Eating at the world’s 5-time best restaurant — as reported by a degenerate.
Your birthday has come and gone. I, like many, gave you the good ol’ Facebook well wishing…but I felt I should give you a little something more. Recently I spoke with you of my then-up-coming dinner at noma. I believe I had predicted I would leave with edible flower breath and farting beetle skin (SPOILER ALERT: I had neither). I do still have trouble justifying spending thaaaat much on a meal but it is so much more than a meal and, like many other young dames, I have justified spending money and time on men who have given me not a fraction of the nourishment. So justified it shall be! Any who, let me tell you what did happen in exactly the way I remember it in my head (which means a lot of culinary details will be left out and said in non-technical terms that will most likely make real foodies grimace).
As the crew was walking up (we were four), I started getting really nervous. The main thought of am I supposed to be here? was the crux and all others like don’t trip on the stairs and which fork do I start with again? swirled around it. But that all went away really fast when we got inside and then someone said something funny I don’t remember but everyone was laughing and self-confidence was restored. In fact, right when you walk in a whole heap of the staff greet you at the door. It’s like everyone gets a surprise party with a bunch of obliging people you don’t know. It was little weird, though, to have so many people staring and smiling at me while I unzipped my jacket. If someone had held up a 200kr bill or made it rain I don’t know if it would have eased or added to my awkwardness, tbh.
They escorted us to our table which was — most definitely — the best table on the floor. It was in the corner diagonal from the kitchen and we could see absolutely everything. And I, the selfish twat that I am, took the best seat. Cause, hey, it’s noma. Friendships come and go, but bragging rights are forever. And now, my sweet Canadian friend, is part of forever.
Yes, well. I suppose you’ll want to know about the food. Well alright, if you insist. What you should know is three of us went with the wine pairing and one well-educated man (but also, a fool) went with the juice pairing. In retrospect, if you really want the best out of your food, the juice pairing is one hell of a thing. It complements the dishes in truly amazing ways and brings out flavors wine just can’t. Because noma can’t exactly control their wines, they can only choose them. But by golly they’ll knock your knickers off with their juices. But yeah, just know I was having a-a-a-a — a-alcohol but there are other choices.
They started us out with some ‘welcome’ bubbly. While the bubbly happens, different people come around and introduce themselves. This was key. I totally thought noma would be stuffy and snobby and full of people using words they can’t pronounce (it was on the latter but that was me with the wine labels). Wrong was I, Polina, wrong was I. They were taking the piss and they were good at it. They seemed genuinely interested to learn about you and their fake laughs were nearly undetectable. I wanted to be everyone’s best friend. Bravo.
Yes, well, the food. Sorry. It was a five-hour meal, I have a lot of situational aspects. We started out with a delightful apple. Danish apples slightly hollowed out on the inside and filled with tiny little apple balls that had been marinating in elderflower. Remember dippin’ dots? It was like you opened the apple top to giant dippin’ dots and these, like the nostalgia of youth, were oh-so-delightful. I don’t even like apples and I got riled up. We were off to a good start. I was also welcoming my third glass of welcome bubbly. Excuse me, we were off to a great start.
Next were the freshly sliced scallops, a dish that explains itself. I don’t know if I’ve ever had scallops that fresh but I honestly don’t understand why we would have them any other way. They had prepared theirs in a buttery-musselpaste which I tried, though they had prepared me a set marinated in more of a seaweed tea (I’m allergic to mussels). Mine was good, but the other was really, really nice.
Next was the autumn platter which was a plate full of leaves. Why beat around the bush (bah-zing!)? A plate covered in an arrangement of autumn leaves duct taped (yes, duct taped, we looked underneath) to the surface. But within this poorman’s-answer-to-leaf-attachment were different takes on what one might find in a forest. There was a pear with some leaf I don’t remember at the southern side — it was good. There was another sort of leaf I don’t remember to the western side — I don’t remember how it tasted either. There was ‘bark’ at the north as a type of knækbrød — that was fucking delicious. And to the east there was black garlic that had been partially caramelized (?) and solidified then sort of smeared and flattened to look like a leaf. This one had a really impressive taste and texture — especially when you remembered it was garlic, but it couldn’t beat out that bark for me.
Important note: at this point we had been served our third wine. We all took a sip and there was unanimous approval in gasps and incredulous looks at glasses. Also important to note is that my three dinner mates all work within the beverage biz and at very prominent and respected booze and wine joints while I, very respectfully, diminish their stock. BUT THIS WINE! This wine served by noma on this day of days had a label printed in Papyrus font type. Papyrus, Polina!!! Do you remember Papyrus?! Of course-fucking-not because you’re no longer 13-years-old working on your Xanga page. But a wine label in Papyrus takes some balls and these makers could do it because their wine was that delicious. This was a very important note to make.
Anywho, back to the grub. Next was a radish pie. I know what you’re thinking — I thought it, too. Radish pie is sure to be disgusting. What’s that you say? On a kelp-based crust? Guh-ross. But you, sweet Polina, would be just as wrong as I was. I think for all of us this was the stand-out dish. We’re a talkative bunch and everyone was silent. For someone who knows nothing of fine dining, this was what really showed me the ingenuity, innovation and ability for chef’s to have the right to say ‘I told you so.’ Radish on kelp that made me want to eat only that for the rest of my life (Note: if you’re curious, we got the recipe because we pry).
Right after the small radish gift from the heavens, we got a taste of their sourdough bread. Now, I’m from San Francisco. We know our sourdough. We even know how to turn it into a bowl so it can serve as a nice home for your clam chowder. And these folks in these northern lands with no bridges as a golden gate have certainly nailed it. Not only was the bread perfect — but the butter was fatty and delicious as can be. If I told you I didn’t eat the butter on its own, I would be a liar. In case you’re wondering, we got the recipe for that, too.
Okay. My goodness, I’ll stop blithering. We still have 10 courses more to go. So why don’t I double time this? I’m sure you have other things to do. Next was milk curd, with fresh walnuts and parsley. This was very nice for me, soft and a beautiful texture that just made my mouth ready for what’s next. It was a pep talk course. And it pepped us up for sea urchin in cabbage — shaped kind of like a dumpling but sectioned off — I think it came with a sauce but I don’t really remember. What I do remember is it looked cool.
Next I had a sort of cabbage sandwich with samphire (a sea vegetable). It looked cool and the cabbage was awesome but the samphire was just too aggressive for my palette. The others had something else but I just don’t remember mainly due to jealousy. Sue me.
Following that was butternut squash with barley and caviar. These were three things I love so there was no way they could go wrong. But I don’t know if any squash has ever had that perfect of a consistency. I don’t know who the authority or who the keeper of that information is, but they should swing on by and judge it for themselves. On the tail of the butternut squash was king crab in an egg yolk sauce. Oh, but wait, I can’t have king crab…so what do I get? A leek in the same sauce? A fucking leek? Thafuckouttahere! Oh wait…I’m sorry…is this the most delicious leek I’ve ever tasted? Have I, perhaps, come out on top? The answer was ‘yes’ my friend, ‘yes.’ That was one hell of a leek. They had King Crab, I had Queen Leek. Thanks, Obama.
Whew. While I was steel reeling from my leek, they swooped on over with a plate of charred greens in a yeast plate. A bunch of different types of greens prepared in the same way. It was a cool concept and really opened your palette to the nuances of herbs and greens you know well…but…after that leek. I really didn’t care.
Then came the main course — whole roasted wild duck with a plum sauce (I think) and cabbage leaves to make little tacos. But honestly, I thought it was pretty boring. But I also assume that’s a thing with fine dining. Once you’ve had all these tantalizing and sometime seemingly ludicrous treats, a steak and some duck really can’t titillate the senses as much. I will say this though, the main course was the one serving when the wine menu clearly out shined the juice menu.
Now we slide into the dessert section. We started it off with a mix of potatoes and plums. The mealiness of the potato was actually really great with some sweet stuff because it gave it an airy quality. Then came black currant wood ice cream and roasted konini. This was, I think, my second favorite dish. It was so good. Go ahead, google ‘roasted konini.’ It seems like they invented it. Hallelu. We rounded out the meal and our conversational colonizing of the space with moss cooked in chocolate with cep mushroom and egg liqueur. This was cool but by this time I was pretty drunk.
Whew. We done did it. So that was the noma menu and what I can remember of it. It was amazing and very much an experience. But for me, and as someone who has worked in hospitality, when people say the service is impeccable, they’re not kidding. They are extremely attentive but relaxed. Gracious yet authoritative. This attentiveness is what got me drunk as it was an effort to empty my glass because some lovely soul would zip around and fill it back up.
More than that, though, was watching the way they work together. It is honestly like a ballet. noma is a living organism that both feeds and feeds off its parasites — us. This was the greatest advantage from me taking the good seat. I could watch the whole floor and the downstairs kitchen at the same time. They stop working and greet new people at the door every single time someone comes in. Everyone. Including the chefs and sous-chefs. The sheer level of peripheral vision and spidey-senses these cats have is remarkable. You cannot be without a napkin for the length of a sneeze and someone will have seen it from across the room and basically teleported over to give a new one to you.
I think that essentially what it comes down to, at least it did for me and my crew, is to be part and parcel to passion. Everyone inside that building gives a whole hell of a lot of shits about what they do. Not many buildings have that quality. There was our main server was Juan who I will attempt to invite to my next birthday party. There was Francesca, in Copenhagen for only 6 weeks, keeping my wine glass happy and simply smiling at us all the time even though we thought we were way funnier than we actually were. Don’t worry, we know. And then James, the classically-handsome-yet-not-annoyingly-so restaurant manager who clearly knows how to lead, doesn’t mind popping a squat to tell us a story and likes my name (thanks Mom and Dad). Plus all the other folks who swooped by, fed us and were able to easily insert themselves into our jokes. All of them have been working tirelessly to get to somewhere like this and it shows that they dig it. Bearing witness to passion — it’s beautiful.
They gave us a tour at the end, I remember liking it but I was honestly pretty saucy by this point. Juan slipped us some after dinner digestives and then I think we had a beer as well. I’m sure the tour was a treat, though. I mean, if that radish pie lives there — love lives there. I remember a crab tank and an extensive library.
So..that was that…if you got this far, well done. I hope you had a great birthday and that I’m still invited to your housewarming party after this rambling beast.
P.S. It was 3000kr and then I gave a 400kr tip cause I was drunk and didn’t know what else to do. But I was happy to do so!
P.P.S. The attached photo is us upon departure with my main man Juan. I didn’t remember this until I saw the photo. I do believe us holding him was his idea.