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世界の食を訪ねて

'Noma' --- Michael Booth

Noma, Vol. 25

※日本語版はこちら→「復活! 世界一のレストラン ノーマ2.0が見せる新境地」

Sea cucumber dish, photo by Michael Booth

The last time I had driven past this place it had been nothing more than an old, derelict concrete bunker, a couple of graffiti-covered walls, and a floor strewn with used drug addicts’ needles. Today, I enter a gorgeous, light-filled, raw wood-and-concrete space with glass ceilings, designed by architect Bjarke Ingels and filled with elegant Danish furniture, the walls decorated with dried seafood.


This is Noma v2.0, the newly opened reincarnation of one of the most influential restaurants in the world of the last decade. You’ll remember Noma came to Tokyo in 2015 for a pop-up at the Mandarin Oriental, and repeated the trick in Sydney and Mexico in the following years. The original restaurant, on Copenhagen's harbour, won two Michelin stars.


You’ll also remember that my first ever column for Asahi Shimbun back in April 2016 was about the end of New Nordic cuisine. Though I still loved Noma, I felt its influence was on the wane. They must have heard me because, in February 2017, the original Noma closed. Its head chef, René Redzepi, who recently turned 40, felt he had gone as far as he could, and true to character, decided to throw all the pieces up in the air, put his reputation on the line and start again at this new, built-from-scratch ‘urban farm’ on a forgotten piece of land on the edge of Copenhagen. He was, he said, aiming to build “the most creative space in the restaurant world”.


I am lucky enough to have secured a reservation during the opening week, for lunch. But lunch is not just lunch when you are dining at a restaurant which has almost single-handedly redefined the cuisine of an entire region.


It starts with a broth made from sea snails, an everyday ingredient in Japanese cuisine of course, but these are from the Faroe Islands. The broth is served in the snail’s shell with pickled algae trimming. It has an unearthly, rich flavour like nothing I have ever tasted before. From then on, there is much Japanese influence on display - lots of raw seafood; a sauce for squid made with roasted konbu; sea urchins from the Faroes are served in their shell with an armoured plating of preserved pumpkin seeds; and pieces of cod head are cooked over a charcoal grill and eaten by hand (unlike in Asia, fish heads are usually considered a waste product in Europe). Sea cucumber ovaries and skin are dried and presented in a dollop of Danish cream on a bed of ice shared with a whole, live, gently pulsating sea cucumber which looks someone’s misplaced internal organ. For dessert, we had ‘plankton cake’. I had never considered plankton as an ingredient before. The cake confuses me. I don’t even know if I like it, but I am really glad I tried it.


My meal reflects Noma’s new approach to the seasons: Redzepi has divided the year into: winter, focussed on seafood (sensible considering little else grows in Scandinavia between October and March); summer, which will be vegetable-based; and in autumn they will showcase the wild game of the region. It is not quite Japan’s micro-seasonal approach, but clearly inspired by it.


Has Noma done it again? Can it reach the heights which saw it crowned the Best Restaurant in the World (according to the San Pellegrino 50 Best list) a record four times? Redzepi is clearly as driven and committed, as creative and brilliant as he has ever been. He believes he and his team have only just begun to exploit the natural bounty of the Nordic region. The food is exquisitely beautiful, daring, surprising. So yes, and yes.


None of this comes cheap: the menu without drinks costs me USD375. But the restaurant employs 90 people, and creating a complex of 11 buildings - including an ant farm, koji fermentation cabinets, live fish tanks and a roof top farm doesn’t come cheap. If a meal which costs the same as a new television can be considered a bargain, this is it.



***********

Michael Booth

Michael Booth is the best selling, award winning author of 'Sushi and Beyond/British Family Eats Japan', published in Japanese in 2013 and in two volumes of manga in 2014/15, and recently made into a 25-part anime series by NHK. He is also the author of 'Sacre Cordon Bleu', about his time training to be a chef at the famous Parisian cooking school, which was published in Japanese in 2015. His latest books, 'The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia', 'Eat Pray Eat', and 'Just As Well I'm Leaving: To The Orient With Hans Christian Andersen'.


He currently lives in Denmark with his wife, Lissen, and two sons, Asger and Emil, and is trying to grow a yuzu tree from seed.



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