After 20 years of travelling through Nordic and Arctic territories in search of foods indigenous and exotic, I thought I knew it all. Puffin is best with blueberry sauce. Polar bear is good smoked and drizzled with parsley oil. I have tried whale many times but cannot love it.
My food quest has become a family joke. (“Mum, even the cat refused that fish from the Faroe Islands.”) But my passion remains and I was keen to review Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant specialising in high-end Nordic cuisine that was last month named the third-best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine (beaten only by El Bulli and The Fat Duck).
I was apprehensive about bringing my hoodie-wearing teenagers to Noma’s harbourside dining room. Long before the restaurant hit the headlines, local anecdote told of rich patrons flying in for lunch while their pilots waited in the lounge. But we were given the same friendly welcome as every other diner. And the snatches of conversation I picked up confirmed that this was a place where people came to enjoy sublime food, not to pose. The decor of this converted warehouse – solid oak dining tables and comfortable leather chairs strewn with sheepskins – is in understated Scandinavian style.
The first of our many treats came nestling inside a brown-dappled ceramic container shaped like an Easter egg. There, atop a bed of straw, were a pair of smoked and pickled quail eggs. “Pop them in your mouth in one go,” said the waiter. The explosion of flavours and textures that ensued was simultaneously so subtle and so startling that nothing in a lifetime of tasting had prepared me for it.
Noma serves Nordic food but not as I have previously known it. No rough stuff here – instead, we had three gloriously unforgettable hours of culinary wizardry combining familiar ingredients (rye bread, shrimp, pork) with uncommon treats (wild ramson, leek ash, seabuckthorn).
The four of us shared four sets of amuse-bouches and by the time the second lot appeared we knew that René Redzepi, head chef and proprietor, was, indeed, exceptional. “How on earth did he invent this?” asked our 16-year-old daughter, nibbling smoked cheese and lumpfish roe sandwiched between wafer-thin crisped rye bread and chicken skin.
Redzepi and his team are so immersed in the Nordic and Arctic landscapes that each dish recalls a geographically specific location. This gives Noma a special appeal to anybody who has travelled in the region. One delicacy jolted us back to our front garden in Copenhagen: crispy radishes peeping out of the soil in individual earthenware flowerpots. Everything in the pot was edible, said the waitress; and indeed the dark brown stuff that looked like earth tasted like heaven – a mixture of malt and hazelnut flour.
The journey continued up the coast of western Sweden with a pair of langoustines served on a slab of basalt. Our 15-year-old son made sharp work of this. “I was afraid you might ask for a taste,” he explained.
The service was exemplary. The staff even prepared a final surprise as we left: knowing it was my husband’s birthday, they presented us with a chocolate cake to enjoy at home.
Noma, Strandgade 93, 1401 Copenhagen K, Denmark, tel: +45 3296 3297