I've been lucky enough to chat with and interview René Redzepi a few times since he opened Noma in an 18th century whale blubber warehouse on Copenhagen docks in 2004, but a magazine recently asked me to spend a day with him in and around Copenhagen, having a bit of a forage, and hanging out in some of his favourite food-related places in the city - to tie in with the publication of the forthcoming Noma cook book.
I jumped at the chance: he's a really nice guy, and, like all the best chefs I've been fortunate enough to meet (Adrià, Blumenthal, Gagnaire, Ishida, to vulgarly drop a few names), he is utterly humble about what he does and the ingredients he uses, as well as being curious about the world beyond his kitchen.
Also, the piece would give me the excuse to eat at Noma again, and - please don't hate me, you'd do abuse the position in exactly the same way were you in it instead of me - a route to avoid the, these days, considerable challenge of reserving a table there. (If you fancy trying, the latest advice is that you have to ring on the morning of the first day of the month, to book three months in advance, and most tables are booked by the end of the day).
We met for coffee in Sweet Treats, a great little place close to the restaurant on Christianshavn (although the photo above was taken elsewhere) then I drove us out into the wilds of Amager, the island neighbouring Copenhagen, where the airport is.
René doesn't drive, and got a bit car sick, but that was his fault because, as he doesn't drive, he never pays attention to where people are taking him, and he got us lost for a while.
Anyhoo, eventually we came to the protected nature area where Noma sources quite a few of its herbs and other plants, like this lovely, salty, goosefoot (think that's what this is...).
It may be impending middle age, but these days this is the kind of thing that gets me really excited...
That said, the walk wasn't nearly as inspirational as the lunch Lissen and I enjoyed at Noma. Simply, it was the greatest food I have ever eaten anywhere and at any time in my life. I didn't take proper photos because I really wanted to concentrate on what I was eating, but I did snap some shots with my phone (hence the dodgy quality - sorry).
This was waiting for us when we arrived at our table: the end of a bullrush root, with a yoghurt and nut dip. It tasted of sweet, fresh cucumber. (I've since tried eating bullrush roots I have found near where I live. Hmm, seems like you need to have a dependable bullrush supplier, sure there's a few in the Yellow Pages...)
Live shrimp, from a fjord in Jutland, with a gorgeous mayonnaise-y dipping sauce. In truth, the flavours came from the sauce: the shrimps, though nice enough, were more one of those shock gimmicks which René likes to throw into the mix to keep jaded, fat-arsed Michelin-tourists on their mettle.
Perhaps the most purely, crowd-pleasingly delicious of all the courses were these sandwiches made up of crispy chicken skin, rugbrød (rye bread) and a yoghurty-herb filling. God they were good. 'Specially the chicken skin. Every sandwich should have some crispy fried chicken skin somewhere in the mix, preferably stuck between two bits of crispy chicken skin.
This was perhaps the crunchiest thing I have ever eaten, crunchier even that Square Crisps: it's a wild herb and grain sandwich, with smoked cod's roe, vinegar powder and topped with - and don't shout at me if this is wrong, it might be - I think that's duck skin.
To follow was a glorious, epic dish - a kind of retort to Heston Blumenthal's Sounds of the Sea - featuring herbs and flowers gathered from the sea shore, raw prawns, sorrel and sea urchin powder, with pebbles frozen to the plate. Impressionist Cuisine.
This dish, René told me, was one of the trickiest to perfect: it's dried, sliced scallops, watercress, various grains and squid ink - inspired by René's recent stage at the remarkable Kyoto restaurant, Kikunoi (which I have posted about previously - I'd link to the posts, but can't figure out how to. Same goes for posts about Ferran Adria and the other chefs unforgivably name-dropped earlier. Typepad. Tschheez.).
Another classic next, and a dish I fondly remember from my very first visit to Noma many years ago: musk ox tartar with sorrel, tarragon and toasted dried juniper. Fresh, vivid, frisky flavours, but with a meatily satisfying bite.
Perhaps the single most magnificent ingredient was this langoustine from, I believe, Lammefjord. The size of a mini-banana, and impossibly flavoursome. Those blobs are equally staggering, intensely briny oyster emulsion. Think there's possibly some raspberry vinegar powder dusted over it all too.
I'm going to leave it there for now. For some reason Typepad is throwing a strop and refusing to upload more photos...