The main reason for our repeat visits to Noma is that each season offers a different interpretation of the Nordic region. Our latest meal was our first during the summer and the tastes were lighter and more refreshing than previous visits, with some dishes having a tart, slight astringency, but very cleansing tone. As always in Noma, the flavours were clean and pure, typified by a fantastic serving of seasonal green leaves and a scallop marinade which was absolutely delicious and showed perfection in deceptive simplicity. A flower tart - thin pastry with an assortment of edible flowers - was delicate, floral and earthy. A beautiful serving of pumpkin, rose petals and caviar in a milk broth was sweet, but with a slight umami undertone.
Dishes that were on previous menus were not homogenised across the seasons, but showed how the same produce can taste differently at certain times of the year. A fantastic dish we had last year of shrimp, nasturtium, yeast and rhubarb root broth tasted quite different and had more subtlety, as did a serving a chilled monkfish liver which was a more delicate flavour than previously.
Some dishes had bolder flavours, like lobster with nasturtium which was delightfully rich and moreish and the same can be said for a serving of roasted bone marrow. A particular highlight was an addictive and very clever dish of fermented garlic served shaped as a flower. With a deep, complex flavour and a chewy toffee like texture, this dish was not one we will forget quickly.
In Noma you don’t notice the technique that goes into the food, they are not trying to impress you with their latest advancement or say ‘look what we can do!’ It just feels like a natural representation of the landscape, geography and the climate at that particular time. Eating in Noma you feel like you are somewhere unique, somewhere that doesn't come along very often. Rene Redzepi has changed the culinary world and his influence has been felt more than any other chef in recent times. Often copied, but seldom understood, the terroir centric approach of his food is capable of giving the diner not only a taste of the restaurant’s food, but a taste of the restaurant’s place on the map.
Redzepi’s greatest legacy may be the changes to the Nordic food scene. There are many excellent restaurants in the region now and ingredients are being used that previously were not considered food. He has given a food identity to a region that never really had one. Sure there are many chefs throwing grass on every dish so they can put ‘foraged’ on their menu, just as many put insipid foams onto many dishes where it isn't appropriate, but the legacy of Noma will outlive the chefs who are just trying to cash in on a trend.
Restaurants with this amount of influence and success make them easy targets to criticise and ridicule. Exponents of classical cooking can be quick to dismiss restaurants doing something new, but what we now consider classical food was at one point the cutting edge and the great classical chefs of the past were the innovators of their time. Today’s modernities could be tomorrow’s classics. If a new technique, philosophy, method or even dish is good enough it will outlast fashion or fads. In years to come we may think about Nordic cuisine the same we do about French cuisine, with Redzepi being a founding father.
Noma is never standing still and behind the scenes they are experimenting with new techniques and flavours, using methods like fermentation and preservation to develop dishes for future menus. Constantly looking at better ways to express their philosophy, a few weeks ago Redzepi announced that Noma will move at the end of 2016. In their new location they will try to grow many of their ingredients themselves and will take seasonality even further. In the summer they will be a vegetarian restaurant serving up the edible shoots and fruits of the season. In the autumn they will put all their focus on game, berries and mushrooms. The challenge here will be able to add enough diversity to the menu to keep the diner engaged and it will be very interesting to see how this works out.
To us Noma feels special and has a sort of atmosphere that can suck you in. On a previous visit last November, we had, just the day before, received some very bad news about the health of a family member and came very close to cancelling the trip. But we went and for the three hours we were in the restaurant our mood was lifted and our minds taken off any troubles. It reinforced to us why we love good food and the power it has to uplift. There are not that many restaurants that could have, for those few hours at least, taken us away from our troubles on that day, but Noma managed it and because of this the restaurant holds a special affection for us.
Service is friendly, fun, professional with the right amount of informality and despite being a big business, with reservations still extremely hard to get, Noma has managed to keep a sort of neighbourhood feel to it. Noma is expensive by any standard, but we have always left thinking it was worth every cent. The wine list though, like most in Copenhagen, is quite costly and hard to pick up a wine of decent quality.
Above all though, the reason to go back to Noma is that the food is delicious and, besides all else, this is all that really matters.
See Noma on our list of world ratings