Noma is a place with its own inertia. It's own energy. It has been broadly considered the best restaurant in the world for almost a decade now. Very few places can keep up with a reputation like that. Most times, even if it is excellent, it becomes a let down due to the insanely high expectations that are baked in to every guest. I had those expectations. So let me get straight to the point.
Noma is the best restaurant in the world.
End of discussion.
This is "Vegetable" season. (Noma has 3 - Vegetable, Forest & Game and Seafood). The entire menu is 100% vegetarian. Rather than having concern, I was excited to attend during this season. They are known for their use of vegetables so what better way to be immersed into their strength than to attend in summer?
The true brilliance of this meal is the incredible expansion of flavors and textures dish to dish. I would not have thought it possible to achieve with a vegetarian meal. From bright vinaigrettes to unctuous and rich, peppery to savory and even some sweet (as main dishes), with each dish, this menu took you to a far corner of flavor showing a depth of understanding, imagination and technique that simply can't be rivaled. Each dish had a selected corner of the entire flavor map and wandered to the recesses of it. The flavors here can't be rivaled even by restaurants that use meat and marrow and animal fat to deliver the deep and diverse flavor profiles. Noma is crushing them using only vegetables.
The beauty of each dish was also a sight to behold. I wish I got a better picture of that salad (the 2nd course) which was shockingly beautiful. The beetroot laid out as a flower, or the actual flower fried to perfection while (somehow) keeping each flower petal intact. Who does this??
Noma is a very relaxed atmosphere. There is nothing stuffy or snooty about this place. The restaurant feels more like a rustic wood barn than anything highbrow. There is barely a sign to the place. Most walk by never knowing that's Noma. It underscores both Danish sensibilities (deferential and humble) as well as the inner confidence a place like this has. It doesn't need to announce who it is. Those who need to know already know.
The pacing was steady. Quick, even. It was never rushed, but each next dish arrived at the earliest it could without making you feel unready for it. There were some odd service misses. All of the juices dripped all over when poured from their bottles (each time ably cleaned by the server). I went to the restroom and came back to find the next round of juice/wine already served. That's a no-no in this world. But the staff was friendly, accessible, attentive and helpful.
It's difficult to call out specific dishes here for two reasons. First, this was a cohesive meal that played as a whole. Any one of these dishes on its own would lose something if it was not found in the arc of this menu. The other reason is that each dish was just so damn delicious in such a myriad of flavor profiles, how do you choose one over the other? My favorites were the doma, the mushroom steak and the mochi dessert. None of that is put any other dish down. It's simply dishes that fit my palette. Others at my table raved about the artichoke. Yep, it too was world-class.
I'm jealous of my 3 European-based table-mates, each of whom can pop over to Copenhagen without much effort to enjoy another meal here. I can't imagine it would ever get old.
"Noma" is shorthand for two words: "Nordic" and "Food". René Redzepi (the owner and head chef) is clearly a culinary master. You also have to admire the business he oversees. They serve lunch on Saturday (not dinner) and reopen on Tuesday, allowing their staff to have a reasonable work schedule and time at home with family.
Seating was spacious - many more tables could be put into the room we ate in. With the insane demand to eat here, he could drive this restaurant so much harder to generate far greater profits. Kudos for thinking about his staff and assuring their lifestyle health as they work.
I want to come back. I want to try each season. I want to be reminded of this meal and continually inspired by such intense commitment to the highest cuisine. I want to be able to enjoy their next creation(s) and the ones after those. I want to watch these masters work their craft again and again.
You've likely heard of Noma. You probably know its reputation.
It is all true. Every word of it.
Do whatever you must to get here. It is an experience of a lifetime. And one I will never forget.
Replying to Steven Smith