find, but felt oddly familiar having watched footage of food preservation experimentation on the little houseboat parked outside the restaurant. Copenhagen is a town that has mastered cosiness, walking in from the frosty air on a late November’s evening to a warm candlelit restaurant featuring exposed wooden beams and minimalist furniture epitomised Danish charm.
Service was equally warm and we were soon seated, sipping champagne at a table that was intimate for two whilst offering a full view of the restaurant.
Our first course was a fragrant combination of bitter lemon verbena, earthy thyme and sweet apple that prepared the pallet for a garden of flavours and subtle freshness.
More champagne was poured and our snacks continued with fried reindeer moss, to be dipped into a homemade crème fraiche.
This was followed by a sharp berry filled with soft cream and wrapped in a rose petal. I’ve always found roses to have a soapy flavour, and this was no exception leaving me feeling like I had inhaled a floral spritz of eau de toillete.
Fortunately the next snack, strips of beef tartare seasoned with a sprinkle of ants, was outstanding. The ants were far from a gimmick and had a substantial lemon grass flavour and the texture of coarsely ground black pepper that truly enhanced the delicious tender beef.
Next was a refreshing samphire and watercress ‘sandwich’, with a cleansing vegetal crunch before soft, creamy monkfish liver followed by raw sea urchin with toasted bread. The order of the courses is as well considered as the ingredients, building up the flavours so that your tastebuds enjoy a sensory progression. Noma seems to take inspiration straight from nature, the dishes may be complex but the emphasis on beautiful fresh and distinct flavours makes them simple to enjoy.
We were then served warm Danish savoury cakes with a soft inside flavoured with parsley. The waiter mentioned something about grasshoppers, but I’d be lying if I said I could taste anything as abstract, these cakes were honest comfort food.
I had prepared myself to be disappointed by the restaurant, careful not to get carried away by its accolades, but by the time the starters arrived, I was already enamoured.
We opted for the wine pairing for each course (juice pairing was also available).
The first starter was salty light gelatinous squid with fresh watercress.
This was followed by the most delicate dish of raw prawns with nasturtium leaves in a citrusy broth. This course was an absolute highlight and the raw prawns emanated a Japanese approach to subtle balanced flavours, a true delight to taste.
From Asia back to Nordic roots with a slice of butternut squash and beechnuts with a woody flavour, served with a sour butter sauce. Followed by a showcasing of beetroot and plums with aromatic herbs.
Our final starter was cured egg yolk with slices of potato, another dish consisting of warm comforting mouthfuls.What would the main course be? I had imagined a poncy but perfectly cooked portion of deer with a jus and some charred leeks. However, I was completely surprised to receive at the table an entire duck on a bed of hay served with cabbage leaves and truffle and a carving knife. What a wonderful and plentiful main course! We were encouraged to take some duck and truffle and wrap it in the cabbage leave before devouring the bold meaty earthy goodness. It was such a novel treat to have an interactive and almost humble dish (as humble as a whole duck with truffles can be!). Exquisite, and we really weren’t leaving any of that tender juicy meat even if it meant creating a bit of a mess on the table!Sad that the meal was coming to a close but feeling very satisfied, we were served our first desert courses; a sweet beetroot dish followed by a potato and plum pudding that was a bit too marzipan-like for my tastes.
We were then served light caramel crackers with yeast and moved to the lounge area to enjoy some hot tea and digest our abundant meal. Of course, after three glasses of champagne and eight glasses of wine, we were never going to say no to a digestif. So they brought us a couple of schnapps, with some Danish pastries and a bowl of chocolate covered potato crisps and mushrooms, the latter was quite tasty.
After a spectacular meal, the restaurant was closing and we had to leave. Unfortunately they were unable to call us a taxi as I believe the lines were very busy. So we walked back to the centre of town, the copious amounts of alcohol and food consumed keeping us warm and cheery.