Dinner at (arguably) the Best Restaurant in the World ... Noma
An adventure in Greenland awaits, full of incredible arctic exploits – glaciers, icebergs, whale-watching and the midnight sun.
But en-route, a brief stopover in Copenhagen provides an unmissable opportunity to visit one of the most famous restaurants in the world – the iconic Noma.
Noma was at the forefront of the reinvention of Nordic cuisine in recent years. First opening in 2003, Chef René Redzepi’s innovative and imaginative cuisine took the world by storm, and reinvigorated interest in traditional Nordic ingredients and techniques. Voted best restaurant in the world for four out of five years between 2010 and 2014, and with two Michelin stars, Noma was still ranked fifth best restaurant in the world when it closed in December 2016.
Thankfully, in February 2018, Noma re-opened in a dramatic new premises, with Chef Redzepi and his team committed to re-establishing the venue as one of the most influential dining destinations in the world.
With bookings opening months in advance, and selling out within minutes, a reservation at Noma is hard won. For us it necessitated ruthlessly watching the launch date, a 3am wake-up, and frantic clicking on multiple computers simultaneously to eventually score a table (with up-front payment in full required to confirm the reservation)!
So was it worth it?
For dedicated foodies, keen for a truly unique and completely unforgettable dining experience – the answer is a resounding yes! Here’s what to expect from a visit…
The entrance to Noma is understated, to say the least. In a quiet, overgrown and almost industrial corner of central Copenhagen, a single wrought-iron sign indicates we have arrived at our destination. But there is no restaurant in sight. We pause, nervously wondering if we are in the right place, and what we are supposed to do now. But then Noma team members materialise, and ask if we have a reservation. We breathe a sigh of relief (this is not a dinner booking we want to mess up!).
Other diners arrive shortly thereafter, but each dining party is escorted to the restaurant separately. We walk along a long lakeside pathway through flowering shrubs and grasses, while our host points out the Noma greenhouse, test kitchen, gardens and the produce within. Eventually we arrive at a rather unassuming building – from here there is no indication of the magic occurring within. But then the restaurant doors swing open dramatically to reveal the entire restaurant team waiting to boisterously welcome us to Noma, including the famed head-chef himself, René Redzepi. And yes, they do this for every guest party! (We are admittedly a little star-struck at seeing Chef Redzepi himself.) And so the show begins…
The new Noma restaurant is small, with just 12 tables seating 40 guests, and designed with a classic Nordic aesthetic. Large windows and expansive skylights mean the restaurant is brightly lit on this July evening (sunset is not until almost 10pm), with a view over the nearby lake. But the view outside is shortly to play second fiddle to the visual spectacle unfolding inside the restaurant.
Once seated, the experience at Noma continues to be as surprising and delightful as the welcome. Not long after we arrive, we are presented with our first dish of the evening – a pot plant of fresh herbs. But hidden within the fragrant greenery is a wooden straw, for drinking the luscious potato soup inside the pot, whilst inhaling the heady aroma of the surrounding herbs. It is an auspicious way to begin a meal that will continue to involve all the senses over 20 courses of eclectic and extravagant dishes.
The menu at Noma changes with the seasons, and in summer the focus is entirely on vegetables, with a meat-free menu (although please note, it is not vegetarian, as meat and fish based stocks are still used when appropriate). As avowed carnivores, we agree that the meat or seafood seasons are more likely to appeal to the average foodie (vegetarians aside). But we can assure you, if you are travelling in summer (which is likely if you are combining your visit with a trip to Greenland and The Faroe Islands as we suggest), this is without doubt the most extraordinary meat-free meal you will ever encounter.
After the flowerpot soup, a number of small courses are served in quick succession – a small tart of nasturtium flowers (flowers feature heavily in the menu), a jellied butterfly of sea buckthorn and blackcurrants, an assortment of fermented pickles, a tangle of foraged seaweeds. All are unlike anything we have ever tried before, and delicious. Next is a nod to the carnivores – a slow-cooked quail egg with a slice of chorizo, but the sweet and spicy chorizo is actually made from rose berries. It is sublime.
The courses are plentiful but not overpowering – small bites packed with flavour, just enough to leave you blown away by their creativity. There are berries with fava beans, marigold flowers with whisky egg-nog, caramelised milk stuffed with cheese, and a wax broth with pollen. There are herbs and flowers galore, painstakingly arranged so that each dish is a work of art as well as culinary genius. But the pièce de résistance is a vegetarian shwarma – made from celeriac and truffles, it has been slow-roasted on a spit until meltingly tender, and tastes, for all intents and purposes, like a perfectly cooked piece of meat (to the carnivores’ delight).
The mains are followed by three desserts – the first a light dish of berries and cream, the second an interesting pancake made from mouldy barley wrapped around a plum ice cream. This dish was created by Noma’s progressive fermentation lab, and is known to be divisive amongst customers (but what experimental cuisine isn’t?). Personally, we thought it was fabulous. And finally, the meal ends with another pot plant – this time not soup, but a completely edible cake of rose-scented chocolate.
Throughout the night, many dishes are brought to the table by the chefs themselves, who explain their creations with obvious pride. The expansive kitchen is quite open, an awesome experience for foodies who love to watch chefs at their craft. A trip to the bathroom necessitates practically walking through the kitchen – you can’t help but be conscious, and a little anxious, about interrupting the masters at work.
The waitstaff at Noma are highly professional but not fussy or obsequious, removing the pretension sometimes associated with dining at such high calibre restaurants. Many are Australian, apparently chosen specifically by René because of our “laidback charm” and lack of snootiness. All are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, ensuring the entire experience is seamless and impeccable.
Finally the meal has come to an end, a four hour extravaganza of culinary magic. A member of staff escorts you down the garden path, back to reality and a waiting taxi, with parting gifts and a copy of the evening’s menu as a souvenir.It has been an unforgettable experience, a masterpiece of experiential dining, and one we can highly recommend for any serious foodies who are lucky enough (and determined enough) to score a reservation.