{01/10/2012}   Noma, Copenhagen: appetisers

I looked forward to my Noma meal like I’ve looked forward to no other meal, but, unexpectedly, there was also a degree of apprehension as I was dreading being faced with live food a la I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!  My friend and I both thought it would be a culinary experience rather than a meal memorable for how delicious it was.  However, we were both wrong and there were a lot of closed-eyes “Oh my God, that tastes amazing” moments; in short, though not without issues, it was a magical dining and eating experience that lasted three and three quarter sublime hours.

Before I start salivating over the appetisers again, something should be said about the restaurant itself.  The building is an unassuming large warehouse across the water from Nyhavn (the bright coloured canal area that is very touristy and likely to be on any postcard of Copenhagen).  The restaurant is recognisable by the simple “Noma” lettering.

The interior is beautifully simple and made me feel like I was in a driftwood room.  The first surprise though was how many staff there were and how incredibly good looking and welcoming they were.  It was, to lower the tone, a feast of eye candy!  We were welcomed by name, our two food no-nos were confirmed with us, our coats swiftly removed and we were escorted to our table, suitably far away from anyone else, but close enough to see the courses they were getting; everyone was eating the same food at different times.

Upon getting to our seat, I asked where the loos were and was escorted right to the door by a very dishy (for that really was the right word!) waiter.  I was made to feel very important and every member of staff I walked past greeted me.  The staff did the restaurant proud.  The toilets, unsurprisingly, were spacious and simple and a joy to use.

One other comment about the staff before I launch into the delightful, innovative and delicious appetisers is that when, for example, my friend left the table to go to the toilet, she dropped her napkin.  The staff probably had to tell the kitchen to wait for the next course, including the next wine (yes, we had a wine flight, I think 10 different wines!), and I barely noticed that my friend’s napkin was removed from the floor and a clean one ready at her place for her return.  Exemplary service.

It is with great delight that I start on the food.  Once seated, we were told that the appetisers would be presented in quick succession and were all eaten with fingers so we were presented with hot towels to clean our hands.  As the waiter took away our towels, he pointed to the pot of flowers and greenery on the table and told us that was our starter.  Needless to say, we sniggered at the impossibility of it, but were directed to “twigs” amidst the greenery.

*Everything in speech marks is how the course was described on the menu we got at the end, the rest of the information is based on what we were told as the dish was presented at the table.

The twig was “Malt flatbread and juniper” shaped like a piece of bladderwrack seaweed with a slight brown dust on the outside.  The beery, malty aspect of it was the main taste, but it was a perfectly thin and crispy appetiser.  As the first thing I ate, it introduced well the concept of “I have never, ever tasted anything like this” and it was also a new texture and concept.  I enjoyed it.  Along with the moss, also in this photo, they were the smallest courses.

The “Moss and cep” was crispy reindeer moss with creme fraiche.  I am not convinced there was any cep in it, it appeared to just be moss.  If you look closely at the pale coloured moss on the plate, it looks soft and fluffy.  Admittedly, we were told it was crispy, but neither of us expected it to be the extraordinarily delicate crispy texture it was.  It was like very fine icing that, with my fat thumbs did get crushed as I jabbed the final bit into the beautifully soft and creamy creme fraiche to accompany it.  It tasted lovely and, like the flatbread, was an altogether new texture to eat.  I really liked it.  I also loved the presentation.

Next came “Crispy pork skin and black currant”.  I wrote down that it was pork scratching with blackberry leather (I was possibly overexcited still and wrote the fruit down incorrectly, but as it’s blackberry season, I think I might have got it correct).  The scratching was the texture of slightly denser than normal prawn crackers, and was the same colour as Chinese prawn crackers.  The thin layer of sharp fruit leather was a wonderful and simple accompaniment.  The texture and the taste made this a truly delicious taste sensation.

As you can see from the scratching photo, there is also a bowl of mussels.  This dish was undoubtedly one of the best things I have ever tasted, possibly even the best thing I have ever tasted.  I cannot, however, describe how truly disappointing it was to have the dish served on a striking plate of empty mussel shells.  We only had one mussel each.  But it was taste bud gold.  According to the menu it was “Blue Mussel and celery”.  My friend hates celery but it was also one of her favourite dishes.  I could not taste celery.  The mussels were served looking like an unopened whole mussel and we were told to remove the top half and eat the mussel and the bottom shell.  At this point, for a split second, I looked at the empty mussel shells on the plate and wondered if perhaps they were edible after all.  No.  Then, I ate it and a bar was set, for surely nothing could out-taste that.  The edible shell looked just like a mussel shell and was made of crunchy dough with black squid ink.  I could write a whole post about this dish but I didn’t even examine it before I ate it, I just ate it and my taste buds were ignited.  I am salivating as I write this.  If only there had been more than one!

Our next amuse bouche was a rather uninspiring-sounding “Cheese cookie, rocket and stems”, which I wrote down as being cheese cookies in a tin.  Do not be deceived by the simple description.  It was fun opening the tin and discovering two small biscuits with fresh, lush green finely chopped rocket (I am not convinced it was rocket though).  It tasted delightfully cheesy with a distinctively green and, dare I say it, healthy after-taste.  Also, amazing.

As you can see from the photos, these courses were coming thick and fast; a series of taste sensations.  After the cheesey, green mouthful, we were presented with beautifully piped potato waffles with duck liver parfait sandwiched between the potato.  If, like me, you love the cunchy bits on potato waffles, this was a very posh version of just those browned crunchy bits made into two thin slices of loveliness, between which was a perfectly smooth and creamy duck parfait with truffle shavings.  Oh my.

Our next dish, also served on these lovely grey metal plates, was a partially dehydrated carrot lying amidst ash on a blob of sorrel and dipped in a smear of sorrel loveliness.  The joy of a very simple dish like this is that it demonstrates that the Noma chefs can make something amazing out of very few ingredients.  It was beautifully presented and all the dust and perfectly placed wipes of green, when mixed together created something so unexpected and delicious as to be a memorable dish.  I loved it.  The carrot was beautiful.

Believe it or not, the appetisers kept on coming.  The next, which had I seen on a menu I would never have contemplating ordering due to my dislike of milk and an expectation that cod liver would be foul based on the horror of cod liver oil, was “Caramelised milk and cod liver”.  This was actually my second favourite appetiser.  When it was presented to us, we were told to eat it as quickly as possible as the temperature was currently perfect.  What they didn’t say was that it was icy cold!  My friend wasn’t so keen on it being so cold and sniggered that she would happily have left it to get to room temperature.  For me, it worked because it was the coldness which shocked my tastebuds and made the whole eating experience of this mouthful one of eye bulging wonder.  It was unexpectedly amazing.  I described it as very cold milk crisp with a kelp crisp and cod liver.  You would never have known the milk crisp was milk or that the smooth fishy topping was cod liver.  Magic.  A real taste explosion, largely because of it being so cold.

Only four more appetisers to go, not that we knew this at the time.  Next up, we were presented with a massive quail egg-shaped and coloured container, which we were told contained an egg that needed to be eaten straight away.  On opening the box, again thrilled by the prospect of opening a container, we discovered a bed of hot, smoky hay, on which lay two steaming shelled quail eggs.  I love quail eggs and have eaten them most ways you can cook such a small egg.  These were “Pickled and smoked quail eggs”.  As instructed, we briefly marvelled at them and the beautiful smoky smell coming from the hay nest then popped them into our mouths.  They burst as you put pressure on the soft exterior and a fantastic warm yolk exploded in your mouth.  This may sound gross, and to egg-haters it possibly would be gross, but it didn’t taste eggy, it tasted lightly smoked and left a wonderful taste in my mouth.  Smelling the warm hay in the egg container added to it, it really was delightful.  Cooked to perfection in a way I’ve never tasted quail egg before.  Again, simple but head-shakingly good.

I should add that by this point we realised we would not be hungry at the end of our meal, as had been suggested to us by one person who’d been before.  We were on a taste bud enlightening food journey that was slowly beginning to fill us up.

Next up, we were presented with a terracotta plant pot full of soil and four whole plants.  This was merely described as “Radish, soil and grass”.  I described it as soil of malt and hazelnut with sheep yoghurt and grass and a carrot and radish plant each.  To my surprise, there was a degree of scepticism about pulling out the vegetable and eating it with all the “soil” on it.  But, wey hey, was it good!  The carrot and radish were both small, crisp and just-pulled-out-the-ground fresh.  The soil was slightly crunchy and more-ish and the green yoghurt was put-your-finger-in-the-pot-to-wipe-it-all-out good!  I ended up eating the leaves of my carrot and radish so I could use them to mop up as much of the soil and grass as possible.  I loved it.  I really liked the nutty taste and that the soil tasted brown and earthy.  Oh, really, go there and eat some!

Only two appetisers to go.  After the excitement of the edible plant pot contents, we were presented with a bowl featuring two bits of baby sweetcorn.  Boring.  Or so I thought!  We were told it was corn grown by a local farmer who has made the corn and the husk so soft and delicate that everything could be eaten.  It was merely lightly grilled.  Well, who’d have thought it, delicious sweetcorn.  And I don’t even eat the stuff usually.  Again, “Grilled corn”; not something I would EVER have ordered from a menu.  It was out of this world.  A simple vegetable, not even salted (for none of the food is salted, except one dish that comes up later which you salt yourself).  Beautiful and testament to how skilled Noma is at both sourcing and preparing food.

Finally, an insect course!  Last up on the appetiser front was “Sorrel leaf and cricket paste”, which I wrote as being nasturtium snow, out of which grew a leaf of sorrel, inside which was beetroot and cricket puree.  I like nasturtium, though I can appreciate that it is very peppery, bitter and kind of sour.  I scooped up the snow, which was textured just as you’d hope and expect of snow, and even ate the cricket paste with relish.  By this stage, I was fully confident in the chefs and wasn’t worried that squashed insect would taste foul.  Sorrel has a strong flavour of its own, so it was quite a strong-tasting course, but all the flavours worked well together and were new taste combinations to me.  I enjoyed it, though my friend wasn’t particularly keen on the nasturtium taste.

Then came the starters, mains and sides, of which I will detail tomorrow …


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