Of fire & ice
By the time you read this, the ‘world’s best restaurant’ will be preparing to shut up shop. Noma – the two-Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant that has topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list four times and put Scandinavian food onto the international culinary map – is set to close at the end of 2016. Founder and chef René Redzepi has assured his public that he plans to reopen the restaurant on a new site as part of an urban farm in 2017, but nevertheless, fans will no doubt be dismayed that the leading light of ‘New Nordic’ cuisine, is being – albeit temporarily – extinguished.
Before Redzepi, with business partner Claus Meyer, opened Noma in an old waterside warehouse in 2003, Copenhagen was considered a derivative gourmet backwater dominated by classic French-style cookery. He and his partner’s singular gastronomic vision – centred on locally sourced Scandinavian produce, cooked using traditional methods, such as pickling, smoking and curing, to produce simple yet deliciously inventive food – spread through Scandinavia like wildfire having been published as a call-to-arms title, Manifesto for the New Nordic Cuisine, in 2003. Recognition from the powers that be at Michelin followed, and the region was transformed into a global culinary superpower. Despite the not-inconsiderable obstacle of year-long waiting lists, epicureans from far and wide flocked to experience the Noma magic first-hand.
Globetrotting gastronomes converted to the unique pleasures of Noma’s signature dishes should take heart, however, for the restaurant’s temporary closure will allow new stars to shine in Scandinavia’s pioneering culinary scene. One such destination is Fäviken, a tiny 12-seater restaurant set within a remote and sprawling hunting estate in the Swedish province of Jämtland. To diners making the cross-country pilgrimage, excited by the praise Fäviken has received from critics internationally, the restaurant’s sparse simplicity may come as a shock. Clients are often served by the chef himself, ingredients are locally foraged and unfussy, traditional cooking techniques including preserving are used, giving rise to dishes such as herring that’s been aged for three years and juicy scallops smoked over juniper berries. But it’s this kind of unaffected modesty that is typical of today’s best Nordic restaurants and makes for unforgettable dishes that are well worth a husky ride to experience.
Maaemo’s name comes from the old Finnish word meaning ‘Mother Earth’, and fittingly, the dishes served here celebrate the organic and wild flavours of Norway. With only nine tables and 35 covers, it’s another advocate for the intimate gourmet experience
Not quite as remote as Fäviken, but equally worth the trip, is Daniel Berlin. Located in the small Swedish village of Skåne Tranås, the restaurant is about an hour’s drive from Copenhagen. The surrounding Österlen region is known for its abundant produce, along with a long history of farming, foraging and hunting. The eponymous restaurant is run by chef Daniel Berlin and his parents, and has only 14 covers. Having grown up in Österlen, Daniel has a deep understanding and passion for local produce, and top regional ingredients form the backbone of his simple but impressively creative menu. During the summer, 80 per cent of the restaurant’s ingredients come from the Berlin’s own three-acre farm, while the rest are found within a maximum 20-mile radius of the site.
Back in the metropolis that is Copenhagen, the city chefs continue to promote ‘farm to table’ principles despite their urban setting. Restaurant Radio, a venture from Noma co-founder Claus Meyer, specialises in organic Nordic food. The restaurant grows its own vegetables on certified organic land outside of the city, carefully cultivating over 80 different crops that make up Radio’s seasonal menu.
Also inspired by Noma’s principles is Amass, the restaurant of the renowned Matthew Orlando, former Noma head chef. Located in a light, high-ceilinged warehouse in the atmospheric Burmeister & Wain shipyards, regional produce is at the heart of Amass. The menu is dictated by what local farmers and producers supply each day, in addition to the restaurant’s own garden, which sits purposefully in front of the dining room.
Beyond Denmark’s borders, Norwegian restaurants have also embraced the New Nordic ethos. Oslo’s Maaemo restaurant, run by Danish chef Esben Holmboe Bang, is attracting foodie enthusiasts from around the world, enticed by its two-Michelin-star credentials. Maaemo’s name comes from the old Finnish word meaning ‘Mother Earth’, and fittingly, the dishes served here celebrate the organic and wild flavours of Norway. Again, with only nine tables and 35 covers, it’s another advocate for the intimate gourmet experience. Against a backdrop of the city’s harbour and new Opera House, diners can expect a 20-course tasting menu which champions seasonal and raw produce, with dishes such as Norwegian langoustines with pine and Røros (a Norwegian town famed for its unsurpassed butter) butter ice cream with brown butter caramel.
Despite being hundreds of miles away, chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason, the man behind acclaimed Reykjavik restaurant Dill, directly credits Redzepi’s New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto as the inspiration behind his restaurant. Respecting Icelandic traditions and allowing the quality of the local produce to shine through via the simplicity of his dishes, Gunnar Karl turns out show-stopping concoctions, such as a dessert of skyr, a traditional Icelandic yoghurt, with roses, meadowsweet and meringue.
It’s been over a decade since Noma opened and the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto was published, yet many Nordic restaurateurs are keen to stress that Scandinavian gastronomy is still in its infancy, and still very much evolving. Rather than following a formula set by others, the region’s brightest chefs are finding authenticity in doing exactly what they want. Redzepi and Meyer are quick to explain that their commitment to Nordic cooking lies in its value as ‘an exploration of our own identity and identities, in an increasingly globalised world culture.’ Furthermore, as Christian Puglisi, founder of praised Copenhagen eaterie Relae states, ‘the key to the future is to keep trying to create something unique.’
Despite the year-long waiting lists, epicureans from far and wide flock to experience the Noma magic first hand