Noma: A Cut Above the Rest
Picture a broke college student scraping pennies in order to fly to spend her spring break in Copenhagen. What’s the logical thing for her to do in this city? Eat at the number one restaurant in the world, of course.
When we were planning our trip to Copenhagen back in January, my friends and I were excited just by the prospect of being there. Plane tickets were surprisingly affordable and our rented apartment for the week looked like the perfect little love nest for a group of girls to get together and explore an entirely new culture and country.
Then we got the shared message from my friend Kate: “There’s a lunch table at Noma on March 26th, throwing that out there.”
Kate had submitted a reservation request as an offhand gesture under the assumption that it wouldn’t happen, but as fate would have it, she received a confirmation email.
I had heard of Noma previously through research of Scandinavian restaurants at a previous internship and the “Copenhagen” episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” Rated number one by “Restaurant Magazine” for four years and winner of two Michelin stars, it’s a pretty big fucking deal even beyond the world of foodies.
The price per head for the tasting menu alone was far beyond anything I had ever paid for a meal, but after some deliberation, we all agreed that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we had Kate respond to the booking with a resounding ‘yes.’
Founded by René Redzepi and Claus Meyer in 2004, the name of the restaurant is a portmanteau of the two Danish words ‘nordisk’ (Nordic) and ‘mad’ (food).
Noma’s critical acclaim comes from its unique menu, which works hard to redefine traditional Nordic cuisine. Redzepi, the head chef, wanted the restaurant to feature only Nordic ingredients, and has his chefs spend days foraging for local produce at nearby beaches and forests. The menu changes each season to accommodate the freshest ingredients, and each time the results are utterly unique and something out of an insane culinary fairytale.
I had never eaten at any restaurant as upscale as this, so I had no idea what to expect. I could barely tell a fish fork from a salad one, and to be honest, I was expecting the meal to be a little ridiculous — people have jokingly referred to the Noma menu as ‘trash cooking’ and I really wasn’t holding any high hopes about being full at the end of a meal of moss and shoots.
All nervousness evaporated the second the four of us stepped into the restaurant, which was cozily decorated in a rustic manner. The ENTIRE staff, Redzepi included, greeted us warmly at the door, took our jackets (REDZEPI TOOK MY FRIEND’S COAT OFF OF HER!) and then one of our waiters led us to our table. We were spoken to with ease and the atmosphere was overall incredibly warm and relaxed.
We all felt well-taken care of, and it was shown not only in the way we were spoken to and attended to, but also in the way we were accommodated in order to have the best possible culinary experience. One of my friends is a vegetarian and has a gluten allergy, and they had created an entirely new menu just for her needs. From then on, the first of our 17-course meal began.
If I could write an epic poem about each dish, I really would. Though elevated beyond anything I had ever eaten, none of the dishes ever came off as pretentious or gimmicky. Each dish was brought out by a chef from the kitchen, who would explain what it was and how to eat it.
Standouts were the fresh langoustine, a slim lobster, which was topped with ants. Yes, ants. The ants gave the langoustine a citrus flavor in order to replicate the effect and taste of lemon juice, because lemon trees don’t grow in Denmark.
Others dishes included the male and female lumpfish with whole milk, a dumpling-like dish; the first green shoots of the season which were arranged beautifully and tasted just as wonderful; shrimp wrapped in ramson leaves and a dessert that consisted of chocolate-covered moss, chocolate-covered mushrooms, and a delicate ice cream-like dish topped with bitters and walnut oil.
At the end of the meal, which totaled about three hours, we were invited to a tour of the establishment. One of the chefs, Kim, showed us the main kitchen, the experimentation kitchen located upstairs and the break room. We were warmly greeted by every staff member in each of the rooms, and Kim explained the foraging process and how the staff decides what dishes go onto the seasonal menus. He also explained that the restaurant was all about inclusivity within the staff. Each day they all sit down to a staff meal with one another, and respect is highly regarded and expected from each member, regardless of rank.
We were also given individual menus of our meals to take home, which the chefs all kindly signed — Redzepi’s loopy signature sits boldly in the middle of the listed dishes.
During our trip, my friends and I were fascinated by a Danish word, ‘hygge.’ It’s a word that can’t completely be cleanly translated in English, but the closest word to it is ‘coziness.’ It’s a way of life for the Danish, and one of our new Danish friends described it as being the kind of deliciously satisfied feeling you get being surrounded by your close friends, good food, a warm atmosphere and just overall good vibes. Noma encapsulated all of this perfectly, and our lunch there provided an experience unparalleled to anything I had had before. And for inquiring minds, yes, I was very full at the end of my meal.