I paid $350 to eat at Noma, the 4-time best restaurant in the world where guests feast on mould, potted plants, and a giant kebab made from vegetables - here's what it was like
Will Martin/Business Insider
Will Martin/Business Insider
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - Approaching Noma, perhaps the world's most famous restaurant, one can't help feel the sort of trepidation that comes with any trip to a high-end dining experience. Fancy restaurants are by their nature intimidating places - expensive, filled with wealthy, successful people, and often, snooty staff.Noma, a restaurant that takes immense pride in defying almost every convention in the book, doesn't fit that stereotype, and makes its point from the very beginning. Advertisement
Rather than a greeting from an aloof maitre'd with a waxed moustache and immaculate hair, guests' first contact at the restaurant is with a 63-year-old Gambian immigrant called Ali Sonko and his infectious smile.
Sonko, a permanent fixture at Noma since it opened almost 15 years ago, started as a dishwasher at the restaurant, and having worked his way through the ranks, now owns a 10% stake in the business.Voted the best restaurant in the world four times in the well-respected, but often controversial World's 50 Best list, Noma is portmanteau of the word's "Nordisk," meaning "Nordic," and "mad," the Danish word for food. The restaurant's name perfectly defines its ambitions.
Noma and its founder Rene Redzepi have built a culinary dynasty by focusing solely on ingredients from the Scandinavian region, shunning things like olive oil, and focusing instead on foraged ingredients from near the restaurant.Famous dishes to appear on the restaurant's menu over the years include dried moss, ants, and more recently mould.Located in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, it has a fair claim to be the most influential place of gastronomy in the world. Alumni are spread all over the world, and have taken the restaurant's philosophy of hyperlocalism with them.Advertisement
Any time you eat an edible flower at a local bistro, or hear about the house churned butter at that trendy new spot downtown, Noma has probably had at least some influence.
I've been lucky enough to visit Noma twice, once in November 2011, and more recently in late July. Here's what it was like on my most recent visit.
The original Noma was open from 2003 until early 2017, when founder Rene Redzepi and his team closed shop with a vision of reinventing the restaurant. A wildly popular pop-up in Mexico filled part of the intervening time, with the rest dedicated to building a new restaurant almost from scratch in a new location roughly a mile from the old restaurant.
Situated on a small lake just outside the centre of Copenhagen, Noma’s new location was formerly an ammunition storage facility for the Danish military, and comprises the main restaurant, its kitchens, and numerous greenhouses where the produce served to diners is grown. Designed by renowned architect Bjarke Ingels, the site's 11 buildings stretch more than 60 metres from end to end, and are designed to resemble an old Danish village.Advertisement
In its previous iteration Noma changed its menu based on what ingredients were most readily available, but used vegetables, meat, and fish throughout the year. Now, it operates in three seasons, focusing on seafood for four months, vegetables for another four, and then game for the final four. Visiting in July meant I was served the vegetable-focused menu.
That did not necessarily mean it would be entirely vegetarian, the restaurant made clear before my visit.Advertisement
But before the food, let’s talk about actually getting into the restaurant.
Now, onto the meal. After passing Ali Sonko and his smile, you walk down a beautiful flower-lined avenue before entering Noma.Advertisement
There you’re greeted by virtually every single member of staff with a cheery hello, before being led past the open-plan kitchen to your table.
You’re immediately presented with your first dish — a potted plant. Mine was the herb thyme.Advertisement
After draining every possible drop of the heavenly soup, our next course, a tart of crisp potato and nasturtium flowers, alongside sea buckthorn jelly shaped like a butterfly, was swiftly upon us.
I paid $350 to eat at Noma, the 4-time best restaurant in the world where guests feast on mould, potted plants, and a giant kebab made from vegetables - here's what it was likeAdvertisement
Next up was a quail’s egg cooked at exactly 129 degrees, topped with a “chorizo” made from rose hips, the fragrant berries which grow on rose bushes.
One of the most striking and unusual details of a meal at Noma is that rather than being served your food by dedicated wait staff, many of the courses are brought to the table by the chefs who have cooked them.Advertisement
The meal continued to build towards its crescendo with a succession of dishes alternating between rich and starchy, to light and refreshing.
Eventually, however, we reached the zenith of a truly astonishing meal — vegetarian shawarma.Advertisement
Earthy, salty, sweet, and amazingly meaty, it’s entirely possible that had I not known this was a vegetable based dish, I’d have thought it was a piece of slow roasted meat.
Sadly for our waistbands, but luckily for our taste buds, we had three desserts to come. The first, a haute cuisine take on berries and cream which was described by our server as “much better than my mom’s version.”Advertisement
Next came a dish one of our servers earlier in the meal had described as “controversial.”
Just as it started, our epic, three hour long lunch ended with a potted plant.Advertisement
And there, our meal ended. Three hours, 20 courses, and more than $350 later, we were finished, with full stomachs and expanded minds.
Noma is, in many ways, more than a meal. It’s lunch, a show, a lesson on agriculture and Danish history, and a trip to an exhibition all rolled into one.Advertisement
The food won’t be for everyone, and I certainly wouldn’t want to make it my weekly spot for eating out — even if I could afford it.
But, in terms of experiences, it’s utterly stunning. If you ever get the chance to visit, take it with both hands. You’ll leave a hell of a lot poorer, but you won’t regret it.Advertisement
- Former union minister Jaswant Singh passes away at 82
- Odisha man arrested for manufacturing fake Covid-19 vaccine
- J&J Covid vaccine produces strong immune response in early trials
- PM Modi at UNGA: 'How long will India be kept out of decision-making structures of UN'
- China says WHO gave support for Covid vaccine emergency use