René Redzepi is standing on the rooftop, working on something, when we arrive at Refshalevejen 96. We are early, to be fair, about fifteen minutes prior to our 12 o’clock reservation. It’s February 17th, 2018 and day two of Noma 2.0. Employees are pacing all over the premises, carrying gardening tool, rolls of plastic covers, and temporary fence panels. One guy is heading out to buy tarpaulin.
A guard is halting us at the entrance, making sure, in a friendly way, that no one goes in yet. As it gets closer to noon and the crowd of excited guests grows bigger, more Noma staffers appear. Our friends, Triin and Njål, arrive. There’s Katherine Bont – the front of house manager. She gives a hug to returning guests and shakes hands with new faces.
At the stroke of twelve noon, the place has fallen silent. All the guys who were running around like little ants, just minutes ago, are suddenly nowhere to be seen. We’re the first table that is allowed to enter.
– Follow the road, instructs Bont.
Seafood Season at Noma 2.0
Walking through the courtyard, we pass by a succession of half-empty greenhouses, before we arrive at a temporary pathway made of wooden pallets. It’s there to protect our shoes from getting dirty stepping in the dirt that is soon-to-be a garden. We’re left alone on this path of discovery that brings us in front of the main building. Soon, the trail ends and we are facing a solid wooden wall with a small door in the middle. What do we do? Is anyone coming out to get us – or should we open it ourselves?
Finally, Triin takes action and opens the door. There they are again – the same smiling faces that we last saw in Tulum, Mexico. I imagine it must be thirty or forty Noma employees, all giving us the Noma welcome. They’ve dropped whatever they were currently working on, and left their stations to be able to look us in the eyes and say hi as we enter. Hedda gets a hug from James Spreadbury, the restaurant manager of Noma. Thorsten Vildgaard, the ex-Noma head chef who later went on to win a Michelin star himself at restaurant Studio, gives me a high-five as I pass him. He has returned to Noma 2.0 as the executive chef of the test kitchen. I always get slightly bewildered from the gaze of a crowd and trying to recognize and greet everyone at once. At least, I notice the Norwegian chef Gaute Berrefjord!
Noma has been closed for a year. Expectations are sky-high. Has the world’s most influential restaurant managed to re-invent itself yet again? Will it be better than the old Noma on Strandgade 93? Exactly how good will it be? As we sit down inside the bright, modern and spacious Bjarke Ingels-designed dining room, decorated by Studio David Thulstrup, we only know one thing about the new Noma – it follows very strict seasons. From June, the menu at Noma will transition into a vegetarian-based one, and from late autumn, they will focus on game meat and forest foods. But right now, we’re about to experience the seafood season.
Sea Snails & Venus Clams
René Redzepi himself brings out the first dish. It’s the only time during the meal we get a glimpse of him. I can imagine that he is striving to visit each table at least once this day.
– This is the broth of a Faroese sea snail, he explains.
A beautiful conch is decorated with pickled elderflower, blackcurrant shoots, ramson capers, lemon thyme and oregano at the mouth, and placed on fine sand dust (not to be eaten). The bouillon is warming, rich in flavor, salty, and full of umami, superbly balanced by the pickled herbs and plants.
– Eat one Venus clam, and use the shell as a tool to eat the rest, instructs Katherine Bont.
In addition to the sweet meat, some of the shells are filled with a blackcurrant wood fudge. We all agree the taste reminds us of delicious browned butter. The clams have a clean and pure flavor with no hint of bitterness whatsoever.
Mussels & Shrimps
We are seated next to one of the big windows, with a great view towards the narrow lake and Amager Bakke (Amager Slope aka Copenhill) on the other side. The waste incineration plant is claimed to be the most environmentally friendly of its kind in the world. That’s water vapor coming out of the chimneys – not smoke. The factory, which doubles as a year-round artificial ski slope (no joke) also happens to have been designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group.
Our next dish, called the best of the mussel, is brought to the table by one of René Redzepi’s own daughters. Very cute! Underneath the lid, are what looks like two blue mussels. In reality, it’s just the lips you see on top, hiding a paste made from several more underneath. Except for some smoked butter, this dish is simply highlighting the pure flavor of the ingredient. Then, a plate of three Norwegian shrimp heads, which suggests we should suck out the inside like you do with the giant red prawns in Spain. Unfortunately, they don’t really hold the same intense juices.
However, the real gem of the dish is hidden underneath. Raw Norwegian shrimps with green strawberries, dried tomatoes, and red gooseberries floating in an acidic broth, with a crispy lid made of shrimp broth on top. The intense acidity brings my memories back to the Noma Mexico dish of tropical Yucatán fruits, tamarind broth, and chile de árbol. Among my favorite dishes of the meal, both then and now.
Starfish & Jellyfish
All over the restaurant, we notice these odd-looking octopuses, either dried and hung on the wall, or appearing to be submerged in formaldehyde like pickled punks. Anyone who follows @reneredzepinoma on Instagram will know they are experiments gone wrong, turned into art. Apparently, Redzepi and his team also tried to make something edible from starfish and jellyfish. That didn’t work out either, but they made two dishes in homage to these sea creatures anyway. The starfish dish is made of trout roe with a cream of cured egg yolks, kelp, and smoked trout dashi. Meanwhile, the jellyfish is, in fact, squid broth thickened with agar with elderflower oil and cream. I find that out later, as Bont refuses to reveal the magic trick. The cooked seaweed on the side is quite tasty and the impression of a jellyfish looks very convincing. Although, both dishes fall into the category interesting, but not exceptionally delicious in my book.
Much more delectable are the queen scallops and Mahogany clams that come next on a seafood plateau. Both hand-dived in the cold waters of Norway by legendary diver Roderick Sloan and his team. I’ve tasted Mahogany clams at quite a few restaurants. These century-old bivalves can be tricky to get right. Noma has managed to turn the mollusk into a tasty dish, though, thinly sliced with salted gooseberries, salted white currants, kelp, and mussels broth. Continuing with sea urchins and Gigas oysters, where the former is the clear winner. In fact, the combination of Faroe Islands sea urchin with cream, pumpkin seeds, and rose oil is one of the best uni dishes I’ve had the pleasure of eating.
Noma 2.0 is Complexity Presented as Simplicity
René Redzepi’s daughter returns to our table together with Mette Søberg to showcase a glistening sea cucumber. This weird-looking creature, befitting its name, looks completely inedible. Somehow, Noma has converted it into a wonderful dish, with crisps made from the skin and gonads, served with kelp and crème fraîche.
I find that Noma dishes usually fall into one of two categories, where the first is simply delicious and tasty in a new way, sometimes mind-blowing, and the other is perhaps more interesting and fun than super tasty. Luckily, a lot of dishes fit the first description best, and the king crab is one of them. Meat from all parts of the king crab has been poached in pumpkin seed milk and is served in its shell wrapped in seaweed, like a small surprise we have to unveil. It’s steaming hot and lovely. It’s also a demonstration of the extreme simplicity which seems to be characteristic of the new Noma 2.0 style of presentation. Of course, there’s actually a high level of complexity going on, but all that happens in the test kitchen. In front of the guest, Noma 2.0 looks uncomplicated.
My absolute favorite dish of the meal is the squid pasta bathing in roasted seaweed butter. Once again, it has that irresistible browned butter flavor, which actually makes us lick the plate clean. A good runner up is the sea snail salad with herbs, spiced butter and dried rose petals served in a beautifully hand-crafted beeswax box. Confit in koji oil and Arctic thyme before being sautéed, these marine gastropods are the tastiest slugs I’ve come across. And who knew rose petals could be so delightful in a salad?
Construction Work Behind Schedule
Njål and I go outside for a break and some fresh air, where we are joined by James Spreadbury, the restaurant manager, and Mads Kleppe, the head of beverages. They both tell us how hectic the last couple of weeks have been, with the construction work being behind schedule. Everyone, from waiters to cooks and dishwashers have helped craft the new home of Noma. Still, it’s far from finished, with the odd wooden board pointing out here and wires hanging loose over there. There’s a certain charm to having been here during this time.
The official opening was supposed to be on February 15th, but had to be postponed one day because the kitchen had not yet arrived! Pointing to the temporary pathway, James admits that it was constructed just minutes prior to the first guests arriving on the 16th.
– The carpenters worked like heroes, assisted by the staff.
I ask Kleppe about his new beverage philosophy, which he already revealed the gist of when I interviewed him back in Mexico. Almost every wine on the map is made especially for the restaurant. Mads talks about the producers as his closest of friends. Everything from juices, to beers and liqueurs, will almost exclusively be made in-house if he gets it the way he wants.
The Epitome of Seasonality
After the main course, consisting of 400 grams of roasted cod’s head, with all its edible pieces, served with ants pesto, horseradish milk and Nordic spices, we are treated to a series of desserts that either includes elements from the sea or seek to imitate them. Fermented pear made to look like a mussel, cloudberry mousse shaped like a snail shell, kelp tarts, and plankton cake.
The menu of Noma 2.0 costs DKK 2250, which has to be prepaid upon securing the reservation, through the ingenious booking system Tock. To all the critics out there, it’s just like buying a ticket to the opera or a movie, except better. If you are prevented from going, the system allows you to forward the ticket to a new recipient, and automatically refunds your money. With thousands of people on the waiting list, that’s not much of an issue. All drinks are ordered and paid for during the meal, and you can choose between a wine pairing (DKK 1100) or juice menu (DKK 800) unless you want to go rogue and decide for yourself.
International media has mostly praised Noma 2.0. Redzepi has reinvented himself! Noma 2.0 makes the old Noma look amateur in comparison! Conceptually, I agree, but it doesn’t change my feelings about the magic that happened in Strandgade 93 as well. Noma 2.0 feels more complete. It’s the epitome of seasonality. The ultimate local eatery. I’m happy to say that the new Noma already feels like home. As if they never moved from Strandgade, but always resided out here on Refshaleøen. Maybe it’s because I’ve learned to know Noma as a nomad restaurant, and got used to seeing those familiar faces all over the world.
Or maybe it’s because, sitting in the new coffee lounge after the meal, this could have been the living room of any well-designed Scandinavian home. I’m already looking forward to vegetable season.