Regular readers of this blog will know that food is dear to my heart. And lunch on a spring day with good friends is my idea of heaven. So you can imagine how delighted I was, when our great buddies Katy and Kev announced that they’d procured a table at Noma for Emlyn’s 40th birthday present.
For those who don’t know, Noma has just been voted the Best Restaurant In The World and you might have seen it on Masterchef. It’s on the water front in the middle of Copenhagen and is famed for its radically different approach to the menu, as the chefs go out each morning and forage along the estuaries and in the local forests for fresh ingredients. The result is sublime Nordic gastronomy, the likes of which, I’ve never even heard of – let alone tried.
The extravagance of flying to a foreign city for lunch is all a bit thrillingly jet-set in itself (or Easyjet set in our case). But it was so worth it, as the whole experience of Noma was magical. I’m aware that listening to someone bang on about a meal they’ve eaten is as boring as listening to someone else’s dream, so I’m resisting the urge to talk you through it morsel by morsel.
However, I will tell you that the whole vibe of the place is not what you’d expect for such a highly accoladed restaurant. Whilst every single detail is perfect, it’s completely unpretentious. We were greeted by all of the staff, including Rene Redzepi himself, who was standing in the open kitchen. The restaurant had a very seaside shack kind of feel with its low soft grey rafters. There were no tablecloths or regimented cutlery, just friendly staff, who were all totally passionate and excited for us about the experience we were about to have. We were told straight away that the beautiful flower arrangement in front of us contained some freshly baked malt flat-breads disguised as twigs, and we were to dig in and dip ’em in crème fresh.
Thus suitably relaxed and plied with champagne, we tucked into the most surprising ‘snacks’ often delivered and explained by the sous chef who’d just cooked them. It was so fun and inventive – moss deep-fried and dipped in cep powder, a pot of radishes in edible soil (burned, crushed hazelnuts – I think! – which you eat with your fingers).
I did squirm a bit though, when they delivered a jar full of ice with live shrimps on top, which we were told to dip in the sauce and eat! Mine flick-flacked out of the jar and onto the table, to much hilarity, but I figured that now probably wasn’t the moment to have an ethical/vegetarian crisis, having just ordered the twelve course tasting menu. If you’re going to eat a wriggling live shrimp – I guess Noma’s the place to do it.
The menu itself was a sensory assault – all delivered with panache and a sense of humour. The signature dish of pickled vegetables and bone marrow was just as pretty as it looked on the TV and SO tasty. One of my favourites – apart from the sublime horseradish snow with the razor clams wrapped in dill jelly – was when the chef lifted the lid off a big black casserole dish in front of me, to reveal an oyster steaming over hot pebbles and shells. The experience of the sea was so real, it actually brought tears to my eyes.
After a meal like that, I was expecting to feel like Mr Creosote – just one more wafer-thin mint away from explosion, but we were actually chipper enough to take up Yorkshire chef Sam Miller’s offer of a tour of the kitchens.
Behind the scenes, it was just as calm and immaculate as the dining room. Walking round the higgledy-piggledy rooms, everyone had a smile and showed us all their weird and wonderful gadgets and took us outside to where they barbecue in the open air for one of the dishes – even in the snow. Upstairs, there were loads of chefs doing the most intricate preparation. That crispy chicken skin herb sandwich thing that I scoffed in one big – ‘ hmmmm’ – you’d never believe how much time that takes to make. You’d have thought that seeing how it’s all done would ruin it, but actually it just added to the alchemy.
We came away reeling and a bit sozzled, but in a good way. We stumbled into a Danish bar where things descended a bit, and then we took lots of silly pictures of us jumping around (as you do). We just made it back to the airport in time for our flight home. Don’t tell the chef, but I did have to have an Easyjet ham and cheese toastie on the way home, which in its own disgusting way was delicious. From the sublime to the ridiculous in one day. I think it’s going to take a while to recover.