World’s Best Restaurant Put to Test by Chef Pierre Koffmann
Danish Chef Rene Redzepi is feted for innovative dishes that have won Noma the title World’s Best Restaurant. French chef Pierre Koffmann, 62, is admired for rustic fare inspired by his grandmother’s cooking in Gascony.
So what might Koffmann make of the creations of Redzepi, 33, a champion of new Nordic cuisine who eschews foie gras and the rich traditions of French gastronomy in favor of a pure style focusing on ingredients such as berries, nuts and milk?
The Frenchman -- who held three Michelin stars at Tante Claire -- serves dishes such as pig’s trotter stuffed with sweetbreads and morels at Koffmann’s, the restaurant he opened in London last year. It’s gutsy food from a chef who takes pride in country cooking. You might expect him to dislike the lighter style of Redzepi, whose menu features little meat.
I invited Koffmann to Noma to find out. If Redzepi had any concerns, he need not have worried. Koffmann enjoyed and respected both his cooking and Noma, where the welcome is as warm as the night is cold and dishes are served by the chefs.
Including canapes, the menu consisted of about 20 courses and Koffmann said there wasn’t a single dud.
“For the welcome and the service he gets 20 out of 20,” Koffmann said. “The service was original because the chefs do it and they are very charming and you feel happy to be there. For the originality of the food, I would say 20 out of 20 again. It’s not the most gastronomic meal I have had in my life, but it is so original, and visually it is very well done.
“I enjoyed all the dishes. I go to El Bulli every year and if you get 35 dishes, five are fantastic, 25 are beautiful and fun and five are not to my taste. Here, not a single dish is bad.”
The first thing that strikes you about Noma is the charm of the room: It’s housed in an 18th-century warehouse on the waterside in Copenhagen. It is candlelit, yet cleverly located spotlights above each table keep the focus on the food. The place only seats about 42, and the day after it won the World’s Best Restaurant award last April, more than 100,000 people tried to book online, enough to fill it for 15 years, Redzepi said.
We started with canapes that included edible branches (with malt and juniper) hidden in the table decoration; pickled and smoked quails’ eggs served on smoking hay in a ceramic egg; whole radish in a pot of edible soil; a goujon with cucumber and the head and tail of a fish planted either side as if it were some sort of fish sandwich.
The mains included poached sea urchin and powdered cucumber with frozen cream and dill; Faroe Islands langoustine served on a rock, with parsley and rye; and vintage carrot and black truffle, garden sorrel.
“The langoustine was absolutely fantastic,” Koffmann said. “Overall, the meal was top quality. I really enjoyed it and it was a beautiful experience. He’s very creative. There’s nothing to compare with it. He’s got a very different vision of food from Ferran Adria at El Bulli.”
“I went to Noma with the idea that he’s the little brother of El Bulli, but that’s not the case at all. He’s doing his own thing. El Bulli is more technical, using more machines, more chemistry. Noma is simpler, but there is technique, too. It’s real food. At El Bulli, they will take an egg white and make it into something else, whereas at Noma the food is what it is.”
We were accompanied to Copenhagen by Koffmann’s partner Claire Harrison, who also works in Koffmann’s, and by the London restaurateur Russell Norman, who owns Polpo and Polpetto. After the meal, Redzepi gave us a tour of the kitchens and then Koffmann sat chatting in the bar with Redzepi and his chefs.
Hero in Town
(Norman Tweeted about the meal and the next day a Danish chef, Olle Tagesson, 27, wrote on Twitter: “One of my heroes, Pierre Koffmann, is in town! Please keep your eyes open and send him down to PatePate if you see him!” We were sitting in the bar at Nimb hotel when we spotted the message and invited Tagesson to join us. Koffmann then went to eat at PatePate.
Later that night, Tagesson -- who previously worked at the Bluebird Cafe in London and has Koffmann’s books -- tweeted: “So, I’ve cooked for Pierre Koffmann. I could retire now.”)
The respect among chefs for Koffmann is striking. Redzepi said several times how happy he was to get to cook for him.
“Thanks for bringing the big man,” he said as we left.
Redzepi plans to cook in London for one night only on April 16, preparing a dinner with his friend Claude Bosi at Hibiscus. Bosi said there will be a maximum of 45 seats for the event, for which tickets may go on sale a month in advance. The two chefs, who have been friends since 2005, will serve a tasting menu for which the price hasn’t yet been set, Bosi said.
(I vote in the World’s 50 Best awards, to be held on April 18. Before that, Redzepi is waiting to see if Noma wins a third star in Michelin’s “Main Cities of Europe” guide on March 16.)
Noma, Strandgade 93, 1401 Copenhagen. Information: telephone +45-3296-3297 or click on http://www.noma.dk/.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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