Copenhagen’s three-Michelin-star restaurant Noma will be turned into an experimental kitchen for pioneering new foods and flavours. Rose Dykins reports
The legendary Copenhagen restaurant will close its doors in 2024 and reopen the following year as a test kitchen dedicated to creating and trialling exciting new flavours.
Known for its inventive “New Nordic” cuisine centred around seasonal produce, dinner at Noma’s tasting menu is priced at £600 per person.
Previous memorable culinary moments from chef René Redzepi have included serving up deer brains, jellyfish, moss, edible pine cones and celeriac shawarma.
“To continue being Noma, we must change,” reads a statement on the restaurant’s website. “Winter 2024 will be the last season of Noma as we know it. We are beginning a new chapter.
“In 2025, our restaurant is transforming into giant lab, a pioneering test kitchen dedicated to the work of food innovation and the development of new flavours, one that will share the fruits of our efforts more widely than before.”
Although it will become a test kitchen, Noma will still welcome diners occasionally, and will host pop-up dining events both in Copenhagen and abroad.
“Serving guests will still be part of who we are, but being a restaurant will no longer define us” Noma says. “Much of our time will be spent on exploring new projects and developing many more ideas and flavours.”
In addition to its reinvention, Noma will also be opening an outpost in Kyoto for two months in from March 2023.
The evolution of Noma has called into question whether ultra-fine-dining is waning as a trend (it was recently skewered in The Menu movie).
The decision of one of the world’s most famous culinary destinations to alter its current form is a recognition that its operations need to change.
Commenting on the decision for The New York Times, Redzepi has said that fine-dining’s gruelling hours and intense workplace culture is “unsustainable”.
The New York Times writes: “Redzepi, who has long acknowledged that grueling hours are required to produce the restaurant’s cuisine, said that the math of compensating nearly 100 employees fairly, while maintaining high standards, at prices that the market will bear, is not workable.”
Redzepi is quoted by the publication as saying: “We have to completely rethink the industry. This is simply too hard, and we have to work in a different way.”
Aside from the fact that consumer tastes may be changing, with luxury customers seeking more relaxed and accessible dining experiences, high-end kitchens face extreme pressure when it comes to the workload and wellbeing of their teams (fine-dining restaurants can often be abusive and exploitative) and, despite the prices on menus, their ability to make profit.
Noma’s decision to pivot towards a new way of operating that capitalises on its legacy for culinary innovation, while continuing to create targeted pop-up experiences around the world, could set an interesting precedent for Michelin-starred institutions across the globe.
Is the real reason Noma is closing that diners are no longer impressed with Noma? Judging by a review by editor Farrah Storr in The Times, Globetrender suspects that this is a big part of it. Here is an excerpt:
When I left some of my reindeer brain custard inside the skull in which it was served (as did the table behind us) — not because it was essentially brain juice, but because it was chalky and unpleasant — the waitress looked angry as she went to lift my plate. “Not comfortable with offal?” she asked. I explained that was not the case at all, rather that the texture rendered it difficult to eat. There was no smile, no apology, only a sneer — I felt as though I had somehow failed Noma.
Two courses later and my husband rose to go to the bathroom, whereupon a different waitress ran towards him, gesticulating wildly for him to sit back down. “Your next course is coming, you’ll have to wait,” she explained, looking genuinely frightened. The next course — a cold salad — arrived five minutes later. Shortly after I left yet another cup of tepid tea that tasted as though someone had put their Marlboro Red out in it. The waitress peered down at the glass cup. “Oh, I’m done,” I said, nervously pushing it in her direction. There was a silence.
“Well . . .” she exhaled.“Could you at least appreciate it?” I think it was a rhetorical question. Not for the first time were we made to feel that we simply didn’t “get” Noma.
Over the next three hours we sat through a total of 15 dishes, three quarters of them cold and almost all of which tasted of vinegar (which is clearly a thing for the chef René Redzepi right now) — this despite it being deepest winter in Scandinavia.
By dish 13 — a saffron ice-cream dish that pulled off the remarkable feat of tasting simultaneously like Play-Doh and nothing at all (“Not a fan of saffron?” we were asked. “No, not a fan of ice cream that tastes like Barbie’s legs,” I wanted to scream) — Noma was beginning to feel less like a treat and more like an endurance test.
Finally we paid the bill and stepped into the fading light of a Saturday afternoon that had cost us more than £1,200 and still left us hungry.