{02/10/2012}   Noma, Copenhagen: mains and sides

The picture is of my friend, Nana, and I on our way to lunch at Noma, at that stage somewhat apprehensive but very excited and very hungry.

So the Noma experience continued for an hour and a half with bread before a series of soupy courses.  It was at this stage that our wine flight started, though as I know nothing about wine I’m not going to write about it here, other than to say all were nice, though while some were exceptional, others were only ok drunk with the relevant dish.  There were also two in particular that tasted like cider, which confused me.  I would recommend the wine flight, though, interestingly, there is also a juice flight available (including celeriac juice with one course and pear and lemon verbena with another, the latter which I was given a glass of after I enquired about the juices, but more of that with the ant dessert it came with!)

The bread.  Oh, the bread.  After our table was clear, a lovely brown felt package was left on our table along with two tubs, one containing virgin butter (buttermilky) and the other pork fat with a kind of apple schnapps.  On opening the bread package, we were confronted with a beautiful round loaf of sourdough bread cut into six wedges which was emitting steam as it was freshly baked.  I could not get enough of the buttery dish as it was so light and creamy and buttery and absolutely wonderful.  The pork fat was in fact a tub of pork fat with yummy crunchy bits on top.  I liked the topping but not the pork fat, though it wasn’t as offensive as you might expect if, like me, a lump of lard does not appeal in the slightest!  My friend, ever one to warn of the perils of eating too much bread and thus filling you up prematurely, somehow managed to consume a lot more bread than I’ve ever seen her eat!  It really was amazing.  So crisp and tasty on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside.  Bread heaven.  And, guess what, while we still had two chunks left, it was taken away and replaced a few courses along with another brown felt-wrapped bundle of fresh baked bread.  So we ate even more.  It would have been rude not to, right?!

After 40 minutes and 12 appetisers, a few minutes to drool over and eat some bread, out came the starters/mains/sides, the first of which was “Cooked fava beans and beach herbs” which I’d written down as having a buttermilk and cucumber watery liquid poured over.  There were three beach herbs mentioned, none of which I’d ever heard of.  This dish was a vision of green loveliness and I didn’t hold back soaking up the last of it in chunks of warm bread.  This was not a dish that filled me with enthusiasm at first, especially as I’m not a fan of anything milky looking, which the soupy sauce clearly was.  It was nice, though quite mild in flavour compared to most earlier dishes.  But it was light and a refreshing dish after the initial assault on our taste buds (in an entirely good way) from the amuse bouche.  But I wouldn’t order it again, having already tried it.  That said, it really was tasty and everything in that bowl so incredibly fresh, juicy and young.

The next course was one which, had I seen on a menu – “Fermented plums and beetroot” – I would have turned my nose up at and certainly not ordered.  This was without doubt in my top three dishes, though the mussel was in an elite league of its own.  To have not had this would have been a tragedy to my taste buds for it perked them up no end after the previous, milder tasting dish.  It may look like a reddy brown soup with a few bits in it, but to taste it … oh my, really amazing.  I wrote in my notebook that it was dried plum (a more technical explanation was given but I forgot it – by this point we were starting to get a teensy bit tipsy!) with beetroot that had been dried for three hours.  The soupy liquid was fennel juice with fermented mushroom and a selection of seeds, the only one of which I can remember (and could taste) was fennel.  I am convinced you will look at the picture of this dish and think, “Really?  That good?”, but I can assure you it was utterly divine.  The last bits of liquid were most vigorously and comprehensively consumed via the bread.  A joy.

How could that course possibly be topped?  Well, it wasn’t topped by the next course, which I had slightly higher hopes for than the reality, though it was delicious.  This was “Brown crab, egg yolk and herbs”, which was described to us as stone crab with crab coral, egg yolk in herbal tea, Icelandic seaweed, beach mustard, beach herbs and parsley sauce.  As you can see, this was a beautiful-looking dish.  However, the egg yolk didn’t do anything for me, the herbs and sauce were lovely and the crab was delicious in a subtle way.  This to me was more of a triumph of aesthetics than taste.  If I were served this again, I would be indifferent, but I would admire it with the same awe as I did and I would enjoy it.  I should add that even this dish, which was merely “ok”, is still better than most food I am served in normal restaurants, in part because it was so exquisitely fresh and tasted like a little bit of the sea mixed with unusual herbs.

The next dish got a mixed reaction from my friend but much more enthusiasm from me.  According to the menu, this was “Dried scallops and beech buts, biodynamic grains and watercress”.  I suspect I wouldn’t have ordered this off a menu, though I would have certainly considered it as I love scallops.  Just not sure about the concept of scallop crisps, for that’s what the slivers of scallops looked like.  The green filling was watercress and grains, which were of a similar texture to any grains you get in grainy bread.  I really liked the slightly nutty taste and the texture.  That was what my friend wasn’t so keen on.  The scallop crisps were exquisite and undeniably scallop.  Wonderful.  The black sauce, squid ink and mussel juice, didn’t sound good to me.  I do not like really fishy flavours or liquid fish.  This, however, was full of flavour and just enough to add something special to the scallop, grain and watercress sandwich.  This wasn’t a favourite dish but I would order it again.  This sauce was also mopped up with the bread, it was lovely.

The next course bewildered me as it was one that I fully expected to look a lot better than it tasted, for I am not a cauliflower fan and this was a “Cauliflower and pine cream and horseradish”.  I am also not a horseradish fan.  However, this was right up there with the beetroot and plum dish.  I loved it.  It was a surprisingly large dish, but I still could have eaten more.  I desperately wanted the pine to be edible because it really was a lush, tasty-looking green.  But the cauliflower had been roasted in pine and was infused with the scent of pine forests – not a hint of Harpic – and the sauce was pine oil with yoghurt whey and horseradish cream.  Seriously, way, way up there in my top five favourite things to eat of all time.  My friend also enthused about this dish more than she had expected to.  I could eat this dish again right now.  Yummety yummety yum!

I knew the cauliflower couldn’t be beaten by a cabbage based course, but “Pike perch and cabbages with verbena and dill” was almost good enough!  Had I seen this on a menu, especially if the menu had listed fish foam as part of the dish, I would not have ordered it.  What a fool I would have been.  It was fish wrapped in succulent, delicate frilly cabbage with pieces of hours-old fresh, juicy dill, fish foam (onion and fish bone juice – yucky sounding, fantastically tasting – whipped up into a foam) and, one of my all time favourite herbs, lemon verbena made into a sauce.  The fish pretty much melted in the mouth, the cabbage matched it to perfection and the foam and verbena finished it off a treat.  Divine.  I would order this again without hesitation.

With only two savoury courses left, this one was one we’d seen being taken to other tables and which had piqued our interest hugely.  This was the mysterious “The hen and the egg”.  I don’t really get the name still but it was lush, lush, lush.  And, guess what, another favourite.  Maybe I now have a top five.  Sadly, this was the last exceptional (in terms of my taste buds) course.  First of all, we were presented with the ingredients and a hot iron pan.  We broke our egg into our hot pan and a timer was set.  We were advised to wear our napkins as bibs, which was ludicrously exciting, particularly as the wine was still forthcoming!  So we cooked our own course!  After the egg was deemed ready once the timer went off, we were instructed to add what I think was a peppery coated pellet of butter to the pan, then the first pile of foliage (there was a variety of foliage for this dish) to the bare part of the heated dish.  Finally, we added the remaining flowers and leaves and crunched up the spiral.  Oh, the spiral.  I had thought it was apple but, no, it was a spiral of crispy potato and it was divine.  Potato and egg, back to my potato waffle and egg comfort food favourite!  This dish was innovative, simple and delicious and the only course with added salt (the salt was in an empty egg shell for us to sprinkle on as we deemed fit).  I could eat this for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner and I would order it on a menu.  Really, truly more scrumptious than you can probably imagine.

Now for the final, slightly challenging, course: veal sweetbread with dandelion, chanterelle mushrooms, fresh hazelnuts and juniper wood and mushroom sauce, or “Sweetbread and bitter greens, celeriac and mushroom”.  My friend did not like this and left most of it.  I finished off her hazelnuts and some of the beautiful and varied foliage, but eating more than my own portion of the sweetbread was a step too far.  I am not an offal fan and suspected I wouldn’t like this.  However, the texture wasn’t offensive.  I just would much rather this dish had come with a nice bit of steak, for example!  The sweetbread actually tasted fine.  It might have gone a bit weird and wrong for me though because I ate a piece of celeriac, not knowing that the celeriac was there and wasn’t actually a piece of sweetbread.  It was much denser than the sweetbread and I initially assumed it was the sweetbread with a different texture and that made me very wary of the sweetbread and made me wonder too much what part of the insides it was.  Then I realised it was actually a vegetable and should have been nice.  I would never have chosen to eat it and I would not choose to eat it again, but I could eat it again.  I loved the fresh hazelnuts and I enjoyed the sauce, though it was quite strong.  I also liked the strong flavours of the foliage and flowers.  However, something in the sauce, possibly the fermented mushroom, gave me cheese sweats and a very slight mouth tingling.  This dish was more of an experience than a joy.

Then came desserts, which if I divide the meal into three sections, with desserts and coffee as the final third, was by a very long way my least favourite section and not a single favourite to be had, though one dish was lovely.  But, lots of interesting experiences …


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