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The Making Of The New Noma Copenhagen’s No 1 Restaurant

The Making Of The New Noma Copenhagen’s No 1 Restaurant The Making Of The New Noma Copenhagen’s No 1 Restaurant

“I persuaded a couple of my friends, who were not really into fine dining, to join me at Noma in 2012. I wasn’t sure how they would react to the new atmosphere and concept behind fine dining, and of course fine dining “Noma style,” but they were overwhelmed and said that they had experienced a meal of a lifetime.

If you can enjoy wine or cheese without understanding their metabolic underpinnings, you will be fine. But when you are eating something at Noma that tastes like much more than the sum of its parts, when you realize that few of the restaurant’s many imitators load as much depth and complexity into their cooking, when you start to lose your bearings and can’t quite figure out what is happening, it can be helpful to recall that just out of sight is an entire room full of special sauce.

René Redzepi’s restaurant Noma changed pretty much everything in the history of Scandinavian cuisine. In 2003, no one spoke of Nordic cuisine, but with the help of Redzepi and business partner Claus Meyer in 2004, chefs from all of the Nordic countries came together in Copenhagen to discuss the creation of a ‘New Nordic Cuisine’ based on simplicity, freshness and seasonality. The simple, minimalist approach to ingredients that is characteristic of Nordic cooking is now a major part of the culinary psyche and has influenced and guided chefs from all over the world.After opening in 2003, Noma went on to be voted No.1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants four times – in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. When the restaurant closed after its final service on New Year’s Eve in 2016, Redzepi opened pop-ups in Sydney, Australia and then Tulum, Mexico, from where he returned last June full of ideas and inspiration for Noma 2.0.

The menus are more tightly focused. The old Noma restricted itself to ingredients that grew in the Nordic countries. The new one narrows the scope even more, with three major themes a year that stick to what Mr. Redzepi thinks is best at the time. The menu in late spring and summer will revolve around plants, although it will not necessarily be vegetarian. “We will have things we think belong, like ants and snails,” Mr. Redzepi said during one of his frequent trips to the dining room. “They’re there, in the garden.” Foragers and hunters will supply the late-fall and early-winter kitchen with wild mushrooms, nuts, game birds, deer, moose, bear. Every course in the current menu, in effect until late spring, contains something from the ocean.

An earlier version of this article misstated the year when Christiania was taken over by residents. It was 1971, not 1961.

The restaurant is one of several buildings, including a greenhouse, on the bank of a pond in the city’s Christiania section.CreditSigne Birck for The New York Times

Not necessarily. One current dessert is a plankton mousse under a toasted-milk crumble. It does not taste weird at all. Neither do the two desserts made with kelp, but none of them is as likable over the short term (and probably the long term, too) as the icy cloudberry soup with snowdrifts of frozen yogurt and tiny candied pine cones, as chewy as jelly beans.

A ring of pink lumpfish roe is visible beneath a jellyfish.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the Copenhagen area where the new Noma has opened. It is Christiania, not Christiana.

All these small portions look as if they’d been put on the plate by a team of synchronized hummingbirds. Will I get enough to eat?

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The kitchen layout with free-standing work stations was first tried out at a pop-up in Mexico.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

In a manner of speaking, yes. You won’t see a printed menu until the meal is over, but hanging to the right of the entrance is a framed beachcomber’s collage of shells, seaweeds, starfish, sea horses and other saltwater creatures. Nearly every course is represented somewhere.

Just before the finale of desserts, when you may be second-guessing Mr. Redzepi’s decision not to serve any bread with this menu, something close to perfect happens. It is a dish called “head of the cod.” It is not an entire head, but the meatiest chunks on sharp blades of bone that have been as carefully trimmed as any Frenched rack of lamb. The fish has been brushed with seaweed and mushroom glazes reminiscent of soy and miso and then grilled, something like the way yellowtail collar is cooked in an izakaya. There are four cuts and three garnishes, so you have the option of, say, dipping the cheek in horseradish oil and dredging the tongue in a tart pesto made from ground Danish wood ants. The fish is soft, extravagantly rich, and by the time you have found the last shred of flesh you are ready for something sweet.

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In lieu of a paper menu by the door, Noma displays a beachcomber’s collage representing nearly every course, and some decorative creatures that are not served.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

Litti Kewkacha, 50 Best TasteHunter“I really look forward to eating the first season of seafood, but most exciting will probably be the vegetarian season – I’m sure René would say the same, knowing how much they have been working on this vegetarian project. Their pop-ups worldwide are a prelude and form a research basis for what’s to come in Noma 2.0, especially the vegetarian season. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I’m pretty sure it will revolutionise the concept of ‘vegetarian meal’ – if anyone can turn me, you and every discerning foodie into a vegetarian, it’s René Redzepi.” NomaRefshalevej 961432 Copenhagen KDenmark

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Noma seats about 42 diners in comfortable, understated style.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

The cod-head dish sums it up. Noma’s strategy in all things is to get rid of any received notions of luxury in restaurants and replace them with something seen as more humble (pottery spun on a wheel instead of Bernardaud porcelain), eccentric (natural wines rather than blue-chip Bordeaux), overlooked (horse mussels instead of no horse mussels), or undervalued (cod heads for lobster). Mr. Redzepi and his colleagues have rebuilt the template of high-end, destination dining piece by piece with stuff that has been thought about, considered and chosen for a reason. Sometimes the cook or dining-room worker bringing the food to your table tells you the reason, but even when you’re not told, you can still sense that everything has a purpose. That’s what Noma is about as a business serving food. As an aesthetic project, it is also about questioning received hierarchies of value. The stray plant in your backyard or window box is a weed only if you pull it out. Let it grow and it could be a wildflower, or a tasty addition to tonight’s salad.

“I expect that with the new Noma, René will continue to show strong pride in the products and the cuisine of the North. He was among the first to conceive a fine dining that applied international cooking techniques to local ingredients. He created a movement and became a source of inspiration for many young people.” 

You might. Less than a day after its online ticketing system opened, in November, journalists, cooks, locals and destination-restaurant pilgrims from around the world had booked every seat through the end of April. This critic, not very quick on the draw, failed to get a table, but a former colleague who has written about Noma did, and offered a seat at his table. Sporadically, the restaurant seems to find additional space and puts new tickets up for sale. More usefully, the second batch of tickets, running through the end of September, has not quite sold out yet. A table for eight, in particular, is up for grabs on many dates.

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About $375 for lunch or dinner without drinks, paid in advance when you reserve on the restaurant’s website. Wine pairings cost about $166 and the slate of juices runs about $133. Each night four students, randomly chosen from a waiting list, are seated and charged about $165 a person, including wine or juice pairings.

Mr. Redzepi will bring one or two, stopping to chat about, say, snails and starfish. Others will be brought by cooks. You will probably be served by Lars Korby, who helps herd the wine collection; James Spreadbury, a kindly Australian who manages the restaurant; Mette Soberg, who as head of Noma’s research and development department works out the first drafts of many dishes. There is no discernible hierarchy in the service staff, although Mr. Redzepi is obviously the boss.

Every course contains something from the ocean; one of the desserts is a plankton cake.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

You may look for a sign. You will not see one, but if you see greenhouses and a long concrete bunker built into a 17th-century earthen rampart, you are in the right place. Somebody will greet you at the gate, perhaps Ali Sonko, who immigrated to Denmark from Gambia, started at Noma as a dishwasher and is now one of Mr. Redzepi’s partners. If you are a repeat customer, he may hug you before leading you to the restaurant. When you enter, most of the kitchen and dining room staff, including Mr. Redzepi, will be standing inside the door. They will act as if they have been particularly looking forward to your arrival and had all the time in the world to greet you. It is a little like meeting the von Trapp children. Once this ritual is over, they return to their posts and you are brought to your table. A glass of sparkling wine will probably materialize quickly.

I neither know nor care how fermentation works. Will I still appreciate the food?

They are, and they must be among the best mussels on earth. Four or five of their stout bellies have been joined together after being separated from the stringier bits, which are ground up in a smoked butter sauce that is insanely good.

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Now hear Redzepi talk about his foraging initiative at #50BestTalks:

Employees and the chef, René Redzepi, third from left in the front row, assemble by the door when a new party arrives.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

The laboratory and its director, David Zilber, used to work out of a shipping container outside the old restaurant. Now both have moved indoors, and have been given a walk-in refrigerator stacked with various garums and “peaso,” a relative of miso made with yellow peas. Something fermented turns up in every course on the current menu, including the esoteric juices — saffron and Arctic thyme is a typical example — that can be had in place of a wine pairing. The restaurant’s work with fermentation is so extensive that it fills a book, “The Noma Guide to Fermentation,” by Mr. Zilber and Mr. Redzepi, to be published this year.

You may reach an answer in the negative if you drink the green liquid of plankton and raw pumpkin-seed milk thinned with yogurt whey. And then you may find yourself reflecting that to explore the boundaries of deliciousness it is sometimes necessary to go beyond them.

Theresa Aves and Michael Chorr, The Neverfull, 50 Best TasteHunters

What is the black-and-white shell, the size of a soapdish, in the bottom-left corner of the collage?

Unless Mr. Sloan is a friend of yours, the scallop is likely to be the sweetest you have ever tasted. The clam is briny and tart and chewy, and affects you like a splash of Norwegian water in the face.

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Not for a minute. At around two hours, the meal skates along briskly and pulls a greater variety of flavors out of the Nordic waters than another restaurant would get by importing seafood from around the world.

The menu’s oceanic theme is foreshadowed by sea creatures preserved in jars.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

Both are decorative items in the collage, like the polished rocks, although the test kitchen gave ground starfish the old college try. “We did not enjoy it,” Mr. Redzepi said, emphatically. Instead cooks paint a starfish on the plate with a pearlescent sauce of egg yolks and pumpkin-seed oil and cover it with wild Danish trout roe. Studded with tiny flecks of dried fermented plum, it is wonderful to eat, although you could see trompe l’oeil plating as a small betrayal of the all-natural ethos that animates most of Noma’s cooking.

Not as the word is commonly understood, no. With its rooftop garden, its cluster of outbuildings and a main structure where work is carried on in a cluster of “huts” connected by glass-roofed corridors, it more closely resembles the campus of a tech firm or a small progressive college.

At the 15th Anniversary celebrations of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in June last year, Redzepi told 50 Best that the restaurant will be making bold moves without fear of failure. “The point is that we dare again to fail, whereas with the old Noma, it had to be perfect.” True to his word, Redzepi has been posting Instagram Stories to record his ‘failures’ or dishes that were tested and didn’t make it onto the menu. The list already includes scallop tostadas, fish pastry with rose custard, sea snail and pickles, fresh water clams, hermit crabs and sea stars.

Yes, despite continuing conflict over hashish vendors on Pusher Street. The Noma complex, parts of which were still behind plywood early this month, is an island within the island of Christiania. It is cordoned off by a chain-link fence through which you can see the closest neighbor’s home, a makeshift yurt in the woods. At the edge of the property is a pond where swans, mallards and coots paddle around. It is as if Mr. Redzepi had located Copenhagen’s back door and walked through it, carrying the restaurant with him.

Laura is responsible for all content across The World’s 50 Best Restaurants global portfolio, including the print guidebooks, website, social media, and event coverage. After working for several years as a financial journalist, she joined the 50 Best team in 2014 with a view to combining her three main passions: food, travel and writing.

Laura has a soft spot for Latin America and has lived in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Ireland. She is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and is also a qualified translator.Laura Price

A horse mussel. Horse mussels are almost never eaten, not even by horses. After throwing away the nondelicious parts, which Mr. Redzepi estimates at roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of the animal, Noma’s cooks stew the rest with chanterelles they preserved in oil last year. It tastes meaty, a bit like lamb, or at least more like lamb than anything else on the menu, and its flavor is considerably perked up by some tart foraged mirabelle plums, salted and dried before the winter.

The mailing address is Refshalevej 96, 1432 Copenhagen K, Denmark. More generally, the new Noma is in the part of the city called Christiania, where fortified walls were built on landfill in the 1600s to defend the city. The area was neglected until it was taken over by residents in 1971, first as a playground and then as the base of Freetown, an experimental anarchist community that proclaimed itself self-governing and self-sufficient. “It is so far the biggest opportunity to build a society from scratch,” one of the founders wrote. “For those who feel the beating of the pioneer heart there can be no doubt as to the purpose of Christiania.”

The architect Bjarke Ingels conceived the kitchen and other areas as huts connected by glass ceilings.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

It’s what the tasting-menu set calls the compound in Copenhagen where the chef René Redzepi recently transplanted the restaurant that invented New Nordic cuisine. The original Noma operated in a 1765 warehouse for dried fish and whale oil on a city pier from 2003 until February 2017. The new Noma served its first customers on Feb. 16, 2018.

The final course before dessert is sections of cod head with grilled ramson leaves.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

“I remember as if it was yesterday a dish from the old Noma called “The Jensens’ Hard Winter of 1941” (Jensen is the most common surname in Denmark, so the title of the dish referred to a typical Danish family), made of tubers, turnips and marinated roots. It brought to mind what was cooked in Denmark in the coldest winter of the last century, during the Nazi occupation, but with the class and elegance of the modern kitchen of René. That shows how sensitive Redzepi is about his country, his people’s history and the metaphoric meaning of food.

Header: René Redzepi and Noma’s old exterior (images: Laura Lajh Prijatelj)As one door closes, another one opens – or at least that is the case this week, with Restaurant André doing its final service yesterday and Noma 2.0 doing its first today.

“We experienced first-hand the movement of ingredients from the earth to the plate and the importance of using what nature provides us. We eagerly await what Noma 2.0 will bring as they work more closely with the seasons. We anticipate a menu that will be educational, inspirational and even shocking, because we expect nothing less from the mastermind chef who brought us beef tartare and live ants!”Beef and ants at Noma (image: The Neverfull)

The Danish architecture firm BIG, led by Bjarke Ingels. (BIG is also responsible for the trash-burning power plant that you can see from the dining room, and that will have a 2,000-foot-long ski run on its roof when it is finished.) According to Mr. Ingels, the layout was inspired by the clustered structures on a traditional Danish farmstead. Mr. Redzepi, who as the son of a Muslim father of Albanian descent and a Christian mother from Denmark is something of an outsider in Danish culture, has told people that the central building where the kitchen and dining room sit is derived from Viking longhouses.

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Many of the shellfish are procured by a diver from waters near the Arctic Circle.CreditDitte Isager for The New York Times

There are around 20 dishes, a few of which come at the same time. Matchstick strips of the firmer bits of a mahogany clam, decorated with seaweed fronds and little salt-preserved unripe gooseberries and black currant buds, arrive in its shell in a bath of mussel juice and oil pressed from black-currant wood at the same moment as a bay scallop and its roe, pulled from Norwegian seas by a diver named Roderick Sloan, who must be immune to hypothermia.

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Probably not, unless you precede your meal with a score on Pusher Street. Viking longhouses were windowless, underfurnished, smoky and probably smelly, given that farm animals slept in them. Noma’s dining room, by contrast, is meticulously carpentered together, from the peaked ceiling to the bare floor, out of sanded oak and Douglas fir. It has spindle-legged, custom-built Danish-modern tables and chairs beside glass walls with a view of the pond and woods. The kitchen, which you can see from the dining room, is well ventilated. From time to time you might hear chords of whatever music the cooks are listening to. The animals living inside the complex — king crabs and mollusks in shades of pink and aquamarine generally seen only on the residents of Bikini Bottom — are kept in tanks with no noticeable odor. The 42 or so diners are typically well groomed and carefully, if not formally, dressed. Although they are not given to marauding and pillaging, they are not particularly solemn, either. Noma is not a place of worship.

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If I get a reservation, will eating at Noma make me feel like a Viking?

“Our most cherished memory is foraging on the beach with chef Redzepi and learning about the edible landscape that shaped Noma’s cuisine. What appeared to onlookers as a typical walk along the shore was actually a lesson from chef on the local and seasonal ingredients that are all-surrounding. Our day culminated in an epic 20-course tasting menu with many of the foraged flora we had learned about on the beach earlier that day. 

What is on the menu at the new Noma will be for its first diners to discover, as Redzepi has kept relatively schtum before the big reveal. But what we know is that the restaurant will divide its year into three seasons and the menu will change dramatically to reflect the ingredients available. Noma reopens this week during seafood season, with vegetables in the European summer and early autumn, and game and forest from autumn to January. Bookings are strictly via the Noma website and there are special discounts for students.

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So will the four-time No.1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants live up to expectations with its newest incarnation? Here are a few thoughts from the wider 50 Best family.Hear Redzepi talk about daring to fail with Noma 2.0:

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“I know that whatever comes out of Noma 2.0 will be fantastic – it will all be thoughtful, detailed, focused and above all sustainable in many, if not all, aspects. I want to see which, if any, things you can spot from the past, what is kept and what has evolved. Above all, I’m most excited about getting a table – so bring it on Noma 2.0. I’m ready for you!”Moss and ceps (image: Alexander Westrup)Amelie Vincent, The Foodalist, 50 Best TasteHunter“With the new Noma, I expect René to make people more sensitive to the environment and the future of planet earth by choosing producers and the origin of each product carefully. I expect a big scale revolution among chefs and foodies to set another mindset and to show the right way of feeding the planet.” 

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