"Was it good?"
Everyone (who is foodie/geeky) has been asking me this since I got back to Hong Kong.
"It was interesting," has been my default answer, as a way of hedging my argument (and buying time to give it some more thought).
I want to just blurt, "no, the food wasn't the best I've had" but I think Noma deserves more than that (honest as that was). I've been putting off this post because I've been having an internal argument with myself about this, and the other obvious fact that it's been named "World's Best Restaurant" by the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants award two years in a row.
|Yes, this is edible - Malt flatbread and juniper|
|Moss and cep|
That was the big question in my head while I was downing the 12+ courses. (12+ because there was a procession of "snacks" beforehand - no, not pretzel chips or olives).
I decided that both are important, but they're not equal. There's a a hierarchy. It must pass the "does it taste good" test, before it can even be allowed to even take the "what's it making me think" test. I guess I am shallow like that. My argument is, no one opens a restaurant, especially one with which they hope to use to affect the rest of the culinary world, to serve bad food.
Not that Noma's food was bad though, actually it was overall, taste-wise, very interesting. On a technical level, things were cooked perfectly and they displayed the use of some cool new tools and techniques. As far as I could tell, results were as they intended (e.g. if they wanted something cooked medium rare, it would be; fragrances came out of the oils; chars were balanced; things were made into sufficiently light parfaits etc.).
However, if we take the view that cooking here is art, that would be akin to reducing art to technical accuracy... which opens a rather large can of worms, and simply crushes the aforementioned hierarchy. Is the question then, what is this food intended to be?
|Pork skin and blackcurrant|
|Leek and parsley|
I feel like Noma is telling the story - a story of food as it is in Denmark - here and now. It's not just about seasonality, however. The 'here and now' encompasses knowledge and influences from the past, just like everything else.
|Cookies and cheese|
|Potato and chicken liver|
|Pickled and smoked quail's egg|
|Radish, soil and grass|
|Toast and herbs, smoked cod roe and vinegar|
|Bread with virgin butter (rear) and lard and crackling (front)|
|Apple and Jerusalem artichoke, garden sorrel and coriander|
|Sea urchin and dill, cucumber and cream|
|Biodynamic grains and watercress, dried scallops and beech nuts|
Sauces were served at the table for a number of dishes. Actually, interacting with the staff was one of the nicest things about the meal. Usually the chef who prepared the dish would come out and introduce it to you at the table. Their enthusiasm was clear and fairly infectious.
|Chestnut and lörjrom|
|Onion and thyme, gooseberry juice|
|Pike perch and cabbage|
|Carrot and truffles|
|Pickled vegetables and bone marrow|
|Venison and walnuts, bitter greens and juniper|
|Gammel Dansk (frozen apple dessert)|
|Bone marrow toffees|
|Marshmallows on crackers, coated in chocolate|
|Chocolate-covered potato chips with rosemary(?)|
It was interesting.
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