Sep 22, '09

Noma – the rise of Scandinavian gastronomy

pot with soil, radishes and turnips
Yes, it is a pot with soil, radishes and turnips and yes, you can eat them all, including the leaves…

Interesting how the concept of gastronomy has changed over time. Before, a gastronomic restaurant would have been unimaginable without foie gras and other products typical to French ” haute cuisine”. Now people travel not to have foie gras but instead experience new and refreshing.

“Experience”, “new” and “refreshing” would be the best description of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. In Noma you will find exclusively Scandinavian products and they do have truffles sometimes, but they come from Sweden. So no French foie gras, Italian truffles, Spanish ham or Russian caviar. This must be a reason why Noma is called “Noma”, which are the first two letters of Scandinavian words “Nordic” and “mad” (meaning “food”).

Noma has been creating quite a buzz recently. It has two Michelin stars (as for September 09) and has climbed high in the “5O Best Restaurants in the World” list. It has also become “a must” destination for some of the most influential food bloggers. We have many posts by Verygoodfood who has been in Noma few dozens of times, then Chuckeats, Foodsnob and other bloggers passionate about food.

Despite its trendiness, I wouldn’t say that what René Redzepi is doing at Noma is just fashionable (as fashion comes and goes). There is something revolutionary about Noma. First- the people. Young, smiling and knowledgable about what they are doing. The atmosphere is far away from rigidly formal ambiance you might encounter in other gastronomic restaurants around the world. There is no typical “wall” between the people who cook and the people who eat. Part of the kitchen is made of glass and don’t be surprised if Réne Redzepi will personally bring you the bread or serve you the sauce.

Bread with pork fat and goat milk cheese
Bread with pork fat and goat milk cheese…

Nonetheless, Noma is more of an experience than just a restaurant. Almost every dish is philosophical and unexpected. Some of the dishes were simply mind-blowing, some less, but the overall experience was unique and memorable.

The lunch was started with plenty of amuses bouche.

Smoked quail egg
“Smoked quail egg”, the classics of Noma

“Savory cookies with speck and black currants”. The very dominant flavour of black currants was competing with a taste of ham. I don’t know who won, but in a way, they were complementary to each other.

savory cookies with speck and black currants
Savory cookies with speck and black currant
Toasted rye bread sandwiches with chicken skin, cheese cream and fava beans
Toasted rye bread sandwiches with chicken skin, cheese cream and fava beans

The “radishes and turnips in soil” was the most surprising dish as it looked so realistic. The soil is eatable and as far as I know is made of malt, hazelnuts and beer…

radishes and turnips in soil
Radishes and turnips in soil

Then there were bread toasts with herbs and vinegar dust. Crunchy, crispy, new and delicious.

bread toasts  with herbs and vinegar dust
Bread toasts  with herbs and vinegar dust

From land – to sea… “Shrimps with seaweed and rhubarbs”. Tasted Japanese- maybe because of the seaweed.

Shrimps with seaweed and rhubarbs
Shrimps with seaweed and rhubarbs

…and back to land… “Apple in “many ways” with hazelnuts and hazelnuts milk”.The taste of apples and almonds were pure and distinct. How did all taste? Well, like apples with almonds. I guess this was the idea.

Apple in "many ways" with hazelnuts and hazelnuts milk
Apple in “many ways” with hazelnuts and hazelnuts milk

“Tartar and wood sorrel, juniper and mustard oil”. The room temperature
beef tartar was covered with wood sorrel and you had to eat it with your hands. I felt like as if I travelled few thousand years back when Scandinavian Vikings were eating their food with their fingers. Now I am not sure at all if my assumption is accurate but the beef tartar was delicious, perfect with herbs and mustard. And I loved eating it with my fingers.

Tartar and wood sorrel, juniper and mustard oil
Tartar and wood sorrel, juniper and mustard oil

“Brown crab and beach mustard, clams and portulak” A breath of freshness. The crab quality was exquisite, in fact, the crab was so fine that I thought that rest was unnecessary.

Brown crab and beach mustard, clams and portulak
Brown crab and beach mustard, clams and portulak

“Steamed spinach and tea, cooked onions and celery”… The products and the execution were perfect and the dish was very good considering the general “boring” reputation of spinach. (A living proof that good things for your health and body are not always GOOD. I am joking, of course, I am sure that there are many people who love spinach :))

Steamed spinach and tea, cooked onions and celery
Steamed spinach and tea, cooked onions and celery

“Onions from Laeso, chickweed and onion bouillon”. I forgot to take the picture of this dish as I was too busy eating it… Extraordinary deconstruction of  French onion soup (probably the only “thing” French in Noma). Even if I didn’t eat soup, I felt like I did. ( In the image you can see one of the onions with tapioca pearls that were still on the plate when I remembered about the picture).

Onions from Laeso, chickweed and onion bouillon
Onions from Laeso, chickweed and onion bouillon

“Pickled vegetables and bone marrow, herbs and bouillon”. Pickled yet crunchy vegetables and soft tasting bone marrow were an interesting combination. And still, now I remember the buttery smell and taste of the sauce that came with it… In fact, the sauce was the main factor why I still think of the dish…

Pickled vegetables and bone marrow, herbs and bouillon
Pickled vegetables and bone marrow, herbs and bouillon

“Salad of Danish lobster and hip rose, roots and leaves of lettuce and red currant wine” was the least interesting dish for me. It seemed that the lobster is artificially “paired” with flowers just to accommodate the philosophy of the restaurant. 

Salad of Danish lobster and hip rose, roots and leaves of lettuce and red currant wine
Salad of Danish lobster and hip rose, roots and leaves of lettuce and red currant wine

On the other hand, I had many wonderful dishes before the lobster and I didn’t care that much. I wasn’t hungry anymore, but I was not dying of “overeating” neither. Noma is most likely the first gastronomic restaurant I have been that I didn’t overeat after 7 dishes tasting menu and all the present plates from a chef.

The desserts were cold and refreshing .

“Ice cream, walnut, blackberries and milk dust” and  “pine granita , berries and ice cream.” 

Ice cream, walnut, blackberries and milk dust
Ice cream, walnut, blackberries and milk dust

The second was particularly memorable as it smelled like pines forrest.

pine granita , berries and ice cream
Pine granita , berries and ice cream

Going back to the beginning of the post, I used the word “revolutionary”. In fact, maybe it is too bold to call Noma revolutionary as it is more likely “evolutional”. Marc Veyrat, Alain Passard or David Kinch – they all have explored or are exploring the use of various herbs, flowers and other unexpected products in their kitchens. On the other hand, René Redzepi has succeeded to put the whole region (Scandinavia) on the gastronomy map and this is definitely revolutionary.

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