I have delayed writing this post for some time, partially because I wanted to let the experience sink in, and partially because this post is an official acknowledgement of ‘The End’. Once I post this – when you read this – my trip will ‘officially’ be over, done, finished. It signals some return to normalcy, to Adelaide, to ‘home’ – though, hopefully, not for too long.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe just how amazing these last 93 days have been. People have asked me – and will ask, I’m sure – “What was the best bit?” Unfortunately, I still don’t have a satisfying answer for that – well, alright, Noma was indisputably the crown jewel, but most people would rather hear about Mongolia or Russia – and fair enough! But it’s ultimately impossible to compress that many faces and places into a few moments. There’s a strange way each unique day of new people, places, sights, sounds, tastes adds up into a collective experience which goes by in an instant – I’m left thinking to myself “Did that really take three months? Did any of it even happen? Was it all just a dream?”
But enough of that. I know it happened, and I’m incredibly glad it did.
People have also asked if I think I’ve changed dramatically – you know, in an ‘I found myself in India, maaan‘ kind of way. I don’t think so: more than anything, the trip has reaffirmed my belief that people are generally and inherently good – something I find comforting. If nothing else, I like to think that after 50,000 words my writing has at least somewhat improved!
I’ll get to the meal in a moment, but first some thanks are in order. Obligatory thanks for my parents for making sure I was still alive, and thanks to my brother for doing the first leg of the trip with me. To be honest, I was surprised how easily they all accepted what I was doing; it was almost with an ‘ah well, it was just a matter of time’ attitude. It was comforting to keep in contact with them – the road gets isolating after a while. Special thanks to my friend India and her mum, Suzie, plus Anton the winemaker – you’ll find out why later on in this post. Thanks to everyone who let me crash on their couch and showed me around their city. I have so many fantastic memories of so many places thanks to you. Thanks to my exchange friends for planning a reunion around my arrival in Copenhagen, and thanks to the five people who joined me at Noma: Oskar, George, Alessandro, Angus, and Dad.
Thank you to the people who gave me a ride, stopping for a grimy Australian on the side of the road, to the people who let me sleep in their home, who fed and watered me, who showed me such amazing hospitality without a second thought. Thank you to all the wonderful people I’ve travelled with and become friends with on the road, thank you to the countless faces I’ve met during my trip. Regardless of the country I was in, the kindness I’ve been shown has always been incredible.
As much as everyone else, thank you, reader, for taking the time from your day to read about mine. Whether this is the first post you’re reading or you’ve been following from the start, to everyone who’s ever read, shared, commented, or liked a post – thank you! You make what I’m doing – what I’ve done – worthwhile. Without you, I’m just a crazy guy spouting words into cyberspace. Well, maybe the crazy part still holds.
Now, at last, on to the meal proper. The six of us arrived five minutes early for the 8pm reservation. There had been a few moments of panic as we had a vacant seat only a few hours before the event, but we found a replacement just in time. We were greeted by what looked like the entire staff standing by the entrance, all smiling – I was told by several of them that they’d been reading the blog (hi!), which was – and is – mind-blowing.
I realized as we walked in that Noma is number 93 on its street – and it was coincidentally my 93rd day since leaving Singapore. Trust me, I couldn’t have planned that!
The interior is a masterclass in Danish design: simple yet beautiful. Wooden chairs draped with furs, exposed roof beams, all very minimal. The building which houses Noma used to be a whaling warehouse, and they’ve kept the aesthetic – though there is thankfully an absence of whale carcasses. Noma’s menu changes daily based on ingredients and availability – apparently the difference between dinner in summer and winter is like night and day. Tonight was sixteen courses over four hours. Even with a staff total of about 90, they only seat 45 per night.
I was grinning like an idiot pretty much the entire four hours – I couldn’t believe it was finally happening: I had actually made it! I thought back over all the times I had daydreamed about sitting down at Noma: biking in China, on the train in Russia, hitch-hiking in Turkey, sleeping in a field in Bulgaria.
A tightly-composed symphony of waiters brought our food, refilled our glasses, answered any questions. For each course, a chef who had prepared it came out and explained what it was. The whole thing had a really unpretentious and down-to-earth vibe; it was OK to laugh in the dining room and the waiters were dressed like, well, normal waiters! Not a bowtie in sight. The head of the front-of-house is one James Spreadbury, also from Adelaide (about 15km away from where I live). We had a rather surreal chat about things back home.
Rene Redzepi, the head chef, was away when I was there, but soon after sitting down I was told I had mail and handed a couple of envelopes. Inside was a handwritten card from him wishing me well, saying he’d be following my blog (fanboy moment), and that he wished he could be there. Inside the other one was something equally unexpected: a letter from my friend back home, India, wishing me the meal of a lifetime. As I read it, the sommelier opened a bottle of champagne and said with a grin “This is from India” – wait, what? Is this real? She had apparently arranged for one of Noma’s wine suppliers in the Adelaide Hills, Anton von Klopper, to bring over a bottle of champagne as he was going to be in Copenhagen at the time. I was quite honestly speechless.
Noma offer a choice of wine or juice pairing. My logic was that almost all top restaurants serve wine, so I couldn’t pass up a chance at a tailored juice pairing – I didn’t regret it, it was very well done.
The first course was in front of us within a few minutes: a painstakingly-assembled rose flower of rhubarb with kelp oil. It looked almost too good to eat. Almost.
It was incredibly fresh (note: served on ice), tasting like a garden on a summer’s day – there we none of the usual sourness from rhubarb, just an amazing freshness.
The second dish arrived on a plate of moss, three elements looking more like garden features than food – and in this case, that’s a good thing! This was one of the standout courses. On the right is a fried flatbread with ant paste and crisp nettle leaves ‘glued’ to it with white cream. Inside the yellow flower was an incredible blackcurrant ‘berry’ – some sort of wizard-like blackcurrant orb filled with blackcurrant cream. The most amazing part, though, was the pickled and smoked quail egg covered with inverted nasturtiums. Everyone at the table had their own religious moment as the yolks burst.
The first few courses came in rapid succession, about every five or six minutes. We barely had time to process the incredible thing we’d just put in our mouths before another equally-mind-blowing dish was placed in front of us.
This next one was a grilled baby cucumber smothered in ant paste (a wonderful acidity and meatiness) with an assortment of leaves and plants. The yellow-ish one is last year’s elderflowers; incredibly deep flavour. Served with a horseradish dipping cream. Without a doubt, the best cucumber I’ve ever eaten!
Let me just break to say that this next course may well be the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth: the bread course. At many top restaurants, it’s unfortunately common wisdom to go easy on the bread, as it’s just used as a stomach-filler. Several reviews, though, said that Noma is the one restaurant at which the bread course is worth indulging in – I now fully agree. The guy who served it explained that it had taken them some eight months to perfect the recipe: it’s made from ‘ancient grains’, dating back up to 2,000 years, which haven’t been selectively bred (hah) but instead provide a much more robust flavour and texture. A fresh batch is baked for each service, so it comes out piping hot and steaming. Noma have managed to find an equally incredible butter to serve with their bread. It’s ‘virgin butter’, meaning the buttermilk isn’t strained out, giving it a slightly tangy taste and grainy texture – they then mix it with 10% goat’s milk and top with salt before serving. Along with several other items in this meal, this would be in my top five for ‘last bite of food on earth’.
If you’ll allow me to get briefly romantic – or Neolithic – there’s something satisfying in a caveman-like way in tearing into a hot chunk of bread, smearing it in butter, and cramming it into your mouth. In other words, there’s a good case for there being a bunch of happily decomposing early humans who didn’t pass the natural selection test because their bread was too good. Homo carbohydratus?
We asked for seconds. They obliged.
The next two courses were very cleverly done: first there came out a cradle of a bowl; carefully placed inside was a ‘barely-cooked’ meaty langoustine tail with charred onion and lavender oil. It was like a more delicate lobster, with a subtle flavour that really worked with the lavender and onion.
Next, though, with a grin they bring out the grilled head and claws of the langoustine we just ate, split and smothered in butter with rose oil. There’s no cutlery: it’s time to get our hands dirty.
Apart from the bread and the quail egg, this next course was almost unanimously voted the best dish. Steamed Norwegian king crab with ‘egg yolk sauce’. After the meal, in the kitchen tour, we saw a large tank upstairs which housed the crabs and langoustines we had just eaten – so they’re as fresh as it gets! I put the sauce in quotation marks because it vastly understates the work that goes into it. Beef is first fermented for up to eight months to intensify the flavour, and then it’s used to cure the egg yolks. This gives the yolks an incredibly deep, rich flavour. I’m not going to lie, there were groans of pleasure table-wide with this one.
There was a clever spot of subterfuge with the next course: we were given a fork and a great big razor-sharp knife. Everyone started murmuring about what amazing piece of meat we were about to be served. We were instead presented with a plate of greens all cooked in various ways: sautéed, grilled, fried – and then smeared with scallop paste. You would think there would be some disappointment at being served greens with a steak knife – but here’s the thing: they were as good as – if not better than – any piece of meat I’d eaten. The scallop paste gave this umami and meatiness to the greens, and the textures created an amazing contrast – like the meat and the fat on a steak.
Once again, the ant paste makes an appearance to bring a fantastic citrus bite to the dessert. They’re not just ‘using ants for the sake of using ants’ – very little citrus grows naturally near Denmark, and so in searching for something with a similar flavour profile they stumbled across a certain type of ant. Along with the ants, the light cheese was topped with pureed rhubarb tops concentrated beyond belief. I can think of no other way to describe the taste than ‘deep green’ – it was fantastic.
The final dessert course was great; a knock-it-out-of-the-park finish. It was light and airy reindeer moss flash-fried and sprayed with chocolate – crunchy! With this was a preserved, dried and rehydrated cep (porcini) mushroom covered in chocolate. The latter had more the texture of liquorice than mushroom.
We finished off the meal with a satisfyingly alcoholic egg nog labelled ‘Summer 2016’ and Ethiopian coffee with a sour twang.
After dinner was a tour of the premises, from the staff room/test lab to the main kitchen to the upstairs kitchen where the interns are put to work assembling radish pies and picking reindeer moss. We also saw one of several fermentation rooms, where tubs upon tubs of produce are marinating, pickling, preserving away.
I would like to extend a massive thanks to Rene, James, and the entire team at Noma. The meal lived up to – and exceeded – my already-high expectations. Almost as much as the food, the service was unexpectedly excellent. The staff really do make you feel at home, and you can tell they love their jobs. This was, by a significant margin, the best meal of my life.
If you’ve made it this far, well done! This post has grown unintentionally large.
What’s next for me? What’s next for the blog? I plan on keeping the blog hosted here for the foreseeable future (something something bragging rights). I have about a semester and a half left of uni, graduating mid-2017. As for what I’ll do after that, I’m not sure. Maybe start an omelette cart. Maybe get a ‘real job’. I think I’ll rest relatively easily knowing I can always take a backpack and head out for a few months. As I’ve mentioned a few times in my posts, I’ve been taking short videos of various places in my trip, so expect a cut-together video of these – hopefully within the next month or so. It should give an amusing window into the obscene amount of time I spent on trains, hanging out the window with my camera.
If you ever want to get in touch, please feel free – I don’t bite! I remember, before this whole thing started, reading similar blogs and hesitating to reach out to their authors. I’m really just a guy with a laptop and a crazy idea that was somehow turned into reality – so, of course, I’m happy to answer any questions or give advice if needed. A part of my reasoning behind this trip was just to remind myself that I can do, more or less, anything I want to – if I put my mind to it. But I think this goes for everyone: it’s liberating to do something out-of-the-ordinary once in a while, if only to prove that you can.
What are the numbers of my trip? Nobody asked, but here they are! I passed through 18 countries between Singapore and Denmark, covering 25,405 kilometres over 93 days. If you count my 18-day jaunt up to Sweden afterwards (which brings the country total to 19), that distance total rises to 28,328 km covered without taking a flight. I added 66 people on Facebook, and met countless others. I took 377 separate video clips and 6,344 photos across my camera and phone. I spent roughly 284 hours on trains – that’s 11.8 days.
One last time, thank you to everyone who’s followed me over these last three crazy months. It’s been a wild ride – hopefully not my last! I’ll leave you now with the definitive ‘song of my trip’, as cheesy as that sounds. Thanks for everything.
It’s been a pleasure.
‘Til next time,
P.S. If anyone would like to see the hi-res pictures of the meal, here’s the Google Drive link
This entry was posted in Copenhagen, Daily, Denmark, Noma