Noma 2.0: Better late than never, or is it?
Superstar chef Redzeppi playing catch-up after he messes up opening date for his relaunch of Noma
Rene Redzeppi’s genius is irrefutable. His Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, was rated the best in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 by the definitive San Pellegrino List of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. During this time it also held two Michelin stars. Not many restaurants can boast pleasing both rating systems. Michelin enshrines consistency; the World’s 50 Best, creativity.
Unafraid of losing its stature in the fickle upper echelon, Noma closed as a traditional restaurant in 2016, with the promise to re-emerge in 2017. It did this with popups in Australia, Japan and, most ambitiously, in the middle of the jungle in Mexico.Redzeppi announced that the new Noma would reopen in a permanent location in February 2018. It is a refurbished bunker on an isthmus on Copenhagen’s shore, a few blocks from the original Noma. The design, conceived by lauded Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, reflects the layout of a traditional Danish farm. The restaurant includes several gardens, a greenhouse, expansive windows and a seamless transition from kitchen to dining room. It is built to make guests feel as though they are immersed in nature.The menu, equally ambitious, follows a strict seasonal schedule to reflect the natural rhythm of farm life: seafood in winter, vegetables in summer and game meat in autumn. All of this is underpinned by Noma’s nigh on religious adherence to locality. The natural bounty is prepared without any farm-to-table nostalgia in four kitchens. The chefs push themselves, techniques and ingredients to the creative edge.When bookings for Noma 2.0 opened last year, all available seats from February to April were booked and paid for in advance within 12 hours of the system going live.
So what is the problem?
It’s not ready.
A week before opening, the space was a cavernous maw exposed to the elements, protected by a tarp. The windows had not been installed. Cooks and waiters worked through the night to complete the insulation of the dining room ceiling. The landscaping is nonexistent.
Throughout this the team believed they would still make the February 15 opening date, until it transpired the kitchen countertops were not going to be delivered. The decision was made to postpone the opening evening amid fears that the entire first week would have to be cancelled.Noma 2.0 opened on Friday 16 at noon. Half an hour before, guests were peering from the front gate while carpenters affixed a makeshift walkway to the front door while Redzeppi himself frantically raked the mulch. Inside, amid the final flurry of vacuuming cement dust, the legions of bespoke fittings sat expectantly. Perlemoen shells from the Australian popup adorn one wall; the rope-wrapped chairs are from Mexico. The lampshades are made from local moss; every piece of ceramic for the dining room is hand-crafted. The interior of Noma 2.0 is a textual homage to all its previous iterations, sublimely unique, singularly theirs.The one area in which Noma was completely prepared was in what emerged from the kitchen. Reflecting winter, the meal featured all manner of sea creatures. Little whorled sea snails, clams, mussels, oysters and urchins. In place of a traditional red meat for the main course, cod-head bones with little nuggets of cod-head meat were braaied like spare ribs. Even the dessert maintained the theme: a cake made with plankton.So what do we make of it? Maybe the best way to sum it up is that Noma is playing with fire. A restaurant like this failing to make its opening date is a white-hot disaster in an industry bound by a maniacal ethos of “the show must go on”. Brilliant, flawed, with everything on the line, Noma will have to do all it can in the months to come to regain its lost respect.