Recently, I managed to get myself invited to a lunch at Noma by a fellow chef Gareth Johns of the Wynnstay arms, Machynlleth. Our paths have crossed once or twice over the years, most recently at Simon Hulstone's 'elephant' restaurant as Simon was Preparing for the 2011 Bocuse D'or competition in february.
Gareth sent me a message asking if i was interested in joining him at Noma as a colleague of his had dropped out of their arranged trip, and Gareth knew i was a fan of eating out. I contemplated whether I could afford the trip and get time off work for it for a total of about three seconds, before contacting Gareth and answering in the affirmative. As it was a last minute drop out which gave me my spot, I didnt have to wait long for our trip, but in the few days leading up to our trip to Copenhagen, I asked a couple of people for advice of where else to try while in the Danish capital, and was offered several options, including Geranium- the restaurant of the eventual 2011 Bocuse D'or winner, Rasmus Kofoed- Relae and The Paul which is run by an Englishman, Paul Cunningham. I was told that The Paul may still be on its annual winter closure, so we missed that out, and made bookings at relae and geranium to complete an impressive line up for the three day jaunt.
As it turned out, Paul's restaurant was open, so three became four in what turned out to be an incredible and inspiring trip for the four of us, all chefs, and we had a truly memorable experience.
the first of our meals was at Geranium, which unknown to us at the time of booking, is housed inside the national football stadium, like a rent by the month office space. Dont let that fool you though, what we saw and tasted there that night was truly world class food, precisely prepared by chef Kofoed and his team. the technical skill allowed the natural flavours to promote themselves in the highest way, with a real nod to nature and seasonality which proved to be a recurring theme at all four restaurants. A few new ingredients on us, a lot of familiar ones, but all treated with respect and allowed to be their own thing, not interfered with or made into un-natural pairings purely for the chef to 'shock' the diner with his daring. everything we ate over the three days had one aim-to allow the core flavour to shine.
We managed to get a guided tour of the kitchen at Geranium, including the prep kitchen and the satellite kitchen used for sending private parties for up to a hundred and fifty. Its hard to imagine creating that standard of food for the fifty odd people the restaurant seats in an evening, never mind for conferences up to that number!
The following day was the biggie- Rene Redzepi's Noma, recently named as the worlds best restaurant for the second year running by restaurant magazine and San Pellegrino. I have to admit to being sceptical in the past of Noma's reputation, and the hype which surrounds it, but having been now I must admit that it is something very, very special. Although pinpointing a single 'best' restaurant seems slightly like asking you to name the favourite of your own offspring, Noma makes a very good claim for the crown. The whole experience is not just about the food, its so much more. the whole ethos has been picked up by Rene's staff -front and back of house-and they promote it well. we ate bullrushes, mussels in their shell (the shell was edible), raw shrimp, herbs by the bucket load, doughnuts with whole smoked fish poking out of them, radishes in a pot of soil-and the soil, animal skins, pork fat and we even fried our own eggs. You just don't get that anywhere else. Everyone in Copenhagen that we told of our meal at Noma told us the same- its a special place. even the other restaurants look up to what they are doing and respect it.
I cant tell you it was the best meal of my life-but it was incredibly close to it, and quite possible the best all round experience. Again we got the ten pence tour, by the sous chef, English guy Sam Miller, and we saw a team of chefs who were prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve Rene's goals, and its easy to see why- he was a lovely guy, who took time out to chat with us and sign menus even though he was meant to be off as his wife had only given birth to their second child in the middle of the previous night! what a guy and what a place.
After five and a half hours in the place, we dragged ourselves away from Noma, to make our way to our dinner reservation at Relae - run by an ex-Noma sous chef, Christian Puglisi. A far smaller and simpler operation, relae doesnt suffer in comparison to Noma, it is a corner restaurant in a residential part of the town, where again the emphasis is on seasonality and exacting standards of cooking. again we were greeted and served all night by a charming and enthusiastic host- Kim Rossen. The meal was shorter than Noma- five courses instead of nearly thirty, but it was all executed perfectly, and threw up some interesting ingredients and presentation. Once again, we managed time with the chef, who was another friendly guy, willing to share information and chat. I would gladly return to Copenhagen, just to check out relae again.
Our final gastronomic treat was at The Paul. Paul has had some media coverage in the UK recently, so we all knew of his restaurant and wanted to try it. When we discovered that we had been previously misinformed, we made our way straight to the Tivoli gardens where the restaurant is housed, and gladly paid the entrance fee.
We were not disappointed.
Another menu which started with 'snacks', each bite was close to perfect, some of the finest food I have experienced, and again highly inspirational, and very seasonal.
Paul Cunningham arrived as we were close to the end of our meal, and joined us at our table while we drank our incredibly strong coffees. He seemed genuinely pleased that we had made the effort to find his place, and was another fine host with time to share his views and discuss his passions-food and photography take equal billing. A prolific author - Paul has five cookbooks to his name over the last few years- his personal recipe book collection has taken over a large corner of the restaurant. I recommend going to the Paul almost purely to see the decor, but mostly to sample the food. at lunch its meant to be a four course ment, but with snacks and petit fours its around nine courses, and in the evening there is a twenty course menu for you to enjoy. We all agreed that there has to be a return visit to allow us to do the twenty and sample as much of Paul's food as he is prepared to share!
Detailed posts of all four will follow. and please forgive the misquote in the title of this post!