My Dinner at Noma
A very different experience.
I love food!
I love thinking about it, preparing it, looking at it, smelling it, and eating it.
I read about food. I watch TV documentaries about chefs and their restaurants. I collect cookbooks and recipes.
I love good food, and I love bad food. My food spectrum encompasses everything from the worst junk food to the world’s top haute cuisine and gourmet restaurants.
I feel that today’s most creative chefs produce art masterpieces just like the geniuses like Da Vinci, Michelangelo & Van Gogh. I enjoy such creativity immensely and have therefore targeted visiting as many Michelin star restaurants as I can (being that the Michelin guide is a type of curator for these creative geniuses).
The Michelin Guide, produced by the very same Michelin that manufactures tires, is a guidebook originally created with the goal of increasing driving. It recommended restaurants based on a simple format:
A no-star review means that a restaurant is good, and worthy of a try if you are nearby.
A 1-star review means that a restaurant is very good and worthy of a stop on your trip.
A 2-star review means that a restaurant is excellent and worthy of a detour on your trip.
A 3-star review means that a restaurant is exceptional and worthy of a special journey.
As such, I have been wanting to eat at Noma for a very long time. In case you aren’t familiar, Noma is a restaurant in Copenhagen, that had been ranked as #1 restaurant in the world for 4 years — Quite an achievement. This was a few years ago. Since then they have shut down and re-opened this year in a new location.
Last week, I have finally fulfilled my dream of eating at Noma. Given that it has shut down for a while, Noma has lost its Michelin stars. In spite of that, I treated it as a 3-star restaurant and made a special trip to Copenhagen to participate in the Noma dining experience.
And what an experience it was.
Noma is a restaurant that takes immense pride in defying almost every convention in the book. I was ready for anything and was prepared to be dazzled.
Getting a reservation at Noma is extremely difficult. Luckily for us, a good friend organized the entire affair a few months ahead of time. He informed us that the restaurant would be showcasing its “Game & Forest Season” menu. Great. I love meat. I, too, was game.
The reservations were made. The bill was prepaid. Yes, Noma requires that you prepay for the dinner upon confirming the reservation. It is not inexpensive, but not out of the ordinary for a top restaurant.
Our party of six arrived a few minutes before 9 PM. The restaurant is situated in a somewhat remote location… It was in the middle of some sort of field or forest or swamp. I could not really tell, as it was very dark, and the only light there emanated from the restaurant buildings. We were welcomed by an elderly gentleman who was forced to wait outside in the freezing cold just to greet the guests. We were shown into a greenhouse that housed a variety of herbs, where we were offered a glass of… I do not recall — it may have been champagne, wine or cider.
We then walked outside- an odd choice given the cold in Copenhagen- past a cool fire and into the main restaurant building. We were welcomed warmly by the staff. I am not sure if they do this for everyone, or if this was because we were referred by a friend of the owner. At any rate, it was nice and we were shown to our table.
The restaurant's main dining hall was large with a relatively plain interior design. It looked like a hunting cabin: Wooden chairs and tables, no white tablecloths, with a young, modernly dressed staff. The staff was international. We met folks from Canada, Australia, the US, and other countries.
The suspense was killing me. I was imagining moose steak, wild geese, ducks, pheasants, and grouse.
Then, the first course was served.
Hot broth with squirrel ferment
It contained “Squirrel Ferment.” Not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about hunting… more along the lines of roadkill. But this is Noma, one of the top restaurants in the world, so surely, I thought, they knew what they were doing.
My wife has instinctively rejected the dish.
I have never had a squirrel. I am not squeamish, and I have eaten many things considered by others to be weird, so was curious about it.
It was in a type of consommé. It was fine, but there was nothing special about it, no great smell or amazing taste that would compel one to eat it in a situation where one was not starving.
The next dish was tartare of reindeer hearts, with a side dish that contained ants (dead, not alive, thank god). Ants have been part of the Noma offering for many years (why I’m not sure).
Reindeer feast: Tartare of Reindeer heart
Once again, my wife rejected that ants dish. I tried it. Meh. No great taste. No intoxicating smell. I’m unclear about what the point was. Would the dish have tasted any different without the ants? It felt like the only reason for the ants’ existence as part of the dish at all was to shock the diner. I am not sure what the culinary value was. This sort of forced edginess felt more tacky than exciting and was unbefitting of a top restaurant, let alone one that was once ranked as best in the world.
More dishes followed:
Reindeer sweetbreads — very tasty!
Reindeer sweetbreads — very tasty
Reindeer Brains Taco — Very Tasty!
Reindeer Brains Taco
Reindeer Brains Taco
Reindeer tongue — had a very interesting texture. Not like any tongue, I have had before (btw — I LOVE tongue). It was more like a piece of steak than a tongue.
Caviar and pheasant broth — a very tasty dish, yet the pheasant was just there in the essence of the broth, and the caviar seemed misplaced.
Caviar and pheasant broth
Then, there was a pine cone salad. Not pine nuts. Cones. This was clearly meant to be a very avant-garde dish. It had a variety of textures, but it was not an amazing dish. I mean, it was extremely delicate and undeniably difficult to prepare. It was precise and detailed… but it just lacked great taste. This, of course, may be subjective.
The weirdest dish followed. It was a box. Inside, there was a huge 1.5-inch beetle!
Of course, my wife immediately closed the box in shock. I checked it out to learn that it wasn’t actually a beetle. I’m not sure what exactly it was, but someone in the kitchen definitely put in a lot of work to create a very exact replica of a very large beetle. What was unclear was towards what end? It was not an actual beetle. Yet again, it seems like its only purpose was to shock the diner. I am not squeamish. I know that various bugs are edible and may provide a good source of protein. I believe that if I were on a deserted island and beetles were all that were available, I would eat them. What wasn’t clear to me was what was the purpose of including a beetle-shaped dish at a fine dining restaurant like Noma.
What followed were 4 more conventional dishes:
Rose Hip Berry and Quince — very tasty
Rose Hip Berry and Quince
Pumpkin, Morel, and Bee Pollen — interesting, but had a little off-putting smell
Pumpkin, Morel and Bee Pollen
Pumpkin, Morel and Bee Pollen
Wild Mushroom dish — probably the best dish of the evening. I can still smell its amazing aroma
Truffled Flatbread — just ok.
We then reached the second part of the game menu: the Duck Feast. It started with barbecued breast & cured meats, which were both excellent.
Barbecued Duck Breast
Cured Duck Meat
This was followed by a dish called “Brain & Crispy Skin.” I love brains. This one was presented inside the hollowed skull of the duck. The head of the duck, bill, and all was served blackened on the plate. The instructions were to scoop the brains out of the skull. Once again, the dish had an unnecessarily edgy presentation.
Duck Brain & Crispy Skin
A few more duck dishes followed. There was a “Sunflower Salad”, a “Crispy Wing”, and a “Ragout”.
The crispy wing was an actual full-sized duck wing, feathers and all, with a piece of meat attached at the end. Once again, I am not sure what the purpose was of serving the actual physical wing of the duck. To me, it felt like an ad for PETA.
Duck Crispy Wing
Rather than augment the dishes, these repeated attempts to shock overshadowed and distracted from the taste. This was beginning to get tiring, and my experience was getting more and more diminished every time this happened.
For desserts, we were served the “Blueberries & Walnuts”, and the “Chocolate Moss”. They were fine, but not out of this world. They definitely were not close to the amazing desserts I have had at other restaurants of this caliber.
Blueberries & Walnuts
We moved to a sitting room like area for coffee/tea. We ended the meal with Duck Feet (not actual duck feet, just duck fat & caramel shaped like duck feet) and some crab apples (why?).
Desset of Duck Feet
To summarize, the presentation of dishes at Noma is complex, at times beautiful and at times eery. The quality of the ingredients is superb. The service is impeccable, and the setting is warm and comfortable. However, at times, the restaurant chooses deliberately challenging ingredients and presentations that are meant to instill shock & awe into the diner. I am very much for innovation and am willing to try anything, but then I’d question whether this innovation comes at the expense of flavor and the diner’s enjoyment.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post — great food is like great art. And I understand that sometimes art is meant to shock you. I feel like that is what Noma is trying to do.
I started by saying it was an experience. I suppose skydiving and bungee jumping, are also experiences, but they are not for me.
There were some very good dishes at this meal, excellent service, and ambiance, but I would say that overall the experience was somewhat disappointing, and not for me.