Barges blaze to banish witches to the black forest’s Bloksbjerg Mountain, lair of the devil. It’s ‘Sankt Hans aften’ – St. John’s Day – the longest in the year. Bronze flames light up elated onlookers’ faces, including mine.
As a lowly scribe, I doubted I’d make it here. And glancing through the in-flight magazine en-route, the difficulty in securing a booking was reinforced: ‘it’s easier to get an invitation to take tea with Queen Margrethe than secure a seat at noma…’
But this pause from the precise pageant of plates occurs too early. Smoothly, the maître d’ – a gourmet judging by his girth – ushers us from paved quay back to matt wooden table using the lure of bubbles fleeting flutes. It’s a curious reality check.
This is my handsome hosts’ eleventh meal within the former herring warehouse’s deep walls. They are svelte Signe Bindslev Henriksen, who has a soft looking golden mane, and stubbly, darker Peter Bundgaard Rützou. Having realised noma’s interior via their bright practice, ‘SPACE’, they continue to nurture its decor in line with Redzepi’s perpetual quest to progress.
I began nibbling ‘twigs’ from vases. Formed of flatbread and dried beech, they spoke of crisp texture not depthful flavour. Then bringing me even closer to nature, my first taste of wholesome moss (apparently foraged one year before) evoked model railway scenery in appearance and again evaded definite capture of flavour. But amid empty mussel shells a lone fleshy specimen, sautéed, silky and lounging on edible handcrafted half-shell of squid inked dough proved an urgent mineral relish. And many more plants followed, from pert baby leeks, tips fried in beer and remainder punishingly bitter to the greedy, to nervy ‘leather’ of sea buckthorn jelly and pickled wild rose petals which grow beside them in wild seascape. Although those mimicked desiccated Wine Gums in an unpleasant way, they nonetheless dilated taste’s receptors.
More morsels continue, served family style and passed around the table. Each stanza’s explained by an attractive cast who seem genuinely curious to delve into guests’ back-stories.
With more champagne in this entirely champagne rinsed meal (including the region’s rare, nervy intentionally still red and white wines) yet more flora buds – presumably a sadistic joy to vengeful hay fever sufferers. Snow drop white broad bean flowers are reminiscent of fruity ripe cucumber or Irish rock oysters in taste, and gain almost umami like savouriness when floated in shallow salvers of satay like pumpkin vinaigrette with nervy buckthorn.
A boldly striped hexagonal tin opens to reveal slim, brittle, broadly flavoured tree cookies of lardo, blackcurrant and fragrant pine. Then, discovered like Redzepi’s team of foragers unearth their roots and shoots, almost fruity rather than peppery shocking pink radishes from this country’s largest island are plucked from a convincing earth of rye. Plucking them from the soil makes me laugh. An outsized speckled egg shape opens like a Babushka to reveal an ephemeral gust of smoke from sweet, smouldering hay. From within emerges a solitary quail’s egg like a jewel. Its golden yoke urgently gushes.
According to our waiter (from Brockley), because noma’s often affluent customers may never have themselves wielded a pan (significantly more private jets land at Copenhagen airport since Restaurant Magazine voted it number one) we experience another egg. But this time we fry it at the table in cosy smelling liquid called hay oil on a ragingly hot iron. Despite this overt orchestration, including intrusive, utilitarian beeping timer, all feels unpretentious. But I wonder how many Hermès ties this dish has splattered into retirement?
A course of slipper-sized diced oyster on smooth pebbles, ahead of us another diner loosens her belt and exhales. When she later passes us she momentarily eclipses the copper coloured setting solstice sun which glows in the reflection of a glistening screen of dangling fronds. Her shadow also passes rugged, washed beams supporting cooling zinc bottle troughs.
Veal with peas sweetens in a slow building finish, persisting even into the semi sweet course of sheep’s milk mousse with semi dried violet carrots and frigid but flavoursome buttermilk mousse. Then a simple bowl of strawberries and cream signals it’s the end. ‘So Danish’ says Henriksen of the dish. ‘No, so English!’ say I. We’re both surprised. They’re tenderly perfumed with soporific chamomile.
‘The concept’s right now, right now’ says Rützou as the occasional yacht swims sleekly by. It does feel a little like being on a ship given the watery panorama. He leans back on a willowy chair adorned with a Finnish sheep’s fleece. I reckon he is, as am I, clearly lost in the experience despite it being one he’s navigated with rare frequency and of course been an architect in assuring its tone.
I recently tasted sea buckthorn ice cream at a vendor’s cart roadside beside a Dorset pasture. As a farmer, Redzepi’s father worked the land. His son, who tenderly brought several dishes to our table himself, has built on what he learnt in youth, subsequently inspiring feeling foragers all over the globe. It’s a lovely trend set to continue until one overly-enthusiastic amateur accidentally plucks some deathly tangle.
But full of life, I exit the modest door back to the quay. Fires still smoulder under the midnight sky. I’d rather have a seat at noma than take tea with Queen Margrethe. Unless Margrethe takes foraged tea at noma. Although dining with what were strangers a day ago, the sensory spectacle has bonded us.
noma, Strandgade 93, 1401 Copenhagen, Denmark. Tel: +45 3296 3297. Website.
Article photography (c) Jackie Lee. Additional photography (c) Douglas Blyde.