I am in Copenhagen to dine at René Redzepi’s Noma 2.0 barely three months after it has settled into its new quarters, a transformed naval ammunition bunker neighbouring the revolutionary community of Christiania, on the shore of a city lake. Trust me, I don’t just happen to eat here, I am lucky to have won the seat lottery.
My cabbie drops me off to a gorgeous field where I am greeted at the gate by Ali Sonko. Sonko, who had
emigrated from Gambia, was the original Noma’s longest-serving staffer, and is now one of René’s partners. Since I am a repeat guest, I get a hug from him; then I am steered past a series of greenhouses
from a path that is weedy and flowery, into an open contemporary woody room. As I open the door, a familiar face appears in front of me, I am greeted by Redzepi himself and his team. It takes me a few
seconds to gather myself. To be honest, I am always starstruck by Redzepi, which is natural for anyone
who knows what a talented chef he is. I am seated, with a view of the beautiful lake and Copenhill, the power plant with a ski slope, on its shore. The interiors of Noma 2.0 complement the colours and harvest of the season.
On offer is a wine or a juice pairing; I opt for the latter. Humble devotion to seasonality influences the farmbound Noma 2.0. It’s summer and I am here for the vegetarian menu, wondering what magic this Noma team can create with vegetables as centre stage.
The dishes begin to come out at a frenzied pace. In all, I eat 21 dishes in about two hours and a few minutes. The first course arrives as a soup, served in a flower pot. Mine has a blooming grove of thyme budding in it. Where’s my soup?
I find a hollow plant straw going through the soil into the potato and elderflower soup ‘magma’ hidden below. I stick my head right into the herbs to eat it. Precise, true to carefully defined flavours, and with an extremely well thought out presentation, the soup delights my palate and my eyes.
Redzepi is only too aware of the potential of his land, and with great expertise blends it into harmonious perfection. The most beautiful and vibrant dish on the menu is two bites: a tart of gleaming crisps of potato supporting a blossom of moist nasturtium, rose and lavage petals, and a butterfly created from sea buckthorn and blackcurrant leather, sprinkled with pistils of rosemary, and trimmings of pine, all skewered on a fine offshoot of lavender.
A highlight for me is the fascinating spit-roasted celeriac ‘shawarma’, a replica of its meat version, with truffles, shavings of which are served onto a plate along with greens, currants and apple. And I cannot say enough about Richard Hart’s (former head baker of Tartine) gorgeous sourdough served with homemade butter and a truffle sauce to dip the bread in—decadent to the core. On the menu is also a pumpkin tofu-like curd aided with a walnut mole with grasshoppers (yes, considered vegetarian) and barbecued rose petals. This combination bequeaths divine flavours I will never forget.
In spite of the brilliance of everything in this tasting session, it’s the barbecued onion that stands out the most. The big bulb, replete with a few inches of stalk, is literally blackened on the outside and is sweet to taste, and has been deftly cut into fork-friendly segments. It is one of Noma’s best offerings, with a flavour profile akin to a delicate fish, delightfully soft, yet crispy with a smoky aftertaste that lingers. All three desserts are equally inspired and my meal ends with another flower-pot, this one being edible. I cut the pot clean through the centre, terracotta (that’s the chocolate coating) and all, to expose the rose-scented
elderflower cake within—the prettiest cake I have ever eaten. I am totally in love with Redzepi’s concept of creating a collection that changes with the trend, season by season. I’d never imagined I would enjoy the plant kingdom so much.
BEHIND THE SCENE
Once the plates are cleared and the bill settled, I am given a tour. Eleven rooms, orderly and organised,
blend in harmony with the dining hall, leading into the service kitchen, sprawling into a wide corridor
saturated with bookcases, king crab tanks, staff cafeteria, a lab and a changing area. Everything being on the same level also makes it easy during service. Noma 2.0 is an institute, not a regular kitchen with a working environment, putting the slickest office to shame. As I leave, I think Noma is back and this time
in a more mature version. After all, I just discovered an outstanding passion for taste, respect for produce,
glorification of flavours and attentiveness of the team with the intention to please.
Noma, a four-time winner of Restaurant magazine’s Best in the World award, has reopened at Refshalevej 96, 1432 Copenhagen K, Denmark. For reservations: +45-32963297/noma.dk.