We have had a great 'dining out' start to 2014 already. In Ireland we have had very good meals in Bon Appetit and Mulberry Garden. Bon Appetit was a lot better than the last meal we had there two years ago, both in terms of food and service. In fact both the food and the service were excellent. It actually climbed up to 2nd on our Irish restaurant rating league - previously it would have been just inside the top 10. The menu was very seasonal - pheasant, spices - and warming on a cold winters night. The star of the show was the desert (the same on our previous visit) a skilful play on the humble apple with tangy undertones and perfectly balanced textures.
Mulberry Garden, which was our favourite restaurant of 2013 (as mentioned in a previous blog), was as delightful as ever and the reputation of the restaurant is continuing to grow.
We travelled to Copenhagen and ate in Noma in January. This was an amazing and inspiring experience. There were some stunning dishes - some of the best we have ever eaten in fact. But there were a couple of dishes that we didn't like. The potato and lojrom (which is the row of a bleak fish) was very disappointing and the texture of the near raw potato was a bit unpalatable. Another disappointing dish was the onion and ants. It was a bit boring and the taste of the ants was lost. However, the potato and pear dessert, the monkfish liver, the sea urchin, the 100 year old clam, the pork skin and blueberries, the burnt leak, the potato and pear; aronia berries and sol were all lovely dishes.
We desperately want to go back some year in the summer when the menu would be completely different.
Noma is one of the most influential restaurants of recent times. You could argue that every time you see foraged ingredients on a menu or when you see producers listed, it can be traced back to Noma.
The food is like nothing we have had before, it is not just the taste of a Danish food, but the taste of Danish landscape, of its soil, its forests and of its seas. Very few of the dishes smack you around the face with flavour, but instead give you a delicate taste of Danish terroir. It can appear deceptively simple, but in fact the dishes are complex and a result of a lot of man hours.
We left Noma feeling inspired to start pottering around our own landscape and see what we can find to cook. Which leads to interesting question. Would a Noma would succeed in Ireland?
Last year Nede was opened in Dublin by two former Noma chefs. Their philosophy was similar to Noma's - to showcase local ingredients in as natural a way as possible. Albeit their dishes were a lot simpler. The food was natural, light, delicious and skilfully prepared, but they did not succeed. We were there twice and, despite one of the times being a Saturday night, the place was nearly empty on both occasions. Louise Bannon, one of the chefs, told us that people were not really understanding what they were trying to do. We weren't too surprised by this and during our first visit we both feared the restaurant may struggle.
They were serving dishes that may appear as just vegetables on a plate, or Dublin bay prawns in a wild garlic oil, and I think diners did not appreciate that these dishes were not as simple as they appeared. Whether they were simple or not actually shouldn't matter, because the dishes were delicious They served steak in its own red juices, which may turn some, especially the 'well done' brigade, off. And serving beef heart with cherries may have sent others - who think it is normal to eat a muscle from the backside of an animal, but not the heart - running out the door. They did have some dishes that could appeal to all, the chocolate and barley dessert was one of the best we had last year.
We are not sure what the actual reason Nede only lasted a few months, but it looked like it was struggling from the beginning. It was a sad day when it closed its doors, both for us and the two talented chefs. One reason for the closure of Nede may have been its location. It was in Temple Bar and serving food that would not appeal to the tourist trade and it was not trendy enough, like Cleaver East for example, to attract groups on a night out.
But we would doubt that a 'Noma Style' restaurant would survive anywhere in Ireland. Would Noma have survived in Copenhagen without international recognition? Maybe not. In an interview Rene Redzepi described how locals did not take to the restaurant at all in the beginning, so if it wasn't for the San Pellegrino best restaurant list, Noma may have been and gone without exerting its influence in kitchens all over the world. Now that would be sad!