Being on or near the top of every list of the best restaurants in the world—with its two Michelin stars and number one slot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014— Noma is included on every food lover’s bucket list. But did I fall into the trap of all that hype? Is the notion of dining there just an obsession for us gastronomes always looking for the best meals in the world? Is it really worth the effort of getting a reservation and flying all the way to Denmark?
It had been 4 years since my last visit to Noma. In 2015, it was still at its original waterfront location. I still have vivid memories of my 4 1/2-hour communal table lunch experience. Shortly after that meal, Noma’s chef-owner René Redzepi announced he was closing the restaurant. And I was resigned to the fact that that lunch was my first and last at Noma.
After shutting down the establishment, Redzepi and his team traveled the world to do sold-out pop-up stints: in Japan in 2015, Australia in 2016, and Mexico in 2017. Then in 2018, it was time for Noma to be reborn as Noma 2.0 in a new lakeside location within Copenhagen at the border of the Christiana District.
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The struggle for a booking
With a planned trip to Copenhagen this October, I knew I wanted to experience this second version of Noma. But a table there happens to be one of the hardest in the world to book, and I knew it would be a real challenge to snag myself a seat. To prepare, I downloaded Tock, a restaurants and culinary experiences reservations app, so it would be just click-and-book when it was time.
Four months before my trip, on July 2nd at exactly 10 pm, Noma started accepting reservation requests for its 2019 Game and Forest Menu which would run October 15 to December 21. I set up alarms on my phone to remind myself of the exact time. At 10 pm, I waited like a hawk to click and secure my reservation for three persons. However, on the app, reservations are only taken for groups of 2, 4, 6, and 8. When I clicked back to try to get a booking for 3, I ended up having to book for 4 instead. Then as I was about to pay, I lost my slot.
I quickly checked for other slots during the days I would be in Copenhagen, but they were all taken—in less than 5 minutes! I immediately signed up on the waitlist and kept my fingers crossed that I still had a chance. I was clearly dismayed.
Then a miracle happened. Several weeks before my trip, a slot became available and my reservation was confirmed. I quickly cancelled the other restaurant I booked to take up the Noma slot. After all, it was Noma 2.0 I was after.
A carefully orchestrated welcome
My Noma 2.0 experience started the moment our group arrived at the restaurant as the ushers, chefs, and servers greeted us with the biggest smiles. It was a genuinely warm welcome, reminiscent of family reunions. We were all treated like VIPs.
Our group was led to the greenhouse for a cup of rooibos tea to keep us warm against the crisp, chilly autumn air, while we waited for our turn to be guided into the dining area. Soon, an usher walked us down a path through Noma’s vegetable and herb garden, where a colorful array of ingredients for the evening’s Game and Forest Menu was introduced. From there, we were led to the restaurant’s main entrance decked with antlers. A lady opened the door to let us through. A large welcome party ushered each group to their respective tables to settle and have some drinks.
Service and dishes that define refinement
After my 2015 visit, I couldn’t stop talking about what a memorable experience I had. It was not as formal as the usual French fine dining service, nor was it overly relaxed like a casual dining restaurant. It was somewhere in between—relaxed, friendly, yet carefully orchestrated and refined, extraordinary dining overall.
This second time was no different. The journey was just as polished, like a perfectly choreographed play. Like actors or dancers on stage, the servers gracefully waltzed around the dining room, serving dish after dish. And to our surprise, the “star” of Noma, Chef René Redzepi, served the Chestnut dish. I finally ticked that box on my bucket list—meeting the man in person! I was so excited by the encounter that I forgot to take his photograph.
Of this 17-course menu, each dish was a revelation that found a way to introduce exotic fauna and flora (like bugs, pine, reindeer, bee pollen) to put palates, combining them with autumn ingredients in ingenious and always delicious ways.
Apple salad, honey, bug made with berry fruit leather—savory, citrusy, herbal (from the Angelica and coriander)
Reindeer Feast: sweetbread, tongue, cèpe mushrooms, bone marrow, white currant, pine cone
Chestnut: blended chestnut, chestnut milk, reduced, pounded + walnut and truffles and crispy beech leaves—sweet and savory “amazingness”
Hazelnut purée, chestnuts, fresh cream, and caviar
Cold Pumpkin Salad: dried pumpkin Hokkaido, marigold, quince, coriander flowers, cured reindeer, rosehip
Mexican oregano leaf stuffed with reindeer brain and chili
Wild boar crisp and lardo
Dried strawberries and tomatoes, bee pollen, rabbit, caramel, oil from Mexico
Pine cone in the style of corn on the cob, Nordic Zaatar
Duck brain lightly fried, duck heart tartare
Aged duck breast glazed with mushrooms and seaweed
Leg meat with blueberry and ant paste
Pickled partridge, egg cured-eggyolk sauce, sliced cured duck breast
Swedish freshly foraged mushrooms, truffle sauce, and unripe
Cardamom yogurt mousse, coffee, poppy seed sauce
Waffles grilled over charcoal, crepes with cloudberries
Pine fudge, pine vinegar, pine paste, pine powder
The secret army of chefs and their secret R&D lab
Soon after the meal, Chef Matin, a dining room sous chef, offered to tour us around the kitchen and meet the chefs. We were ushered down an extended hallway leading to the storage area for the custom-made dinnerware, and the mess hall where the chefs eat their meals. We also got a glimpse of Noma’s secret fermentation room and chatted with the team preparing these secret concoctions. Just across was the glass-enclosed kitchen where all the R&D chefs do their magic in creating the menu for the following season. That got me thinking: maybe I should apply for an internship.
Is Noma worth all the hype? Perhaps yes, according to the judges of this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants who gave the restaurant a surprisingly high number two slot despite just opening the year before. Was the meal worth the stress and effort of getting a reservation and flying all the way to Copenhagen? The answer is a resounding yes. After this memorable experience, I can honestly say that the hype has something real and solid to back it, and the visit was definitely worth it. I’m already dreaming about my next trip and wondering what I’ll be having.
For reservations, visit noma.dk
Photos by Dennis Hipolito