Travel Destinations

Monday, May 5, 2014

Noma: The World’s Best Restaurant

Nordic Coconut noma Copenhagen Denmark
Nordic coconuts at noma.
Noma, Copenhagen’s two Michelin star restaurant run by chef-owner Rene Redzepi, recently regained its title as the world’s best restaurant on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.  Noma had previously been named world’s best restaurant three years in a row, but lost the title in 2013 when it was demoted to number two.  With two Michelin stars and the title of the world’s best restaurant, obtaining a reservation at this 45-seat restaurant is extremely difficult.  But if you’re lucky enough to get a lunch or dinner reservation at noma, you are in for quite a New Nordic Cuisine experience.

Lunch at noma Denmark Copenhagen
Ready with empty stomachs for our lunch at noma.
Co-owners Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer birthed the Nordic Cuisine Movement in 2004 when they worked with some of the greatest chefs in the region to develop the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto.  The idea behind New Nordic Cuisine is a familiar one, using local produce and products for a farm-to-table type experience.  The difference is the ingredients used in New Nordic Cuisine, served at noma and many other restaurants in Copenhagen, Denmark, and across Scandinavia, are completely unique to the region and different from what you find anywhere else in the world.  Nowhere else will you find such a plethora of herbs, berries, and random plants foraged from the land and served on your plate.  Reindeer moss anyone?

Number 470 in line!
Obtaining reservations at noma is quite an experience in itself.  Noma’s website  lists when reservations open for a specific window of time, and reservations open on the first Monday of the month.  For instance, reservations for April opened on February 3, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. CET, which was 1:00 a.m. my time.  If you want a reservation at noma, enter the reservation system as soon as it opens.  I entered noma’s reservation system at exactly 1:00 a.m. to find I was already number 470 in line.  By the time it was my turn, at 1:35 a.m., there was only one available reservation during the five days we would be in Copenhagen, and that was for lunch.  There are a limited number of two person tables, so it is actually easier to make reservations for a larger party.  If you can’t get a reservation, you can sign up for the waiting list.  There is also a shared table that opens closer to the dining date, but shared table diners are required to purchase a juice or wine pairing.

Related: 96 Hours of Michelin in Copenhagen

Noma is located in an eighteenth-century warehouse on the Copenhagen waterfront in the neighborhood of Christianshavn. The décor is bright and modern with exposed bleached beams, functionally simple chairs and tables, and the very Nordic touch of animal skins hanging over the backs of half the chairs.  From their seats diners can witness the final plating of each dish, which occurs in the constantly bustling ground level kitchen. 

noma dining room Denmark Copenhagen
The noma dining room.
Our meal at noma consisted of 20 small courses served one at a time.  The first 10 courses served were small appetizers, followed by seven small main dishes, and finished with three desserts. The first 10 appetizers included red currants with lavender, Nordic coconuts, Reindeer moss and cep, cheese cookies with rocket, pickled and smoked quails eggs, caramelized milk and cod liver, white cabbage chips with samphire, æbleskiver with lovage and parsley, sea urchin toast, and burnt leeks with cod roe.

Moss and Cep noma Copenhagen Denmark
Reindeer moss.
The Nordic coconuts were actually hollowed out beetroots filled with warm soup sipped using a straw.  The reindeer moss was crunchy, lightly seasoned, and to be dipped in the accompanying cream.  The white cabbage chips were made from single leaves of cabbage cooked to be extremely thin and crunchy, with samphire, a crispy stalked green, sandwiched in between.  My favorite of the appetizers, the æbleskiver, is traditionally an apple-filled sweet pancake ball popular at Christmastime.  Noma’s æbleskiver was a savory version filled with lovage and parsley and brushed with a sauce of fermented grasshoppers.  While most courses at a meal such as this are not necessarily something you would want to eat over and over again, the æbleskiver was an item I could enjoy multiple times, plus I now want to travel to Denmark for Christmas so I can try the traditional version.

Beef Tartar and Ants noma Copenhagen Denmark
Beef tartar and ants.

The seven main courses included a poached apple and kelp, shrimp and ramson with radish and yeast, milk curd and blueberries with lemon thyme and pine, beef tartar and ants, beetroot with sloe berries and aromatic herbs, egg and fresh greens, and turbot and nasturtium with cream and wood sorrel.  The shrimp and ramson with radish and yeast was the most visually beautiful dish, with the shrimp sandwiched between two leaves like green ravioli, topped with herbs and colorful edible flowers, and floating on a light yellow sauce like lily pads.  The most surprising dish was the beef tartar and ants.  We didn’t hear the server say there were ants, so when I kept getting these pleasant bursts of sour citrus, I needed to identify the source of this surprisingly strong flavor.  I narrowed it down to these small, dark berry-looking things.  Upon closer inspection I discovered legs.  Those ants really packed a flavor punch and I would eat them again in a heartbeat.

Shrimp and Ramson Radish and Yeast Copenhagen Denmark
A pond of shrimp ravioli and flowers.
Already full we moved on to the final three dessert courses which included aronia berries and söl, potato and plum ice creams, and three treats consisting of yeast with salt and cream, a Danish pastry, and crispy pork skin with chocolate and berries.  The aronia berries and söl was a frozen dish with söl, a curd cheese, enveloped in a frozen aronia berry puree.  Any fan of crispy pork skin or chicharrones would love the puffy and crunchy pork skin completely covered with dark chocolate and dotted with freeze-dried berries.

Plating Area at noma Copenhagen Denmark
The plating area at noma.
After we finished our meal and were uncomfortably full with Michelin starred food, we were offered a tour of the rest of the restaurant.  We started in the plating kitchen, moved outside to the tiny round grill where noma’s grilling takes place, then moved upstairs where the real magic happens.  After sitting in a quiet restaurant, it was a surprise when the doors to the prep kitchen opened and the sound of music pumping over the sound system poured out.  Here is where moss is sorted, oysters are shucked, and most of the cooking occurs.  Beyond the prep kitchen is the test kitchen where new recipes are constantly being created, tested, and modified.  Labeled bins of random ingredients such as kelp, onion ash, and sea buckthorn fill the shelves and a brainstorming board provides a backdrop. My favorite entry at the top: “Crow………!!!=>wtf=>should be good??” 

noma prep kitchen Copenhagen Denmark
Noma's prep kitchen.
Reading ingredients like ants, fermented grasshoppers, and reindeer moss, you might be asking how such ingredients make noma the best restaurant in the world.  We’ve been asked after dining at noma and El Bulli (the reigning champion for holding the title of the world’s best restaurant for the most years in a row) if they were the best meals we ever had.  But restaurants like noma are not really about providing the most delicious meal you’ve ever eaten, with dishes you’ll crave for years to come.  These meals are food experiments, the kitchens are test labs, and the diners are guinea pigs.  The chefs working at noma, many of whom are unpaid interns from around the world, are getting the best food work experience of their lives and will move on to open restaurants of their own where they will take what they learned from making weird and wonderful courses and use those lessons to create new and inventive dishes which will later become standards in restaurants around the world.  Dining at noma will not only provide you with the experience of eating at a Michelin starred restaurant holding the title of the world’s best restaurant; it will provide you with the opportunity to witness food history being made.

The rest of our noma dishes.  Click on the first to scroll through the full-size images.

Red currant and lavender noma Copenhagen Denmark Cheese cookie, rocket and stems noma Copenhagen Denmark Pickled and smoked quails egg noma Copenhagen Denmark
Caramelized milk and cod liver noma Copenhagen Denmark White cabbage and samphire noma Copenhagen Denmark Æbleskiver, lovage and parsley noma Copenhagen Denmark
Sea urchin toast noma Copenhagen Denmark Apple and kelp noma Copenhagen Denmark Milk curd and blueberries lemon thyme and pine noma Copenhagen Denmark
Beetroot sloe berries and aromatic herbs noma Copenhagen Denmark Egg and fresh greens noma Copenhagen Denmark Turbot and nasturtium cream and wood sorrel noma Copenhagen Denmark
Aronia berries and söl noma Copenhagen Denmark Yeast salt and cream noma Copenhagen Denmark Pork skin with chocolate and berries noma Copenhagen Denmark

Travel the World: noma in Copenhagen Denmark has two Michelin stars and is one of the best restaurants in the world.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.