Noma 2.0 – not only resetting the game, but redefining the whole playing field
Claim to Fame: Um, seriously? It’s Noma.
Reason to Go: For a first-hand experience of what will stay the hottest ticket in the food world throughout 2018.
Look out for: Servings that are not quite what they seem to be.
The skeptic could be forgiven for believing that Noma 2.0 was setting itself up for the most precipitous of falls. Between the dramatic closing of the old restaurant, the lengthy construction delays, the anxious media coverage, the astonishing speed with which the first set of reservations were snapped up, and then, once it finally opened, the gushing flood of rapture that coursed across Instagram, it seemed impossible that the new Noma could ever live up to the hype.
But that skeptic would not know René Redzepi. The new restaurant is stunning to look at, ambitious in its creative reach, and, by focusing each of the three menus it serves over the course of the year on the genre of produce that is best in season, it expresses time and place with more power than even the old Noma.
Dinner on this first menu, devoted to the sea, begins with a warm consommé of Faroese sea snail. It is served in a shell adorned only with a thin border of minced herbs along the lip that, tipped to the mouth, electrify the rich, sweetly marine broth with citric jolts of pickled elderflower and lemon thyme. It’s the perfect metaphor for the new Noma: seemingly naturalistic (though in fact, a squad of cooks has meticulously tweezed each herb into place), delicious in ways that belie its apparent simplicity, and— in its warmth, surprise, and and plain beauty—the vehicle for a profound sense of well-being.
A good part of that well-being comes from the space. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the oak-walled dining room look out over a reed-lined pond, generating a feeling of being part of nature, rather than sheltered from it. Yet the effect is refined, not rustic, thanks to the streamlined good taste of architect Bjarke Ingels and interior designer David Thulstrup. Everything, from the ceramic plates on the table to the “paintings” made from mold in the lounge, has been made expressly for Noma.
Service too is exemplary. Noma’s patented style—correct, knowledgeable, and anticipatory, but infused with authentic warmth—has been honed to a high sheen here. The provenance stories have been stripped to their engaging essentials. The wine pairing, which starts with a luxuriously creamy 2013 Goustan and includes some welcome surprises, like a customized, and nicely saline beer from Gose, is intelligent. Throughout, the staff radiates as much excitement as the guests.
But it is the food that excites the most. An early dish of plump Venus clams, their natural sweetness heightened with a dollop of blackcurrant fudge, gives way to a crisp disk of dehydrated shrimp broth hiding translucent Norwegian shrimp that float in a tart broth studded with green strawberries the kitchen has preserved from summer. A fruits-de-mer platter containing raw mahogany clams dotted with salted goosberries and an utterly luscious sea urchin shingled with pumpkin seeds conveys both the bounty of the brasserie favorite, and a distinctly Nordic purity.
In the battle between interesting and delicious that has long been staged on Noma’s menus, delicious wins this round (the most challenging dish, called simply ‘jellyfish’ on the menu, turns out not to be so challenging after all). The flavors are intense, but richer than some of the old Noma’s. That doesn’t mean they’re not innovative; squid is sliced thinly and glazed in a seaweed butter that makes it seem like a briny linguine al burro. Juicy pieces of codhead are grilled like ribs on a barbecue, the better to complement their fatty stickiness. Even dessert is made from plankton. One of the distinct thrills, in fact, is the disorientation that eating an all-seafood menu provokes: you don’t miss meat or grains and you never quite know where you are in the meal.
Dinner moves quickly, even a little too quickly. Before you know it, you’re seated in the inviting lounge, sipping a cocktail from housemade aquavit. It’s only here that the full impact of Redzepi’s accomplishment sets in. That, and the burning desire to come back for vegetable season.