I don’t even know where to begin this post. I never thought I’d be in London for the 2012 Olympics. I never thought I’d be dining in the Claridge’s ballroom at A Taste of Noma. I never thought I’d meet René Redzepi (I never thought René would remember me the next time we meet). And I never thought I’d be privileged enough to sit in on the daily briefing, given by the chef of 3 time winner ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ (2010, 2011 and 2012). But that all actually happened. *food swoon*
Macedonian born Dane, René Redzepi, has sparked a cultural revolution with his focus on food foraging and the reinterpretation of Nordic cuisine. And for ten days during the London 2012 Olympics, Redzepi created a five course menu for Claridge’s that reflected his signature flavours and dishes from Noma, using local, seasonal British produce and ingredients. And he was there, every day, for lunch and dinner. “We have left Noma behind in Denmark but brought to Claridge’s our inspiration and commitment and we are looking forward to exploring the bounty of the British larder!” Redzepi said.
Claridge’s took over 10,000 booking inquires – me being one of them. But with only 2 sittings a day, there was bound to be disappointment. So I did the next best thing, I tagged along on a story we were filming about the hotel with the hope we might also score an interview with Redzepi.
The stunning deco ballroom at Claridge’s was transformed – sectioned with wooden bookshelves filled with tea lights, miniature plats and books. Raw wood tables and wishbone chairs made it feels effortless, rustic and Nordic. A kinetic sun mobile designed by Daniel Chadwick spun slowly and silently in the centre of the room. And there was even a BBQ on the roof at one point.
The dish Redzepi is serving that everyone was talking about is ants. Live ants. 22,000 of them were sent over from Copenhagen – harvested using a straw and someone with very gentle lips (seriously). And today I’m told someone has just been sent back to collect another 10,000.
I stand out of the way, sipping coffee from beautiful china and eat crumbly shortbread (yes, I am working…) while staff meticulously clean every mirrored bookshelf and our camera crew set up.
We’re looking busy, anticipating Redzepi’s arrival. We’re in luck – he agrees to an interview with us, but only after he’s done his chefs briefing… that I somehow end up smack bang in the middle of.
Gorgeous waitresses dressed in black silk dresses, hair neatly pulled back and beautiful red lipsticks – they look exquisite, like something out of a Robert Palmer film clip (thanks to the groomers on hand) – come streaming in to the ballroom, followed by kitchen staff and restaurant managers. I’m surrounded by everyone who is part of this operation as the master addresses issues from service the night before. Apparently Stella McCartney suggested the order in which one of the dishes is served by changed – a comment he takes on board. He talks about new produce coming in, what will be substituted for vegetarians, vegans and any other dietary requirements they have dining with them tonight. He talks about the VIP’s and friends of Noma. He is clever, unassuming and so inspiring. Everyone is hanging off his every word. I have to restrain from responding “Yes Chef!” as he wraps up his pep talk for day 5.
I chat to him after, so impressively un-self-important. His publicist asks if I’d like a photo (how could I say no?). He tells us about a giant ant that tastes like ginger but it’s bite is too dangerous to eat. And another one that tastes like coffee.
Noma in Copenhagen is currently closed for renovation. And when I ask what the most significant change to the restaurant will be after the ‘face-lift’, it’s that there will be one less table than before. He tells me it’s that 1 extra table that can sometimes push the kitchen and staff a little too far, it upsets the balance. So they’re getting rid of it. It makes sense, but disappointing for the 100,000 people who try to book a table a Noma every month.
All of this was enough for me, I had been fed the most wonderful food experience and not even tasted a spoonful of Redzepi’s food. Then a phone call came – a dinner invitation, for Sunday night. Champagne at 7.30pm, ants march in at 8pm. This is quite possibly more exciting than Christmas… and you know how much I love Christmas.
It’s almost magical arriving in the ballroom foyer that’s decorated with birch trees and a wrought iron chandelier. A giant map hangs, painted by artist Tanya Ling, marking the location of all the ingredients we’re about to enjoy.
I fear there may be more pictures than words in this review, because the words to describe just what a special experience this was, escape me. Dinner starts with a champagne reception, Laurent Perrier Champagne NV.
Course 1. Vegetables, soil and grass
A little terracotta pot arrives, planted with baby radish, baby carrots and baby turnips supplied by Elvedern Farm in Thetford, Norfolk and nasturtium flowers from Shrewsbury. The soil is made from malt flour that also hails from Denmark, in Orlands. This is mixed with ground hazelnuts and rye. “Use your hands” our waiter instructs. The chef’s are also there to walk us through each dish they have prepared. “And eat everything.”
Course 2: Ant
The ants are a red variety from Jutland in Denmark. They’ve been chilled to put them to sleep but a few seem to be stirring, drunkenly trying to escape their crème fraîche bed. They taste like lemongrass when I bite in to them. The citrus is a nice contrast to soil of the previous course. This is sounding more like a gardening blog…
Course 3: Crushed raspberries and tea. Scones and caviar
This was quite possibly one of the best things I have ever tasted! An homage to the English Afternoon Tea. King Caviar sits stop little pots of Rodda’s clotted cream from Redruth in Cornwall. Lovingly (and lavishly) smeared over light-as-air scones. I loved sipping the delicate, tart raspberry tea from the fine done china tea-cup.
Course 3: Oyster and samphire, buttermilk and ‘sol’
I’m really not a fan of oysters, I eat them – when I have to, like now. And this one from the Belon River in Brittany has been delicately poached in buttermilk for 30 seconds. It come served on a bed of stones and shells, like it’s just been found on the seashore. The samphire has come from Dyfed on the Pembrokeshire coast
Course 4: Tartar and sorrel, juniper and tarragon
Wafer thin slices of beef from The Castle of Mey in Cathiness is to be eaten rolled up with our hands then smeared across the plate through the tarragon and juniper powder. Yum.
Then bread, my favourite – sourdough, has been developed by Noma with help from The London Bakery and comes wrapped like a baby in a cloth pouch. It’s served with two types of butter (oh yes.) A ‘virgin’, which tastes like cream and a goat’s milk.
Course 5: Celeriac and truffle
This was actually one of my favourite courses. So simple but so big in flavor. It was like the most amazing baked potato and gravy! Credit for the truffles goes to Madame Babette Pebeyre. And the celeriac is from Jack Buck Farm of Spalding in Lincolnshire
Course 6: Lamb neck and fermented pea, fresh cheese
Lamb neck from Romney Marsh has been slow roasted in “piso” (like miso made from fermented yellow peas) and cooked for 48 hours. I could even tell you the sweet bed of hay that it rests on has come from Holly Hill farm in Hertfordshire, on the advice of Trent Park Stables. All of the people who have contribute to this pop-up restaurant are credited in tonight’s menu. I love this.
You all know Lamb is one of my favourite things in the whole world. And this was exceptional, but it still didn’t top the slow roasted Moran Family Lamb shoulder, that’s now the signature dish at Chiswick.
Course 7: Walnut and dried berries
Thankfully dessert is light as air. Walnut powder, milk ice cream and Mash Purveyors freeze-dried raspberries all melt on my tongue. It’s creamy, nutty and tart.
Course 8: Potato crisps
And if that wasn’t enough, arriving in an old English toffee tin are potato crisps dipped in dark chocolate and fennel seeds. Sounds crazy, but it’s the perfect combination of salty and sweet.
At this point René recognises us and comes to say hello. He talks about his children and his recent trip to Australia. His publicist lingers over his shoulder, trying to steal him away for all the other diners vying for just a moment of his time. But he seems unfazed. The man everyone wants time with, has time for everyone.
Better than Christmas.