Ok, we all know about Noma, right? Rene Redzepi, foraging, Worlds best restaurant, two Michelin stars, local produce and so on.
I am a lucky so and so, and recently I made my third trip there, and was treated to my best meal there yet. I say best meal THERE, because although it is an amazing, one off kind of a restaurant, and rightly voted the worlds best (twice), I have had better restaurant experiences, but not many!
The food is certainly unique, I have never eaten live shrimp masked in a warm butter emulsion before. Similarly, until I reached Noma I had never been offered a mussel in a shell and told to eat the whole thing, shell and all. It is also the only place, to this day, where I have been served distilled tree sap as a beverage for with my meal instead of tap or bottled water.
All of these factors, and a whole lot more, contribute to a fantastic experience, as obviously there is so much more to a restaurant than the food. At Noma, more than most other restaurants, the whole team buy into the philosophy and food on offer. Each member of the team has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the dishes and provenance of ingredients, and that makes a real difference. How many times have you asked a waiter about an element of the food, only to have them say " I'll just check with chef"? This feeling that it is a team effort really sets it apart, and is a huge inspiration for me as a chef, to make sure that I train anyone working with me to know all there is to know about the menu.
Having said all of that, and to reiterate my feeling that it is a fantastic restaurant, with the 2012 'worlds best restaurant' awards coming up on monday (30th april) the question has to be asked- is it still the worlds best?
To help make my mind up, and hopefully yours too, here are a sample of some of the dishes I was treated to this time, along with a little insight to how they are created, and what makes them magical.
As ever, the first offering is on your table before you are sat, although you wouldn't be aware of it. In the small vase on the table, amongst the foraged herbs and shoots, are a couple of flatbread branches, similar to a crispbread, shaped like a twig and deep fried, then sprinkled with juniper and pine powder, which resemble a moss covered fallen branch in the woods. This is explained to you as the waiter, or very often one of the chefs, bring some soured cream for you to dip into
Savoury cheese cookies arrive in the sort of tin box my nan used to use, and in fact Rene told us that the tin which contained our cookies was given to him to use in the restaurant by his mother-in-law, and it is the only piece of equipment used for service in the restaurant which doesn't come from Denmark.
The cookies themselves are made with a Danish hard cheese, and are short, crumbly and intensely cheesy, and topped with a mix of herbs including lovage and parsley.
Grilled langoustine, parsley and oyster emulsion, sprinkled with seaweed powder and served on a huge stone, from the same beach where the langoustines are sourced. Simple, elegant and great flavour. the huge seafood is dunked in the emulsion and eaten with the fingers.
Seven pickled vegetables, each pickled in its own vinegar and flavourings. Served with bone marrow and a jus made from pork rib bones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, each vegetable does have its own flavour and the combination of the pork jus and the marrow is incredible. A definite winner.
Sweetened rhubarb juice, raw rhubarb, fresh cheese, red sorrel (oxalis) and brown cheese, which is made from the caramelised whey, and has a sweet flavour and shortbread like texture. Again, simple, clean and very well balanced.
Grilled pear, raw pear, wild herbs, frozen aerated pine parfait, and a sauce of caramelised pear and aquavit. fantastic technique, and clean presentation. freshness from the herbs and the raw pear stop this being an overly sweet dessert.
After dinner, and the obligatory tour of behind the scenes, we had some coffee and a few sweet treats including this toffee made from smoked bone marrow, and presented in the marrow bones and wrapped in brown paper. a great way to finish the evening.
All in all, there is much to praise and very little to criticise. We weren't the only people in the restaurant that evening, but at times it felt like we were, such is the warmth and talent of the staff.
Over the course of the meal, we had around 28 offerings (its hard to call them courses, when often you are served several at a time, and they vary in size from single bite to a generous fish course kind of size) and we must have had at least 12 different members of staff serve us at different times, from commis waiters to Rene Redzepi himself and his head chef Matt Orlando, and each and every time one of them approached us, we had their undivided attention.
So, Noma. Are you the Worlds best restaurant? I dont know, but I have to say, if there is a better one, I want to go there now!