Noma, one of the world’s most influential restaurants, closed last February. Now the chefs have returned to Copenhagen with ‘Noma 2.0’. MICHAEL BOOTH paid a visit, tucking into a meal of cucumber ovaries, ant sauce and more…
The last of sixteen courses from the debut seafood menu at the born-again restaurant Noma is a plankton cake: a Kermit-green hockey puck, dusted with a reddish powder. Perhaps it was the cognitive dissonance of ‘plankton’ and ‘cake’, but even now I don’t even know if I liked it or not. Before that, there had been venus clams, dried sea cucumber ovaries, ant sauce and sea snail broth – not as discombobulating as the plankton, but Instagram-pretty and cunningly delicious; a triumph of fresh thinking, immaculate technique and great suppliers.
Noma is perhaps the most influential restaurant of the past decade, responsible for all the foraged, pickled and dried stuff you see on menus everywhere. But in February last year, its head chef, René Redzepi, decided to close, throw all the pieces up in the air and see where they landed.
His united nations of chefs has landed on a former patch of wasteland on the edge of the city, where the Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels has designed a complex of buildings inspired by the traditional Scandinavian sæter, or farmstead. The kitchen has glass ceilings so that chefs get to see daylight; the main dining room is a soothing oak cocoon accented with dried fish and seaweed. Eventually, there will be greenhouses, rooftop gardens, a sauna and vegetable plots. It is what El Bulli might have become had Ferran Adrià not tired of hospitality.
As Redzepi serves us a sea urchin, beach rose and pumpkin-seed dish that sends flavour memories hadron-colliding round my mind, the man’s restless energy is almost tangible. Days after reopening, he’s already talking about where the next pop-up may be.
“Redzepi’s restless energy is almost tangible. Days after reopening, he’s already talking about where the next pop-up may be.
The usual caveats apply: some of the food is challenging and much is tweezered, but if you’re not keen on opera, you don’t go to see Parsifal. This isn’t comfort food. You may want to plan for a Copenhagen hotdog an hour or so afterwards. My Danish companion and I argue about whether or not it’s hyggelig. I say not – there are no candles or bread and butter. She says the staff and natural materials make up for that.
But hyggelig or not, has Noma done it again? Has it reached the heights that saw it crowned the best restaurant in the world a record four times? No question it can, should it wish to, but this feels to me like the beginning of a whole new journey.
MICHAEL BOOTH is a freelance journalist and the author of several books, including a travelogue about Scandinavia, The Almost Nearly Perfect People, published by Jonathan Cape.
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This article has also been published in The Guardian.