As an institution, and ideologically, Noma is an amazing place. The effect on the CPH food scene is palpable everywhere you go.
If you are solely interested in eating delicious food — I think there are better places to do that in Europe (especially so if you are on any sort of budget). I think the food quality at other restaurants in Copenhagen is pretty similar, and the value you get outside of Copenhagen is better.
I went to Noma because I think I have a good idea of what makes vegetables delicious. I wanted that to be tested. I wanted to see the boundaries of food being pushed.
On one hand, I guess it’s a little late for that in Noma’s life cycle. There are so many restaurants around the world run by Noma alum by now, and the New Nordic ideology is so prevalent everywhere that it would be hard for them to continue to innovate down that path and still be ‘exciting’.
I was hoping that their new push into fermentation would deliver some of that excitement. I think it still might -- but I would say it's a work in progress.
While it was inspiring to see an organization with an all hands on deck attitude — the food just didn’t really work for me at this level. Of the 18 dishes we had, many were memorable — but not many made me feel “I need more of that”. Maybe 2 or 3 of the 18.
One dish summarizes it for me -- in the 2nd of a 3 part mold progression, you get a serving of molded asparagus.
“This green asparagus is lightly blanched sous vide in blackcurrant wood oil before being lightly dried in (to mediate moisture content) and inoculated with pure spores. Incubated at 28°C and 70% RH, in a couple days its texture is turned supple, its flavour intensified, all wrapped in a blanket of plush mycelium.”
It was interesting. It was, overall, pretty delicious. But, it was undoubtedly a lot of work for the level of outcome (not even including the enormous amount of testing that must go into it).
I’ve had better asparagus dishes. I had a steamed asparagus at Noble Rot in London that I can say is the best asparagus I’ve ever had. That made me feel something. It was simple. It was over-salted. But the taste was thrilling. Just asparagus, but so so so good. I went home and cooked more asparagus, trying different ways to steam it, pan-steam it, sautée it, boil it, blanch it.
I wouldn’t try to make this moldy asparagus at home.
So who exactly is this dish for? What is the point of all that effort if the end result isn’t delicious? If it doesn’t make you wish you could come back for the same meal the next night, or to have just one more bite?
When I look at it more objectively — the fermentation work goes into other ventures and products (i.e. at empirical spirits, where their spirits are probably among the best I’ve tried). It will get copied by countless other restaurants in Copenhagen, Europe and around the world. Maybe not to the same scale. Maybe not with the same precision, and not with the same price tag.
They’re pushing the boundaries of food on a worldwide scale. They’ve already been part of changing the restaurant/food industry worldwide once, and they’re attempting to do it again in a new direction that is potentially really great for everyone. It’s a really impressive thing to do.
If you’re just looking for the most delicious food in the world — this is probably not the right place right now. Maybe in 2 or 3 years.
I’m excited to see where they go with the fermentation and molds, and I’m sure they will continue to improve on those flavours and methods — but right now it’s hard to reconcile the amount of effort and talent with the end product that is on your plate, but there is so much more going on here than just what ends up on your plate.
In the end — Noma is a special place. They’re doing special things. I’m happy I got to experience it.
Would I recommend it? Probably not unless you really want to see what the very edge of experimentation with food is like (in a very specific direction).
Some specific issues I had with the meal (i don't know how much it will change over the course of vegetable season?):
There was a significant use of black truffles (I guess from Noma’s time in Australia). I think in 3 (or maybe 4 — not sure if the mushroom soil included truffles or just tasted of it) of 16 savoury dishes (including the main), and they were quite overpowering in all 4.
The 3rd mold dish was quite similar to the first; the gelled egg yolk was really interesting and could have potentially been one of the star ingredients/techniques, but was let down by the progression of courses and the similarity to the first mold course (both had black truffles, IIRC). I also wasn’t a fan of the tart shell itself, but that could just be me.
The fresh berries served at the end of the meal were just regular berries. Maybe I am used to eating good produce? But they didn’t really stand out and being served raw berries that are just sort of average (better than supermarket produce, but just average for farm-fresh or foraged produce) was a little disappointing. The desserts in general were a little disappointing for me, especially compared to the very simple & delicious desserts we had at Studio and Amass.
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