Noma Restaurant, taking the choice out of haute Cuisine

Noma's 'Æbleskive and miukku' dish.

Noma’s ‘Æbleskive and miukku’ dish.

Admittedly Danish cuisine doesn’t jump to the top of the mental list when regarding the World’s greatest food. A culinary connoisseur may cite French or even Japanese as taking the hotspot in haute dining, usually steering clear of what Northern Europe would have to offer.

What’s more is that Scandinavian gastronomy often gets disproportionate negative press on some of the more beguiling delicacies in their oeuvre and so their whole culinary catalogue becomes dismissible.

What I’m talking about are the presence of dishes such as Surstomming (tinned fermented herring) or the raw heart of a puffin. However, you wouldn’t disregard the totality of British cuisine on the presence of concoctions such as jellied eels (I apologise if there are any fans of that particular fodder reading this). The same goes for Scandinavian food. Often overlooked, the cuisine is radiant in the sheer quantity of delectable dishes and taste combinations, utilising an intelligent mix of spices and cooking methods. To tackle this misconception that Danish food is ‘Danish blue’ and Carlsberg, one may look to the leading restaurant, Noma, situated in the heart of Copenhagen. Noma is a two Michelin star establishment, led by the head chef, Rene Redzepi. Noma is noted for its clean re-imagining of staple Danish dishes, albeit with a consistent air of inventiveness and a clean and precise pallet. In fact, the very name ‘Noma’ is a portmanteau of the Danish words ‘nordisk’ (Nordic) and ‘mad’ (food). The English use of ‘mad’ is inapplicable however. Simply, Noma is more akin to genius, an opinion shared by many considering the fact it has been ranked thrice consecutively as the ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ by ‘Restaurant’ magazine and of course awarded two stars by the Michelin Guide. Noma is located in a refurbished warehouse on the waterfront in the Christianshavn, Copenhagen, an area rich with a 2000 year history as a centre of trade to and from places such as Iceland and Greenland, dealing in produce such as dry fish and salted herring. Interestingly, the warehouse itself has been used as a centre for the art and culture of the North Atlantic region, fittingly named the ‘North Atlantic House’.

Noma warehouse

With space left for the establishment of Noma, the warehouse’s dual history as a trade centre and a hub for local art seem perfect pre-cursors to the modern but nationalistic experience the restaurant has to offer.

Noma decor

Stylish and simplistic are two words that spring to mind when thinking of Noma’s décor. It enhances the wide, open spaces that are a vestige of the building’s once incarnation as a warehouse and manages to keep the furnishings sleek and current without being ostentatious and intimidating. You won’t find an antique style of opulence usually synonymous with haute cuisine, you’ll find a restaurant that is trendy, understated and functional, a perfectly-primed canvas for the artistry that is the food.

Noma live by the self-proclaimed mantra of “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.” It is therefore understandable that the Menu is largely considered to be a modernisation of local Danish dishes using wholly local sources. What is perhaps unknown is the sheer breadth of the relationship Noma has with its product. For instance Noma have their own farms to rear livestock and forage fauna before seeing them actualised in their finely crafted culinary masterpieces.

The relative simplicity of the Noma menu may be somewhat surprising. I don’t mean the food itself is simply crafted but the menu is shrewd in the lack of detail given about the dishes listed, creating a feeling of mystery regarding what is being prepared and ultimately, a jubilant surprise when the meal is served and your anticipation has reached boiling point. What is most novel however, is that the menu is not a la carte, opting for a universal set menu for each diner. This imbues the meal with its own narrative in that the relationship between dishes have been carefully considered and the procession of each new set of flavours adds a new element to the taste experiences of your pallet. Eating the set lunch or dinner at Noma is like listening to a masterfully composed sonata, wherein each dish is a member of the orchestra, contributing to the heavenly medley of sensory experiences. The food itself is reminiscent of what you see produced by Heston Blumenthal. It is perhaps less wacky but equally centred on distilling the maximum flavour in its ingredients and serving them in an almost clinical but beautiful manner. Highlights of the feast of many dishes include the broth of Skagen shrimps and ramsons served with rhubarb root and flowers.

Noma's 'broth of Skagen shrimps and ramsons'.

Noma’s ‘broth of Skagen shrimps and ramsons’.

This divine concoction is a paradox, as it is both mild yet potently flavoured. The shrimps are creamy and savoury, prepared in a buttery broth with layers of aromatic and elegant high notes that come from the inclusion of the ramsons and flower shoots. The beef rib powerfully and lingon berries dish on the other hand, profoundly meaty and vibrant in taste having been marinated for 3 weeks. The veritable ambrosia is further off-set by the fragrant and tart lingon berry crust.

Noma's 'beef rib and lingon berry'.

Noma’s ‘beef rib and lingon berry’.

At an added cost, there is a service in which each dish comes paired with the sommelier-approved wine. This is both a valid option for both wine lovers and wine novices. The interplay of flavours and textures between the cuisine and the wine is both a treat for those who can appreciate the subtle nuances in their juxtaposition and for those who wouldn’t know where to start.

Noma's 'chicharon with chocolate'.

Noma’s ‘chicharon with chocolate’.

The true triumph of Noma however is not the sheer quality of their food. In complete honesty Noma is not typically accessible as a restaurant. Booking is essential, and to do so, you must book early, on the first Monday of each month, weeks in advance. You may therefore, be wondering why I decided to include it on a website dedicated to providing a list of the greatest travel experiences. The reason is because of what it does do; make Danish Cuisine as a whole accessible, possessing a level of influence that is a far greater accolade than any ribbon or Michelin star. Even if you don’t manage to secure a seat at the famed establishment, a trip to Copenhagen is enhanced due to the impact of Noma. This is because the spotlight that shines on Danish gastronomy as a result of Noma’s success is increasingly intense, causing a series of pop-up restaurants to emerge in the City and greater interest in Danish food. As many tourists therefore visit Copenhagen with greater interest in authentic local cuisine there is too an increased effort to showcase what Danish cookery truly consists of throughout the city.

Copenhagen has seen an exponentially increasing interest in eating ‘new-Nordic’ and therefore even small cafes have become popular as being representative of the unsung hero that is Danish cuisine.

For its part in debunking the misinformation regarding Scandinavian dining, Noma must be applauded, even if it can’t always be experienced.