1401 København K
Tel.: +45 32 96 32 97
Overall rating: 9/10
Date of visit: July 2012
Before I say anything else, if you go to Noma, choose the juice menu!
Ever since Noma was awarded the price of being the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine in 2010, and has held that position for three consecutive years, it has been extremely difficult to get a table. Once a month their website opens for reservations for a full month three months into the future. According to a staff member, all the tables get booked within the first five minutes, sometimes even sooner. I have, however, been told that it should at times be possible to call the restaurant in the morning and ask if they have a table the same day, next day or the coming week, as some people will inevitably have to cancel. That however means you have to be in Copenhagen or be able to get there quickly. The restaurant also have a waiting list. We were lucky to book a table for lunch two weeks in advance. I do think we were very lucky. I just had a look at their website, and there’s not a single table available for the next three months.
The restaurant itself is bleak and unpolished, has no tablecloths, and the chairs have Viking-like fur hanging over the back rest. It’s far removed from the luxurious “castles” you would find in for instance France, but it suits the style of cooking perfectly. The staff is simply dressed in black jeans, a light blue shirt and an apron.
Earlier on, Noma had the choice of a 7 course menu or a 12 course menu. Now, the restaurant has listed a tasting menu on their website, and although we had a menu each after the meal we were actually not presented with a menu when we were seated. It seems to be an increasing trend among top restaurants in Copenhagen that there’s only one menu, and the only option you have is choosing the number of courses (although we weren’t given that option at Noma either). Most can change bits and bops if you have allergies, or if there are certain things you simply don’t like.
At Noma, we just asked for no oysters for both of us and no clams for me either. Then they cooked for us. One of the waiters later told me that they cook what they have and what they can get, so there are some variations from table to table. I noticed that one table next to us was served razor clams (but we did ask for no clams for me), while another table had langoustine for a later dish. But alas! They didn’t cook us the famous musk with milk skin. I would think it would also be possible to ask for a vegetarian menu – a guest at the table being served razor clams had something different, and it seemed to be all vegetarian.
A menu was 1500 kroner (€200) per person, and we also chose a juice menu at 550 kroner (€74) for 7 glasses. There is also the option of a wine pairing at 950 kroner (€127) for 7-8 glasses, and they of course also have an extensive list of wines per bottle. Water was 50 kroner (€7) per person (which is actually the second cheapest of all the top restaurants I’ve been to in Copenhagen, except for Geranium which actually didn’t charge for water). They serve the same menu for lunch and dinner, so it doesn’t matter when you go.
So, it’s not a cheap place, and it’s the most expensive menu in Copenhagen. Nevertheless, Scandinavia is one of the most expensive areas in the world, so compared to the cost of living and eating here, and compared to for instance top restaurants in Paris, the price seems reasonable when considering the food served here.
The bread was a sourdough served with three types of spread: Pork lard with crispy onions on top, a goat cheese butter, and a so-called virgin butter. This was apparently butter where the churning process had been stopped early, so it contained more buttermilk – and you could really taste the buttermilk in there. Refreshing, slightly acidic and great light texture too.
First was served quite a flurry of small appetizers, and I must admit that I have difficulty remembering all of them, despite the pictures, as there were so many, and they came so rapidly.
The first one was already on our table when we arrived, as it was part of the flower pot sitting on the table. It was a malt bread served with a dipping.
Next was one of favourite appetizers, which was dried moss with cep dust. The tast is difficult to describe, but it was slightly woody (obviously), but very, very pleasant.
Cod liver was served in very thin slices on top of a pancake like-texture.
I was served crispy pork rind with a blackcurrant layer on top, slightly similar to thick paper in texture, whereas my wife had a clam where the bottom shell was edible.
A cake tin contained small biscuits with cheese and stems on top.
Next was an appetizer I had heard of before coming here. A jar of ice cubes was put on our table, and two small live (!) prawns were lying on the ice. We then had to take the twitching prawn, slightly sedated from the ice, dip it in slightly browned butter, and then eat it.
A crispy sphere that looked a bit like crispy noodles was served with a creamy filling and dusted with mushroom.
Rye bread was sandwiched together with chicken skin, having a cream with lumpfish roe in the middle.
Quail eggs were smoked lightly in hay. This was another of our favourites among the appetizers. I feel it’s quite limited how interesting you can make an egg, and often the success depends on what you combine it with. Nevertheless, this is quite possibly the best egg I’ve ever had, the smokiness being perfectly balanced. The white was solid, while the yolk was suitably runny and warm.
A flowerpot contained a green cream as the soil, some malt on top (the top soil), while small carrots and radishes were the plants. An amusing idea, although I have read it’s not an idea originally created by Noma, but I didn’t find any of the ingredients to be particularly flavourful, neither the cream, nor the vegetables.
Paper thin toasts were sandwiched together around herbs and a smoked cod roe cream.
Æbleskiver (literally “apple slices”) is a pancake-like batter that has been fried in a special pan with big round indentations, and they are traditionally served around Christmas, although you can find them frozen in all Danish supermarkets all year round. Here they were filled with a cucumber cream, and a Finnish sardine-type fish had been inserted into it. This was one of my favourites among the appetizers.
Then the first proper course came: Fresh and fermented peas. The cook explained that Japan ferment rice or soy beans for miso, but Denmark specialise more in peas, so they had substituted the rice/soy with peas. Around it was green tea but in liquid form and in jelly form. I have to admit that I might be a little bit biased with this dish, because I absolutely adore peas, and I have heard that scientists say that Denmark and Norway have the best climates in the world for peas (as well as apples and strawberries). I have clearly tasted the difference to fresh peas in Spain. The flavour of the peas were divine, and it worked terribly well with the green tea, which was perfectly balanced in intensity. This was truly memorable (10/10, or at least 9.5/10).
My wife had dehydrated scallops served as crispy discs on top of creamy biodynamic buckwheat with a mussel and squid ink sauce. I was instead served a cucumber dish. It was very pretty to look at, but the problem with this dish was that it was very one-dimensional. Granted, I find cucumber to be very uninteresting, but the cucumber I had at Sant Pau in Spain really impressed me. Here, everything on the plate, except for the pickled elderberries on top, tasted like cucumber, and not spectacular cucumber either – the balls of cucumber, the black “berries” (I believe it was cucumber dipped in squid ink), and both the green and the white “snow” tasted like cucumber. This was the worst dish in the meal for me (5/10). I tried a bit of my wife’s dish, and although I don’t like clams, I actually preferred her dish to mine, although I didn’t feel the scallops’ full potential had been used. Simply fried scallops, or just as tartar would have been fine, but at least they had put some thoughts into making this.
Next up was crab served with a bit of light soup, some tarragon and three egg yolks. The crab was clearly very fresh, but we both agreed that it lacked seasoning, and we should probably only have had a small bit of the egg yolk at a time instead of eating a whole egg yolk, as they were very rich (6/10).
Beef was served as tartar with a bit of spices, some horseradish, a few shallot rings and sorrel leaves on top. On the side was a tarragon sauce. When choosing a la carte I usually never choose tartar of any kind, as I simply find that cooked meat or fish brings out the flavour a lot better than when raw. Along with the steak tartar I had in El Gastronomo in Valencia, Spain (which is done in a completely different way), this is the best steak tartar I’ve ever had. Here, the beef was very thinly sliced, rather than minced, and extremely tender and with very good flavour. The amount of horseradish was also just right, not being overly spicy, and the sorrel gave acid to cut through the rich beef (8-8.5/10).
Next was an absolutely stunning dish: Caramelised onions with green (unripe) strawberries and a sauce made from green strawberries and thyme. Even though it was a very simple, and I suppose one-dimensional, dish, I never felt that anything was missing, simply because I felt like I was in heaven with every single bite. The onions were still crisp, but had none of the pungent taste that raw onions have. I’ve had really good onions at El Celler de Can Roca, Geranium and Kokkeriet , but these really topped everything. This was nothing short of astonishing in all its simplicity (10/10).
Zander had been wrapped in cabbage and then grilled – that is the cabbage itself was grilled, whereas the fish was steamed inside the leaves they explained. A beautifully presented and very refreshing green sauce of verbena decorated the plate (“it was art” according to my wife). At the table a foamy sauce made of fish bones and white wine was poured on. Zander is one of my favourite fish, and when I have served it pan-fried for friends, who are not keen on fish, or when we had it pan-fried at Restaurant Herman (also in Copenhagen), everybody were clapping their hands because of this spectacular fish. Here it was a bit more stringy and chewy, although not over- or undercooked. The cabbage was not a very obvious accompaniment, but it fit the theme of the restaurant very well (still 7/10).
We were then brought a very hot cast-iron plate, a whole raw egg (in its shell), some herbs, a bit of butter and a crispy spiral of Jerusalem artichoke (or maybe it was just potato). They then put on a timer when we cracked the egg onto the plate and returned after 1:20 minutes and instructed us to scramble it a bit around and put in the herbs and the crispy spiral. The theatre involved in this dish was fun, but the food itself seemed like something that could easily have been done better and more interesting if they had served a prepared dish instead (although this would mean no theatre). More about this later (6/10).
Veal sweetbreads had a bit of green (unripe) strawberry purée on top and was resting on several different types of leaves, mushrooms, and a small piece of turnip. A soup made from dried mushrooms were then poured onto it. The staff told us that five guys went out and found these leaves in the countryside every morning. The leaves all had quite different tastes, and although some of them were a bit bitter, it was never too bitter, nor did they overpower the mushrooms and the excellent sweetbreads. I didn’t like the turnip, as it was simply extremely bitter, but apparently I only like turnips as a purée made with cream. The score is for the rest (9/10).
Desserts were a mixed affair. After the first dessert, the staff told us that in general their dessert were almost never very sweet.
The first one was milk curd, rhubarb (I believe raw, but it might have been marinated), sorrel leaves and a Norwegian cheese type called brown cheese blended with shortcrust pastry. A rhubarb soup was then poured on at the table. We both felt this dessert was too sour, and the milk curd both vanished in this combination and was frankly quite plain. The brown cheese pastry was definitely better, although my wife said it was not very good compared to the brown cheese she had in the past. I can’t say. I’ve only had a bit from a tube several years ago (5-6/10).
Gammel Dansk is a type of bitter alcohol, and I really don’t like it (I wonder how many people in Denmark actually truly like it), so I was quite surprised at how pleasant the ice cream made with Gammel Dansk was. It was served in a soup of sorrel and was decorated with a few fresh sorrel leaves and biscuit-like flakes of milk. Although, again, the milk just tasted like milk, the texture was great, and it worked really well with the rest of the ingredients (8/10).
After this we were offered another dessert. I was a bit unsure about whether everybody had this particular dessert, or it if was just because my wife complained that the desserts had not been very sweet. When I asked a waiter he said “Weeeell, maybe” and then winked at us. In any case, I’m glad they served it, as it was the best of the desserts: Walnut ice cream with walnut powder, freeze-dried berries and frozen, granulated cream. Admittedly, walnuts might be my least favourite type of nut (the similarly tasting pecan I like much better), but here the walnut flavour was intense but without having any of the bitterness or harshness that almost always ruins walnuts for me. The texture was simply perfect – wonderfully smooth and not too frozen, nor too defrosted. The freeze-dried berries and walnut powder was a good match and gave a good texture contrast to the ice cream, but I found the frozen, granulated cream a bit redundant, as the ice cream already had cream in it, and the granulated cream simply tasted like cream. They could easily have substituted this with something more exciting (like for instance frozen and granulated buttermilk – another great Scandinavian product) (8.5/10).
Then came the petit fours, although we said no to coffee and tea. A couple of old cake tins and a paper-wrapped parcel contained potato crisps covered with chocolate and a few fennel seeds, a very refreshing “flødebolle” (roughly translates to cream puff, chocolate tea-cake, or chocolate-coated marshmallow treat) with a malt base and a filling of fluffy yoghurt cream, and, my favourite, a toffee where the butter had been replaced by smoked bone marrow. It might sound slightly disgusting, but it was actually incredibly tasty, and the smoke added a whole new dimension to a well known treat (overall 8-8.5/10, but more for the toffee, and maybe also more for the flødebolle).
Then there were the juices:
Like I said in my review of Geranium, some people couldn’t dream of going to a restaurant like this and not have wine with the food. What I can say is that a good sommelier will be able to find a wine that suits each course well, but he’ll never be able to find something that suits it as well as a drink that the restaurant has made especially for that dish. We both agreed that the juice menu here made the meal even better, and both here and at Geranium the juices matched the food extremely well. When I go to high end restaurants I usually have 2-3 glasses of wine with the food, but I have never before had a meal where the food and the beverages were such a great match as it was at Geranium and Noma. We had these juices:
* Cucumber & dill
* Apple & pine
* Celery & celeriac
* Carrot & juniper
* Beetroot & cowberries (lingonberries)
* Pear & verbena
The only juice I could fault, was the first one, where the taste of dill seemed absent. Especially the apple and pine has lived on long in my memory. Celery and celeriac might not seem like a very creative combination, and in general the juices were quite simple, but they really fitted the meal which is essence was quite simple.
The service was just as good, or quite possibly even better, than in all the three-star restaurants I’ve ever been to (meaning this was probably the best service I’ve ever had). Everything you see in most three-star restaurants (topping-up, walking you to the toilet, holding the chair when you return, etc.) were here. What made the service special here was the very informal atmosphere. We immediately felt welcome, and the staff was very talkative and humorous. In general, I prefer having just one or two waiters for the duration of the meal (which was done to perfection at Pierre Gagnaire), but at Noma I actually liked that the dishes were served by an ever-changing brigade of cooks rather than waiters (but the same two people took away all our plates), as you could really sense the passion with which they presented the food they had cooked.
Some people prefer just being left alone as fast as possible to eat their food, and I’m sure the staff was professional enough to tell who was up for a chat. Four Brits were sitting at the table next to us, and they kept on yakking for minutes after the staff had put the plates on their table and were waiting to present it. Initially, the staff cracked a few jokes, but I’m quite sure they stopped that when they realised those guests weren’t up for it. As we are talkative, it was very pleasant to have a staff that was professional while at the same time so down to earth and humorous. We asked a waiter to take a picture of us, and another waiter jumped into the picture. It’s worth showing just for the priceless look on my wife’s face. Afterwards, he took another picture just with the two of us.
My only tiny complaint is that the appetizers were served too quickly after one another, so often we would have 2-3 appetizers on the table at the same time. They did warn us about this when we came, but I would have preferred that they were served separately, but that is really a tiny detail.
So, was it the best restaurant I’ve even been to? That’s difficult to say, but I would put it in my top five so far. Besides, I don’t know if I would call Restaurant Magazine’s top 50 list that believable – or at least I don’t agree with it so much so far, nor with what seems to be their criteria. I think we might have had one of the Noma’s less elaborate menus. That’s of course reason enough to go back, hoping to get an even better meal.
It’s definitely not a restaurant everybody will like. The food is far from the elegant, powerful and refined French cooking soaked in cream, butter and reduced stock, but it’s light, refreshing and rustic, and the food actually also seemed quite healthy.
Of all the restaurants I’ve been to in Denmark that subscribe to the “new Nordic food”, Noma has been the one with the most consistent Nordic theme and style of cooking. All the rest seem to adopt a bit of French cooking. Noma definitely wanted to do something different, but it never seemed to be because they wanted to shock or put two ingredients together that nobody had ever thought of before. I suppose the live prawns would fit into the shock category, but that’s the only thing. The combinations usually worked very well, and the quality of the ingredients were top-notch – especially the prawns were spectacularly fresh ;-).
Granted, there were dishes that were not so much to my liking, while others were wonderful.
A friend of mine had a point when he said that Noma probably had thought “Hey! We’re number one in the world. We might as well see how much we can screw with people”, when they had us eat live prawns and even cook our own food (the egg). With regards to the egg, this was the only time were I felt, at least in retrospect, that the meal became stupid. Although it was fun, I would simply have preferred to see what the kitchen could produce instead of just making me cook an egg.
There were several ingredients that could have been “spiced up” (the milk curd, the frozen granulated cream), and several ingredients were also repeated: Green strawberries X2, malt X3, mushrooms X3, eggs X3, and sorrel X3. In general, leaves were a big part of the meal. No fewer than 8 dishes contained leaves of some sort. But, besides from the leaves, none of the repeated ingredients were featured in the same way twice.
So, am I trying to be objective here and say “everybody else thinks this restaurant is great, so I feel the same”? No. Noma was simply collectively a very consistent experience with the food, the juice, the creativity, the theme, the service, the stories, the imagination, and the visions. At the time of writing, Noma would be in my top five, but maybe not in my top three. Although I’m Danish, Nordic cooking is actually not my favourite style (I prefer French and Italian), and I still feel that a meal can be just a tad better than this.