As part of my 30-in-30 Challenge over the past year, I wanted to experience a meal at Noma. Noma has been voted #1 restaurant in the world on San Pellegrino's "World's 50 Best Restaurants" list for 3 years in a row. I've wanted to go ever since I saw an incredible blog post about it in 2010. They specialize in completely unique and innovative Nordic cuisine, using locally sourced, often uncommon ingredients that are usually presented in beautiful and playful ways. The idea is to make you think about the source of your food, to be surprised, and to have fun.
I arrived at 12pm and left at 5pm. How's that for a lunch? There were 22 courses if you can believe it, and it did not disappoint. The whole thing was a whirlwind of fun and surprises, like an edible art show & theater performance all wrapped into one lengthy meal. That time flew by, and it was a blast.
The waiter asked if we were ready to begin, and with that, he slid the flower pot towards us and informed us that we'd be starting with our centerpiece. That's what I'm talking about.
Starter 1 of 12: A twig from the centerpiece, a beer malt & juniper bread stick
Starter 2 of 12: Fried reindeer moss with cepes powder and crème fraiche
Starter 3 of 12: 3 mussels were balanced on the huge plate of mussel shells. We were instructed to take the top shell off (the real one) and eat the whole thing underneath, which was a crunchy blue corn chip-like shell made to look like a mussel shell, topped with the mussel & celery jus
Starter 4 of 12: Crispy pork skin with a thin layer of dehydrated black currant, the thinnest & fanciest fruit roll-up in the world.
Starter 5 of 12: Danish "cookies" (buttery crackers) with soft cheese, arugula, and stems
6 of 12: Crunchy potato and chicken liver sandwich with trumpet mushroom powder
Each plate seemed to come faster than the next. You'd hardly have time to take a picture or ponder what you've just eaten. It's just a constant flow of one dish after another, often times getting a new one before you've finished (or perhaps started) the current one. I wasn't expecting this at all, it was all so fast, one thing on top of another and I felt rushed, wanting to savor each thing individually. I couldn't keep up. Slow down!!
Apparently there was a table earlier in the year who thought this beginning part of the meal was the whole thing, and they savored it all at such a pace that there wasn't time for them to get to the actual "main" courses (i.e. #13-22). So they didn't get to have the second part of the meal because they took too long. I guess this is how they try to ensure that everyone finishes and to help give a sense of urgency to people like me who would end up eating lunch until 10pm.
7 of 12: Rye bread, crispy chicken skin, and lumpfish roe. Oh man, oh man.
8 of 12: Birchwood smoked, dehydrated carrots on hay ash with sorrel emulsion. Look how beautiful these colors are.
The dining room is minimal, spacious, and simply designed with candles, wood, and touches of animal fur, with young attractive chefs running around presenting delicious food to you. In other words, it is a dreamland. The cool thing about the service at Noma is that it's very informal and everyone is very casual and friendly. The chefs are the ones who serve you, so you get to meet many different chefs, have them interact with you and ask where you're from, and then hear them describe the dish with excitement.
You can tell they are passionate about what they've helped create, and it's great to have the chefs who prepared the food interacting directly with the guests who have come to enjoy their creations. This set-up really makes the whole experience. In a place where you'd expect everything to be super formal, instead you find a complete lack of pretension or stuffiness. You feel freedom to relax and enjoy and are encouraged to have fun.
9 of 12: "Radish, soil, and grass" - A potted plant of carrots & radishes in beer malt "soil". We were told to dig in and if we weren't getting messy, we weren't doing it right.
10 of 12: What appears to be a dinosaur's egg is placed before us
"Smoked quails' eggs" - I love how playful they are!
Pickled & smoked soft boiled quail's egg
11 of 12: Fish Donuts! Traditional fried apple dumplings with a tiny whole fish shot through the middle, with pickled cucumber in the center, dusted with vinegar powder to counteract the sweetness of the dough. Boom.
This is just fun and ridiculous. I love this place!
Starter 12 of 12: Crispy herb toast, smoked cod roe, fresh herbs, & crispy duck bouillon skin
Truly a standout. Each dish has so much detail - vinegar powder, hay ash, trumpet mushroom powder...going to the effort of creating duck bouillon just to skim the top of it & then crisp it, so that it becomes just a single component of 1 of 22 dishes. We are beginning to see what makes this place special.
The unveiling of the bread (warm whole wheat sourdough), wrapped in a felt package, and served with virgin butter (a slightly acidic butter made from organic cultured cream naturally fermented and churned in buckets) and pork fat w/ crispy pork skin. Thank goodness we have this bread to tide us over before beginning the next TEN courses.
Now seems like an appropriate intermission to mention that we've been having juice pairings as we go. These were all fresh squeezed that morning, and as you can see by the titles, not your average fruit or vegetable juice.
The flavors were fresh, delicious, and unique, not like anything I've ever had. You could choose a wine pairing instead (the drink pairings are extra), but how often can you get pairings of crazy fresh squeezed Crayola-colored juices?
Now onto Part Two of the performance:
Fresh peas and fermented peas with aromatic tea
Dried scallops, beech nuts, biodynamic grains, watercress, and squid ink
Squid ink or art? I'd hang it on my wall.
Brown crab that is so fresh it has never been refrigerated so it retains its sweetness, 45-minute slow poached egg yolks (unbelievable), sea mustard, dried woodruff, parsley emulsion, beach horseradish, herbs.
What is sea mustard? What is woodruff? What makes this horseradish of the beach-y nature? At some point, I just have to pretend to follow along. But it's seaweed, a flowering perennial plant, and I can only imagine it grows on the beach; respectively.
Steak tartare, wood sorrel, shallots, rye, juniper dust, and tarragon. No utensils were served with this course, so we were told we had to eat it with our hands. You have to grab a chunk and drag it through the tarragon cream. Eating with my hands TWICE during a fancy meal? Yes, please.
"Asparagus & Pine" -White asparagus, cleverly browned to look like their woodland friends, with green asparagus and pine emulsion, creme fraiche, and baby pine shoots.
Pike perch barbecued in cabbage leaves, beach herbs, verbena, and foam made from fish bone stock
Next we're given a plate of herbs, flowers, and herb butter along w/ a scalding hot iron skillet and an egg
Then the cooking instructions, given by a dashing gentleman. Hello, you.
Hay oil goes in the hot skillet & we crack in the egg. Wait for the timer to go off. Then add the herb butter, greens, a crispy curly potato, sea salt, and edible flowers.
Is it a garden? Is it lunch? Fun, beautiful and delicious.
These are my dining extravaganza buddies, Camille & Peter. We had to cover ourselves with the napkin during the egg-cooking to block oil splatters.
Did I mention that I found total strangers to join me in my meal at Noma just so I could eat here? You have to reserve 3 months in advance, and the whole month fills up within 5 minutes. When I tried to reserve, I couldn't reserve for just one person, so I reserved for 4 (my only option), and decided I'd have to find people to come with me. I posted on Chowhound.com to see if anyone wanted to join me, knowing I could probably count on other food lovers to be willing to dine with someone they don't know and book a flight to Copenhagen to eat at such a restaurant as this. Et voila, an email from Camille, and the rest is history.
Sweet breads with bitter greens (foraged that morning), turnips, mushrooms, & green strawberries
with sauce added tableside from the pan
Finally, after 20 courses, we make it to dessert. A play on the cheese course: Milk curd, frozen "brown cheese" cubes (Norwegian specialty), rhubarb, rhubarb juice, & wood sorrel
Ice cream made from liqueur and caramelized milk with sorrel & sheets of dried milk. They love their sorrel.
And after all this, we move to the lounge for coffee & more desserts!
Chocolate covered potato chips w/ fennel. Chips with chocolate and fennel? That's what I'm talking about! What else can we cover in chocolate?? Chocolate dip the napkin. Put some sorrel on it.
Behold the meat caramels. These caramels are made with bone marrow instead of butter, served in bone slices. To be fair, I'd already seen this in other posts about Noma, so it didn't have the same shock value, but that didn't stop me from loving it. So unique and out there, and the presentation - Served like bone marrow, wrapped in butcher paper, tied with twine. The details kill me.
A table this full after 22 courses seems a little ridiculous. I love this restaurant.
Coffee, tea, and bone marrow caramels!
THEN we got to tour the kitchen. Seeing the chef creatures in their natural habitat, where they cook up the magical delicious things. Visiting restaurant kitchens is one of my favorite things. In life.
I found the container of hay ash, should you be needing any.
The station for filling and meticulously wiping containers of virgin butter
Our wonderful chef guide giving us a 30 minute tour of the downstairs kitchen, back area, and upstairs kitchen
Behind Noma - fridges and smokers
Private room by the upstairs kitchen
Pinch me that I'm walking through here!!
Where the chefs eat between services
They grow herbs for the cold winter months when they can't just go foraging in the morning. I heard the word "forage" more times during this meal than my whole life.
Dinner time for the chefs. Lots and lots of them. Can I take one home? Inappropriate?
It may seem strange to fly to another country and chase down complete strangers just to be able to eat at a restaurant, but this was truly an event to be remembered. I still don't dare to go and make the conversion to figure out what I actually spent, so that my ignorance can keep me in bliss. Now I can see why San Pellegrino has crowned Noma as reigning champion, and I can check that off my list...Not just in the year of 30, but in life. I loved every minute.