I have to admit, it feels a bit weird to write about Noma’s vegetable season (June – September) just weeks before they close down to prepare for the next one – game and forest (October – December). But then again, by the time of the first dinner service in June, all seats were sold out anyway, so you might as well start preparing for next year. Besides, I already wrote a teaser about the mind-blowing plant kingdom back then! However, I promised a full review later on, so here it is. Luckily, I have managed to eat at Noma twice more during the summer, which means I have a much better memory of each dish now.
How to Score a Table at Noma
Having eaten at Noma six times this year, I’m not surprised that a lot of people ask me how on earth it’s possible to score a table here again and again. After all, it’s one of the world’s most sought-after reservations. The answer is simple. Sort of. First, make sure you are receiving news from Noma about when the next bookings are to be released. You can do that by following their Facebook page, their Instagram, or the personal accounts of either René Redzepi or Noma’s PR person Arve Krognes.
Once you know the date and time that tickets will be available for sale (generally, about 3-4 months prior to the next season), set the alarm in your calendar half an hour before the exact time of the day (pay attention to time zone differences). Then, just sit back and wait. Once your alarm goes off, ready yourself with a computer or mobile phone tuned into noma.dk. When the clock strikes the hour, you will have about two minutes to make a selection. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. If you can be flexible on the day of the week (weekends are more popular) and the number of seats (invite your foodie friends if needed) it is much easier.
Should you, despite this, fail to book a seat, there are a few more tricks of the trade. Roughly 72 hours after the first ticket release, quite a few tables will be made available again, simply because people failed to pay the booking fee. Furthermore, you could consider booking the chambre séparée, but that will require you to gather about 15-20 more people to join you. Finally, my last trick for getting tickets has been to purchase reservations from friends who found out they couldn’t go after all. Noma’s tickets can always be forwarded to another person, the Tock system allows for that, and costs just a small administrative fee.
The Real Revival of René Redzepi
While I liked the seafood menu of Noma 2.0 (January – May), it’s the vegetable season, in my opinion, that marks the real revival of René Redzepi. Unlike the seafood menu, where a few dishes were challenging and actually had to grow on me, I instantly loved all of Noma’s plant kingdom. Almost every dish, from start to finish, was interesting, creative, and, most important of all – tasty! As always, though, there were favorites.
Potato magma kicks off the all-veggie dinner (that’s a lie, you will get an egg and some milk too). Served in a terracotta pot, but for a change, the earth is not edible. You have to dig inside the potted plant to find a straw sticking up (it’s not made from plastic – don’t worry). A soup of potato awaits at the bottom. Drink the warm and rich broth while you smell the fresh herbs. Each diner gets a slightly different sensory experience, depending on the plant (oregano, thyme, or parsley for the most).
One of Noma’s most beautiful servings of all time comes next. A potato tart so thin that it’s almost transparent holds nasturtium flower petals sprayed with rose oil. Next to it, lays a butterfly made of sea buckthorn and blackcurrant, with spruce shoots inside the wings – attached to a twig of lavender so you can eat it like a lollipop. The texture is fruit leather, and it tastes of a fresh summer drink.
Why You Should Book Noma’s Next Vegetable Season
Redzepi and his team have managed to make a complete meal from only vegetables, where you don’t miss any flavors or textures. If you book the next vegetable season, rest assured that you will taste saltiness, sweetness, acidity, bitterness, richness, freshness, and lots of umami. And yes, you will get full. This is mind-blowing creativity with no compromises on taste and satisfaction.
My least favorite dish came early on in the meal. White asparagus with saffron salt, candied pine cones seasoned with seaweed, large pine cone (from Douglas Fir), elderflower, and marjoram were the seasonal pickles. Later, as asparagus went out of season, it was replaced with squash. For me, this plate just doesn’t work so well, as each element is separate and makes little sense together.
The little seaweed tart that came to the table shortly after was much better. Sugar kelp tart filled with a herb paste and topped with different seaweeds. Who could have guessed that grass growing in the ocean could be so complex and tasty? Next, a barbequed onion, with elderflower, roasted so hard that only the inside is edible. I came to think of the onion dish that the Norwegian chef Gaute Berrefjord made for his first Saturday Night Project at the old Noma – an onion cooked in molten metal.
Cucumber dolma, a grape leaf made from dehydrated and rehydrated cucumber skin and rolled to look like the classic Greek dish, is a big highlight of the meal. I really enjoy this weird and wonderful texture, and each bite is packed with flavor.
One of the biggest surprises of the menu is the smoked quail egg topped with chorizo sausage. I swear, if no one told the truth, I would have thought that Noma allowed one meat dish in their vegetable menu. However, the sausage, which is spicy, chewy, salty, sweet, and with a distinct umami flavor, is made entirely from dried plum and rose hips. Mind. Blown.
Preserved morels from the spring, filled with a brown butter and beech nut paste, floating in a maitake mushroom broth, are also delicious. A flavor so rich, deep, and satisfying that you just want it to last forever. Each of these bites so small, yet flavorful, that you are left wanting more. That also goes for the marigold flower tempura we get next, sourdough-battered and deep-fried, to be dipped in a whiskey-flavored egg nog of sorts. Crunchy, bitter, salt, and creamy in one bite.
Barely cooked, super fresh peas in a juice of the pea husk, with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of salt was on the menu early-season. At my third and last visit, this dish was, sadly, replaced by a baby corn dish. I definitely preferred the peas which are just incredibly sweet and lovely at this time of the year.
The most typical and recognizable Noma dish was the berry and fava bean ceviche. Total acid trip! The sour and spicy whitecurrant broth is inspired by a dish that was on the menu during the Noma Mexico pop-up. Berries changed as the season developed, but included strawberries (green and red), sweet yellow raspberries, succulent mulberries, and even wild cherries.
I have so many favorites from the plant menu and two of them comes next. First, the umami flatbread, which is basically a grilled flatbread with a variety of herbs and radishes that have been tossed in a sunflower seed paste with a touch of chili. Then, perhaps my number one dish, a milk skin filled with fresh cheese and herbs, and topped with summer truffle. Umami heaven. You just want more of this. It leaves you craving. Begging.
The cloudberry broth with beeswax, bee pollen and flowers could not be a bigger contrast to the previous serving. A delicate, fresh, sourness that punches your palate and refreshes the mouth again. Served in the beautiful little beeswax cups that the Noma staffers make themselves.
Another highlight for me is the walnut, seaweed and grasshopper mole, surrounded by grilled rose petals on the plate, that gets a scoop of a silky soft pumpkin seed tofu. What a lovely fusion of different food cultures and exceptionally satisfying tastes and textures.
Before the impressions of the previous dish have settled properly, the waiters start parading a celeriac shawarma around the room, presenting it to each table. It looks just like al pastor or spit-grilled shawarma! Later on, during the kitchen tour, you can observe that the actual dish probably isn’t made this way. That does not take anything away from the flavor, though, which is incredibly rich, deep, and umami-packed. Roasted celeriac with truffle is the perfect meat substitute. True cooking mastery. I could drink the accompanying sauce alone, and, luckily, we get Richard Hart‘s sourdough bread to scoop it all up. The ex-head baker for Tartine Bakery in San Francisco will soon open a bakery of his own in Copenhagen.
Similar to the seafood season, I found the desserts to be among the weaker dishes in the vegetable menu too. However, I still liked these a lot more! Especially the mold pancake filled with a plum kernel ice cream (tastes like marzipan) and balsamic vinegar, which I honestly cannot understand how they make so perfect. The surface is just like touching a Brie cheese, but how they managed to fold the pancake around the ice cream without leaving fingerprints or other marks is beyond me.
The bowl of cold cream, white currant tortellinis filled with rose hip fudge, flower petals and wood sorrel is likely a play on a traditional Danish koldskål. It also reminds me of plum compote with heavy cream from my childhood. I could live without the rose-scented terracotta, but it is better than the plankton cake from the previous menu. Thus, a potted plant started and finished the meal, although, the latter was completely edible.
Ending the meal in the lounge area of Noma allows for extra time to enjoy the ambiance, proper Danish hygge, and, not to forget, more of your favorite wines. Mads Kleppe has really outdone himself with the beverage pairings this season. Every glass was to my liking, and helped lift and enhance the total experience.
Now, we wait for the game and forest season to commence …
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