Visit to Noma was not only the highlight of my trip, it was the primary factor in our decision on whether to take the 13 hours flight to Europe for our short 1-week holiday.
What spurred me to really make an attempt to get the booking at Noma was after our missed opportunity to snag the coveted seat at their Australia pop-up. All the bookings were Gone in 60 seconds (literally). This was verified as news of the sell-out booking was also widely reported in online news hours later.
More than 9 months ago, on 30th October 2015 (forgot what time, ard 6/7am Singapore time), we waited at our laptop for the reservation site to open. Once the time was due, we repeatedly tried to get into the website but by the time we got to the page we were stunned beyond words…All bookings were gone and we could only be put on wait list. Being placed on wait list is not something we wanted since we have to make travel arrangements to Australia, not as if we are staying there…*Btw, according to reports there were 27,000 on the waitlist…
When the Noma pop-up occurred between Jan to Apr 2016, we saw a number of people on IG sharing photos of their visit. Many of them were in fact regular customers at Noma (Copenhagen), while folks like me who were hoping for the rare chance to visit them (while they are more accessible to us in the Asia region) failed to get a seat. I can’t help but wonder “How did they do it?”
One disgruntled diner shared that he had been trying to get a seat at Noma (Copenhagen) for 3 years and still counting…
So while we were planning where to head to for our next holiday in August (due to National Day holiday), the idea of visiting Denmark came to our mind. Let fate decide if we could go for a summer holiday in Europe (all my previous trips were in winter for skiing). So the big day was set on 25th Apr 2016 – the day where Noma opens their reservation for bookings in August (approx 3-4 mths in advance). We will only book our flight if we could get a table in Noma.
Reservation on Noma‘s website was designed with a virtual random queue system in order to cope with the high-volume requests. We did some research and found some tricks that could increase our chances of securing that coveted booking. A few of the tips were:
(1) Utilise as many devices as possible e.g ipad, laptop, mobile phone
(2) Use as many different browsers as possible e.g IE, Firefox, Chrome, each will be given a different queue number
(3) Get to the website at least 5 minutes before reservation opens
Once you are at the website, there is no need to refresh. When reservation starts the counter on the queue page will automatically assign each browser page a random queue number. Hence its kinda like a lucky draw, a lot has to depend on luck or fate.
The smallest number we got was #216 and the highest number we got was #1700+. The screen will show the number of people ahead of you and when its your turn, you will be re-directed to Noma‘s booking site automatically.
It only took less than 15 mins before it’s my turn at #216 and by the time I got into the website, there were only 2 dates left. Thankfully one fell on the week that I was eyeing, quickly grabbed that date and voila~ I’ve got the reservations and I’m on my way to Copenhagen! Needless to say, like many others who managed to get a booking, I had a silly grin on my face for the rest of that day.
Fast-forward to 10th Aug 16, after doing some sightseeing around town in morning, we made our way to the restaurant. From afar we saw 2 staff at the entrance greeting us and when the doors opened, the whole group of kitchen crew and service staff were gathered inside giving us an absolutely heartwarming welcome. This was probably the first time I ever visited a restaurant and had almost all the crew saying hi to us. We certainly felt like VIPs as all of them were not cooking but waiting for guests to arrive! I could even see the enthusiasm and passion in their eyes when they greeted us.
We were the 2nd group of guests that arrived in the cosy restaurant. At one glance we could count the total number of covers available – less than 10 private tables and 1 large communal table. To be able to secure a seat here was as if we struck lottery. I certainly felt very blessed to have this opportunity, every moment spent at Noma felt so surreal…
We ordered a glass of Rose wine aperitif – 2014 Rose vom Opok, Sepp & Maria Muster, Leutschach – Steierland after settling down at our table. Thereafter we sit back and relax, waited for the show to unravel before our eyes. The menu at Noma is changed seasonally and is not presented to guests at the start of the meal. Hence we would be in for a total surprise, rest assured that dietary preference were checked when we confirm our reservation. We decided to pair our meal with 1 juice-pairing and 1 wine-pairing, to taste the best of both worlds. It was said the the wines served in Noma are organic and biodynamic natural wine, hence the wine varieties might be totally new to me – a good opportunity to taste new wines.
Our eyes lit up immediately when the first dish Rhubarb and seaweed was presented to us. What a lovely sight! Layers of thinly sliced ruby red Rhubarb petals rolled into a rose and surrounded by contrasting greens.
Following the garden theme, the next dish was a Vegetable platter: flatbread & ant paste, pickled quail egg and a black currant berry. Everything is edible except for the moss and the pebbles. Every single one of the elements plated were exquisite and unique. I was amazed by the “branch” that looked really real.
Moving on to the 3rd course we were presented with Radish pie paired with 2015 Les Jongleurs (Chenin Blanc), Toby & Julie Bainbridge, Chavagnes les Equx – Anjou and Elderflower/spearmint juice. The radish pie had a really thin crust filled with the delicately arranged radish slices. After three dishes, we were still constantly blown away by the visually impactful presentation and the delightfully fresh produce used.
Grilled baby cucumber, summer herbs and cream sounds kinda ordinary isn’t it? Wait till you see the star ingredient – ant paste. Other than the mental fear of having to eat ants, the grilled baby cucumber was really crunchy and tasty. Hmm…i’ve grown to like to eat ants…
We had devoured every dish presented so far and were in awe over how they transformed vegetables and made them taste so good! Prior to visiting Noma, the only other restaurant that impressed us with the vegetable dishes was Steirereck Restaurant.
Fresh milk curd, green strawberry and goose tongue leaves was next. A light and refreshing dish, I slurped up every drop of the sauce in that bowl.
First dish that has some conventional meat was Lobster, lavender and rose oil. It was aromatic as perfumed by the flora tones and accompanied with perfectly caramalised onions. Paired with 2013 “Le Sentier du Clou” 1er Cru (Chardonnay), Domaine Derain, Saint-Aubin – Bourgogne and Rose/redcurrant juice.
I was slightly disappointed when I saw the next dish Crisp of wild roses and Danish peas because I am not a Pea person. I would always pick out the annoying peas in the frozen mixed vegetables…But to my surprise, this plate of danish peas tasted totally different from my stereotypical opinion of peas! This has none of the chlorophyll taste and would definitely satisfy even the most picky eaters! We got to know the tricks behind the preparation of this dish when we toured the kitchen after our meal…every single pea skin was hand-peeled twice! The experience of eating fresh peeled peas changed my perception of peas as their delicate flavours can only be appreciated when I look under the covers. The peas were paired with green gooseberries/tarragon juice.
After the green gooseberries juice, the next juice served was red gooseberries/geranium juice. As for wine, it was paired with 2014 blan 5.7 (Viura and Parellada), Jordi Llorens, Blancafort – Catalonia. One of the staff came round to present the live king crab which will be prepared later.
8th dish was Butternut squash and fermented barley. Sweet and nutty pumpkin with lightly flavoured fermented barley. Many ingredients used in Noma had undergone some form of fermentation. Most of the fermentation here uses Koji, koji is widely used in many Asian food production such as like soya sauce, miso etc. However our general impression of fermented food usually possess strong (pungent) smell – think fermented bean curd, kimchi, natto, shrimp paste etc.
Next was the Steamed king crab and egg yolk sauce. Being seafood lovers, the menu at Noma in Winter was perfect for us!
The most fascinating dish for our meal was the Charred greens and scallop paste. paired with 2015 Lay Purus (Riesling), Rita & Rudolf Trossen, Kinheim-Kindel-Mosel and Cabbage/lovage juice.
Although all the greens were charred, each of them had different textures. Some are feathery, some are “meaty”, some are crisp. The scallop paste coated over the veg filled with umami and the taste actually reminded me of “Oyster sauce” used in Asian cooking. We had fun picking up the veg and licking the remnants of the tasty sauce off our fingers.
For the wine-pairing guest, the next dish was paired with 2013 Sicilia ‘1213’ (trebbiano), Guccione, Monreale – Sicily.
Turbot grilled on the bone with sweet shrimp was served in 2 part. Firstly the foraged greens with turbot fillet and sweet shrimp wrapped in ramson leaves. Secondly the grilled turbot with bones.
The final juice served was Green pea husk and 2015 Crémation à l’oseille, Daniel Sage, Ardeche – France. “Cremation Sorrel” is actually the title of a painting by Jean Raine and the painting was reproduced and printed as the wine label. Hence the label was a colourful abstract painting that left a deep impression on us once the staff showed us the bottle.
The final wine pairing was 2011 Les Enfants Terribles (Chenin Blanc), Anthony Tortul, Beziers – Languedoc. Not sure if I’ve got this correct but Les Enfants Terribles means the terrible children in French?
Dessert started with A dessert of sheep’s milk and ant paste. This time round the ant paste was much more finer than the ones coated over the cucumber in the main dish. The texture and colour sort of resembles that of black sesame…at least I tried to brainwash myself that I’m eating black sesame…Absolutely enjoyed the sheep’s milk yogurt.
Next was a mysterious dish covered by a napkin, upon unveiling it was Grilled rose ice cream and elderflower.
The green moss plating made a reappearance for the dessert. This time round it was Moss cooked in chocolate, cep mushroom served with crème freche and seaweed oil. We gently lifted the chocolate coated moss and dipped them lightly with the creme freche. The light and feathery moss melts in the mouth just like cotton candy! It was also a first for us to eat mushroom coated with chocolate, but somehow it went very well together.
We ordered fresh hand brewed coffee to end our meal, the staff introduced that they uses ethiopia beans from The Coffee Collective. Coincidentally we had just visited Coffee Collective for our morning cuppa as they are deemed as the Danish king of coffee.
Final desserts were Egg liqueur and wild berries.
We were pretty sad that the time spent for a meal at Noma flew by so quickly! It was as though 17 course meal was not enough and we were hoping for more! Just when we thought our magical journey was about to end, we were offered a tour of the kitchen/test lab/fermentation lab. Knowing that we were from Singapore, they assigned a Chef from Malaysia to guide us through the various parts of the sprawling building. It was thoughtful of the staff to arrange a Malaysian Chef to brief us, as we managed to talk about common topics such as the recently unveiled Michelin Guide for Singapore.
It was during the walk-through and chatting that we got to know a lot more about the behind-the-scenes operation of Noma. After walking through the kitchen at the first floor, we were led to the back of the building where there were charcoal pits and josper ovens used to char-grill all the ingredients outdoor, giving them the smoky flavours.
On 2nd floor, there was a preparation kitchen where a dozen other chefs were busy prepping the various elements before they were pieced together to form the final dishes that we ate. From the slicing of the rhubarb to the individually hand-rolled radish petals, everything were labour-intensive. But while we were walking through this kitchen everyone of them were still energetic and friendly. They were in fact enjoying their work. The chef even explained that most of the chefs in the prep kitchen are working for free! I guess if I’m a junior chef I would also hoped to be able to gain the experience of working together with a master like Chef Rene.
At the back was the experiment lab/test lab, where we saw Chef Rene explaining some stuff to a group of visitors. Chefs in the test lab full-time job was to conduct experiment to find the perfect “formulae” for the dishes using whatever ingredients available in the season. Some of the ingredients we saw included live seafood, herbs foraged from the wild, grown herbs etc. Successful formulae would only be incorporated into Noma‘s menu next year when the same season returns.
Back to ground floor outside, there was a container used to keep all the ingredients under fermentation, including peaso (miso made from pea) infused with different flavours.
I treasured the opportunity to have a tour of the kitchen/lab etc. where we get to see and understand the sustainable cooking philosophy and what Chef Rene was working towards.
Just before leaving, the staff even shared with us a map of Copenhagen printed by Noma, highlighting a few other recommended eateries including a few that we already shortlisted/visited such as Kodbyens Fiskebar, Det Vide Hus.
We left Noma at around 4pm, 4 hours after we arrived but we enjoyed every minute at the restaurant. It certainly goes down my list of most memorable dining experience ever and was well-worth the effort to specially take a flight to visit.
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