Rene Redzeppi’s genius is irrefutable. His restaurant, Noma, was rated the best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, by the definitive list The San Pellegrino List of the Worlds 50 Best Restaurants. During this time, it also held two Michelin stars. There are not many restaurant’s that 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 of re-immerging in 2017. It did this with a series of pop ups 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. The new location is a completely refurbished bunker on an isthmus of land on Copenhagen’s edge, a few blocks from the original Noma. The design of the new location, 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. All built to make guests feel as though they are as immersed in nature as possible.
The menu, equally ambitious, is to follow a strict seasonal schedule, to reflect the natural rhythm inherent in farm life. In the restaurants case - seafood in winter, vegetables in summer and game meat in autumn. All this underpinned by Noma’s nigh on religious adherence to locality. The natural bounty is prepared without any farm to table nostalgia in the restaurants four state of the art kitchens. The small army of chefs push themselves, techniques and ingredients to the creative edge in their relentless hyper local quest of discovery and reinvention.
When the booking system for Noma 2.0 went live last year, releasing the first set of available dates, 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 expansive 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 15th opening date, until it transpired the kitchen counter tops 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 opened on Friday afternoon at 12pm. Half an hour before the restaurant was due to open for lunch, guests were peering from the front gate while carpenters were frantically affixing a make shift walkway to front door while Redzeppi himself frantically raked the mulch. Inside, amid the final flurry of vacuuming cement dusk, the legions of bespoke fittings sat expectantly. Every Perlemoen shell from the Australian pop-up adorns one wall, the rope wrapped chairs a technique learnt in 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 the succession of dishes that emerged from the kitchen. Reflecting the winter season, 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 to 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 which is bound by a maniacal ethos best understood as “the show must go on.” Brilliant, flawed, with everything on the line, Noma will have it all to regain in the months to come.