We started 2009 with a trip (prior to the conception of this blog) to two well established food and wine cities of the US west coast – Napa Valley and San Francisco. Stops on our tour included French Laundry, Terra, Bistro Jeanty, Bouchon, Coi, Quince, Ame, and of course the wonderful selection of eateries at the Ferry Market Building (including Slanted Door, Boulettes Larder, Hog Island Oyster Co. and Taylor’s Refresher).
In contrast our final foodie break of the year was to Copenhagen, a relative newcomer to the gastro-scene. The primary purpose of our visit was to check out the exciting Noma, currently sitting pretty in third place on the S.Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurant list. Head chef and owner René Redzepi boasts an impressive culinary pedigree with stints in French Laundry, El Bulli and Jardin des Sens, all bestowed with three Michelin stars. An ambassador for the New Nordic Food programme, Redzepi uses modern cooking techniques to showcase produce native to the region.
We arrived at the restaurant on a brisk cold day, and were momentarily left in a daze as the staff greeted us and took our coats – our bodies having yet to acclimatise to the warmth of the indoors. Once we had collected ourselves we were led across the beautiful polished (albeit a little slippery – I had to navigate carefully with my high heels!) floorboards to a corner table next to one of the large windows overlooking the water (the restaurant is located in a spacious restored warehouse situated on the Christianshavn quayside).
Our water and aperitif orders were efficiently taken and before menus of any kind were flashed before us we were presented with a flight of snacks, opening with a tart Speck and Blackcurrant savoury cookie. The biscuit had a nice chewiness to it, but I found the blackcurrant powder overpoweringly sharp. Although if the aim was to awaken the palate, it was definitely successful in doing so.
Next was Split Pea and Smoked Cheese sandwiched between thin toasted seeded Rye Bread and a perfect rectangle of Chicken Skin. Reminiscent of pork crackling, it was salty (but not overly so) with a wonderful crispness – the whole thing just snaps in the mouth as you bite into it. I could have eaten a whole plate of the stuff.
A cute little terracotta pot of baby Radish and Turnips in soil and herbs followed. Our waiter, who had an impeccable knowledge of the food, as did everyone who served us that day, informed us that the vegetables were sourced from a region of Denmark with shellfish minerals in the ground; it was lovely to know the provenance of the produce although I would be lying if I said I tasted any traces of shellfish. The soil of malt and hazelnut crumbs together with the mild creamy dill emulsion helped balance and take the edge off the raw vegetables.
The last amuse bouche to grace our table was a rather beautiful composition of Toast, Cod Roe, Wild Herb blossoms and Powdered Vinegar. Delicate in appearance and on the tongue, the salty cod roe was well countered by the acid of the powdered vinegar dust, which itself was not too aggressive as to overwhelm the light, fragrant herbs.
After our taste buds had been wooed by the opening creations we were presented with the menu which offered a choice of a 3-course, 7-course or the 12-course Noma Nassaag (experience). We chose the latter without hesitation, opting to have the 4 hour menu complete with wine pairings.
Shortly after being presented with a warm round rye loaf tucked snuggly in its own felt blanket (served with pork fat topped with crumbled crackling and butter) our first course of Apple and Nuts arrived. A small serving of apple compote and jelly topped with walnuts, hazelnuts, fresh thin apple slices and milk. A scant sprinkle of marjoram gave a fragrant floral note that ran through the multi-textured dish, and tied the sweet and tart nicely together. A fresh, light start, although not really my cup of tea (I dislike the use of fruit in anything other than dessert).
The Squid and White Currant that followed however, I loved. Expertly-cut fresh sweet raw squid, soft and silky against the crunch of the rye crumbs, and caressed by the mellow cream. The tarragon and dill was subtle but added to the symphony of tastes and textures, all obviously created by a restrained, deft hand. The white currant granita however was a distraction – cold and tart, it stuck out of the otherwise harmonious dish like a sore thumb.
I enjoyed the next dish almost as much, a Beef Tartare of young Danish beef, with horseradish, shallots, rye crumbs, wood sorrel, juniper powder, tarragon cream and mustard seed oil. This is a classic Noma dish that has been a staple on the menu for the past five years. We were instructed to eat with our hands (warm towels are provided), the interactive nature of which was surprisingly pleasant. The tartare was delicious, and I liked not having to contend with cold cutlery which meant everything stayed at room temperature and the flavours were able to really sing.
The Langoustine (originating from the Faeroe Isles) which followed was again served sans cutlery. Seared to a medium rare, it sat on a large warm rock with dots of sea water, oyster and parsley emulsion. Not sure if using our hands added anything, but it was delicious – plump, sweet, creamy and tasting faintly of the sea.
Next to arrive was a Spinach, Lovage and Flower Petal Salad with a warm Västerbotten (camel cheese) foam, pickled Elderberries and Sourdough croutons. I did not expect to like it quite as much as I did but the comforting salad was like a hug on a plate. It calmed and cocooned my palate, removing any hints of acidity left by previous dishes.
Several of our courses were served by various chefs from the kitchen which lent a personal touch to the service, and it was nice to have the opportunity to converse with the kitchen staff. Our Onions from Læsø course was presented by a young chef who upon hearing I penned a food blog, insisted I write down the URL for him. The dish he brought consisted of a variety of onion preparations – sweet caramelised onion compote, barely cooked onions in butter and baby onions pickled in beer, all sitting in an intense onion bouillon with cheese, onion cress, nigella seeds and sago. A deconstructed French onion soup of sorts, it was tasty but despite all the elements, for me, it was surprisingly one-note.
The first thing that hit me as the next dish approached our table was the heavenly scent of the truffles. The precious slithers of black truffle (from Gotland) sat atop Roasted Salsify with Milk Skin, Toasted Sourdough and Wild Flowers. I didn’t care for the milk skin but the caramelised salsify was chewy and sweet, and paired beautifully with the truffle sauce.
The rainbow of circles next laid in front of us looked so exquisite and painstakingly constructed I almost didn’t want to dig into the assortment of Pickled Root Vegetables, Ox Bone Marrow and Winter Cress with a Brown Butter and Oxtail Sauce. My ears pricked up when the server mentioned marrow but sadly it was lost in this far too acidic dish.
The singular main course of the meal was Roasted Pork Tails and Horseradish with Fresh Salad, Wild Garlic, Loganberries, Ramson Capers, Salad Cream and Mushroom Bouillon. Unlike most of the previous dishes which were fresh and light, this was wonderfully rich with really intense and concentrated flavours. The mild salad garnish and berries offset the strong flavours perfectly, and together with the delicious crackling added textural interest to the dish.
The first of our desserts was a journey exploring the humble carrot. They were presented roasted, boiled, raw and as a sorbet, served with buttermilk foam and toasted anise cake for a liquorice crunch. It was unusual and refreshing, a lovely bridge between the savoury and sweet courses.
Next to be set in front of us was a delightful snow scene playfully named “The Snowman from Jukkasjärvi”. The snowman was made with balls of dehydrated apple meringue and cloudberry sorbet, sprayed with yoghurt snow, and the landscape comprised of wild thyme, cloudberry compote and crumbled meringue. The airy dessert was somewhat spoilt I felt, by the medicinal tasting cloudberries (not dissimilar in taste to sarsaparilla).
Our meal ended with a take on “Øllebrød”, a traditional Danish porridge. Served with frothed milk, skyr (an Icelandic cultured dairy item, similar to strained yoghurt) sorbet and toasted rye kernels soaked in beer, it’s not how your mother made it (if you were Danish!), but every spoonful reminds one of home. This humble looking dish was my favourite dessert by far.
As you can see from the last, dimly-lit photo the meal had pretty much taken up our entire afternoon and it was nearly 5pm by the time we had adjourned to the connecting bar area for tea. Surprisingly we were not offered petits four, although to be honest I was pretty full but then again one always has room for a sweet bite with tea or coffee, and it would have been nice to round off with a little something.
Aside from that minor blip, everything from the elegant and refined food (both in terms of flavour and presentation), to the discreet service and beautifully minimalist interiors were as expected of a polished top-tier establishment. However, whether it was worthy of the third place ranking I’m not so sure. For me the cooking, although accomplished, was more about the ingredients, and as a winter menu had far too many raw elements. But then again that is what Redzepi is all about – championing local produce, flaunting them in their natural state where possible and skillfully enhancing rather than hiding their qualities.
1401 Copenhagen K
t. +45 3296 3297