Danish Master

July, 2010 (Bloomberg Market) -- At a converted warehouse in Copenhagen, Noma advances Nordic cuisine and passes El Bulli to become the world’s No. 1 restaurant.

Food lovers around the world who thought scoring a table at Chef Ferran Adria’s El Bulli in Catalonia, Spain, meant grabbing the gastronomic holy grail might want to consider a new challenge: Noma in Copenhagen. Noma received 100,000 e-mail booking inquiries the day after being named the world’s best restaurant on April 26.

While El Bulli and the U.K.’s Fat Duck have dominated the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list published by Restaurant magazine since 2002, Noma’s climb to surpass them has been dizzying. It was 33rd in 2006 and 15th a year later; it came in 10th in 2008; and it was third last year, when it won the Chef’s Choice award as the favorite among culinary masters.

Not bad for a small eatery in a converted warehouse in the Christianshavn district of Copenhagen, a beautiful city but not one of the world’s prime culinary destinations.

Noma is unpretentious. You dine in a charming old room with a wooden floor and candles in each of the windows. Plates are delivered to the table by young cooks who explain the multiple dishes, which offer novel ingredients and unusual combinations, such as carrots and buttermilk licorice. Still, Noma isn’t about the shock of the new. It’s about rediscovering and refining a cuisine that--like so many--had been diluted and diverted by the seductive and exciting embrace of Gallic gastronomy.

“The focus has changed in the past five to six years in Copenhagen,” chef and owner Rene Redzepi says. “People are now finding their roots again: discovering nature, discovering the product range, the diversity, and by doing that, now you see the shaping of a cuisine.”

At the center of Redzepi’s culinary art are fine, seasonal Nordic ingredients: halibut, seaweed and curds from Iceland and lamb, musk ox, berries and the purest drinking water from Green­land, according to the restaurant’s website. Redzepi, 32, can even tell you the name of the man who dived for your sea urchins. At lunch, there were six different types of canape, including pickled quail eggs smoked on a bed of hay and smoked cod roe on toast with vinegar. That’s before we got to the 10-course meal, which included dishes such as squid and lingonberries topped with cream and dill and sour grape juice from the isle of Lilleo with caramelized onions and thyme leaves.

The portions are small, so you can focus on the clean flavors and the quality of the produce. Such special Nordic ingredients don’t come cheap. The seven-course tasting menu is 995 kroner ($180) plus service; matching wines are 895 kroner (or have juices for 395 kroner); and the lunch menu is 595 kroner.

Noma isn’t another El Bulli or another Fat Duck. It’s Noma and it’s very, very good. In fact, it’s this year’s best restaurant.

Strandgade 93, 1401 Copenhagen; 45-3296-3297; www.noma.dk

Richard Vines in London is the chief food critic at Bloomberg News. He was on this year’s judging panel for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. rvines@bloomberg.net

#<535521.2245115.># -0- Jun/17/2010 15:59 GMT

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