What Noma's Under the Bridge pop-up reveals about Noma 2.0?
Posted October 31, 2017 12:22 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — When chef René Redzepi announced his revolutionary Danish restaurant Noma would be staging a pop-up under a Copenhagen bridge, the excitement was inevitable.
Not only was it a chance to sample the team's cooking on home turf, but it might also offer some hints about Noma 2.0, the much-anticipated new version of the restaurant, which opens in February 2018.
Little has been revealed about the upcoming eatery since the original incarnation closed it doors in February 2017.
But when I arrive and take my place among the 60 people already sitting elbow to elbow at the long wooden table, it automatically feels different to the more formal, cerebral tasting menu experience associated with the Noma brand.
For a start, we're outdoors on a cobbled passageway directly under central Copenhagen's Knippelsbro Bridge.
Tented in from the chill with plastic sheeting and gas heaters installed at intervals, warm light from woven wicker pendant lamps casting a rosy glow over the table and faces of people eating, it's the definition of "hygge" -- that now famous Danish concept of conviviality and contentment.
The crowd is also a little younger than the usual fine-dining set.
Most are in their 20s and 30s, much like the staff -- possibly because the 1,250 DKK ($200) price, inclusive of pour-your-own wine pairings, is more affordable than Noma's typical $480-plus charge.
Two seatings are offered for the prix fixe, five-course, family-style dinner and dishes are kept secret until they're served.
Richard Hart, founder of San Francisco eatery Tartine, is working with Noma until he opens his bakery in Copenhagen in 2018 and our first platters are heaped with huge hunks of crusty bread baked by the man himself, with mandatory slabs of Danish butter.
Welcome nibbles in the form of light, crispy tostadas quickly give way to bowls of warm mushroom broth with black trumpets, young spinach, grilled baby cucumber and wild Swedish blueberries.
The next course is a menu mainstay and a nod to the team's spring 2017 Noma Mexico pop-up in idyllic beach destination Tulum -- DIY cabbage leaf "tacos" topped with microgreens, edible flowers and smoked cod roe, accompanied by a cast-iron pot filled with whole, crunchy fried fjord shrimps and oil and salsa made with Mexican habanero and salted green gooseberry.
"It's that perfect bite of, 'OK, I'm tasting these flavors and feeling the influence of Mexico,' but whum, you're also in Denmark," says Katherine Bont, restaurant manager at Noma and team leader for its pop-ups.
It's also a clear departure from what I've come to expect from a restaurant named for the contraction of "nordisk mad," the Danish words for Nordic food.
But while it's run by the Noma team, Under The Bridge is not Noma.
One of the main differences is that it's not an outlet for Redzepi's cooking.
"René'll come down and taste and give his feedback, but really it's a chance for the young cooks in the kitchen to show their creative side and use ginger, chillis... things we wouldn't use at Noma," Bont explains.
The staff conceived Under The Bridge while in Mexico, knowing they had at least another six months in Copenhagen before Noma 2.0 launched.
During the summer, Noma's wine supplier Rosforth & Rosforth served wine and food at picnic tables adjacent to its cellar here, under the Knipplesbro bridge.
The team opted to expand on that concept, combining their Mexico experience with their Danish heritage and setting to offer relaxed, 60-head dinner-party style dinners featuring food they'd cook for friends.
Under The Bridge was supposed to end in early September. However, construction delays caused by the unearthing of an ancient wall at the Noma 2.0 site -- and the pop-up's runaway success -- led to it being extended until November 12 and from five evenings a week to seven. (At the time of writing, reservations are still available.)
Noma chef Torsten Vildgaard -- who opened Claus Meyer's eatery Studio at The Standard in October 2013 and earned a Michelin star just a few months later -- came on board last month to help the team. But menu development has remained a collaborative process in keeping with Noma's usual open, all-hands structure.
Recent additions include sides of whole-baked celeriac with chunks of apple and chestnut and roasted Brussels sprouts with ginger and sweet miso.
Tonight, dessert is light and tangy in the Nordic tradition, comprising a semi circle of milk parfait and another of strawberry grapes, with aronia berry juice, tagetes leaves and liquorice salt.
Then, another visceral throwback to the team's time in Mexico -- rich, moist almond financier petit fours, capped with a dusting of dehydrated wood ants.
Noma 2.0 news?
So how will Under The Bridge -- coupled with former pop-ups and the additions of Copenhagen sister restaurants 108 and North-Sea-restaurant Barr, housed within Noma's old space-- feed into Noma 2.0?
The short answer is -- nobody knows yet.
Redzepi has spent months exploring Nordic destinations and the culinary potential they offer, with Noma's social media feed ripe with shots of langoustine and sea urchins from ice-cold Faroese waters and mushrooms from Håøya in Norway.
But in a video clip for Noma's monthly Weather Report news bulletins, the chef suggests he's open to bringing his team's global perspective into the new restaurant.
"We're going to open up again. That's all good, but what if we fall into the same routine? What if we can't see the fresh opportunities?" he says.
"All of this new stuff we have with us, all of the new mindsets and inspirations, we're going to put that into practical use at the new Noma."
Now that the Noma team has worked collectively in Japan, Australia and Mexico and New Nordic, will Redzepi incorporate more international influences at Noma 2.0?
Past experience suggests he might.
Chocolate has always featured among Noma's desserts and oenophiles were given the option of choosing Old World and New World wines from its lists.
After the team's first international trip to Tokyo in 2015, more exotic ingredients appeared.
"We had a seaweed we were using from Hokkaido and black garlic from Aomori," recalls Bont.
"All of a sudden we had a few things that extended beyond the Nordic region but we felt that with all of the research and care and meeting the farmers who made these products, we could expand on what we'd previously known."
But, as Bont says, nobody knows for sure because they're building the restaurant from the ground up.
Even details of the new Noma 2.0 site, being developed by Danish "starchitect" Bjarke Ingels' firm BIG in a former sea mine depot atop ancient fortifications bordering vibrant "free town" Christiania, are scarce.
Tourism authority VisitCopenhagen has revealed the site is being reimagined as a gourmet village with an urban farm and 10 huts -- one each for grilling, baking, fermenting, wine and so on -- with the kitchens housed within the old mine building.
The only definite news is that the restaurant will open on February 1, 2018 -- reservations are being taken from November 16 -- with a seafood-focused menu.
Informed by the Nordic climate, Redzepi is dividing the year into three seasons.
In the colder months from December through May, when few things grow, the team will look to the ocean.
As the weather warms, menus will shift towards a more plant-based menu, which will be succeeded by a menu emphasizing land and pasture, particularly game, from September to December.
Bont says that while Under The Bridge and Noma 2.0 are two completely different things, she believes the style of service will carry over.
"I think what we'll take away from this experience is the way in which we're cooking the dishes -- coming together, this looking after people, a more casual approachable vibe, this real home feeling," she says.
Under The Bridge will run until November 12. Knippelsbrogade 10, 1409 København K, Denmark.
Noma 2.0 is due to open on February 1, 2018, Wednesday to Saturday, offering the same menu for both lunch and dinner. Refshalevej 96, 1432 København K, Denmark.